A post which appeared on Scotland Indymedia entitled “Open letter from Glasgow Women's Activist Forum to Occupy Glasgow” is the latest addition to an increasing number of articles which draw attention to incidences of sexual assault and harassment experienced by women participating in the Occupy protests around the world (1)
In the letter, Glasgow Women Activist's Forum state that “We, the undersigned, are writing to those involved in the Occupy Glasgow protest because our voices have hitherto been marginalised and our concerns systematically ignored in the days following the rape that occurred at the protest on Tuesday.”
This is a message that is being echoed on blogs and websites across the world in response to an alarming number of attacks on women. In Glasgow, Scotland, a woman was raped in the tent she was spending the night in at an occupy protest taking place George Square. In the U.S.A women in Cleveland, Dallas, Kansas and Portland have also been raped while participating in occupy protests. On the 10th of October a man was arrested at Occupy Wall Street for groping a woman, while at the Occupy Denver protest, a man was arrested for groping a reporter (2).
But perhaps more disturbing are the misogynist responses to these attacks from some protesters themselves. As Danielle Binks writes “what really makes a mockery of the Occupy movement is the response to these claims of sexual abuse amongst the protestors. When news broke of the Cleveland rape claim, one protestor even queried whether the abused woman was a ‘plant’, attempting to discredit the rally.”
“Occupy Baltimore released a ‘security statement’ pamphlet to their protestors which discouraged police involvement if any such crimes were committed. The Baltimore occupiers were heavily criticized for this ‘speak no evil’ stance, and have since revised their policies.”(3)
The recurring description of the women who have been attacked as “transient, run-aways, or homeless women” in drawing attention to their social status, is the suggestion being made that lower class women are less deserving of justice?) as well as the distancing of occupy protesters from them (claims that these women “were not part of the protest”) serves only to perpetuate inequality, the very thing the movement claims to be fighting against.
On blogs women are asking the question “Are Women Safe at Occupy Protests?” In her blog Lola-at-large comments “It’s a fair question to ask, considering the continuous reports of rape and sexual assault, as well as sexual harassment coming from the Occupy protests. Rapes and sexual assaults are happening, 12 by my latest count, with the movement barely six weeks old. That’s a pretty abysmal track record.” (4)
In another article People of Colour Organise points out that it is not only women who are confronting safety issues (5)
“A lot of women, queers, and trans people—along with many people of color and undocumented immigrants—do not feel comfortable sleeping in an open space with a lot of men, surrounded by police. Police presence ensures that protestors could, at any time, be risking arrest; and a racist police system ensures that people of color will be targeted. Unrestricted male presence in all sleeping areas ensures that protestors could, at any time, be exposing themselves to molestation and/or rape; and patriarchy ensures that women, queers, and trans people will be targeted.”
The presence of Julian Assange, a man facing allegations of rape and sexual violence, at an Occupy London rally, furthur reinforces that age old tendency to put women's issues to one side in the name of so-called social justice “When will we start to understand that any movement which asks women to put up with sexism as a sacrifice for the group, as if sexism isn't part of the problem, is doomed to fail? It's no accident - or secret - that women make up the majority of the world's poor and that women are being hardest hit by the financial crisis” laments Philippa Wilitts on the F-word blog (6)
Perhaps, the inequality of the Occupy protests is best represented in the YouTube video 'Hot Chicks on Wall Street” an amateur documentary that the maker claims is “Pics of hot chicks being all protesty.” While many (mostly men) within the movement, including the maker himself have defended the film, Rebecca Traister sums up the crux of the argument “This video is sexist. It’s an example of women participating in public life — political, professional, social — and having their participation reduced to sexual objectification. That’s what happened here, nothing more, nothing less.”(7)
In response to this full spectrum of attacks on women, websites like “Occupy Patriarchy” have sprung up. The aim being to “provide a supportive, global space for feminist analysis, response and organizing and networking within the world-wide Occupy movement.”
“It is our observation that institutions such as Wall Street are manifestations of the far deeper and greater problem of patriarchy which depends in large measure on the exploitation, disempowerment, and subjugation of women, yet (as is all too often the case in progressive movements) the analysis of issues presented so far has shown little effort in looking at the various issues discussed from a feminist vantage point, including but not limited to the following:
Women make up the overwhelming majority of people living in poverty and do the overwhelming majority of unpaid work on which everyone’s lives depend.
Our reproductive rights and agency are continually under siege.
The overwhelming number of victims of sexual exploitation and violence are women and this exploitation intensifies under conditions of economic devastation.
While these issues impact all women, women of color are far more likely to suffer the consequences of patriarchal domination.”
It is sad, but perhaps not unusual, that a movement which is supposed to stand for egalitarian aims has in fact perpetuated many of the inequalities which exist in society. Real social change can only occur when those that are most marginalized and oppressed, the real 99% of society, are empowered by a movement. However in the case of occupy it seems that once again the status quo is being maintained and it is still the privileged few whose voices are being heard. Until this is seriously addressed, no radical system change can occur as a product of this movement.
"Every organization, every movement, struggles with acknowledging systematic oppression. Movements that deny racism, movements that deny sexism; movements that are completely unaccountable to the very people they claim to be liberating; these movements will fail. Again and again, we have witnessed their failure." (9)
(1)Open letter from Glasgow Women's Activist Forum to Occupy Glasgow http://www.indymediascotland.org/node/25722
(3) "Dichotomy of Ideals" http://www.spinifexpress.com.au/Blog/display/id=56/comments=show/
(4) "Are Women safe at Occupy Protests?" http://crayfisher.wordpress.com/2011/10/31/are-women-safe-at-occupy-protests/
(5)"Justified Rage from an Unsafe Space: Reflections on Occupy Wallstreet" http://www.peopleofcolororganize.com/activism/organizing/justified-rage-unsafe-space-reflection-occupy-wall-street/
(6)"We are the 49%?" http://www.thefword.org.uk/blog/2011/10/we_are_the_49
(7) Feministe website http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2011/10/14/hot-chicks-of-occupy-wall-street/
(8) Occupy Patriarchy website http://occupypatriarchy.org
(9)"Justified Rage from an Unsafe Space: Reflections on Occupy Wallstreet" http://www.peopleofcolororganize.com/activism/organizing/justified-rage-unsafe-space-reflection-occupy-wall-street/
This article also available from http://edinburghanarchafeminist.noflag.org.uk