Woman as Reason: The humanism of #MeToo

From the January-February 2018 issue of News & Letters

by Terry Moon

Participants at the Women’s March in Chicago on Jan. 20, 2018. Photo: News & Letters.

A story in The New York Times about how Time Magazine’s person of the year is people they dub “the silence breakers” begins: “First it was a story. Then a moment. Now, two months after women began to come forward in droves to accuse powerful men of sexual harassment and assault, it is a movement.” Well, no. First there was a movement, then came decades of retrogression and reaction topped off by the election of the Abuser in Chief, then there was a moment—it was the Women’s March a year ago on Jan. 21. As part of that revitalized movement, given impetus by the March, women started speaking up and men began to fall.

Time is out of line calling the women on their cover “the silence breakers.” Women have always been speaking out, struggling to break the silence! We have fought; we have gone to the police, who for decades treated domestic violence as nuisance calls, taking the abuser for a walk around the block to “cool off.”

We have reported rapes, put up with the invasive procedure needed to collect evidence from our battered bodies and then had those rape kits pile up by the tens of thousands in police basements and storage rooms, forgotten, leaving serial rapists free to strike again and again. Women have spoken up at work against their abusers and been demoted and fired. Women in non-traditional jobs spoke out against brutal harassment by their co-workers, often to no avail.

There certainly has been a “silence,” but it is not because we’ve had to wait for women to speak out.

HUMANISM PERMEATES THE MOVEMENT

When the Women’s Liberation Movement first began in the mid-1960s, the Marxist-Humanist revolutionary philosopher Raya Dunayevskaya brought out its essence with the category: “The Women’s Liberation Movement as Reason and Revolutionary Force.” She caught the red thread of humanism that runs through over 50 years of women’s struggle.

#MeToo, as part of that revolutionary red thread, shows this truth in a visceral way: that revolution must deepen at every point in order to finally make the relationships we have with each other actually human relationships. Because if #MeToo shows us anything, it is that men are not treating women as human beings. 

The fight to overcome past mistakes shows that the 50-year history of women’s contemporary struggle is not lost, but has deepened its humanism. Women of color are taking the lead in making sure that #MeToo will be a movement that will include all women. That is what it meant when there was an outcry that Tarana Burke, the Black woman founder of #MeToo, was left off the Time cover.

Then Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, an organization that represents 700,000 women field workers, wrote an open letter to their “Dear Sisters,” “actors, models and other individuals” “who have come forward to speak out about the gender-based violence they’ve experienced.” They wrote in part: “Even though we work in very different environments, we share a common experience of being preyed upon by individuals who have the power to hire, fire, blacklist and otherwise threaten our economic, physical and emotional security.” They ended by writing, “please know that you’re not alone. We believe and stand with you,” and they signed their letter, “In solidarity.”

The women in media responded by resurrecting “Time’s Up,” with a $13 million legal defense fund, which has already grown to $16 million.

THE ATTEMPT TO NARROW THE MOVEMENT

Naturally, there’s a backlash, be it from right-wing-always-sexist-anyway-men, to Leftists worried their male icons will finally be outed, to snotty elitist French pseudo-feminists. None of them have made a dent in #MeToo.

A more serious threat is the pressure coming from leaders, the press and some Leftists, to tie the red thread of humanism into the knot of electoral politics. Clearly, no one can be blamed for hoping that elections will throw the racist, sexist, money-hungry, anti-human Republicans out the door. But what else is evident by leaders of the Women’s March and the Convention in Detroit and certainly by the elected officials who spoke at both is that their drive to narrow the scope of this movement reveals their fear of revolution. The Trump administration fears it too, thus its unrelenting attack on forces struggling for a better world, especially women. 

There is nothing more important than to fight against the narrowing of this passionate movement for a more human world, including making the revolutionary nature of that fight explicit.

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