It’s time to speak out against anti-women harassment and oppression

Lutte Ouvrière workplace newsletter
February 12, 2018

The scandal surrounding movie producer Harvey Weinstein, who sexually harassed Hollywood actresses for decades, sent shockwaves through bourgeois circles.

Thanks to movements like #MeeToo in the USA, #BalanceTonPorc (#ChargeThatPig) in France and others, thousands of women, mostly journalists, writers and company executives, have given evidence of similarly nauseating and degrading behavior by members of the so called “upper crust”.

Some women now feel strong enough to file complaints for rape or sexual harassment. Whether in the USA or elsewhere, the list of incriminated male personalities is growing week by week.

In France, some are under investigation, like Budget Minister Darmanin. Others have been indicted and jailed, like Muslim preacher Tariq Ramadan. Yet others, like Environment Minister Nicolas Hulot, are not under investigation but have been compelled by the media to answer embarrassing questions concerning their past.

Some feel that the atmosphere has become overly suspicious and that social media have turned into unbearable "revolutionary tribunals". They need to be reminded that, every three days in France, a woman is killed by her partner or husband; that every seven minutes a woman is raped; and that more than 20% of women come up against sexual harassment at work. Defamation may harm a few careers, but silence kills on a large scale.

Misogyny and prejudices against women are everywhere in society. Women’s subordinate position is imposed on them in a thousand ways and manifests itself everywhere in all walks of life: business, politics, religion, etc.

We already learned from the Strauss-Kahn affair in 2011 that someone who is director of the IMF, a prominent member of the so-called Socialist party, a former minister and a presidential candidate can also be a sexual predator. More recently, the Baupin affair revealed that an environmentalist politician and alleged supporter of gender equality is also capable of harassing members of his own party.

No milieu is exempt from such behavior, which isn't just a question of education and culture but also one of prejudice and power.

The simple fact that so many well-known actresses, congresswomen and journalists didn't divulge their abuser's name for fear of being ostracized and of jeopardizing their career, says a lot about the pull of power and money in our society. In such a hierarchical system, relations between men and women in the workplace cannot be egalitarian—contrary to the government's claim.

Capitalist society is structured by relationships of power and domination. The most defining relationship is that of class, the relationship between the exploited and the exploiters, the relationship that puts employees at the mercy of a manager, a director or a company owner. And women, because they are the most vulnerable to low wages, job insecurity and unemployment are the first victims.

When you’re just a simple woman worker or employee, you have to cope without any help from the media, the police or the justice system. You have to defend yourself without any money, and often with the risk of losing your livelihood.

The fight against sexual violence is yet another one that workers must fight in the workplace. This implies fighting against sexist attitudes and remarks. The worst thing for women fighting against harassers is having to put up with the macho prejudices of their fellow workers. They should at least be able to count on the support of men to gain their dignity at work. Likewise, male workers need to know they can count on working women—who make up half the working class—to fight against exploitation.

Two centuries ago, French socialist thinker Charles Fourier wrote that, in any society, "the degree of emancipation of women is the measure of general emancipation".

Since then, many struggles have taken place. The bourgeoisie had reserved the political sphere for men, but women fought individually and collectively for the right to study, work, vote and control their body. These fights have helped change mentalities and must be continued.

But they will not be enough to eradicate sexist habits and prejudices. These are maintained by the exploitative relationships inscribed in the capitalist organization of society.

That is why the fight for the emancipation of women is inseparable from the fight to free society from capitalism.