Wednesday 1 November 2017

Solidarity with Bex Bailey

Reading through Bex Bailey's account of her rape at the 2011 Labour conference made me feel sick. But what it also made me feel was weary, perhaps an insight into the kind of bone tiredness feminist comrades are used to feeling when they encounter these stories and experiences time after time after time. A year later, in 2012 in Manchester, one of my friends was similarly attacked by a conference goer. This had a traumatic impact on her mental health and ultimately drove her out of the party. That these things can and do happen at a Labour Party event, you know, the party responsible for the bulk of Britain's feminist legislative achievements, is fucking appalling. Unfortunately, this is the sharp end of a spectrum of sexist behaviour that exists in the Labour Party. It runs the whole gamut from not treating women seriously, bullying, and a refusal to consider them for seats to lechery, unsolicited text harassment, propositions, touching and so on. Society has a problem with sexist double standards. It routinely does not take claims of rape and sexual assault seriously, and because Labour mirrors the world it inhabits the party has a problem too.

Bex's experience was awful, but what happened next was no one off. While it is unusual for an official to explicitly warn against making a complaint lest it impact her future, there are thousands of women who keep harassment to themselves for very similar reasons. Some also don't want to "make a fuss" in case it casts the party in an unfavourable light. The problem is there are predatory men in our own ranks who know this, and carry on carrying on. And what is truly terrifying is they often see nothing wrong in patronising women, blocking women, touching women, harassing women. It's therefore encouraging the party has reiterated its position and is taking matters seriously. No one can hide behind ignorance any longer. The same cannot be said for the Prime Minister and the army of rightwingers lining up to denigrate and minimise the issue.

Yet while, at least officially, Labour is institutionally anti-sexist, as it is anti-racist and anti-anti-semitic, it was appalling to see some idiots carry on about the Tories on the very thread the story broke on. This was less a case of naive and more one of stupid, tactless, and emotionally barren cynicism, a product of the semi-conspiracy thinking abroad among the new left and conditioned by the suspicion millions of people more or less default to when a woman makes a rape claim. It shows that even on the left there is much to be done.

But what is to be done? Sorting out the complaints procedure in the Labour Party in the first instance, and at Westminster is certainly necessary but is by no means sufficient. Here, the wider left needs to take a leaf out of feminism's book and work to politicise harassment. I mean, it's not as if women comrades haven't been trying. What's going on is a matter of power, gendered power, and we need to talk about it, analyse it, and bloody well do something about it. Things might be better now than they were when sexism on the left got a wide airing 40 years ago in Beyond the Fragments, but the continuum of misogyny is not treated at all with the same degree of seriousness racism receives, for instance. A racist remark comes - rightly - attached with huge social costs, which is congruent with the damage racist behaviour does. The same isn't afforded to women. Everyone agrees sexual assault and other violence against women is bad, but its more (apparently) innocuous relatives doubling up as background culture get free passes too frequently. Changing this culture, changing wider culture demands a statement of explicit political intent. It demands of men not only to take the politics of feminism seriously, not least its trenchant critique of sexism, but to work on our own behaviours individually and challenge male comrades to do likewise - for starters.

Writing praise for Bex's bravery and declaring solidarity with her is the easy part. Taking on sexism, making it as unacceptable as racism, and working to put women on an equal footing to men is the hard part. But is absolutely central and necessary to what socialism is about.


Tom Mapfumo said...

Fair point, well made!

Scott Newton said...

'Anybody who knows anything of history knows that great social changes are impossible without the feminine ferment. Social progress can be measured exactly by the social position of the fair sex....' Letter from Marx to Engels, London, 12 December 1868,

Daniel said...

You missed the end off of that quote.

'Anybody who knows anything of history knows that great social changes are impossible without the feminine ferment. Social progress can be measured exactly by the social position of the fair sex...(the ugly ones included)'

So close Marx, so close >.<

susan999 said...

'Writing praise for Bex's bravery and declaring solidarity with her is the easy part. Taking on sexism, making it as unacceptable as racism, and working to put women on an equal footing to men is the hard part. But is absolutely central and necessary to what socialism is about'.

The Labour Party needs to clean house. This is happening in my local area and yet locally Labour members remain largely silent about the matter. Additionally and without a hint of irony the politician concerned Waseem Zaffar is currently being feted as a high profile partner for a Birmingham event by Tell Mama a UK charity campaigning against hate crime. Yet the allegations made publicly against him last year by Asaf Kahn include violent abuse of his wife. In order to silence his critic Zaffar is seeking a high court injunction ie a gagging order. He is not suing for slander or libel as this would be a transparent process and lift the lid on what has gone on. This is what Asaf has said in a public statement. Asaf Khan lives in a deprived part of Birmingham, called Lozells. 'I try to stand up and expose any misuse of funds and power, that I can prove and highlight the detrimental impact it has the community'. Local Labour Councillor Waseem Zaffar is seeking a high court injunction to silence Asaf.
'I am being sued by Councillor Waseem Zaffar who was exposed earlier this year as the Birmingham City Labour Councillor and Birmingham City Councillor, and ex-Cabinet Member for Transparency Openness and Equality, who wanted a Catholic School to change its uniform policy to impose wearing of hijabs on Infant Girls. I have been commenting on Twitter about his actions.
Councillor Waseem Zaffar is trying to use the High Court to gag me.
At first Councillor Waseem Zaffar had complained to the Police but after investigating fully they took no action. Then Birmingham City Council, chose to send a letter warning me against using my democratic right to expose his wrongdoing. They properly took no action. Now he has instructed Solicitors and a Barrister to take action against me in the High Court in London. I have to defend myself as every person needs to be able to speak out against elected politicians and those who try to implement Shariah Law in our schools. Zaffar is up for election in 2018 and a fair contest means that I am able to speak out against him' #MeToo has generated a lot of talk but unless people are prepared to stand up and take action when such things are happening on their own doorstep nothing will ever change.

Anonymous said...

Stick to your guns it's obvious he's using his financial platform to bring about change he knows will be challenged and yo must recruit supporters who do agree with your view.

Anonymous said...

It is not right-wing or anti-socialist to reject this is a male issue.

It is primarily a male issue, but it is a misrepresentation and an abuse of language to project it as a male-only issue.

It is more accurate to describe it as people who choose to abuse a position of power.

Most of those people will be male! But not all of those PEOPLE will be male.

Be wary of PEOPLE who have a position of power over you. But do not assume the culprit assumes a stereotype.

It saddens me that it is being portrayed as right-wing or anti-socialist to uphold rational scepticism and due-course in the law. It is actually perverse.

Any accuser should be taken seriously. Just as any accused has the right to be presumed innocent.

We should not use the word victim synonymously with the word accuser, and thereby automatically assume the guilt of the accused.

Where there is no evidence of a crime, an investigator knows that this is not evidence a crime has not been committed.

How an individual may feel during the accusatory process may be awful. But it is up to those who handle an investigation to conduct themselves professionally at all times and to address the accuser with respect at all times.

An egalitarian society can only be achieved if we maintain a sense of rationality and objectivity at all times, especially so in trying times.