Oct. 18 — The sordid video of Donald Trump’s vulgar sexist remarks has opened up a widespread national conversation on sexism and misogyny in the U.S. and ignited deep outrage.
There are two important lessons that progressives and revolutionaries must consider during this conversation.
First, the scandal has brought to the surface the horrific nature of women’s oppression in capitalist society. Fighting sexism, along with fighting racism and police terror, must be at the top of the progressive agenda. As the U.S. may soon elect its first woman president, it is of the utmost necessity to fight sexism. And that fight must be considerably nuanced.
Second, the election campaign has revealed that the political system administered by Washington on behalf of Wall Street and the Pentagon is in deep crisis. Capitalism at a dead end. Despite the demoralizing campaign shenanigans, workers and oppressed must not retreat, but be inspired to build a revolutionary movement like never before.
A “shitstorm” of misogyny
The recent video of Trump boasting of sexual assault has unleashed and emboldened Trump’s “deplorables” in their woman-hating. The video opened up wounds for many a victim of sexual assault, with the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network reporting that calls for help by women had jumped to about 800 a day.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors U.S. right-wing and hate groups, began to document anti-women groups a few years ago. It also tracks “manospheres” — blogs and online forums launching sexist attacks on women — and reported on those in “Misogyny: the Sites.” (splcenter.org)
Mark Potok, editor of that report, remarked: “I was completely astounded. I had no idea that there was this dark world of woman hatred” where “misogyny had become an increasingly common means of articulating broader discontent.” (New York Times, Oct. 16)
Trump doubles down
Trump’s sexist crimes of verbal and physical assault have showed that women’s oppression is alive and well under capitalist society — not just abroad but right here “at home.” The capitalist media and U.S. administrations’ justification of imperialist war to “save women” have, in the past, located the oppression of women as if it happens only in the Middle East or elsewhere.
But now the video and Trump’s subsequent denial of ever assaulting anyone have encouraged women sexually assaulted by him to come forward. At least 11 women have recounted the vilest incidences. Trump has walked into teen beauty pageants while young, underage women were half dressed. He has approached a stranger next to him on a plane, reached under her skirt and kissed her aggressively — without her consent. He has sexually assaulted a woman journalist assigned by her publication to interview him.
Without a doubt, Trump is a sexist predator. He embodies the epitome of ruling-class, straight, white male privilege. But Trump’s reactionary sexist and racist base continues to blame women and back him. Thuggish followers have tried to cover up Trump’s behavior by claiming Hillary Clinton’s election would be a victory for sexism because her spouse, former President Bill Clinton, committed sexual assault.
Ominously, Trump supporters have stepped up their threats of violence against Hillary Clinton with shouts of “lock her up” and worse. Trump himself promised to jail Clinton if he is elected — an unheard of threat by a U.S. presidential candidate against a political opponent.
It is important to note what’s at the base of Trump’s campaign, in addition to bitter sexism. Trump has gathered and galvanized a corrosive and poisonous element. At its heart is racism. This current, always present in U.S. politics, re-emerged with the election of the first Black president, a moment in history it refuses to accept.
That is at the heart of the slogan “Make America Great Again.” What Trump supporters mean is “Make America Racist and White Male Again.” This base is anti-immigrant to its core because migrants are contributing in record numbers to the “browning of America,” a historical development they fear down to their racist boots.
News accounts indicate women are turning away from Trump’s campaign in droves. Now Trumpites rant that women’s right to vote should be repealed by abolishing the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gave women the vote only in 1920. This sexist assault links Trump’s base to current right-wing attacks on voting access for people of color, who have fought to defend their right to the ballot from the abolition of slavery to this very day.
Corrosive sexism & misogyny
Woman-hating hurts everybody. It is dangerous for women first and foremost, but it is also damaging for children. Men as well are affected by the oppression of women — the oldest oppression of all. This is why the fight to end sexism must be revolutionary and class conscious. It must be led by women, especially women of color, but men must see women’s liberation as their fight as well.
To that end, the term “toxic masculinity” has encouragingly been added to today’s vernacular and to widespread discussion. As a 2015 Salon article noted: “The three most destructive words a father or mother can tell their young son is to ‘Be a man.’”
In an Oct. 13 New York Times article, Jared Sexton expanded on Trump’s toxic masculinity: “Taking refuge in traditional masculinity is a coping mechanism that works only so much as it deadens a man and his emotions. Their masculinity, already a coping mechanism, becomes toxic. … I’ve heard men attack the character of women in the same tone that an uncle once used to call for the nuclear annihilation of the entire Middle East and the murder of every last Arab. I’ve heard men … then excuse it all with one of Mr. Trump’s pet phrases: ‘We live in the real world.’”
Sexton puts this into an economic context: “But the real world — complicated foreign policy questions, confusing social change, economic dislocation — is precisely what toxic masculinity is trying to avoid.” At a time when the economic crisis has closed factories, when Uber jobs at $13 an hour are the best one can get, when home after home is foreclosed, toxic masculinity should be studied and fought against.
That is why revolutionaries and class- conscious fighters refuse to give up on male workers. Many of Trump’s “deplorables” are lost forever. But some cannot and should not be given up on.
And real world violent attacks on women must always be kept in mind. As novelist Margaret Atwood has said, “Men are worried that women will laugh at them, while women are worried that men will kill them.” Indeed, on Oct. 10 six women walking in the vicinity of Trump Towers in New York City were accosted by a group of young men who tried to light them on fire. Those attempts were unsuccessful. (NY Times, Oct. 16)
A Hillary Clinton warmonger presidency
Trump’s misogyny was turned on its head last week by a woman of color who has endured not only racism and sexism, but hate mail and death threats.
First Lady Michelle Obama gave one of the most stirring speeches of this election season at a Oct. 13 campaign rally for Clinton. Her words in defense of women and against the actions of Trump were beautifully, dramatically eloquent.
Gloria Steinem, the 1970s feminist, called her a prophet. Democrats and independents both loved her talk. Even conservatives were shaken by it. Glenn Beck, calling it “the most effective political speech I have heard since Ronald Reagan,” said, “It kills me to say that.” (glennbeck.com)
The speech brought this writer to tears, despite the fact that Obama’s spouse has deported Mexicans and other migrants in record numbers — policies the First Lady has not opposed.
Michelle Obama spoke to the heart about the deep feelings women have about sexual predation and assault. She shamed misogynists in the process.
Then she ended her words by calling on everyone to ensure the election of Hillary Clinton. But Clinton is no friend of the people, despite glaring differences between her and The Donald.
Clinton is a well-documented warmonger, a hawk who has the blood of the Honduran, Libyan and Syrian people on her hands. She has historically backed the economic and political forces implicated in the mass incarceration of millions, primarily Black and Brown people. She is aligned with dismantling the federal welfare system, which ramped up extreme poverty for poor women and women of color.
The progressive movement must fight a Clinton administration tooth and nail on these issues and beyond. We cannot stop until Washington jails killer cops and stops mass deportations. The demands raised by young people who supported the Sanders movement — like the cancellation of student debt — must be brought forward and expanded.
But the struggle against a Clinton administration must be nuanced and thoughtful. Just as was necessary during the two terms of the first Black president, the struggle against Clinton must be factual and not sexist, pro-worker and not misogynistic.
Clinton must be attacked for her program, for her deeds and not for what she wears or what she looks like. Woman-hating terms must not be used. Her body parts are off limits, no matter her crimes.
On Jan. 20, thousands will converge in Washington, D.C., to protest the inauguration — likely of the first U.S. female president. But a woman in the White House will mean little as long as decisions coming out of the Oval Office are controlled by the Pentagon and Wall Street.
Gutierrez is campaign manager for Workers World 2016 presidential and vice-presidential candidates Monica Moorehead and Lamont Lilly.