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Why Feminism Should Be A Part Of The Occupy Movement

November 21, 2011

Feminism has a lot to offer the Occupy movement and I am very grateful to the Women’s Media Center for asking me to write about this and explain why we started the Occupy Patriarchy website.  Here is an excerpt from my essay which appears in its entirety on their website:

As the clarion call of  Occupy Wall Street has spread throughout the United States and the world, many feminists have greeted the movement with enthusiasm and the hope that it will be a substantial opportunity to advance many of the issues that we have been working on for so many years.  Affordable childcare and unequal paychecks, for example, are most certainly economic issues and reproductive injustice and the commodification of women’s bodies in the sex trafficking and pornography industries have huge economic ramifications.

Put bluntly, the harms experienced by women as a result of global and national economic policies are, in aggregate, different and often far worse than those experienced by men…

…For any real economic justice to be gained for the 99 percent, those issues certainly need to be addressed as an integral part of the Occupy agenda.

Unfortunately, logical as that might be, those who seek to address these topics and insist that they be part of the Occupy agenda are finding themselves confronting many of the same obstacles that women often face outside of the Occupy movement—such issues as safety, sexism, misogynist power structures and a lack of gendered analysis.

Please click here to read the essay in its entirety.



November 19, 2011

A lot of our mail asks about strategies and ways of dealing with overt sexism when we encounter it at Occupy gatherings.  For the last few weeks, the word “whistle” as in the kind coaches use to get the team’s attention not the catcall variety, has been on my mind and today ShielaG wrote a comment to one of our earlier posts that picked up on the idea and offered a great example of how it might be used:

What we used to do back in the day in college classes where male professors made sexist comments… we brought whistles to class, and every time the man said “girl” or made a demeaning “nice” comment about women, we literally blew the whistle.

In a theology class, every time the male professor used “he” as the pronoun for god, we blew our whistles. It took about a week for these men to stop the sexist words. No shouting needed, just 20 plus women with whistles, plus handing out leaflets explaining the use of the whistles.

Women need to participate in large groups (100 plus), with whistles and stop watches to time male vs. female speech. Women interrupted by other men — whistles could blow loudly while he talked.

It was amazing to see how nervous those male teachers were when the women came in with whistles around their necks. And we poured on the pressure by blowing them if the male made a “joke” to deal with the women standing up against sexism in the classroom. Interestingly enough, no other male students supported this action, and often confused sexist speech with freedom of speech. Heaven forbid that men would loose the power of freedom of speech to call women names, grab mics away from women, and threaten women with harm for speaking up against male supremacy.

Anyone inspired to make a run to the nearest sporting goods store and stock up?

Oh Maybelline

November 18, 2011

Well it had to happen, but if ever there was something too ironic for corporate cause-branding, it would be the Occupy movement. The irony however is apparently lost on Maybelline, which wants to make sure you have on the right shade of lipstick before you go to jail:

Yup, no doubt about it, we want jobs, healthcare, no more foreclosures and oh yeah, lip balm we can believe in.  Actually, not a bad idea, but Maybelline Go Currant 440 might not be the one smack your lips on.  According the the Environmental Working Group, other than a few concerns like neurotoxicity and endochrine disruption, no worries:

EWG also has data on numerous other not so safe cosmetics.

Memo to Maybelline–companies that sell toxic harmful products and resist full disclosure of their ingredients to consumers are not the 99%.  Please take some of your makeup remover and wipe off your comically obnoxious cause-branding.

h/t Greg Mitchell at The Nation for pointing to the ad,

Our friend at Bag News, Michael Shaw, with a great look at likely attempts to turn Occupy into a reference in major commercials, starting here with Maybelline lip balm.  At the site he does creative job of contrasting scenes in the video with actual photos from yesterday’s protests, especially woman getting pepper-sprayed on the….lips. Video below, as Madison Ave is Occupied (sort of).  Paging Don Draper!  Note: This “making of” video was shot a year ago but the commercial just started airing last month (often in movie theaters).

Empowering The Feminist Voice At Occupy–Confronting The Silencing Of Mic Check And Other Misogynies In The Occupy Movement

November 16, 2011

Listening to people yell, “Mic Check!” at Occupy locations throughout the country, it is hard not to observe that those with the loudest voices are the ones who really get heard with this system, and those voices usually are male baritones.  Talking to women here in Washington and also reading reports from elsewhere, it is clear that many women find this system of having to yell at the top of your lungs to be one that is an uncomfortable way to communicate and participate.  Some women report being harassed when they speak, and even of mics being grabbed from them.

We are constantly told it is a system of consensus but was everyone really consulted about how communications would work?  It seems unlikely. While many of us want to work on communicating about issues such as reproductive rights and unequal pay (that have long been on the feminist agenda) and why they are so important to true change,  it is hard to do so when the communications system itself is intimidating.

The other day I listened to (mostly) young men at Occupy DC say that they wanted us to tell them when we found something they said to be offensive so that they could learn and change how they are interacting with women.  It was good that they were attending a session on sexism, but hello?  How many decades have we been pointing this out–YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS ALREADY!  And yes, I’m shouting, I am just flabbergasted and utterly depressed that we are still having this discussion in progressive, revolutionary circles.

It isn’t rocket science even if every movie, ad and video game tells you this behavior is cool, it isn’t. What it is is a manifestation of the system you claim to want to change. Don’t ask us to keep pointing out your misogynist behavior, you really should be able to figure it out yourselves, take responsibility for it and stop it because you know what, you are wasting precious time and energy and keeping us from discussing what feminism brings to a movement that aims to address economic inequities, starting with the most obvious point that women get paid less than men, so those inequities hit us the hardest. There is a lot more to it than that, but that is pretty easy to grasp, so let’s start there and insist that this very basic truth is a crucial issue that must be addressed if we are to achieve real change.

Listen also to Jon Stewart’s interview of Nobel Peace Prize winner, Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee on The Daily Show. Towards the end of the first segment, Stewart compliments her for being “charming and vivacious” despite what she has gone through. Had she been a man, I think we can assume he would not have used those descriptors.  Effectively what he was saying was that oh yeah sure, you led a peace movement that ended a civil war at great risk to yourself and won a Nobel Peace Prize, but hey, you’re still a woman so by gosh I must objectify you.

But no amount of sexist cutesy drivel on Stewart’s part can detract from Gbowee’s powerful words. Especially if you are not familiar with her story and even if you are, listen to her talk about what they found it necessary to do and her call to those of of in the U.S. for action.

It is time for women to be heard in the Occupy movement and to do so we need to move beyond the mic check system that effectively drowns us out and not waste time pointing out blatant, obvious and clearly offensive behavior.  That is not why we are at Occupy.

What Gbowee and the women of Liberia did, sitting, meditating and going on strike offers us a different model. To sit down and not participate in the systems that oppress us, be they in Occupy camps or elsewhere. We need to be clear that we will communicate what we need to communicate on our own terms and in a way that is comfortable and empowering to us.


I am writing this as police move in to try to shut down Occupy in numerous locations.  We know what many of us have suspected, that DHS and federal law enforcement is involved in this.  Tomorrow, November 17th is a national day of action.  It would be wise to use this as an opportunity to channel what Gbowee modeled for us in Liberia and to think of the words of Ghandi.

Note:  This post was originally posted on the Feminist Peace Network and you can see the video of the interview with Leymah Gbowee there.  For some reason I was not able to get those videos to post properly on this site.

Women Have The RIGHT To Occupy (W)all Street(s) Without Fear

November 13, 2011

The Ms. Blog used the picture below to illustrate the statement on anti-harassment and anti-assault in Occupy spaces (to which Ms. and Occupy Patriarchy are co-signers).  My first reaction to it was, “Yes!”  My second reaction was, “Not quite…” It’s a nice word play, but I’d re-word it to say, “Women have the right to occupy (w)all street(s) without fear.”  Occupying the streets should be an innate right, not something we ‘deserve’ or have earned–that makes it sound like it is a privilege that we earned for what?  Having babies and cooking dinner?  I don’t think so.  The way it reads, however well intentioned, strikes me as an inadvertent illustration of the problem it is attempting to call out.


Additional thoughts based on initial comments below and on our Facebook page–I think one of the reasons the word ‘deserve’ doesn’t sit well with me is that we have heard rapists and sexual abusers justify their actions all too often by saying that she ‘deserved’ it.   That said, kudos to this guy for holding that sign and I hope he’ll keep standing with women who occupy.

Postscript:  The man holding the sign responded on our Facebook page and understood  my discomfort with ‘deserve’.  By way of context, he explained that there was a Slutwalk going on that particular day and the sign was intended for both that and Occupy.  A case could definitely be made that ‘deserve’ is a way of calling out the issues Slutwalk is addressing, but he saw what I was saying in terms of the Occupy context.  Regardless of the appropriateness of the wording of the sign, it still seems problematic as an illustration for the Ms. post.

An Amended and Updated Announcement About a Day of Women’s Action-November 25

November 11, 2011



On Nov. 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the CLAW (Clear Action for/by Women) coalition will hold an all-women assembly, speak-out and rally at Battery Park, starting at 1 pm, to be followed by a march to Liberty (Zucotti) Park on Wall Street. CLAW is calling for the dismantling of the immoral and unethical economy of Wall Street, whose ingrained allegiance to racism and the patriarchy compounds class war against the 99% with a race war against people of color and a War against Women.

Wall Street’s war against women has created 21 million impoverished women in the US, a 500% increase in the number of jailed women, ¾ of whom have children, and has resulted in 43% of the nation’s children living in households on the brink of impoverishment, with 15 million children in actual poverty. That single women with no dependents are 26% of all poor women shows the all-encompassing War against Women launched by Wall Street.

This denigration of women’s worth has translated into the impunity with which women are physically and sexually assaulted. More than 200,000 women suffer attempted/completed rapes each year, with women aged 24 and under suffering the highest rates of assault. Domestic violence correlates directly to families’ income level with women in the lowest income category being six times more vulnerable to physical violence. Wives comprise 81% of all persons killed by spouses.

Overseas, Wall Street’s globalization practices wields the same horrendous race and gender exploitation so that women of color comprise 70% of the global poor. It is with the voice of women and of the global poor that we speak out and demand the dismantling of the unspeakable horror of class, race and gender exploitation that Wall Street has unleashed upon us. We demand a more ethical and equitable economy and an end to the deliberate victimization of women and of communities and even nations of color.

The Crimes of Wall Street:

  • Women continue to suffer huge income disparity under the patriarchal system of gender and race discrimination. White women workers earn only $0.77 to every dollar a white male worker makes; black women, $0.64 and Latinas, $0.52. This wage discrepancy leads to a loss of $300,000 to a woman worker over her work life.
  • Women constitute 64% of minimum wage workers in the US.
  • Single mothers of color are the hardest hit in the current mortgage crisis, because banks had targeted communities of color for high cost subprime. 35% of current subprime loans actually qualify for lower-interest prime loans, which would have saved many homes from foreclosure.
  • Women are both consumers and commodity in corporate culture, urged to shop even as images of women are used to sell products, from electronics to beer. Women’s bodies are the main merchandise of both the sex and labor trafficking markets.
  • Multinational corporations derive 68% of their global profits from women workers who are paid the equivalent of $2 a day while creating products sold for hundreds of dollars in the US and European markets: electronics, garments, toys. In labor camps stretching from Honduras to Mexico to Cambodia to the Philippines, these corporations, whose stocks are traded on Wall Street, defy labor laws and anti-pollution laws. They take out 100% of their profits from the underdeveloped countries, creating economic catastrophes. Some of these corporations ignore sexual harassment and the victimization of women workers; some sterilize women workers to save on maternity benefits and to keep plants running 24/7.
  • 200,000 women are in the US military; half are deployed overseas, leaving 230,000 children motherless. 30,000 single mothers have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan in wars to enable multinational corporations to takeover other countries’ resources.
  • The right to suffrage of women, particularly women of color and female senior citizens, is under attack, with Wall Street’s puppet politicians imposing ever stricter requirements on voting. Districts where people of color predominate are divided and re-divided, to water down the communities’ already limited power within the electoral process.
  • Race and gender discrimination permeates Capitalist Patriarchy and is enhanced by corporatism which categorizes women and women of color in particular as both cheap labor and cheap commodity, as both producers of goods and extreme consumers, as subject to both sexual objectification and sexual repression. The one in 15 people living in extreme poverty in the US today is likely to be a female of color, carrying the triple burden of class, race and gender exploitation.

We say enough and say:
Black Friday Black-out!
March instead of shop!
Assemble at Battery Park on the 25th of November, 2011, 1:00 pm.
Dismantle it!
Contact to endorse this statement and action:

revised/updated: Beyond Safer Spaces to FREE SPACE (for Women)

November 11, 2011

I’ve just read a new piece on Persephone Magazine, called “How about We Occupy a Rape Culture.”

The piece is valuable as a compendium of (reported/publicized) cases of men’s assault on women but I was particularly intrigued by mention of an accountability process being implemented by the women at Occupy Wall Street:

The current method of confronting violence. . . . is to identify and isolate the perpetrator/assaulted, call the Mediation/Security folks and talk to them individually. In cases of sexual assault, the survivor would be asked whether they’d like to go to the hospital, call the police, and/or (as these are not mutually exclusive) go forward with an accountability process.

This is the best news I’ve heard so far—even more powerful than the safer-spaces forf women-and-GLBT folks  safe sleeping area. Don’t get me wrong: I’d sleep there in a nano-second if I was physically able to camp on the street at this point in my life.  However, why not re-name “safer spaces” in bolder, imagination-inciting words like Free Space for Women?  Freedom is a precondition of safety, and freedom is what we’re really after right? It certainly seems the right word for what OWS is already creating with its methods of direct democracy and transformation of everyday life. Freedom for women is our ability to determine the conditions of our own participation in movements, and our own demands for the transformation of everyday life–this living of freedom in the here and now is of course a rich resource for cultivating a radical political movement.

The very fact that women are organizing groups like safer spaces shows that women are beginning to invent our freedom–but also shrinking a bit back from it at the same time. I fear that these “safety” zones, rather than gloriously and joyously as well as necessarily angrily manifesting the Freedom of OWS– remain patrolled by invisible electric fences of ideological barriers we dare not cross lest we be taser-zapped by the invisible cops of patriarchy: men in the street, bed or head. In the head means piped in through media-outlets, pornography and everyday discourse among peers. The inner Reality-show-male emcees  warn women that we will no longer be desirable to men if we go too far, or that if we go too far, we might earn the name “feminist” or ‘bad feminist; meaning , among other things, hairy, dyke, castrating feminist.”  While you might not agree with Valerie Solanas in the S.C.U.M Manifesto, she makes some good points one of which is to call out to “thrill seeking females” to stand up to male dominance and men. Surely women of occupy are already thrill-seeking females in their daring to throw themselves into history by organizing this new movement from day 1.

So to women who live at Occupy and/or attend so many meetings: I am inspired by you as you take the step of shifting from targeting “victim blaming” which is abstract and isolates what is actually an effect of the root cause, namely rapists and rape culture to focusing on the perpetrator with an accountability process.  It’s powerful because such a process has the potential of deterrence since no perpetrator wants to be confronted with what they have done but mostly of politicizing the community—in particular the women organizing this—since it is through practice that new ideas and more radical practices have the potential to evolve. When I say more radical, I mean that I encourage the women organizing safer spaces to work at connecting the problem of sexual assault to the larger political picture associated with Wall Street.  In confronting Wall Street, we are confronting Capitalism, a world system based on exploitation. By this I mean that elite classes—a broader swathe than the 1 per cent—is affluent because it lives off the surplus value (profit) extracted by capitalists from low paid workers.  Capitalism is also organized around male power and intersects with the world order of patriarchy based on men’s exploitation of women. Sexual harassment and rape of women must be seen as sexual exploitation, a systemic means for men (a conservative estimate is that 90 per cent of perpetrators of sexual exploitation including the rape and sexual assaults of GLBT folks are men) to use female bodies for male “profit” in the form of surplus-pleasure, controlling interests in sexual relations between men and women.  Rape is one violent form in which sexual servicing is demanded for male needs. The sex industry makes this already systemic power relation even more entrenched as a system in capitalism—and the race basis of much of this sexual exploitation is very important here. From the infamous and infamously banal but banally vicious Hot Chicks of Occupy Wall Street video to the Facebook Page Occupy Vagina to the less extreme but also pernicious tactics with which white men are resisting women’s efforts to organize ourselves: You are divisive; you are distracting from the real issues; you need to stick to one message, etc. The sentiments of male resentment and sometimes rancor are already revealing themselves and thus providing a true object lesson that should further incite women to not only organize but work to name the problem of patriarchy and of men’s sexual exploitation of women that is at the root of the harassment issue–and talk about how this issue connects to other issues of exploitation both sexual and economic and race based or all of the above.

I am also cheered by the goals of women organizers to implement a social contract at the General Assembly that includes stating the conditions under which people will be allowed to stay at Zucotti Park:

In the meantime we’ve been drafting a community agreement, a document that states the conditions under which people are allowed to stay in the park. This has been reviewed at the GA and is still a work in progress. It’s also controversial, as some complain that we’re basically policing the space (except, you know, we don’t have weapons or structural leverage). But it’s called a community agreement because, as people bring it to the GA for amendments, it is a public document developed by the community.

Of course it’s “policing” for women to hold men accountable for abandoning their god-given (they think) and natural normal red-blooded American male rights to demand that women remain physically and/or sexually available to them. Notice that this kind of verbiage is awfully reminiscent of Fox News talk about sexual harassment and unfortunately often echoed by male Lefties in their various venues of speech and action.  Let’s not be scared off by this tactic either!

So I join with the writer of the linked article: Yes, Occupy Rape Culture!  And I urge all to attend the General Assembly (and I will supply date here once I get it) when the community at OWS will debate about implementing the above social agreement.  Courage, Sisters! Keep on stirring it up! There are many of us who have your backs!

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