Safe spaces in the #occupy movement: My piece for The Occupied Times

Last week, I was privileged enough to be asked to write a piece for @OccupiedTimes, the newspaper for the London Occupy camps. I wrote about the need for safe spaces for women and how to build these. I’ve cross-posted the article here for anyone who can’t get down to the camp to pick up a copy of this brilliant paper. 

What are we doing here? Are we building a new society, or are we merely the latest incarnation of a wave of indignant protest? I hope we are the former: the beginning of something special.

If that is so, we are currently building our new society in the image of its predecessor, albeit with more tents and banners. In our camps, we see the same kinds of oppression as we do in the unoccupied old world.

In the outside, a beast called patriarchy rules the social domain. In our camps, the situation is little better. Many women do not feel safe camping overnight. Perhaps it is not safe for us to stay.

Over the last week I have heard accounts of women who have been sexually harassed in the camps, usually by drunken men. There has been gendered name-calling and dismissal of the opinions of women. There have been rapes: one in Occupy Cleveland, the other in Occupy Glasgow. Women face the same kinds of oppression in occupied spaces as they do outside. While rape is an issue which can affect people of any gender, it is most commonly men raping women. The system which allows this to happen thrives upon silencing other kinds of sexual violence.

Meanwhile, Occupy Baltimore has included in its security statement on rape the promise to provide abusers with “counselling resources to deal with their issues”, as though a rapist is a victim too. In Anoynmous’s document providing guidance for living in a revolution, they suggest the solution to prevent rape is to “NEVER PROVOKE”, as though rape is the victim’s fault. At Occupy LSX, when we discussed banning alcohol, a topic that often came up was whether this would solve the problem of lagered-up harassment.

These solutions do not attack the root of the problem and some present somewhat dangerous thinking, tangled up in the language of the outside world. To build a new society, we must all work together to make our camps a safe space for women. First our occupied spaces, then the world. This is what we can do.

· DON’T RAPE PEOPLE. Rape is never the fault of the victim, always that of the rapist. To stop rape completely, don’t rape.

· LEARN ABOUT FEMINISM. We’re here to learn from each other. Feminism provides the solution to taking sexism out of life, and provides us with a language to discuss such issues. Read books, read blogs, talk to feminists.

· ADOPT A ZERO-TOLERANCE POLICY ON SEXISM. We say we have this. Let us show we have this. Do not let an instance of sexism—be it a gendered slur, a pat on the arse, or an “ironically” sexist joke—go unchallenged. Call it out. Something as seemingly harmless as a joke reflects and legitimises sexist beliefs in wider society.

· If a woman has a complaint, TAKE IT SERIOUSLY. It is a myth that a lot of rapes are falsely reported. Statistically, it’s very likely the allegation will be true. The same goes when a woman talks about experience of sexism or sexual harassment. She’s probably not overreacting.

· WOMEN-ONLY SPACES. Until we have stamped out all instances of sexism in our camps, women will need somewhere safe to be. Many women find it a lot easier to deal with problems without men present.

· If any of the above seems unreasonable, CHECK YOUR PRIVILEGE. Perhaps you’ve been lucky enough not to experience sexism in your life and don’t see why you should have to do anything to help others as you’ve never experienced any of the problems yourself. This does not mean the problems don’t exist. Not having experienced these problems is what feminists call “privilege”. It doesn’t make you a bad person, but it means you need to learn more.

· Finally, and I cannot stress this enough, DON’T RAPE.

What are we doing here? Are we building a new society, together as a community? It will be hard work to overcome sexism yet to grow this movement and rebuild from the bottom up, it is a matter of urgency that we begin to create a safe space. Women are 50% of the 99% after all.


 

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15 responses to “Safe spaces in the #occupy movement: My piece for The Occupied Times

  • Kate Harris

    Hey. I really like this and think it’s great. I wrote something that has quite a lot of crossover with this piece.

    http://beyoungshutup.wordpress.com/2011/10/30/how-not-to-be-a-patriarchal-arsehole/

    Sisterhood, solidarity and thanks for being a feminist voice within Occupy. I can tell you straight up that the Scottish Occupy contingent is messed up beyond repair but it sounds like London is doing somewhat better.

    Kate (@katelizharris) xx

    • stavvers

      I love this post. I love how we converged on pretty much exactly the same points, and you made some that I would’ve were I not constrained by the word limit: it’s because we’re right. It’s so important that this stuff is said, I’m so sorry the Scottish movement is floundering. Hoping that we can fix London before it’s too late.

      Solidarity!

  • Tedious prick, Mike Buchanan

    The overwhelming majority of men don’t need to be told not to rape, by you or anyone else, because they have no inclination to rape. The overwhelming majority of men have a dererence towards women which is cynically exploited by damnable feminists in Parliament and outside.

    As Erin Pizzey has been pointing out for decades – and academic research bears this out, let me know if you need me to point you to it – women commit as much domestic violence as men. The feminists’ response to this allegation of female violence? Ironically, to protest by making death threats against Pizzey. I’m proud to include a Foreword by this fine woman in my forthcoming book, ‘I SOILED MYSELF IN RENO JUST TO SMELL MY POO’.

    ‘Check your privilege’? What a typically disingenuous piece of feminist nonsense, let’s add it to the long list of feminist lies, fantasies, delusions and myths. You say to a woman whose experience hasn’t led her to hate men, that her experience is untypical. You’re so keen to spread your misandry you’ll stop at nothing.

    I’m not so sure any more that it’s as simple as feminism making women depressed and angry. I think depression and anger inclines women to feminism. Misery loves company, and you feminists are a bloody miserable lot. The world would be a happier place without you. In an ideal world we’d ship you all off to an island where you could breed among yourselves (good luck with that) and run an economy based on 100% female corporate boards. Hmm, I wonder how successful that would be?

    Mod-note: This comment flouts rules 3 and 5 of the comment policy. It is entirely intact, save for the part breaking rule 3. And perhaps I made the commenter’s name more descriptive.

    • A.Tory

      Agreed, bear in mind that the type of “feminism” espoused here is, essentially when you strip it down, a mental deficiency. This particularly noxious incarnation of feminism isn’t about winning the vote or equal pay or equal working rights for women (all of which I support) it is instead a barren and pathologically miserable loathing/fear of men and masculinity in all its natural evolutionary forms. Imagine for a moment if, it these so-called “occupy camps” men started calling for “male only” spaces. However this type of feminist ideology is little threat to anyone or anything so I wouldn’t concern yourself overmuch, a glance at any of their arguments reveal a bleak world of mental and emotional imbalance rather than a coherent socio-political ideology making it immediately unattractive to anyone who isn’t the unfortunate victim of some deep seated personal issues.

    • MarinaS (@marstrina)

      What about point 4 of the comment policy, moderator? There isn’t a single statement in this screed that doesn’t breach it.

  • pip

    Great article, thank you. Coming from Occupy Glasgow where the tragic rape you mentioned happened, and having weathered the aftermath, media storm and surrounding debate, everything you say here is true and should be retold widely. Better informed and prepared camps will only decrease the chance of such a thing happening again. (I should add that many women do feel safe enough to stay there now).

  • sciamachy

    All sounds reasonable – I think your women-only spaces idea has a lot of merit, but also, take a full-on riot grrl approach to such things. Some guy comes out with an offensive comment, feel absolutely free to gang up on him & send him running scared. Give him a good kicking if need be. Nothing readjusts a sexist guy’s attitude like a beating from a bunch of women. It’s not to everyone’s tastes, but if you band together you’re collectively invincible.

    • pip

      I can’t see how beating up people for what they say helps anything. Indeed when does violence ever resolve a conflict?

      Education is a privilege too, and the bulk of prejudice comes not from malice, but ignorance and its natural partner, fear. Imagine if you grew up in a house where the only reading material was the Sun.

  • Mike Buchanan

    Hmm… give a man a ‘good kicking if need be’ for an offensive comment? It seems you ladies find a lot of things offensive – any gender-typical male behaviour or comments for example – so there will presumably be a lot of ‘good kicking’ going on. You must be proud of yourselves.

    ‘A Tory’, thanks for your post. In common with 99% of people in the UK I have no problem with equality of opportunity for women (or any other group), what I object to is special treatment. Anyone who’s worked for many years in the business world – as I have – knows that for the most senior positions able male candidates greatly outnumber able female candidates. Hell, if you remove the issue of ability there’s still a very strong gender imbalance. Individual women don’t themselves want those demandng jobs, as always they want OTHER women to do them.

    And the idea that more diverse boards will deliver better results is a Leftie theory which, by definition, is ludicrous. But it will be an irreversible move – politicians being the spineless specimens they are – so we can look to the long-term decline of the private sector and consequent penury. What a happy world you ladies are fighting for.

    • Pamela Morgan Redela

      Put your money where your mouth is in the “I have no problem with equality of opportunity” and SHOW the deference you proclaim to have for women. Stand up, speak out, DO something when you see blatant sexism happening. It’s not about “special treatment”; it’s about having our needs, such as bodily safety, as female human beings met with the same degree of seriousness and legitimacy as those of male humans.

      You know the saying, “If you’re not part of the solution…”

  • The world around the tent « tentnothoughts

    [...] tried Googling ‘society in Occupy camps’ but the only useful thing was a friend’s blog on gender problems. #OccupyLondon, #OccupyLSX and #OccupyLFS will not talk about this because [...]

  • cedarphotos

    Great Post.

    I’m surprised that Occupy Baltimore offer to provide rapists with counselling.
    Effective treatment for sexual offenders is a highly specialised area of work, is in its infancy and (unfortunately) is rarely effective. In the UK at least, it is not generally available, except through isolated pilot projects in prisons!
    I doubt Occupy Baltimore have access to such resources, nor do they have any responsibility to provide them.

    Take Complaints Seriously: Yes, yes and Yes! All sorts of protest movements (not just Occupy) deal pathetically badly with women reporting sexual assaults and harrasment.

    I’d like to see a “how to” (and how not to!) guide on the steps we expect organsiers to take when a rape or sexual assault is reported on a protest.

  • Jane Chelliah

    I am a great supporter of Occupy St.Paul’s and am there quite often. I launched UK Mother Outlaws yesterday in Tent City University which will discuss feminist mothering on an ongoing basis. I am sorry to hear about the sexual assaults. Is there no safe place from patriarchy?

  • William Joey Dorsett

    want a safe place for women at occupy, have the men volunteer to take salt peter, might get more done this way too. but this article is full of sexism, and silliness as well. to say get rid of sexism, then talk about feminism is sexist…. we are all people, males get rapped too… and serious, at the end of the article, you stress not to rape people… duh we are all not children, and the people that rape people, are not going to be stopped by hearing or reading the words don’t rape people….

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