In the beginning of this fall 2014 semester, Emma Sulkowicz began carrying her mattress around campus to protest the mishandling of her sexual assault case by Columbia University’s administration. Emma was raped during her earlier years at Columbia and when she, and three other women who were sexually assaulted by the same man, reported it to the administration, they found him not guilty in a hearing and dismissed the women’s cases. When Emma tried to appeal the case, the dean decided to ignore the issue. She will continue carrying her mattress, in a protest that has been named, “Carry That Weight”, until the man who raped her is expelled from the university.
To hear that these women’s cases were dismissed is not surprising. These women are just a few examples of sexual violence cases that get reported and then ignored, or even worse, they are not reported at all. Many women avoid reporting their cases because they are turned away from executive and administrative bodies. It is no wonder then, that they feel uncomfortable confiding in these administrations because they know virtually, nothing will be done.
Sexual violence happens due to the social structure of inequality where the women are exploited in many sectors of life, and this is amplified depending on class and nationality. Sexual violence affects women with long term effects on women’s mental and physical health which include sexual and reproductive problems. Yet, sexual violence is only one form of women’s oppression. In fact, sexual violence is seen as a tool for keeping women in check in capitalist society.
Working class women are the most important cogs in the capitalist system. In order for capitalist demands to be met, the ruling class controls women’s labor and sexual functions. Whether this is in actual wage work, where women are paid less than men but also exploited in specific feminine ways. This is “affective” labor, which are demands that are put solely on women. Examples of this are women waitresses, bartenders and stewardesses who must keep a feminine composure in spite of the harassment they face on the job. This also leads to the commodification of women in general; for example, in the media or in romantic-sexual relationships a woman has an actual exchange value according to her status as a “presentable” woman. Another example is women as sex symbols in commercials or in actual exchanging of sex and/or sexual acts for money in sex-work industries (stripping, prostitution, pornography). Then, there is unpaid domestic work where women perform the reproductive tasks of maintaining a family without compensation.
Working class women live in a cycle of oppression; often times women can’t get housing for her and her children because she doesn’t have a job, but she can’t get a job because she doesn’t have her own address. Women who get their children taken away from them because she can’t financially support them go through years of bureaucratic court and public service systems that are supposed to help, but actually keep women tied to the repressive system. Some women turn to drugs as an escape from the continuous struggles of life but are then blamed for their unhappiness and routed into the prison systems, adding to the mass incarceration of people of oppressed nationalities. Simply, being a woman takes away the right to self-determination because her life is determined by the capitalist state.
CUNY schools are currently pushing out working class people by raising tuition every year and setting the academic standards higher but worsening our high schools. In an institution whose goal it is to reproduce bourgeois ideology, we must demand a CUNY with more Women Studies departments, LGBTQ studies, and childcare and female health services. Turn the bourgeois academy into a liberation school, where our society’s most marginalized people can get an education of liberation! We demand the seizure of CUNY, where the majority of the undergraduate population is women in a city of working class people, as reparations for colonialism, slavery and women’s subjugation.
As proletarian feminists, we recognize the struggles of working class women and it’s relationship to the patriarchal capitalist state which keep women oppressed. Women’s struggle coincides with class struggle because working class women fall at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Women can’t be fully liberated from these destructive material conditions until the overthrow of capitalism, while the overthrow of capitalism cannot be successful without the destruction of patriarchy.
We, as revolutionaries, strive for a society where all oppressed people are liberated, including women. The oppression of proletarian women has a class character because gender oppression has everything to do with the relations of production. Many feminists focus on women’s liberation in sexual aspects which are liberal ways to achieve simple reforms such as making more money than men. Proletarian women are the key because unlike bourgeois feminists, there is no stake in the current system. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Solidarity with Emma Sulkowicz and all those fighting school administrations for the incorrect handling of women’s sexual assault cases!
Down with sexual violence and all forms of women’s oppression!
No revolution without women’s liberation! Women’s struggle and class struggle!