This year has been marked by heinous attacks on women’s rights. The Slutwalk movement emerged after a Toronto cop, Michael Sanguinetti, suggested women avoid rape by “not dressing like sluts.” The protests that followed hinted at the revival of the feminist movement. Tens of thousands of women in multiple countries moved out into the streets protesting sexual assault. The spread of these protests internationally show that women are ready to move into struggle. But will the Slutwalk movement fall prey to the same missteps of other single-issue movements, or will it be able to connect with broader struggles against all forms of oppression?
Slutwalks captured the imagination of a new group of women who didn’t get to experience the energy of the feminist movement in the 1960s. Different from the national women’s organizations, the Slutwalks are grassroots and generating more of a stir. During a time when Planned Parenthood has to defend its funding by minimizing abortion services, Slutwalk participants aren’t worried about offending anyone. This suggests a contrast with the mainstream feminist organizations, who have steadily degraded the militancy of the original call for “free, on-demand abortion for all” to make their messaging more palatable to the Democratic Party.
Yet the Slutwalks have failed to connect with larger numbers of women, particularly on the basis of word “slut.” Women of color take issue with the use of the word, raising concerns that referring to themselves as sluts only validates racist narratives about black women and other stereotypes.
War on Women
There has also been an uptick in attacks specifically on reproductive rights, including attempts to limit the availability of contraception, eliminate Title X funding for Planned Parenthood, codify transvaginal ultrasounds prior to abortions, and extend waiting periods for abortions. All of these measures chip away at reproductive justice by providing steep barriers to accessing abortion services.
Attacks on women go well beyond reproductive rights; as states slash budgets to deal with deficits, the effects for women are compounded. They not only face losing their health care through cuts to Medicaid, but are also threatened with unemployment as shrinking budgets lead to job cuts in health care and education – industries where women predominate.
As child care and elderly care funding is eliminated, it is typically women who step in to fill the gap. The services lost must now be provided by women, to the detriment of their participation in education or the workplace.
Obama failed to wage any serious fight-back against these attacks. Rather, he’s mounted his own attacks, overruling the FDA’s decision to make Plan B available over the counter.
Romney wants to completely defund Planned Parenthood and overturn Roe v. Wade. Paul Ryan, his running mate, voted over 50 times against women’s right to choose and co-sponsored a failed personhood bill that would have made abortion and some forms of birth control legally equivalent to murder.
Most recently, Representative Todd Akin claimed women could not become pregnant in cases of “legitimate rape.” This is not only untrue but, more alarmingly, points to the continued shift to the right by politicians in attacking abortion rights.
Socialism and the Liberation of Women
Capitalism depends on the oppression of women and the millions of unpaid hours worked domestically by women. Widespread poverty among women maintains a desperate workforce that competes for low wages, allowing for profits to concentrate in the hands of the 1%.
Women cannot allow their demands to be limited to what is acceptable to the Democratic Party: small reforms that can be stepped back at any time, as is happening now. Obamacare leaves 30 million people uninsured. No insurance? No birth control. We need universal health care with free, accessible contraception and abortion services.
Abortion rights were hard-won in this country through mass struggle. We must build for the Slutwalks planned in our cities, while understanding that our true allies in struggle are in the working class.
Slutwalks should link up with working people fighting against injustice, building a unified understanding of oppression, both of women and of the working class, to mobilize the power needed to successfully lift all women, workers, and the poor up and pressure whichever ruling-class party is in power to accept our demands.
Until we deal with the system of capitalism that relies on having an exploitable class of people to use for cheap labor - be it single mothers in America or poor rural families in China - we won’t be addressing the root cause of oppression; we’ll always be struggling to defend basic rights.
We need to build a party of workers and the poor that stands solidly for the rights of all who are oppressed and understands that domination of society by Wall Street and big business needs to end. Only then can women’s rights be guaranteed. Only then can women, in solidarity with the 99%, successfully liberate themselves from all oppression.