Sexism has been back on the local agenda (again) recently. The latest incident stems from what, to the commenter, will have appeared to be a throwaway yet generally supportive comment about fascist men attempting to intimidate women. However, in my view, the comment was clumsily worded and poorly thought through, if well-meaning. Personally, I would have thought twice if it had entered my head to say it.
There’s been some fuss made about the response to the comment by women also. My view on this is that it shouldn’t really be the place of a man to pass judgement on a woman’s reaction to something she finds sexist. This is not something that’s controversial when it comes to racism. There might be personal differences on methods when it comes to a reaction to something potentially offensive (or worse). But they should remain personal. It is an individual’s call as to how they react to something, and it is also their responsibility to deal with whatever fallout results. Which is where argument comes in. I think feminists are ultimately the best-equipped to react to and to argue these issues.
Eventually, this led to a “discussion” about privilege. While I do feel at times that the phrase “check your privilege” is used as a stock response to poorly worded, poorly thought-through or downright offensive language, the idea is essentially correct. During this discussion, the idea of privilege was attacked as a liberal construct, and something that doesn’t really exist. The irony of this argument immediately struck me as possibly the ultimate failure to recognize your privilege. The basic idea of privilege is that, with society constructed as it is, with people divided into groups according to characteristics which may or may not exist, and with those groups being divided from each other in status based on the cultural or economic norms of the society in question, it is inevitable that the society by default will tend to favour one group over another. For example, it’s a reality that a disproportionate number of young black men are stopped and searched by police. This is not something a white man generally has to worry about. To take another example, a man doesn’t generally have to face a situation where they’re groped on a crowded train. This can be a real problem for women though. Granted, if you’re not exposed to this as a daily reality in your life it can be difficult to see. But this cannot be an excuse for not recognizing its existence. But to attack the very idea of privilege as a non-existent liberal construct can’t be accepted. Privilege is very real and recognizing when you benefit from it is a vital step to recognizing that it exists wherever one group has a cultural or economic advantage over another.
And finally, there is a temptation for men to involve themselves heavily in arguments about feminism, sexism and women’s issues generally. Where this happens among anarchists it can be important to remember that anarchists do not tend to believe that the working class need a party-political vanguard. Why should women need a male vanguard? Yes, solidarity is important but there’s a tendency for this to be muddled and for men to maybe go a little far. Men may do better to listen to women more and talk at them less. Women are the ones who suffer in a society that grants men automatic privileges. They are best placed to come up with ways to deal with this. This is not to say that men can’t be feminist in their outlook. Far from it. I just believe that on more occasions men could do a lot worse than to check themselves before they offer criticism or opinion on women’s issues, and to take into account that perhaps their view may be coloured at least a little bit by the privilege they enjoy as men.
I don’t think we can move another step on the road to the emancipation of the working class until these issues have been ironed out for good. It doesn’t make any sense to destroy state and capitalist institutions, organizations and structures that have these issues embedded in them only for us to embed them in the world we want to build to replace these structures. It makes no sense and it’s not why we’re fighting.
*I think the debate on social media as a good platform for reasoned debate can wait until a later date.