Content warning: discusses rape and partner violence
Sexism is pervasive and omnipresent in our society. A black comrade said recently, “Don’t forget that you are white. Society won’t let me forget that I’m not.” I think that it is similar for women.
We are not allowed to forget that we are women. White women like myself are not subject to horrific racist attacks such as those we see on Muslims and migrants. But women of all races are made to feel that our bodies are not our own. Our experiences of violence are downplayed or dismissed, and in the socialist movement our struggles are seen as secondary or niche, rather than something that should concern all socialists.
As a working-class woman I have little in common with the famous food writer Nigella Lawson in terms of everyday material needs or my relationship to capital. However, bourgeois women are subject to sexism and abuse from men in similar ways to women in my class.
Her husband, the super-rich art collector Charles Saatchi was photographed holding her by the throat, in public, and those photographs were published in national media. Despite this incontrovertible evidence, he was allowed to volunteer to accept a police caution — case closed. Lawson’s distress was dismissed by Saatchi as being “because we hate arguing”.
I recently was talking to a socialist woman who was dismissing the crisis in the Socialist Workers’ Party over rape claims. She said they were “overblown”, that “there is rape and there is violent rape” and implied that women should be more sensible in order to avoid being sexually abused by men. This is a profoundly disturbing attitude that blames the victims of sexual assault rather than the perpetrators. It downplays the violent nature of all rape and minimises the validity of victims of sexual violence speaking out and the idea of doing something about that.
There is a profound sickness in society where violence against women is not taken seriously. The conviction rate for rape in the UK is around the 6% mark and has been more-or-less the same for years. Rape cases are difficult to prosecute but nonetheless the “attrition rate” (the number of complaint that never get to court, or fail in court) is horrific.
One in four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes according to national government statistics and one in ten will be victims of rape.
One way to combat the culture of violence against women at a societal level would be to educate young people about sexual consent, domestic violence. Consent is not currently part of the sex education curriculum. And guess what? Last week the House of Commons again voted to exclude it.
Clause 20 (an amendment to the Children and Families Bill) was backed by women’s charities including Women’s Aid, as well as LGBT organisations who were hoping to make sex education in schools less heteronormative. Bourgeois, moralist, anti-woman, anti-LGBT concerns of preventing children from hearing about the wrong kinds of sex and the realities of relationships stopped the clause being passed.
I wonder how those MPs will explain themselves to the children who live in homes where abuse takes place when those children are adults. Or indeed how they intend to explain themselves to the adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
The movements for the liberation of oppressed groups suffer another setback as a result of this decision. We are weary and tired but we are used to this. We will continue to fight to stop the oppressions so that future generations will one day be free.