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.