The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Working Class Women and the Fight against Harassment

Nov 27, 2017

In the U.S. and internationally, many professional women have decided to stop keeping the bosses’ sexual harassment, assault and rapes a secret. They have told their truth in press conferences and by joining the Twitter campaign: #MeToo. Men who were victims of sexual abuse as children or adults have come forward, also.

This is similar to what happened in the campaign against sexual abuse by priests in the Catholic Church. In both cases, success at public shaming reached a critical point. Public support for the victims allowed a breathing space for an outpouring of previously hidden truth. Today’s groundswell has allowed professional women in many walks of life to publicly shame and “out” powerful and “respectable” men for their repulsive, demeaning and often criminal behavior.

In fields where the man’s “public reputation” matters, women have felt protected enough by the #MeToo campaign to multiply their voices. A few disgusting and powerful men have been forced to resign. This has particularly happened in the world of media. Because the media industry depends on public image, predators have fallen in the world of movies, journalism, and the Olympics. When the “YUK!” factor gets high enough, viewers tune out. The bosses decide to cut their losses and start firing a few serial predators.

But for the masses of ordinary working women whose bosses are not the least bit famous and whose power does not depend on a good public reputation, what can women do? Sexual harassment happens to women who work in fields and farms, in mines, in factories, in hotels, in restaurants, in offices, in transportation, with computers, in court rooms, and in legislatures. If the truth ever comes out, we will learn that women workers in the White House have been victims, too.

Every day on the job, with no fanfare, militant working class women have learned to stand up to their harasser and let him have it with both barrels. Whether the woman gets fired or not has a lot to do with having a network of support and respect organized around her. The reaction of coworkers matters. Tolerating harassment strengthens the boss. It is one more leg of management’s divide-and-conquer strategy.

But at any particular moment, working class women are not always in a position to feel able to fight. Some who are most victimized by sexual predators work in isolated jobs. Women who work in hotels as maids, or in private homes as domestic servants or as farm workers in isolated fields describe frequent sexual harassment.

For as long as rulers have been lording over workers, for as long as “class society” has existed, women have made the decision to feed their families and keep quiet. But their abusers are no less wrong.

How can we call this a “modern” society–a “civilized” society–when any low level boss, in any walk of life, can get away with demanding sexual favors in exchange for women keeping a job or getting a promotion?

Sometimes a look at history makes the present clearer. In the Dark Ages, the bosses of that society, feudal lords, demanded sexual favors from the women who worked for them. It was “normal.” This preying on women sexually has deep roots. Some days it seems not much has changed from then until now. If it feels to working women like it will take a revolution to completely topple this deeply rooted oppression, that is the truth. At a minimum, it will take a lot of organizing in workplaces before working women feel safe to speak up.

But every fight for dignity has the possibility to become contagious. If the fight begun by professional women starts to spread to working class women’s lives, a way forward can open up for all working people.

On the subject of women’s secrets, here is another: The secret suppression of women’s role in the history of social movements. It’s another “secret” that needs to be outed!

Many a social movement, many a strike wave, many a revolution has reached its tipping point and begun the long road to victory when women decided they were fed up. Courageous acts by individuals as well as masses of women demanding food for their families have often been the spark to light the powder keg of revolt. In the end, for working class women to throw off the harassment of the petty boss requires the same solution as for workers in general to throw off the harassment of the petty boss. Organize!