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Future History: Women’s Revolt Sparks Global Revolution

Richard Greeman Jan 1

Excerpts from the 2117 high school history textbook “Then, Now and How” obtained by The Future Historians:  

… It is often difficult for today’s students —raised in societies where equality, gender equality in particular, is the norm — to comprehend the oppressive conditions under which women workers were forced to labor just a century ago. In 2017, things started to change. Numbers of female employees in media, business and government came forward to accuse their bosses — prominent, powerful men — of perpetrating predatory sexualized violence against them. Others had raised complaints before, but 2017 was the year they were finally heard.

Thus, thanks partly to the rudimentary forms of social media that existed in this era, the ancient wall of silence surrounding male violence and the boss’ “right” to compel sexual favors with impunity was breached. Women of the celebrity class first created the schism within the ruling order and through it poured a vast army of angry, indignant lower-ranking female workers and employees who were tired of suffering fear, humiliation and sexual violence on the job, and who were now demanding justice.

The flame of women in revolt spread from one country to another and eventually grew into an international mass movement to put an end to male predation in the workplace and contest the patriarchal power on which the then-existing class system was based.

Celebrity Sex Scandals

The spark that lit the flame in 2017 was the publication of an article in early October in the New York Times (see Chapter 12 on liberal media) that detailed numerous accusations of sexual harassment against a powerful movie producer, Harvey Weinstein. The story detailed three decades of sexual harassment and unwanted physical contact accusations made against Weinstein by a number of women, including the famous actress Ashley Judd.

The story started a flood of new accusations from dozens of other women, including some who said Weinstein raped them. Weinstein’s predatory behavior was an open secret in Hollywood for years but his victims were cowed by threats of retaliation, and the industry establishment had kept his secret.

Women’s new-found power naturally sparked further struggles for better wages and working conditions.

At last the genie of “sexual harassment” was out of the bottle. Under the hashtag #MeToo, thousands of U.S. women began outing famous predators. Among the notable Americans outed were talk show host and media icon Charlie Rose (who preached “character”) and Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama, who, as a state judge, had famously placed the Ten Commandments in front of his court — a breach of separation of church and state for which he was twice fined. Moore, a racist reactionary accused of molesting teenage girls, was strongly defended by President Donald Trump (See Chapter 14, “The Dark Ages”), a self-confessed “pussy-grabber” whom sixteen women had accused of sexual harassment.

At first, this rebellion against sexualized workplace violence played out in the celebrity spheres of politics and entertainment. The media had a field day publicizing ever-new sex scandals about the rich and famous while the underlying labor issue of power and inequality in the workplace was downplayed.

“It is not at all the same thing to tweet in 140 characters and to bring a complaint in court,” remarked Marilyn Baldeck, an attorney and women’s rights advocate based in France, where the rebellion had also spread under the hashtag #BalanceTonPorc (“out your pig”). There, legal procedures enabling female employees to sue their bosses for sexual harassment were quietly being restricted. These procedures generally lead to more humiliation and paltry results for women who spoke out.

In both countries, working women with children to feed were often scared to complain and find themselves fired, as was commonly the case when women did complain. Acting on legal precedent, U.S. courts routinely dismissed cases brought by workers who said their supervisors propositioned, kissed or grabbed them. The judges declared that the conduct does not constitute harassment in a legal sense and refused to let the cases go to trial.

Collective Resistance

Low-wage women, too poor to bring a lawsuit and too obscure to interest the media, struck back collectively. They picked up the one method of struggle they were familiar with: the picket line. First in New York, then in Paris and around the world, “Out Your Pig!” picket lines sprang up in front of McDonald’s and other fast-food emporiums. Indignant women carried picket signs demanding predators be fired that bore the names and photos of the bosses they were outing. Guilty supervisors cringed desperately called headquarters for help, while customers, both female and male, turned away or joined the pickets. The protests gained media attention and videos of the confrontations went viral. “Out Your Pig” picket lines sprang up outside hospitals, factories, retail stores — wherever bosses used their power to abuse their workforce.

Images of working women in revolt soon spread around the globe. The pent-up indignation of super-exploited female workers in sweatshops from Central America to South-East Asia, long brutalized and sexually humiliated by their bosses, exploded into direct action. In Dhaka, Bangladesh, scene of the disastrous 2012 garment factory fire, a sewing machine operator, trapped in the stockroom by her supervisor who expected her to submit to his advances instead called loudly for help. Her fellow workers came to her defense, swarmed over the supervisor and, laughing, pulled down his pants to shame him. This predatory supervisor was never seen again and his colleagues suddenly began acting more respectful. A video showing him trying to run away with his bottom bare and his pants around his ankles soon went viral.

This episode gave a new meaning to the expression “out your pig” and from then on there was no way to stop the swarming and de-pantsing scenario from repeating itself all over the world. When the factory women informed the press that their company was making clothes for famous brands like Tommy Hilfiger, women in the United States declared a boycott to pressure management to clean up their act.

In the midst of this crisis, women across the world took to the streets on Nov. 22 for the annual International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, celebrated today as Women’s Liberation Day. Crowds poured into the streets in Peru, Mexico, France, Sweden, Spain, Mozambique to protest femicide, rape and sexual harassment. In Turkey, thousands of women clashed with police in Istanbul refusing to vacate the streets.

In France and Morocco, the outing of a popular singer, Saad Lamjarred, exposed an underlying culture of vilifying raped women when Lamjarred was publically defended by Morocco’s King. “This case is a little summary of the reality in Morocco,” said Saida Kouzzi, a founding partner of Mobilizing for Rights Associates, a non-governmental organization based in Morocco. “We can be tolerant about rape and forget all moral and religious values when it concerns men,” she added, “while at the same time we are not willing to protect women.”

Marital rape was not a crime in Morocco and sex outside of marriage was illegal (See Chapter 2, on bygone social contracts). Both rules discouraged rape victims from coming forward out of fear of being incriminated. “Going to the police to file a complaint about rape can also become an admission of having sex outside of marriage,” Kouzzi said.

Women and the Labor Movement

Women’s new-found power naturally sparked further struggles for better wages and working conditions. Historically, women workers’ resistance to the boss’ sexual predations had been at the origins of the organized labor movement. In 1905, female porcelain painters in Limoges, France went on strike, refusing to be subjected to the sexual whims of their male bosses. In 19th century America, similar struggles brought together young women textile workers in 1844 Massachusetts and so continued on.

Over a decade a half later, the U.S. women workers’ revolt grew out of a developing 21st-century culture of social movement-style labor organizing among low-paid employees. Underpaying jobs had long been consigned to women and oppressed minorities. Since 2012, the “Fight for $15” movement, backed by progressive unions like the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), had grown from a walkout by by 200 fast-food workers in New York City to a global movement of home health aides, child-care providers, airport workers, adjunct professors and retail employees, underpaid workers in over 300 cities on six continents demanding a $15-an-hour minimum wage. The change to “$15 Plus Dignity” seemed hardly a big jump. Soon an ardent demand for gender justice was grafted on to a movement which was already allied with a national movement for racial justice.

Although in that period it was nearly impossible for low-paid workers to legally win union rights under U.S. labor law, low-wage workers were able to win victories by adopting the tactics of the civil rights movement through direct action, taking to the streets and organizing. Indeed, the alliance between labor and the black liberation movements stretched back decades. As you will recall from our previous chapter, “Civil Rights, Black Lives Matter and the Annihilation of U.S. Racism,” Martin Luther King met his assassination when he went to Memphis, Tennessee to support a municipal strike of black garbage workers. This alliance was renewed in Memphis in 2017 by a public alliance between the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union and  #BlackLivesMatter. The women’s revolt for dignity completed the picture.

Women Take the Lead

Fast-food workers in Milwaukee engage in a one-day strike, 2014. Credit: Joe Brusky.

In the early 21st century, the most dynamic unions remaining on the dismal U.S. labor scene were movements of majority female workers led by women, like the Chicago Teachers Union, the California Nurses and SEIU. In contrast, membership in traditional, male-dominated bureaucratic unions was at an all-time low. Thus, a new alliance between labor, civil rights and the gender justice movement was formed in the struggle against the male violence of the openly-racist billionaire class war offensives of the Trump era.

From the very beginning, women took the lead in uniting the fractured elements of the U.S. resistance to the misogynist Trump. On Jan. 21, 2017 the day after Trump was inaugurated, a national Women’s March brought millions of women and their allies into the streets of Washington, D.C., New York and six hundred cities in the United States and worldwide. As Trump’s support plummeted to 32 percent in the polls, the New York Times reported that the women’s protest was three times the size of the Inauguration crowd.

The Women’s March was organized, rather spontaneously, soon after Trump’s election by a coterie of women who came together via social media and created a loose federation of networks and social movements. The Women’s March brought together unprecedented masses to state loud and clear their solidarity with all oppressed people — women, exploited workers and casualties of American imperialist wars abroad, as well as minoritized ethnic, religious and sexual groups. In the words of actress America Ferrera:

We are gathered here and across the country and around the world today to say, [“]Mr. Trump, we refuse. We reject the dehumanization of our Muslim mothers and sisters. We demand an end to the systemic murder and incarceration of our black brothers and sisters. We will not give up our right to safe and legal abortions. We will not ask our LGBTQ families to go backwards. We will not go from being a nation of immigrants to a nation of ignorance. We won’t build walls and we won’t see the worst in each other. And we will not turn our backs on the more than 750,000 young immigrants in this country…[”]

Against Trump’s open misogyny and racism, the marchers maintained that women’s oppression is the basis of all oppressions. The speakers and signs proclaimed mutual solidarity among the social movements they represented while, at the same time, maintaining each own group’s demands. Many signs took up the 2011 slogan of Occupy Wall Street: “This is what America Looks Like.” The most original feature of the demonstration was the proliferation of knitted “Pussy Hats” — a satirical jibe at America’s pussy-grabber-in-chief that served warmed people’s heads in the January cold.

The Harvey Weinstein scandal broke out nine months later, nine months into the Trump regime, which turned out to be even more horrendous than had been imagined by the January marchers. Yet the stage was set for a showdown.

Women initiated a series popular mass revolts beginning in 2018 that eventually provoked a split in the U.S. ruling classes. The Trump administration called upon federal troops to brutally disperse their demonstrations and sentenced manh activists to long prison terms. In our next chapter we will discuss how, after long years of struggle and hardship, the International Assembly of Working Women inaugurated the first global strikes against multinational corporations which forced them to their knees through a bottleneck strategy of interrupting their global supply lines.

Topics For Further Discussion:

Faced with an entrenched social evil, the media consensus in 2017 America was to indict “human nature” (which of course could not be changed) instead of indicting politically sanctioned workplace oppression and inequality. Thus, the New York Times, which first broke the Weinstein story, published an essay a month later entitled “The Unexamined Brutality of the Male Libido.” The author, one Stephen Marche, apparently blind to the power and impunity of a self-protective male establishment, accused “the nature of men in general” and concluded that “the problem at the heart of all this [is] the often ugly and dangerous nature of the male libido.”

Thus the Times, considered the mouthpiece of U.S. liberalism, was unwittingly spouting the same party line as the Saudi Arabian Wahhabi Imams (See Chapter 7, American Allies Abroad”), who also used the “dangerous male libido” as a pretext to lock up all Muslim women in the home and “protect” them by denying them civil rights and other basic freedoms.

Perhaps you are wondering, was this about sex or about power? Young people today grow up free to explore and express their individual sexuality. We live in a world where cooperation has replaced domination and we understand that sex is about caring and sharing, about pleasure, adventure and love. What is “sexy” about a powerful male dominating, humiliating and violating his helpless female subordinates? From your 22nd century viewpoint, it seems obvious that the male predation behavior of earlier historic times had more to do with power than with pleasure, with domination than with sex, with class society than with human nature.

Historically, male-dominated societies, priestly, royal or capitalist, had from earliest times proclaimed their rule to be ordained by the Gods or, more recently, as “natural.” This was propaganda. Modern archaeologists and anthropologists have supplied ample evidence of the existence of stable matriarchal and matrilineal societies both in ancient history and among groups that remained isolated from Western influence well into the 20th century. Indeed, it was Lewis Morgan’s 19th century study of the American-Indian Iroquois tribe that inspired Friedrich Engels to conclude in The Origins of Private Property, the Family and the State (1884) that the rise of male dominance within previously egalitarian clans and the transformation of cattle, women and children into the personal property of the dominant male was the basis of all future class societies.

Under European feudalism, the lords of the manor gave themselves the “right” to compel the sexual services of the young women who worked and lived in their domains. In the United States, whippings, beatings and the fear of having their children sold down the river, compelled enslaved African American women to submit to their masters. The same oppression prevailed under capitalism, where bosses routinely expected female workers to submit to their lusts if they wanted to keep their jobs. In addition, despite legal “equality” under capitalism women were made to do most of the work, both as wage earners, as informal workers and as unpaid home-makers, cooks, child-care and elder-care providers.

No wonder the elite men who ran these antediluvian societies united to keep women in their so-called place and closed ranks against them. No wonder many subordinate men, themselves exploited and humiliated in the workplace, were tempted to oppress and exploit the women this male culture placed under their power. And no wonder so many guilty men in those dark times unconsciously hated women, feared their power and used violence to humiliate and subdue them.

Today, in 2117, in our egalitarian society where women no longer fear male violence, where women are free to openly express their own libido and where social labor is cooperative and mostly voluntary, the question of “human nature” and the concept of the “uncontrollable” male libido seem curiously antiquated.

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Photo (top): Protesters in Boston take part in the global Women’s March, Jan. 21, 2017. Credit: Alice Rouse.