Dec 9, 2019
The following article is the editorial from The SPARK’s workplace newsletters, for the week of December 2, 2019.
In the early hours of Saturday, November 23, Ruth George, a 19-year-old University of Illinois at Chicago student, was raped and murdered. The man who confessed to her murder, Donald D. Thurman, told police he had grown angry that she was ignoring his “catcalls.” He followed her to her car in a parking garage, where he strangled her until she passed out, threw her in the backseat of her car, raped her, and left her to die. Her family found her lifeless body in her car the next morning.
Many, many young girls and women have experienced catcalling from strangers on the street—more accurately named street harassment. One poll found that 65% of women have been harassed on the street; twenty percent of those were followed or stalked by their harassers.
Every single one of these women knows that behind such harassment is the very real threat of violence—rape, a beating, and even murder. It does not happen every time, but in every incidence of street harassment, the threat is there.
And every woman in this situation must weigh how to respond to this very real threat: ignore it, make light of it, respond calmly and firmly, or respond loudly and angrily? What response stands a chance of being most successful in ending the threat and shutting the harasser up? Who knows? It can be a roll of the dice, and the “wrong” response might end up escalating the situation—and possibly, as with Ruth George, cost her her life.
This is the society we live in. In this capitalist society, every woman is treated as the property of any man, to do with as he pleases. Existing for the enjoyment of every man she passes, not for herself. It’s the inevitable result in a class society where women were treated as their husbands’ property for centuries; it’s the inevitable result in a society where property rights for profit production are treated as sacred—more important than human life.
In such a society, it is considered natural for boys and men to be trained to treat every woman they see as their property—if not literally, then in nearly every other sense, existing to serve their desires at the drop of a hat—or else.
We see this attitude reflected throughout our society, at every level—from the pussy-grabber in chief on down. (And Trump wasn’t the first president to do so—he was just the first one to put it out there so crassly.)
What’s amazing in this society is not that there are so many men who carry such attitudes and behave in such a way toward women—but that there are many men, even in this society, who do not. Even swimming in this sea of abuse, there are indeed many men who don’t act this way, who don’t feel that it is their right to consider every woman fair game.
It is not inherent in the male gender to act and think in such a way. It IS a matter of training. That training may be everywhere in this society, but it doesn’t have to take root. And even when it does take root, people can break their training.
The Black Movement of the 1950s and 60s and the Women’s Movement of the 1970s both helped push back against that training and the men who carry it. The recent movement has pushed back, a little bit, again.
It will take even more massive movements, by women, joined by men, to finally do away with such an ancient monstrosity, along with the society that perpetuates it. When the working class finally breaks from a society based on exploitation and property, we can finally move to complete the building of a society based on truly human and equal relationships.