Occupy Wall Street and Feminism and Misogyny (Oh My?)

 

I’ve been 100% on board with Occupy Wall Street since it began almost a month ago. I wrote about my experience protesting with them on October 5, and—leading up to the Times Square Occupation—I almost had goose bumps. I was ready to take the square. And then, it happened—I browsed Facebook. In my defense, I went to the Facebook community page for Occupy Wall Street to find out exactly when and where I should meet my fellow protesters, but instead, I found a YouTube video posted by the page administrator that more than seven hundred people had shared and on which hundreds of people had commented. I had to watch it. I wish I wouldn’t have. The “comedian” ranted with so much repressed disdain for women that it couldn’t help but leak out, turning his tirade from something intended to critique Wall Street and the Banks into an opportunity to degrade women directly; when he ranted about the true Economy Tankers, or the mainstream media, or those who don’t support the movement, he conveniently addressed them as an abstract and general “you.” I created a transcript of the entire video just to make sure I wasn’t going all woman and not understanding comedy and getting unnecessarily pissed about little things that don’t matter. Let’s see! Video and transcript below, with bullshit in bold:

The New York Times, the highly respected New York Times, did a great article yesterday about Occupy Wall Street. The entire report revolved around how Occupy Wall Street is a big pain in the ass to the area’s public bathrooms. Now there’s two things you need to know about the last sentence I just said. A: I’m not kidding. B: The double entendre was unintended. There will be several more of those in the following three minutes, and all of them are unintended except for seven. The New York Times, which is a so-called liberal media outlet, is more concerned about the harm done to the public restrooms than they are with the harm done to the American people by corporations and Wall Street titans who make Charlie Sheen’s moral compass look like that of Harriet Tubman. As billionaires continue to shit all over this country like it’s a bathroom near Occupy Wall Street, the media is more worried about the bathrooms near Occupy Wall Street? Are you fucking serious? Get your head out of your ass, and maybe you’ll be able to better see your priorities. This world is a shit storm of greed that desperately needs mopping up. We’re talking about people’s homes, people’s lives, people’s dreams, and the media wants to make it about the discomfort of millionaires who live around Liberty Square? The article said mothers have trouble getting strollers around police barricades. God forbid the revolution should get in the way of your evening stroll with pookie wookie. This may not be a revolution in the traditional sense, but this is a revolution of thought. Americans are tired of greed over good, profitable pollution over people, war for wealth over the welfare of average workers. This is a thought revolution, and the revolution will not be sanitized. It will be criticized, ridiculed, intentionally misconstrued, and misunderstood. But it’ll push through. Shit all over it all you want, but the floodgates are open now. The revolution will not be tidy. The revolution will not fit with your Pilates schedule. The revolution will not be quiet after 10 pm, and it will not fit easily into a mainstream media- defined paradigm. The revolution will affect your bottom line. The revolution will affect you whether you ignore it or not. The revolution will not be dissuaded by barricades or pepper spray, driving rain, police raids, or ankle sprains. It’s like the postal service on steroids; pepper spraying us is like throwing water on gremlins—the more you do it, the more of us show up. The revolution will be annoying to the top 1% and those who aren’t open minded enough to understand it. The revolution does not care if you satirize it; you still won’t be able to jeopardize it. The revolution will not wait until after your hair appointment, your dinner party, tummy tuck, or titty tilt. The revolution does not care about your lack of intellectual curiosity. The revolution will not be televised, but it will be digitized and available on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and anywhere real ideas are told. The revolution will not be hijacked by your old, tired, rejected political beliefs. The revolution will make politicians squirm, bankers bitch, elites moan, and those with Stockholm Syndrome scream, “Hit me, punk criminal assholes. Shut up and do what our captors told you. There’s a sitcom on about a chubby guy who hates his wife, and we’re supposed to watch it. Now fall in line.” The revolution will not be monetized, commercialized, circumcised, or anesthetized. Good god, don’t you get it? Greed is no longer good, and it’s not god. The thought revolution is here to stay whether you give two shits about it or not. The revolution would, however, like to apologize for shitting all over your apathy. Now pick a side.

Damn me! It’s not like I wanted to be right about this guy being a total misogynist profusely praised by hundreds. (Okay, they didn’t say, “You hate women! Awesome!” but I’m inclined to believe that ignoring the hatred for and alienation of more than 50% of the population, especially among a group of people that claims to represent the needs of 99% of the population, doesn’t exactly bode well for the group’s collective message of inclusion. Remember, the Facebook page administrator for Occupy Wall Street posted this video.) Many women and people from minority groups have written important pieces about their hesitation to fully engage with the Occupy Wall Street movement. I guess up until I watched that YouTube video, as tiny a thing as it may be (it somehow got under my skin), I didn’t truly understand where they were coming from. I’ve mistakenly been abiding by that ol’ standby, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” which meant to me that, yeah, I’m pissed at Wall Street and the Banks; the protesters are pissed at Wall Street and the Banks; therefore, we’re in this together, regardless.

That idea of working toward a common goal, often at the expense of women, has been around forever. We encountered it with Voting Rights. We even encountered it with the identity politics surrounding the 2008 presidential election. The message is always something like, “Don’t worry, ladies; your time will come eventually! We’ll worry about your oppression later.” But while I agree with most of what that video transcript says, I can’t simply ignore the specific rage toward women. I’m a woman. That kind of rhetoric negatively impacts all women. I might not be a mother; I don’t take Pilates classes; I make hair appointments maybe once every eight months; and I haven’t had plastic surgery. But I’m still a woman—regardless of whether I’m as privileged as the women his rant carelessly mentions or whether I’m part of the 99%; I’m not immune. Suffice it to say, by the time Occupy Times Square rolled around, I forced myself down there. For the first time since the movement began, I felt apathetic, confused, and just … icky about it.

But then! After hanging out under a giant rainbow tarp with my fellow protesters in Times Square, and listening to the wonderful street musicians, and chanting, “This is a peaceful protest” when the cops started to get a little edgy, and clapping like crazy when a nice police officer tossed our beach ball back into the crowd, I left with a feeling of … hope? Again? Just like when I participated my first time? And it didn’t feel like that crap hope Obama tried to sell sold during his advertising presidential campaign. It felt … dare I say … real? What is wrong with me?

Like I said—I felt confused. But the thing I realized is I truly believe that most of the organizers and participants I’ve personally met are trying. We live in a patriarchy, which means that smaller groups organized by men and women often inevitably turn into mini-patriarchies. The difference with this movement (I hope) is that the protesters at least recognize the intersecting oppressions of gender, race, class, and sexuality and are trying to change the group dynamics; we’ve had fairly shitty models thus far (visited any matriarchies lately?). It may seem small to merely recognize something, but it’s a pretty big fucking step in the right direction. That isn’t to say that each individual who makes up the group’s members necessarily examines her or his relative privilege as much as she or he should, if at all; but I honestly believe the group wants to get there. The media certainly doesn’t help by painting Occupy Wall Street as a movement organized by a bunch of entitled, young, lazy, pot-smoking white boys who got bored playing video games in their parents’ basements. I can attest—it ain’t like that. Women abound!—a very diverse group of intelligent women whose visibility shouldn’t be minimized, let alone relegated to the sexist bullshit that is Hot Chicks of Occupy Wall Street. (UGH.)
Now, before I unveil my counter-Tumblr blog to showcase the Women Occupiers, I want to first discuss the main reasons this movement, even after my recent reservations, still works for me as a woman and a feminist.

Consciousness Raising: If that douchebag said anything important in the video, he said that Occupy Wall Street is a thought revolution. I agree. And the particular form of activism this movement employs comes directly from consciousness-raising groups formed by feminists in the 1960s. (That may explain why the mainstream media remains clueless about how to discuss it; it’s got that “woman stench” all over it.) Wikipedia briefly defines consciousness raising as “a group of people attempting to focus the attention of a wider group of people on some cause or condition.” The meetings helped women become more politically conscious while also illustrating that individual problems “reflected common conditions faced by all women.” Occupy Wall Street began as a small group of people camping out in Liberty Plaza and—as the direct result and success of their consciousness-raising tactics—the movement has literally gone global. Not only do people march in protest, but they also occupy public spaces for extended periods in smaller groups, often bringing in speakers and setting up scheduled talks that are open to the public (including their General Assemblies). The We Are the 99 Percent blog on Tumblr also represents a viral version of consciousness raising, where a diverse group of individuals impacted most by the Economy Tankers take to the blog and share their personal experiences in order to raise consciousness about the tangible consequences of the rising economic inequalities. It’s working. Go 1960s feminists!

General Assemblies: I have yet to attend a General Assembly, so here’s a quick explanation from the downloadable guide: “The General Assembly is a gathering of people committed to making decisions based upon a collective agreement or ‘consensus.’ There is no single leader or governing body of the General Assembly—everyone’s voice is equal. Anyone is free to propose an idea or express an opinion as part of the General Assembly.” And in their working draft of the Principles of Solidarity, two of the points of unity include: “recognizing individuals’ inherent privilege and the influence it has on all interactions;” and, “empowering one another against all forms of oppression.” I very much like this. As I stated earlier, the effort to examine privilege, even if it occasionally fails, still represents something important and fairly new as a mainstream ideal. (As Occupy Wall Street continues to gain momentum, I don’t see how it can continue to be described as “fringe.”) I have no doubt that this system works sometimes and implodes other times, and I’ve read accounts from women, specifically women of color, who’ve attended a General Assembly and felt that their voices weren’t heard or their views respected. I find those occurrences unacceptable and disheartening to say the least, but I don’t find them shocking either. I can only hope that the values defined in the group’s literature prevail as everyone struggles to examine her or his privilege. After all, that struggle is, in itself, a feminist act.

Economic Inequality: This issue represents my main reason for staying onboard with Occupy Wall Street. Their proposed list of demands from a few weeks ago (not to be confused with any “official list of demands”) includes raising the minimum wage to twenty dollars an hour, instituting a universal single payer healthcare system, free college education, a racial and gender equal rights amendment, and debt forgiveness. It’s no secret (I hope) that single mothers and women of color make up the majority of the poor in the United States. RH Reality Check ran an important piece in August of 2010 that broke down the unemployment rate for these two demographics. Basically, as of around this time last year, the unemployment rate for women who head families climbed to its highest rate in over 25 years. The unemployment rate exclusively for women of color without children jumped to its highest rate since 1986. Newman concludes her article as follows:
If we are not willing to invest in the very programs that will help pull some of our poorest Americans—single mother led households and women of color—out of the spiral, then we are not rebuilding the economy. We are only as strong as our most vulnerable, as the saying goes. To continue a national discussion on unemployment and the recession without acknowledging that our women and children are suffering the most, not because we aren’t able to implement programs and pass legislation like universal, affordable child care, paid sick days, increased food stamp benefits, fair pay standards and more but because we aren’t willing to do so, is something we must own up to and do something about if we are to rise above these hard times and come out stronger than we were when we headed into the recession.

Exactly. And I believe the Occupy Wall Street movement desires to motivate the people to do just that—to push for the necessary programs and legislation that will help the poorest members of our community, you know, not starve, and to challenge our ingrained notions of power—more importantly, who gets to have that power and therefore who gets to make the decisions. The movement makes clear, even though the media keeps pretending it’s an unfocused mess, that what unites the 99% is a collective lack of economic power, which, in an unregulated capitalist society, translates into no fucking power. When your government representatives make decisions about the welfare of the people based on how much money Wall Street pays them, then it’s likely that “the welfare of the people” quickly turns into “the welfare of the people who paid us the most money to look out for their welfare.” Ha. An article from Ms. called, “We Are the 99%, Too: Creating a Feminist Space Within Occupy Wall Street,” further examines this issue of power, privilege, and oppression:
When we think about the elite 1 percent in a position of economic and political power in America, we have to recognize that those elites are predominantly straight, white men. Their position of power is upheld by patriarchy, by white privilege, by heteronormativity. If we want to dismantle oppression in our society, we can only hope to do so by recognizing the ways in which these various systems of oppression intersect and support one another. That doesn’t mean we can’t focus on the economy as a nexus of inequality; clearly, the occupation of Wall Street speaks directly to fighting corporate power and economic privilege. But we cannot imagine creating a society rooted in equality without fighting for all forms of equality, and that includes embracing feminist values. 

I encourage everyone to read the article in full because this discussion is important. The disturbing videos on YouTube—one showing a police officer pepper spraying a group of women, and another showing a police officer picking up a woman and dragging her into Citibank—I’m sure only begin to scratch the surface of what women deal with while occupying. Women deserve to start the conversations about the impact of economic inequality, to participate in the conversations, to change the conversations, and to end the conversations—and they deserve to do those things while not facing police brutality, while not experiencing sexist attacks from a random YouTuber who thinks he’s a comedian, and while, for once, not being sexually objectified. All those things work in tandem to further take away power from women, and we need women in this fight. So, being only one person, but wanting to combat some aspect of this shit, I created Women Occupy, a no-frills Tumblr blog where anyone can upload photos and videos of women occupying, whether that occupation takes place on Wall Street or in Madrid (or wherever). This is also what giving a fuck looks like. Now go. Upload. The end.

 

  • http://coastliveoak.wordpress.com/ coastliveoak

    Fabulous post!

    The reason that posts about Occupy Wall Street belongs on a women-centered film blog is because we will have better films when it is successful. But we’ve got to make sure that views like yours are incorporated.

    This post is very dense–reading it will take me a hour or more. (because I follow all your links, of course.) Should I read this, or get my other work done so that I can participate in my local Occupation? (And should that be Decolonization because this is Native land that is already occupied?)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15762293782750106815 msjuliawright

    Great post! The revolution might not be televised, but it will certainly be misrepresented in various forms of communication and media. Not entirely slanted towards a feminist criticism, but this LA Times article could be a useful addition to your links. Basically, “stop protesting it could cost us some thousands of dollars to hire gardeners to relawn City Hall.”

    http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2011/10/occupy-la-los-angeles-city-hall.html

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11726944499905911195 b.n.

    Thanks for this! I would also bold the ‘circumsized’ in this statement. “The revolution will not be monetized, commercialized, circumcised, or anesthetized.” I have been very disturbed by amount of phallic and rape imagery that is casually passed around in describing both corporate power and the response of protesters, and which also seems to be largely unquestioned.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17745691711567675960 Stephanie Rogers

    Thanks for the comments! Good point, b.n. You know, I originally wrote a whole paragraph about his use of Stockholm Syndrome too, but the piece just started to become too long, and I’d already made my overall point. But that phrase upset me as well because, while Stockholm Syndrome doesn’t exclusively apply to women, the most famous cases are of kidnapped women (especially young women) who’ve been emotionally seduced by their captors. It’s also often used to describe battered women who stay in abusive relationships.

    This piece was cross-posted at The Good Men Project, and the commenters there were relentless in defending this guy. Not surprising, but problematic nonetheless.