Despite what sectors of the on-line left wanted to believe the Bernie Bro thing very real and very toxic. And of course we see this overtly sexist behavior come out continually from said bros. But this isn’t just an online thing. There’s huge problems with unexamined toxic masculinity on the left. Groups like the Black Bloc idolize such behavior. Other guys go to leftist meetings in no small part to get laid. These are real things and have been for a very long time. For just as long, women have had to deal with this behavior and have too often accepted or internalized it. Beginning with women such as Casey Hayden standing up to sexism in SNCC, we have seen women aggressively attack this overt sexism, but it continues. It can really tear organizations apart, as is happening right now on the radical left in Providence.
As the left grows as part of the resistance to Trump, we see a big boom in DSA membership. I haven’t gone down this road because it doesn’t seem a very good use of my time, but that’s an evaluation anyone has to make for themselves. Let a thousand flowers bloom. In any case, it’s hardly surprising that DSA meetings are also full of rampant sexism. This is a really good essay on combating sexism in the DSA that we can adapt for whatever organizations we work with.
1. Feminism is a socialist issue, and women’s issues should not be ignored in favour of more “serious” issues. It’s not unusual to watch people on the left dismiss action on simple issues. Why? Lord if only I knew. Maybe it’s to fulfil the left’s obsession with needlessly overcomplicating things. Maybe it’s latent sexism. I neither know nor care, the problem exists and the answer is simple: don’t do that. Simple issues are no less meaningful than complex ones and can often be a helpful recruiting tool. If women see that socialist organisations are getting involved in educational fights, or in women’s health fights, they will be more likely to see utility in joining those organisations.
2. Don’t let men dominate discussions. It sounds obvious, hell, it is obvious, but it’s one of the biggest mistakes I see socialist groups making. There are simple and effective fixes to this, that, when implemented correctly flow so fluidly it’s almost impossible to tell that the men in the room are being decentralised. Strategies like taking stack are helpful because they help minimize moments of tokenisation (instances like, “Are we sure there aren’t any female-identifying people who’d like to speak right now?”) but also help to put the wider group at ease with one another.
3. Create a community. While this applies to left organising in general, I cannot stress its importance enough in helping to make socialist spaces palatable to women. Providing a system of resources and support to your socialist organisation will help encourage not only women but also the less timid left-inclined folks to get involved. Minor adjustments, like providing free childcare at meetings, ample notice for events, and accessible systems of redress for sexual harassment or gender discrimination can provide women with the comfort and security they need to turn out to socialist groups.
4. Don’t overwork your non-male members. If I had a penny for every organisation I’ve seen with three severely overworked non-male members and 30 very relaxed male members, I would be a very rich woman indeed. Things like all women shortlists are good, and truly a wonderful way to engage women, but if it ends up that your all women shortlists are made up of the same few women over and over, consider abandoning some of those fights until you have more non-male members to fill the slots. It’s a controversial suggestion, but if you’d like to prevent all your female members from burning out, you’re going to have to make some sacrifices while you work on the gender balance.
5. Mentoring is more beneficial than most realise. If you just rolled your eyes at that because it’s such a feature of liberal groups, trust me comrade, I feel you. But at the same time, having more experienced women available to mentor younger women can make a difference in helping women stick around. There are a lot of unique challenges women face when they make their way into the world of activism and organising, and having someone who has faced the same obstacles before to provide guidance is invaluable.
This seems to be relevant to anything we do, DSA members or not.