An Open Letter to Movement Men About Sexism
BY DAVID GILBERT
There is no way we can be revolutionaries, no way we can stand with humanity for liberation, without actively combating male supremacy. That imperative requires both a political program against patriarchy and concerted struggle against sexism within ourselves. We all grew up in this society so, even with our passionate ideals, problems with ego, racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and ableism within ourselves are inevitable. What is inexcusable is to fail to engage in sincere and open-hearted efforts to change.
It has been extremely upsetting to have heard, even with my limited contact with the outside activist communities, of several incidents of sexual assault and then – to add bitter insult to monstrous injury – the frequent failures to have a process for holding perpetrators accountable and for setting unmistakable standards for activist communities. We are fighting for a world without sexual assault, abuse, coercion – how can we allow that to continue within our ranks?
Men’s sense of entitlement to women’s bodies, the violations and the denial of self-determination involved, parallels the ideology and practice of imperialism. Each attack does vicious harm to a sister, while the reality of sexual assault is the ferocious spearhead of the much broader offensive against women’s fully active and assertive role in our movements, which we sorely need for the colossal challenges we face. Also, our failure to develop a process to stop such crimes is corrosive to our own humanity.
In the 1960s we started from nowhere in terms of dealing with patriarchy – and nowhere meant the continued dominance of male supremacy. Then, women’s collective leadership around feminism and anti-imperialism, although often faced with reactionary resistance from men, won major advances.
As dramatic as those changes were, they of course weren’t nearly enough; on top of that we have evidently failed in our responsibility to pass on hard-won lessons to the post-Seattle, 1999, generation of activists. If we don’t do better on this, we leave a lethal hole in the heart of our movement.
In my own experience, the most fruitful response to women’s liberation came in the form of Men Against Sexism groups – if they weren’t just a place to talk about our feelings but if we also consciously grappled with sexism, checked-in with and sought guidance from feminists, and took on solidarity work such as childcare and/or educating other men and boys.
Today, we may want and need additional formats, for example, to fight the oppression of those who are gender nonconforming. Whatever the forms, concerted struggle against patriarchy, with male supremacy as a central axis, is absolutely necessary.
Male supremacy is extremely deep-seated in history and in society. Change doesn’t come easily and won’t always be comfortable. As difficult as it may seem, advances on this front can stop the brutality of men’s assaults on women in our communities and help create a welcoming climate for their full participation. We can’t have a real movement, we can’t possibly be successful, without the invaluable contributions and leadership women can provide. Such advances can also make us men more whole, more loving human beings.
White supremacy, male supremacy, homophobia, transphobia, class rule, and imperialism are powerful pillars of oppression. We have to dismantle them all to clear the ground to build the more humane and sustainable world that is so urgently needed.
(anti-imperialist political prisoner)