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The Struggle for Abortion Rights in Poland Continues

 

The Struggle For abortion Rights in Poland continues

The Struggle for Abortion Rights in Poland Continues

Heather Bradford

11/8/20

 

A version of this article can be found here: https://socialistresurgence.org/2020/11/04/the-struggle-for-abortion-rights-in-poland-continues/

 

Abortion rights are once again under attack in Poland and women have turned out in full force to fight back. On October 22nd, the Constitutional Tribunal, Poland’s highest court, ruled that abortion in the case of severe fetal abnormalities was unconstitutional. Poland already has the most resitrctive abortion laws in the European Union. Prior to the court’s decision, abortion was only permissible in cases of rape and incest, threat to a mother’s life, or severe fetal abnormality. Fetal abnormality accounted for 97% of the 1,100 legal abortions performed in 2018. This effectively bans abortion in the country. The decision arose from an initiative by MPs of the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) to review the law. The party has made several previous attempts to ban abortion. Reproductive rights advocates argue that the new law will force women to endure non viable pregnancies. On account of hundreds of thousands of people joining in protest, the government announced on November 3rd that it would delay publishing the ruling to offer more time for discussion. 

 

The public backlash against the ruling was immediate and massive. On Sunday October 25th, activists converged on churches to express their outrage over the restriction. CNN reported that protestors at Poznan Cathedral proclaimed that Catholics need abortions too. They also took to the altar of Our Lady of Perpetual in Warsaw with a slogan calling upon parishoners to pray for the right to abortion. Around the country, mass was disrupted and canceled, with sits-in staged at some cathedrals, statues of Pope John Paul II defaced, and some churches graffitied with slogans such as “Women’s Hell.”  Protesters also poured red paint on Warsaw’s Lazienkowski Bridge. Demonstrators wore Handmaid’s Tale robes and carried coat hangers. In actions rich in symbolism, women have also donned a red lighting bolt, which is an emblem of the Women’s Strike movement. The protesters targeted the church to demand separation between church and decry the church’s support of the government and its support of abortion restrictions. Women’s Strike, the main organizing force behind the protests, called for continued demonstrations on Monday, October 26th and a strike on Wednesday, October 28th.

 

Protests on Wednesday October 28th were held in over 400 cities and by police estimates numbered over 430,000. Across the country, women left work to join the strike and in Warsaw, activists blocked traffic. Warsaw alone had over 100,000 protesters turn out. Some carried umbrellas, a symbol from the 2016 mobilization to defend legal abortion. Military and riot police were deployed against the Wednesday marches.  The New York Times reported that the massive demonstrations that occurred later in the week on Friday October 30th were the largest since the Solidarity movement of the 1980s. One popular slogan was “I think, I feel, decide.” Another slogan was, “this is war.” Young women make up the largest demographic of these abortion activists. Demonstrators gathered in front of the government headquarters, headquarters for the ruling party, main square, then city center. The main demand of the Women’s Strike has been for the ruling to be declared invalid.  Protesters have also come out against the Law and Justice government, which won last year’s parliamentary elections, with slogans such as fuck off and fuck PiS (Law and Justice Party).  In response to the largest protests on Friday, President Andrzej Duda suggested that he was open to compromise and that terminal fetal abnormalities might be permissible and the government missed a November 2nd deadline to enact the decision by publishing it.

 

The protests have been marked violence from right wing extremists. During the Friday protests, military police guarded Warsaw’s Church of the Holy Cross and the far right protesters within the police cordon. Anti-choice activists played the sounds of crying babies on a megaphone as abortion rights marchers passed. Of the 37 people arrested in Warsaw Friday, 35 were nationalists. Black clad men attacked one of the protesters, but demonstrators fought back with what appeared to be pepper spray.  Some of the men arrested were carrying batons and knives. The New York Times reported that abortion rights activists have been attacked with flares. Two female reporters from Gazeta Wyborcza were attacked earlier last week. On Monday, October 26th, two women were struck by a car, which to observers looked intentional, as they participated in the protests. During the Sunday, October 25th protests, a woman was thrown down steps at Church of the Holy Cross in central Warsaw as abortion rights activists clashed with far right militants. Men from the group All Polish Youth attacked activists in Wroclaw, Bialystok, and Poznan on Wednesday the 28th. All Polish Youth have been behind attacks on LGBTQ marches. In 2019, the group attacked a pride march in Biyalastok with bottles, rocks, and firecrackers. Robert Bakiewicz, a right wing extremist leader, threatened that his supporters would form a national guard of a Catholic self-defense force to confront what he called “neo-Bolshevik revolutionaries.” The far right group Falanga has also made threats of violence. The Law and Justice Party has encouraged and empowered the far right since coming to power in 2015. Early last week, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, head of the party, called upon supporters to defend the church at any cost. This rhetoric has been criticized as a call to arms to violent right wing extremists. He later stated that even fetuses with no chance of survival should be born so they can be named, baptized, and buried. Activists have been called leftwing fascists on state television. CIVICUS and the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) have both stated that protests have been met with excessive force from both the state and far right groups.

 

The Law and Justice Party (PiS) is a right wing populist party which won the 2019 elections by running on a socially conservative platform which includes nationalism, opposition to migration, traditional family values, Catholicism, Islamaphobia, homophobia, anti-communism, and anti-Semitism. They have increased the teaching Catholic values in public schools, attacked LGBT rights, and ended state funding of in-vitro fertilization. Yet, they won over less reactionary voters and the support of labor by making promises such as doubling minimum wage by 2023, increasing payments to retirees, and had already enacted a popular subsidy to low income families called 500 plus. In July, Andrzej Duda, of the PiS, won a second presidential term by a narrow margin of 51% of the vote over 49% for Rafał Trzaskowski, Civic Platform (PO). Like the U.S. political elections, these are not vastly different parties, though the PO was framed as the more liberal party. When PO was last in power, it increased retirement age and lowered pensions and ran a campaign that was mostly against PiS rather than for any particular program. 

 

Law and Justice Party (PiS) has made several effots to ban abortion, including an attempt in October 2016 to pass a law which would have banned abortion and imposed prison terms on abortion patients and providers. Hundreds of thousands of black clad women joined a “Black Monday”general strike from work, school, and domestic labor to defeat the legislation. According to Madeline Roach reporting for Foreign Policy, in July 2017 the government passed a law making emergency contraception available only by prescription. In 2018, school textbooks were issued which called embryos unborn children and claimed that contraceptives were a health hazard. Even without the government’s anti-abortion campaign, due to the clause of conscience, doctors do not have to perform abortions on moral grounds. In the region of Podkarpackie, more than 3,000 doctors signed the clause, which renders abortion unavailable in that area. Only 10% of hospitals perform abortion according to FEDERA. In 2014, Dr. Bogdan Chazan refused to perform an abortion on a deformed fetus on moral grounds nor tell the mother that the abortion would be illegal after 12 weeks.  Because of this, she was forced to give birth to a baby without a skull which died nine days later. Abortion is certainly a contentious issue in Poland, yet according to Rueters, a 2018 opinion poll showed that only 15% of the population supported tightening the already restrictive abortion laws.

 

Despite public opinion against this, in April 2020, Law and Justice Party lawmakers again debated banning abortion, this time in the case of fetal abnormaities. The government also considered citizen initiated legislation which would have equated homosexuality with pedaephilia and criminalize sex education for minors with up to three years imprisonment. In response, activists held socially distanced actions with their cars, social media, and bicycles. This forestalled the passage of the legislation, as the lower house of parliament sent the bill back to a parliamentary commission for more work.  Previous attempts to ban abortion through legistlation have failed due to the efforts of abortion rights activists, which may be why the Law and Justice Party sought a review from the constitutional tribunal. Fourteen of the fifteen judges on the court were chosen by the Law and Justice Party to serve nine year terms. Three judges are believed by legal scholars to have been appointed by illegal means. Aside from the this new tactic of using the high court to ban abortion, some activists believe that the abortion ban was a reward to the Catholic church and far right for its support in the previous elections and a distraction from the government’s poor handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

 

Covid-19 has presented serious challenges to abortion access and activism. According to Euronews, when the Polish government closed its borders, Justyna Wydrzynska, an activist with Aborcyjny Dream Team reported the phones of the organization were ringing non stop. The organization normally receives ten calls a day.  Many callers were worried about accessing abortion pills, which are illegal in Poland. According to Hannah Summers for The Guardian, Polish hospitals have already turned women away who are seeking abortion. The Federation of Family Planning has been inundated with phone calls from panicked women who have had their appointments cancelled and whose fetuses have abnormalities. Abortion without Borders, an organization formed in December 2019 to help Polish women access abortion but has been challenged by border closures and quarantine. The thousands of women who travel to Germany, Czech Republic, and Slovakia have been blocked off from this access. Nevertheless, Abortion without Borders has managed to help twenty one women access abortion in other countries since the ruling. It should be noted that offering assistance in obtaining an illegal abortion can result in a three year prison sentence. Yet, the vast majority of abortions in Poland are illegal, with activists estimating that although the number of legal abortions is only around 1,000, there are over 150,000 illegal abortions each year. Aside from travel, abortion is accessed through doctors or other providers who provide high cost abortions in secret.

 

With 20,000 new Covid-19 infections each day, politicians have been quick to shame activists for protesting the court ruling.  Like Trump, even President Andrzej Duda has been diagnosed with Covid-19. Large gatherings are prohibited and bars and universities are closed. The government issued a ban on gatherings of more than five people, which was implemented the same week of the court ruling. Organizers have been threatened with eight years imprisonment for violating the ban and causing what the government has deemed an epidemiological threat. Activists have been told to consider the elderly or vulnerable people they may sicken. At the same time, Poland has the lowest ratio of health workers to population in the EU. Over the years, austerity and privatization has gutted the Polish health care system, rendering it incapable of meeting the pressures of the pandemic in terms of staffing, testing, and intensive care beds.  

 

Law and Justice Party’s aggressive attacks on abortion rights are only the most recent and certainly won’t be the last. According to Wanda Nowica in the book SexPolitics: Reports from the Front Lines, the end of communism in Poland marked the beginning of attacks on reproductive rights. The current laws are actually similar to the 1932 Criminal Code in Poland, in which abortion was only legal if the pregnancy was result of a crime or if women’s life and health was a risk.  These laws remained in effect until 1956 when abortion was decriminalized,but required the signatures of two doctors. At the time, abortion was legalized on the basis of the health risks imposed by illegal abortions. Abortion law was further liberalized in 1959 when abortion became available upon demand. This ended in1993 with the Act on Family Planning, Human Embryo Protection and Conditions of Permissibility of Abortion, which removed the social grounds for seeking an abortion. Doctors also played an important role in ban, as the General Assembly of Physicians ning abortion, adopted the Code of Medical Ethics, which only allowed abortion on medical and criminal grounds. The was an effort to organize against abortion restrictions, as the Committee for a Referendum on the Criminalization of Abortion garnered 1.3 million signitures demanding a national referendum on abortion, but this was ignored by the Parliament in 1992. Lech Wałęsa vetoed an attempt to liberalize abortion laws in 1994.  In 1996, when abortion laws were amended and and abortion was again briefly legal on social grounds. The Solidarity Trade Union challenged the new law through the Constitutional Tribunal, which determined that abortion on social grounds was indeed unconstitutional. In the early 2000s, Democratic Left Alliance-Labor Union promised to liberalize the law, but never made good on the promise. Parliament refused to take up the issue in 2005. Recent years have seen attacks on abortion rights, but the decades since communism have been marked with broken promises, compromises, neoliberalism, and pandering to the Catholic church. This is not to idealize communism in Poland, but to highlight that abortion was a casualty in the transition to capitalism and that liberals, social democrats, and conservatives have upheld abortion restrictions.   

 

The spectacular turn out of Polish women has temporarily suspended the enforcement of the court ruling, but there is a long battle ahead. In Poland, as in all capitalist countries, there will always be social pressure for women to reproduce. In this sense, reproductive rights are never secure so long as capitalism persists. Capitalism requires the oppression of women as this ensures workers are cared for, babies are born, and children are raised with unpaid labor and the most meager social provisioning. Nowica noted that in 1988, the fertility rate in Poland was 2.4, in 1993 it was 1.8 and by 2005 it was 1.22. In 2020, it is 1.39.  Replacement fertility is 2.1, but forced birth combined with austerity is a particularly brutal method of ensuring social reproduction. This brutality is masked by the sanctity of life rhetoric of the Catholic church, but this itself has changed over the centuries with different theological debates regarding ensoulment. The hardline stance against abortion after conception only came about in 1869. It seems that women in Poland have had enough and are willing to stand against both the church and the state, which in Poland are deeply interconnected. Both of these things are malleable and can be changed through struggle. Ultimately, this struggle must tear up the economic roots of oppression for reforms to be lasting.  It is little wonder that the Law and Justice Party seeks to divide, pitting reproductive rights against the rights of people with disabilities to be born. But it is capitalism, not women, which ultimately devalues the lives of people with disabilities. It is within the framework of capitalism that impairment is made into disability, as it is a system which cannot accommodate different needs and places value on regimented labor capacity above all else. The struggle in Poland is part of a struggle for all oppressed people to control their bodies and destinies.  

COVID-19 and Domestic Violence

Covid 19 and Domestic Violence

a version of this article can be found here: https://socialistresurgence.org/2020/03/26/covid-19-and-domestic-violence/

COVID-19 and Domestic Violence

H. Bradford

Posted 04/04/20

Written: 03/26/20


Twenty one states have enacted stay at home orders which will take effect by Friday, March 27 th. By the end of the week, half of the population of  the United States will be ordered to stay at home. Even without state directives, everyone should stay at home to slow the spread of Covid 19. Unfortunately, this critical public health measure will exacerbate the problem of domestic violence as victims are confined at home with their abusers and face fewer resources to ensure their safety. Domestic violence is itself an epidemic, as according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, ten million people are abused by an intimate partner in the U.S. each year. One in four women and one in nine men have experienced either severe intimate partner violence, sexual violence, or stalking. In the face of this crisis, the needs of survivors will go unmet as Covid-19 continues to lay bare capitalism’s deadly failure to provide for human needs.


In response to the pandemic, The National Domestic Violence Hotline has created a fact sheet on how Covid-19 impacts survivors of domestic violence. The fact sheet warns that abusers may use the crisis to exert power and control in their relations. This could be done a number of ways, such as withholding items like sanitizer and disinfectants. Abusers may cancel insurance, hide insurance cards, or prevent a survivor from accessing medical attention. They may share misinformation to control a victim through fear and deception. Beyond the behaviors of abusers, services to survivors may be increasingly limited and survivors may fear seeking shelter because it is a communal living space. Travel restrictions make it harder for survivors to escape. In addition to the information outlined by the National Domestic Violence Hotline, abusers may feign illness to garner sympathy and lure victims back to them. The economic prospects of increased unemployment and limited housing due to the crisis will make it harder for victims to leave. The cancelation of schools and closure of daycare centers creates a barrier for victims trying to leave with their children, who are at home with both them and their abuser.         


The impact of Covid-19 on domestic violence has already been felt in China. According to the New York Times, China has reported more domestic violence during the COVID-19 outbreak. Chinese anti-violence advocate Wan Fei noted that reports of domestic violence doubled during the lockdown. Under Blue Sky, an anti-domestic violence non-profit in Lijiang Province disclosed that reports of domestic violence had tripled during the month of February. In January, a woman from Guangdong province in China was told by authorities that she could not leave her village after she had sustained life threatening injuries in a domestic violence incident.She disobeyed their orders, walking for hours on foot with her children until she reached safety with family members. In another incident, a 42 year old Chinese woman committed suicide by jumping out of the 11th floor of her apartment building while quaratined with her abusive husband in Shanxi province. To counter domestic violence, some women have posted signs in their community urging others not to be bystanders. The hashtag #AntiDomesticViolenceDuringEpidemic on the Chinese social media platform Sina Weibo has also been an online initiative to raise awareness about the issue.


Across the United States, there are already widespread accounts of increased instances of domestic violence. Domestic Violence and Child Advocacy Center (DVCAC) in Cleveland, OH reported to News 5 Cleveland that calls to their hotline were recently up 30%. Melissa Graves, the CEO of DVCAC, reported that these calls often happened during the day while abusers are at work, but with expanded layoffs and stay at home orders, victims will not have the privacy necessary to seek help. Emmy Ritter, the director of Raphael House in Portland, OR reported to KGW8 News that there was increased call volume and more calls from survivors seeking hygiene products and food. These basic items are necessary to survivors who are struggling to rebuild their lives after fleeing violence. Salt Lake City police reported increased domestic violence calls over the last two weeks. Likewise, Transitions Family Violence Services in Hampton, VA reported an increased number of calls in the last two weeks. Tasha Menacker of the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual Violence expressed to the Phoenex New Times that her agency had seen increased call volume, but that other agencies in Arizona had experienced a decrease in calls. She attributed this disparity to the increased difficulty that some survivors might have finding the privacy to make calls. To reach out to domestic violence services, survivors must be able to text, email, or call for help. Shelter in place orders, social distancing practices, quarantines, and increased unemployment curtail the privacy necessary to escape abusive situations and cut victims off from social networks that may be able to assist them or intervene on their behalf. Thus, victims are likely to be at home with their abuser for longer periods of time and are at the same time more isolated from the help they need.


The problem of domestic violence is deepened by the atomization of communities into individual households during stay at home orders. Anti-carceral feminists have sought to develop community responses to domestic violence which do not involve police and prisons, such as creating support networks, staying with victims in their home, providing housing and mutual aid, and self-defense strategies. Orders to shelter in place make it harder to connect with victims as neighbors, friends, family members, and activists. This isolation leaves survivors with fewer options outside of police responses, which can be violent and abusive towards racial minorities, chronically homeless, people with disabilities, and the poor. Because of the risk of Covid-19 in prisons, police response to domestic violence punish perpetrators with the prospect of death and illness. Anti-carceral feminists are challenged with the task of developing ways to connect with and offer alternatives to policing in the face of social distancing. Posters and social media, like the efforts made in China, are one solution, but more is needed.    


While the private sphere becomes increasingly atomized, domestic violence shelters are generally considered essential services. This means that in the event of stay at home orders or a lockdown, shelters remain open. It is vital that shelters remain open, as they are one of the few resources that survivors and victims have during this crisis. However, like other essential services, this puts shelter staff at risk of contracting or spreading Covid-19. Shelters are often communal spaces where diseases are easily spread due to cramped conditions, the challenges of maintaining sanitary conditions, and lowered immunity from stress. Shelters must remain open, but shelter staff should receive hazard pay for their work. Shelter staff should also have access to the protective equipment necessary for cleaning the shelter and assisting sick residents. Gloves, thermometers, masks, and cleaning supplies are in short supply due to the needs of medical institutions. Other necessary supplies include tylenol, diapers, toilet paper, feminine hygiene products, food, and other items, some of which have become scarce as they are hoarded by fearful shoppers. A social response to fighting Covid-19 should include making certain that these necessary supplies are distributed to shelters. Shelters themselves should be expanded by making use of empty hotels, dormitories, or empty houses, so that conditions are not as crowded, sick residents can be properly quarantined, and the increased demand for shelter space can be met.  


Whereas shelters are essential services, many other services provided by domestic violence agencies are not considered essential. Visitation centers, legal assistance, support groups, and educational programs may not be deemed essential nor safe. Workers in these areas face job loss and clients who need these services are cut off. By expanding the capacity of shelters through the opening of additional facilities, some of these workers may be able to continue their work. The need for safe staffing levels at existing shelters as staff become ill also creates a need for more workers. This potentially increases the number of workers who are exposed to Covid-19, but required to ensure necessary services. At the same time, funding is required to make certain that shelters, hotlines, and other services can continue to operate. Domestic violence resources rely on a variety of funding sources, including grants and private donations. Services which rely on fundraisers and donations may lose funding due to cancelled events. In Dane County, WI, the county government gave Domestic Abuse Intervention Services $58,000 so they could continue to operate during the Covid-19 crisis after they had to cancel a fundraiser. That amount was only enough for the Dane County shelter to operate for two more months. Fundraisers themselves may become less able to support domestic violence services as donors face financial strain in a spiraling economy. Rather than bailing out corporations, public services which have been shuttled away from government provisions to the non-profit and private sector should be fully funded.


Survivors need safe places such as shelters to meet their immediate needs, but they also need the means to rebuild their lives. The mass unemployment arising from the outbreak will make jobs scarce. Landlords may be reluctant to take on new tenants if they know that rent and evictions are suspended. Survivors need the means to rebuild their lives, which means expanding social programs and public housing. Financial abuse is one of the many ways that abusers exert power and control in their relationship. Survivors may not have access to money, their own bank account, or control over financial decisions. The overall economic inequality of women makes it harder for them to leave in the first place, as their abusive relationship may provide them with economic security.  Paid maternity leave, free and safe abortion on demand, guaranteed housing, universal health care, free and extensive day care, free education from pre-school to Ph.d, are necessary to empower women. Extending these rights to women will go a long way to mitigate the power and control abusers have over them, but also the power and control that capitalist society has over them.


Covid-19 presents an unprecedented challenge to activists and advocates against domestic violence. In the interest of public health, billions of people around the world are relegated to their individual households. For those who are homeless or incarcerated, this creates enormous barriers as they lack a safe place to physically distance themselves. For victims of domestic violence who find themselves locked down with an abuser, it can be a death sentence. Response to the pandemic has relied upon the social arrangement of private households, but this is not a safe place for many nor a place that is accessible to all. It is a sphere wherein women have been tasked with the unpaid reproductive labor of capitalism. Domestic violence has historically been viewed as a private matter to be resolved within families or between couples, rather than a social problem. As such, individual households have been and continue to be the hidden arena for all manner of horrors against women. The inequality of women and the violence against them enforces their economic role in the household to sustain capitalism. Considering that the Covid-19 pandemic may last for months, come in waves, and is unlikely to be the last pandemic wrought and exacerbated by capitalism, the question of how to keep people safe during a pandemic without worsening the oppression of women requires deep consideration. For now, keeping shelters open and safe, providing for staff and survivors alike, developing alternatives to policing, building communities in the face of social distancing, and putting demands on the state for increased social provisioning are some of the things that can be done to tackle the epidemic of domestic violence in the context of a pandemic.                     

Always a Man

Always a Man

Always a Man

H. Bradford

10.27.19


There’s always a man


On the corner by the clinic


Telling women what’s what with their bodies.


He cries about the babies,

The babies being killed in the baby killing factory

and how the remains get made into the chicken nuggets served in public school lunches.


Or at least that’s what it sounds like to me,

Since I’m about as sentimental as an old shoe

and as nurturing as an acid oasis.

And he doesn’t speak my language.



His language is the language of old men.

The language of burning witches

and marrying off little girls to old men like him.

It is the tongue of ten thousand years of silencing.

Ten thousand years of raping.

Ten thousand years of telling what’s what with women’s bodies.



There’s always a man on the sky,

telling the man on the corner what’s what

In a conversation that other men began long ago

In a language I don’t speak,

but always translates to

power over women.

And I won’t hear of it.


 

 

 

 

 

Joker through the Lens of Violence against Women

Joker through the lens of Violence against women

Joker through the Lens of Violence against Women

H. Bradford

10/26/19


October is Domestic Violence Awareness month.  This month also saw the release of Joker, a film which had a controversial release due to fears that it would incite violence.  The film is the story of how Arthur Fleck, a solitary, impoverished man with mental illness, becomes the infamous Batman villain.  Joker centers on the experiences of the titular character, whose perceptions and narrative are unreliable.  The movie focuses on the perspective of a violent male and one that the sidelines experiences of the women around him.  The violence against several female characters in the film as well as Arthur’s own experience of domestic violence warrants attention because the film, like the character, is politically neutral on this violence.  Even the concerns that the film would inspire violence were gender neutral, as the type of violence feared was mass shootings rather than the everyday violence that occurs in households and in relationships.  There was no mass panic that a film would inspire this sort of violence, as it is beyond the cognitive horizon of most people to care.  Of course, mass shootings are themselves often carried out by men with a history of domestic violence and misogynistic attitudes.  In this way, the film offers some lessons about the ways in which violence against women continues to be normal, invisible, and misunderstood, as well as its place in capitalist patriarchy.


Domestic violence includes such things as physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, and financial abuse, along with stalking and coercion.  The word generally applies to violence which occurs between intimate partners, but can also include violence in familial relationships, such as against children, parents, siblings, and elderly family members.  While the factors that cause this violence are complicated, a popular feminist theory is Power-Control theory, which originated with the Domestic Abuse Intervention Program in Duluth, Minnesota during the 1980s.  Through discussions with survivors of domestic violence, the Power and Control Wheel was developed based on patterns and themes in their experiences.  This is a widely used tool for identifying the ways that power and control are exerted by abusers.  Power-Control Theory posits that abuse is the outcome of the abuser’s desire to maintain power and control in their relationship(s).  While this began by examining the dynamics between individuals, it has been expanded to examine the ways that male power and control are maintained within patriarchy as a whole (Evolution of Theories of Violence, 2015).  Within patriarchy, men have had the lion’s share of power and control in society.  Control over women is expected and violence enforces their subservience.  Women and children are particularly vulnerable to violence because of their inequality in economic, political, and social status.  From a socialist perspective, violence against women can be understood as a means to enforce patriarchy, which historically hinged on the transmission of property from father to son and the fact that women themselves have been treated as property.  Violence enforces gender roles and a gendered division of labor.  Within capitalism, the lesser status of women and their economic dependence upon men, helps to extract their unpaid labor.  As such, prior to the efforts of the feminist movement, domestic violence was viewed as private problem within individual families rather than a social problem symptomatic of women’s place within patriarchy.  Today, one in three women have experienced some form of intimate partner violence in their lifetime and 95% of the victims of domestic violence are women.


The film is set in Gotham, a fictional city torn apart by class tensions, an infestation of rats, cuts to social programs, and crime.  It is against this backdrop that Arthur Fleck, a white male in his 30s, tries to eke out a living for himself and his mother, who exist on the edge of the working class.  Along the way, Arthur becomes increasingly violent and through violence, becomes self-actualized as the vengeful, confident, smiling, and dancing Joker.  Arthur Fleck is immediately depicted as having little power and control in his life.  Early in the film, he is attacked by youth while working as a clown.  His employment itself lacks control as is based on the tenuous availability of clowning gigs and as his coworkers and employer are unaccepting of him.  He lives with his mother, Penny, who is the dominant figure in his socially isolated life, and dependent upon him for income and care.  To make matters worse, the medications that Arthur uses to try to control the symptoms of his mental illness become unavailable to him after social services are cut in the city.  Rats and the amassing garbage left uncollected due to a sanitation worker strike, create an atmosphere wherein the entire city seems out of control of patriarchal capitalist power.  As a malnourished, eccentric, mentally unstable, outsider living with his mother and barely getting by, Arthur isn’t privy to much of the power and control that other white males enjoy.  After sustaining a beating, Arthur’s coworker lends him a gun, which he is at first reluctant to take, but quickly becomes the key to accessing the power he has been exiled from.


A turning point in the film is when Arthur uses his gun against a group of young, wealthy white men who attack him on the subway.  Prior to the murder, the young investors are shown talking about a woman, then go on to harass a woman who is riding alone on the subway.  When she ignores them, food is thrown at her and she is verbally accosted.  She is called a bitch when she gets up and leaves.  This is a relatable scene, as 81% of women have experienced sexual harassment in their lifetime (Chatterjee, 2018).  The trio of men themselves are a patriarchal trope.  They are Brock Turner, Jacob Walter Anderson, or young Brett Kavanagh.  They are the kind of guys that wear black face at Halloween parties, bullied kids in high school, rape women in college, excel at sports, and probably get called Chads by Incels.  They are smug masters of the universe.  The woman’s escape is made possible by Arthur, who has a condition which causes uncontrolled laughing.  This draws attention away from the woman, but in turn, causes him to be beaten for laughing at them and then defending himself.  He kills two of the men as they beat him, but pursues the third after he flees.


The trio of murdered men work for Thomas Wayne, the father of Bruce Wayne.  Thomas Wayne represents the pinnacle of patriarchal capitalist power in the film.  He is a wealthy, robust, white, heterosexual, father who is running for mayor because only he can take control of the city.  When Wayne decries the murders of such bright, talented young men and calls the poor of the city “clowns,” his insult launches a movement of clown masked demonstrators who protest the wealth gap in the city.  Arthur becomes emboldened by the murders and the movement it sparked, but remains on his individualistic, anti-social path of violence rather than joining the movement.  This path culminates in the Joker’s live TV murder of Murray Franklin, a popular talk show host and icon of patriarchal power in the form of celebrity, self-assurance, wealth, and bullying.  Both Thomas Wayne and Murray Franklin are fallen father figures to Arthur Fleck, who lose their esteem in his mind as he loses his mind and violently take control of his life.  Along the way, several female characters are casualties in his brutal metamorphosis.


The first casualty is his mother, Penny.  Arthur’s relationship with his mother has unhealthy elements.  Although she is mobile, he baths her, and although she is capable of dancing, he cuts her food for her.  They also share the same bed.  The nature of her health needs are not specified, but the depiction of their relationship is strongly suggested to be codependent.  Penny is portrayed as incapable of meeting her own needs and those of her son’s.  She is verbally and emotionally abusive, as she shoots down Arthur’s idea of becoming a comedian by telling him that he isn’t funny and shows complete indifference to him when he says he went on a date.  His experiences and needs are secondary to her obsession with Thomas Wayne, who she believes will lift them out of poverty.  When Arthur discovers that Thomas Wayne may be his father, she fears he will kill her because she kept this secret.  He eventually kills her after discovering that he is not Thomas Wayne’s son and that she spent time at Arkham Asylum because of her role in the abuse he experienced as a child.  In searching for the truth of his parentage, Arthur learns from an asylum employee that his mother’s boyfriend chained him to radiator, beat him, and starved him when he was a child.  Upon learning this, he smothers her in her hospital bed.


Throughout the film, Arthur suffers from uncontrollable laughter, which is attributed to a brain injury.  This history of abuse is used to explain where this condition originated, as well as give insight to some of his other behaviors.  In 60-75 percent of families where a woman is battered, children are also battered.  Children are 15 times more likely than the national average to be neglected and physically abused in families experiencing domestic violence.  Exposure to domestic violence can impact children in a number of ways, including increased aggression, depression, lowered independence, social withdrawal, reduced social competence (Rakovec-Felser, 2014).  All of these are characteristics that Arthur displays throughout the movie.


When confronted with her son’s abuse, Penny says she didn’t know he was hurt.  She is charged with criminal neglect and sent to Arkham Asylum.  It is not known what happened to her abuser.  Although the film is not clearly focused on this matter, Penny is a victim of domestic violence.  The narrative focuses more on her failure as a mother to protect her son from abuse, but both characters are victims.  The blaming narrative of the film implies that Penny is at fault for failure to protect her son, which begs the question, “why did she stay?”  Why did she stay if her boyfriend was abusing her son? Why did she allow it to happen?   This blaming narrative is very real.  For instance, Ingrid Archie is a real life example of a California woman who fled domestic violence, but had her children taken away and was charged with failure to protect, even though she obtained a restraining order and went to a shelter (Albaladejo, 2019).  Arlena Lindley, was sentenced to 45 years in prison after her boyfriend killed her three year old son.  A witness testified that her boyfriend had threatened to kill her if she intervened and that when she tried to escape with her son, she was dragged back inside the home.  In another case, Robert Braxton Jr. was sentenced to two years for breaking the ribs and femur of a three month old infant.  Tondalo Hall, the infant’s mother, for whom there was no evidence that she had abused the child, was sentenced to thirty years in prison for failure to protect her baby (Banner, 2015).


There are many reasons why women remain in abusive relationships, even when their children are abused.  Fictional Gotham, like the real world, has substandard housing and a lack of social services, making it likely that if she left, she would have been homeless with her son.  The setting of the film is the late 1970s or early 1980s, which was before domestic violence shelters and community responses to domestic violence were well established.  The most dangerous time in an abusive relationship is when the victim leaves, so leaving might have further endangered them both.  Statistically, women have a 75% higher chance of being killed if they leave than if they stay (Banner, 2015).  Some women fear that their abuser will report them to social services and they will lose their children, which also causes them to stay.  Since failure to protect laws have punished women who have fled domestic violence, this is not an unfounded fear.  Abusive relationships are based on power and control, she may have felt powerless to leave or incapable of living independent of her abuser.  It is possible that she was prevented from leaving.  Whatever the case, Arthur clearly blames her for the abuse, which is not an uncommon response for children to have.  The blame took on its own fatally abusive character when he murdered her.  In the arc of the story, this was done for revenge over the abuse but also as part of his letting go of his life as someone controlled by his mother’s needs.  Rather than remain the care giving, weak, traumatized, and abused son, the murder ushers him deeper into a toxic masculinity wherein he has the power to inflict abuse.


As a final observation about Penny, the character may also have been abused by Thomas Wayne while she was employed by him.  Although there is no direct evidence of abuse, he could have certainly abused his power to silence her and as her employer, would have had immense power over her very livelihood.  Her mental health struggles and dependence upon him for her livelihood renders the relationship far from equal and consensual.  Wayne denies that they had an affair, though Penny tells her son that he made her sign paperwork to cover up the truth.  Arthur discovers his adoption certificate, which seems to support Wayne’s claim that she is delusional.  But in a flashback, Penny again claims that it was drawn up by Wayne.  Both Wayne and Alfred, the butler, insist that she is mentally ill.   While all evidence seems to indicate that this is true, Arthur later discovers a photograph with a message from Wayne on it.  Although he may not have physically abused her, he is able to exert patriarchal power over her without having to resort to violence.  Penny does not need to be beaten or killed to keep quiet, she only needs to be delegitimize.  By calling her crazy, her claims to reality are called into question.  It is an attempt to gaslight her memories and beliefs about the relationship, even though she retains the claim that they were together.  It is clear in the film that she experiences mental illness, but this could be either an outcome of abuse she experienced, a factor that made her more vulnerable to abuse, or both.  Women who experience domestic violence are three times more likely to develop serious mental illness.  Survivors of domestic violence are also three times as likely to have a history of mental illness such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia (Dyson, 2019).


The second victim of domestic violence is Sophie Dumond, Arthur’s neighbor and imagined love interest.  Even before he murders anyone, Arthur begins stalking Sophie and imagines that they are in a relationship.  In this imagined relationship, he has perfect control over her, as she laughs at his jokes, is never threatened by his eccentricities, supports the murders of the men on the subway, and offers comfort when his mother is hospitalized.  After the murders on the subway, he kisses her, as his sexual confidence was bolstered by violence.  The kiss never happened, along with the many other scenes.  This is revealed when he enters her apartment, begins touching her belongings, and sits on her sofa.  She is terrified that he has entered the apartment.  The outcome of this encounter is never depicted on screen, but her character is never seen or mentioned again.  It is easy to read this omission as she was murdered or sexually assaulted.  Certainly, by stalking her, entering her apartment, handling her belongings, and creating a fictional romance with her, Arthur behaves in a way that shows entitlement to her personal space, privacy, safety, and body.  Glimpses at his journal reveal disembodied and altered images of naked women and sexual scenes.  Again, this points to an unhealthy, sexual, and violent imagining of women.


Another woman in the film who is murdered by Arthur is an unnamed therapist.  At the end of the film, he is seen walking out of her office with blood on his shoes.  The fate of both Black characters is left up to the imagination, but statistically, Black women experience a higher risk of sexual assault and domestic violence.  In the United States, 20% of Black women have been raped and 40% have experienced domestic violence.  Black women are also two and a half times more likely than white women to be murdered by a man and 9 out 10 victims knew their murderer (Green, 2017).  It is also important to point out the racial dynamics of a white male perpetrator murdering at least one Black woman and perhaps murdering or sexually assaulting another.  Arthur attempts to exert control over Black women several times in the film, such as when he tries to verbally defend himself against a Black mother when he talks to her child, when he chides his Black social worker for not listening to him, through his imagined romance with Sophie, and through the murder of his therapist.  Angela Davis argued that violence by white men, especially sexual violence, was used to control Black women during slavery.  Their bodies and sexuality were the property of white men.  Sexual assault was used by the KKK as a weapon of terror against Black women. During the Civil Rights movement, white police officers raped Black activists they had arrested (Davis, 1990).  Black women are killed at higher rates than any other group of women.  Yet, Black women are seldom viewed as victims. Violence against Black women continues to be ignored and Black women blamed because they are viewed as violent, sexual, less innocent, their lives less valuable, or somehow deserving of their victimization.   When they defend themselves against violence, they find themselves punished by the criminal justice system, such as CeCe McDonald, Cyntonia Brown, and Alexis Martin (Finoh and Sankofa, 2019).


The violence inflicted upon women in the film goes without police or community response, though police response is often met with blaming, disbelief, or threats of violence and incarceration from the state itself.   Police themselves are often abusers, as 40% of police families report domestic violence, which is four times more than the general population (Police Family Violence Fact Sheet, n.d.).  Two incidents of violence against women occur off screen, whereas violence against men in the film is used to shock the viewer and drive the narrative.  As a whole, women are ancillary to the film.  They are not prominently depicted among the protestors, the violence against them goes unnoticed, several of their roles are unnamed characters, one role primarily exists in Arthur’s mind, and none of them are shown making it out of the movie alive.  Violence against women is canon, as in other iterations of the Joker, the character has raped Barbara Gordon and has an abusive relationship with Harley Quinn (Dockterman, 2019).  Gotham is a world of men and Joker is story of a beaten down male, beating down powerful men.  But, it is also a story of violence against Black women, domestic violence, narratives that blame mothers for their abuser’s actions, the intersections of mental health and victimization, and the continued normalcy of violent masculinity.


The universe of Batman is always a story about capitalism.  The hero, Bruce Wayne, is a capitalist who fights bad guys in the form of villains with mental illness.  He does this with the help of the militarized Gotham police force.  To side with the hero is to side with the ruling class and its enforcers against the dangerous elements of the lumpenproletariat.  Joker takes place before the advent of the central hero or the militarization of the police. If there is a central message of the film, it is that capitalism creates villains. If there is an argument, it is that austerity and trauma begets violence. Through the narrative of the film, Arthur Fleck’s violence can be attributed to childhood trauma, unmet mental health needs, social instability, isolation, and unchallenged misogyny.  But, the film says little about how this impacts women.  This part of the narrative is truncated. Capitalism may indeed create some villains, but it also creates its own grave diggers.  The power of workers and social movements against capitalism is depicted in the form of a sanitation strike and masked protest movement.  These mobilizations must ultimately fail for Batman to rise as the capitalist vigilante who keeps the order of capitalism and patriarchy.  As for the women in the movie, they too fade into Gotham’s eternal night. The dark city swallows their stories. In this way, art mirrors the life of many women.  If there is a feminist message to be drawn from the film, it is the need to Take Back the Night.  Rising above the erasure of capitalists, vigilantes, police, and misogynist villains means doing things that these female characters were unable to do: uniting together, being heard and seen, demanding social provisioning, fighting oppressive narratives of abuse, holding abusers accountable, and creating safety that doesn’t rely on punishing the mentally ill.


Sources:


Albaladejo, A. (2019, October 18). Child Law Penalizes Moms for Abusive Partners. Retrieved from https://capitalandmain.com/child-law-penalizes-moms-for-abusive-partners-10-16?fbclid=IwAR2MyXXcyUclO4IW_NFztLOtUSx8uK2MdjueEbd8jvhx0hIcYmPKfK4RzFk.

Banner, A. (2015, February 3). ‘Failure to Protect’ Laws Punish Victims of Domestic Violence. Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/do-failure-to-protect-law_b_6237346.

Chatterjee, R. (2018, February 22). A New Survey Finds 81 Percent Of Women Have Experienced Sexual Harassment. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/02/21/587671849/a-new-survey-finds-eighty-percent-of-women-have-experienced-sexual-harassment.

Davis, A. Y. (1990). Women, culture & politics. Vintage.

Dockterman, E. (2019, October 8). The History of Joker Movies and Character’s Origin Story. Retrieved from https://time.com/5694280/joker-movies-history-origin-story/.

Dyson, T. (2019, June 7). Women suffering domestic abuse have triple the risk of mental illness, study says. Retrieved from https://www.upi.com/Health_News/2019/06/07/Women-suffering-domestic-abuse-have-triple-the-risk-of-mental-illness-study-says/8981559918365/.

Evolution of Theories of Violence. (2015). Retrieved from http://www.stopvaw.org/evolution_of_theories_of_violence.

Finoh, M., & Sankofa, J. (2019, August 22). The Legal System Has Failed Black Girls, Women, and Non-Binary Survivors of Violence. Retrieved from https://www.aclu.org/blog/racial-justice/race-and-criminal-justice/legal-system-has-failed-black-girls-women-and-non.

Green, S. (2018, August 7). Violence Against Black Women – Many Types, Far-reaching Effects. Retrieved from https://iwpr.org/violence-black-women-many-types-far-reaching-effects/.

Police Family Violence Fact Sheet. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://womenandpolicing.com/violencefs.asp.

 

Rakovec-Felser Z. (2014). Domestic Violence and Abuse in Intimate Relationship from Public Health Perspective. Health psychology research, 2(3), 1821. doi:10.4081/hpr.2014.1821

 

New Anti-Abortion Laws: How Should We Respond?

A modified version of this article appears in Socialist Action news and can be accessed here: https://socialistaction.org/2019/05/27/new-anti-abortion-laws-how-should-we-respond/

New Anti-abortion Laws and the Struggle for Reproductive Rights

New Anti-Abortion Laws: How Should We Respond?

H. Bradford

5/28/19


On May 15th, 2019, the most restrictive abortion law in the United States was signed into law in Alabama by Governor Kay Ivey.  The Alabama Human Life Protection Act, which passed the Alabama Senate 25-6, makes abortion illegal at all stages of pregnancy and makes no exception for rape or incest.  The bill seeks to make abortion illegal in Alabama in all cases but health threat to the mother, fatal fetal anomalies, and ectopic pregnancies. Under the law, abortion providers could face up to 99 years in prison.  This draconian law follows a wave of anti-abortion legislation across the United States which is aimed at overturning Roe v. Wade.   In 2019, Georgia, Ohio, Kentucky, Missouri, and Mississippi have passed “heartbeat bills” which outlaw abortion at six to eight weeks and at the time of writing, six week abortion bans are moving forward in the respective legislative bodies of South Carolina, West Virginia, and Louisiana.  Many abortion seekers may not be aware that they are pregnant at six weeks and would have little time to make an appointment or raise the funds to obtain an abortion. In this sense, heartbeat bills functionally outlaw abortion. “Heartbeat” itself is a misnomer as at this stage of development, an embryo has not developed a cardiovascular system.  Rather, a group of cells generates rhythmic electrical pulses which is more technically known as fetal pole cardiac activity. Of course, a tactic of the anti-choice movement has long been to warp fetal development to infanticize embryos and fetuses. Thus far, about 30 abortion laws have been passed in the United States this year.


Attacks on abortion access are nothing new, but the latest abortion restrictions are bolder and represent a concerted effort to use the court system to overturn or at least chip away Roe v. Wade.  Since 1973, over 1,900 abortion restrictions have been passed.  About ⅓ of these have been passed since 2011. These restrictions have included mandatory waiting periods, restrictions on state funding, no requirement for insurance to cover abortion, state mandated counseling, parental consent laws, gestational limits, and hospital requirements.  The barrage of laws against abortion access has been accompanied by the proliferation of crisis pregnancy centers which pose as health clinics and are designed to confuse and outright lie to abortion seekers by providing false information and pro-life propaganda. There are 2,300-3,500 crisis pregnancy centers spread across the United States, but only 1,800 abortion clinics.  In 2018, the Supreme Court upheld the right of these fake clinics to provide false information and false advertising when it ruled that California’s Freedom, Accountability, Care and Transparency Act (FACT) violated the first amendment. At the same time, there has been an effort to defund Planned Parenthood by blocking Title X funds that have assisted low income patients obtain contraceptives and other reproductive health services since 1970s.   The decades of attacks on abortion access was heralded by the Hyde Amendment, which was passed in 1976 with bipartisan support and barred the use of federal funds for abortion services. The truth of the matter is that the pro-choice movement has been fighting a losing battle for over forty years.


There have been a number of responses in reaction to the recent restrictions on abortion.   Some activists have called for an economic boycott the state of Alabama and other states with strict abortion restrictions.  A disturbing sentiment that sometimes accompanies the call for a boycott is that the people of Alabama are backwards, uneducated, and even incestuous.  While boycotting can be an effective tactic, it is important to remember that many people in Alabama are not supportive of the new abortion law. In a 2018 survey of likely Alabama voters, Planned Parenthood found that 65% of respondents felt abortion should be legal in cases of rape and incest.  The law does not represent the sentiments of many Alabama voters, even those who are pro-life. Marches against the bill were held in Montgomery, Birmingham, Muscle Shoals, and Huntsville. Rather than boycotting the state of Alabama or denigrating the state as backwards, the efforts of pro-choice organizers should be recognized and the potential for conservative populace of the state to be brought around to the issue acknowledged.  A quarter of the children in Alabama live in poverty, the state has the second highest infant mortality rate in the country, and is the 6th poorest state in the country. It is ranked 50th in education, 46th in healthcare, and 45th in crime and corrections. The people of Alabama need solidarity, not shame. Rather than boycott the state which already lacks in infrastructure and is marked by racism and poverty, it would be more useful to boycott corporations that actively support or donate to the pro-life movement such as My Pillow, Hobby Lobby, Curves, Gold’s Gym, and Electric Mirror.


Another reaction to the recent ban is to wait for the courts to overturn the restrictions.  Activists are reminded that abortion remains legal, all three of Alabama’s abortion clinics plan to stay open, and that these new laws will be tied up in litigation before they can be enacted.  The narrative goes that the Supreme Court is not eager to overturn Roe v. Wade outright and that other restrictive abortion laws have been struck down elsewhere.   For instance, a 2013 heartbeat bill in North Dakota was struck down as unconstitutional.  Six week bans were also struck down in Iowa and Kentucky. There are a number of flaws with this perspective.  Firstly, it is disempowering and a difficult to build a movement around waiting for court decisions. Secondly, this perspective grants legitimacy to the court system.  The presidential nomination of and lifetime tenure of Supreme Court justices and Federal judges is fundamentally undemocratic. The feudal nature of these courts should be questioned and challenged.  This has lent itself to a cultish following of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is viewed as a liberatory figure who must never retire or die, lest abortion rights be overturned once and for all. The centrist justice is celebrated for her support of women’s rights, but her critique of Kaepernick’s taking a knee (which she apologized for), ruling against paying overtime to Amazon workers, support of warrantless searches in Samson v. California, and failure to condemn solitary confinement within the prison system in Davis v. Ayala mar her record.  Finally, it is important to remember that Roe v. Wade was passed on the premise that abortion is a matter of privacy.  The courts have never framed abortion rights as fundamental to ending the oppression of women or gender minorities.  Abortion legality has always had a shaky foundation.


Some activists look to the Democratic Party to protect abortion rights, framing this as a matter of electing more Democrats into office.  Already, potential presidential nominees have issued statements about abortion ranging from Kamala Harris’ remarks in a February 2019 interview that abortion should be a decision between a woman, physician, priest, and spouse or Bernie Sander’s statement that abortion is healthcare and would be covered by his plan for Medicare for All.  Yet, the track record of Democrats on the issue of abortion is part of the reason why we find ourselves with so many restrictions today. Of the 24 candidates vying for the presidency, only 11 mention prioritizing reproductive rights on their websites. It was Bill Clinton who said that abortion should be safe, legal, and rare in 1992, which was echoed by Hillary Clinton who used rare in her 2008 election campaign.  Abortion has become “rare” as access has been curtailed in a legislative death by 1,000 cuts. Joe Biden voted in favor of partial birth abortion bans in 1999 and 2003 and against federal funding for abortion. Like “heartbeat” bans, partial birth abortion is an anti-choice construction as the medical term is intact dilation and extraction. In 2017, Bernie Sanders unapologetically campaigned for Heath Mello, an Omaha Nebraska mayoral candidate and anti-choice Democrat.  Some Democrats, such as Louisiana Gov. John Bel are anti-choice. Bob Casey Jr., Joe Donnelly, and Joe Manchin are pro-life Democrat senators who voted for abortion bans at 20 weeks. While abortion has become increasingly partisan since the late 1980s, voting for Democrats is no guarantee of abortion access. Between 2007 and 2009, Democrats controlled the House and Senate and in 1993-1995 controlled the House, Senate, and Presidency. These eclipses of liberal power have done nothing to roll back anti-abortion laws or overturn the Hyde Amendment.  Democrats have consistently supported the Hyde Amendment. Even Barack Obama stated in a 2009 health reform debate that although he is pro-choice, he did not feel that financing abortions should be part of government funded healthcare. In the Machiavellian shell game between the two parties of capitalism, electability trumps values and it is ultimately the power of social movements and organized workers that sways the opinions of politicians. Recently some Democratic candidates have vowed to repeal the Hyde Amendment or defend abortion rights, but this is a function of the success of social movements rather than a sign of courage or conviction.


Boycotting anti-abortion states, depending upon courts, or voting for Democrats will not secure abortion rights.   The way forward for the abortion rights movement is to take cues from mass movements elsewhere in the world. In October 2016, thousands of women in over 140 cities in Poland protested against legislation that would have punished anyone who terminates a pregnancy with five years in prison and investigate women who had miscarried.  In March of 2017, Polish women protested wearing black, boycotted classes, and went on strike against the proposed new law and the restrictive abortion laws passed in 1993. This mass mobilization shifted abortion discourse in Poland and forced politicians to quickly retreat from new restrictions. In March 2018, thousands of demonstrators marched against a renewed effort to pass more restrictive abortion laws.  Ireland’s movement, Repeal the 8th, likewise mobilized against Ireland’s constitutional ban on abortion. Inspired by Poland’s Black Protests, activists in Ireland marched and went on strike on March 8th, 2017 in cities across Ireland. 66.4% of Irish voters voted to legalize abortion in a referendum held on May 25th, 2018. Abortion is now legal and free in Ireland due to a movement that catalyzed by the death of Savita Halappanavar, who died in 2012 because she was denied an abortion while experiencing a miscarriage.  The vote to legalize abortion was shocking to some, as Ireland had been a bastion of conservatism regarding abortion and like Poland, had strict anti-abortion laws. Social attitudes can change quickly, which should offer some hope to those who dismiss the southern United States as impossibly reactionary. Despite the efforts of the hundreds of thousands of participants in the Ni Una Menos movement that has sought to legalize abortion and end gender based violence, a bill to legalize abortion in Argentina failed by two senate votes in August, 2018. Even in the face of defeat, the protests and strikes continue as well as efforts to build a feminist international.  Recently, activists involved in the movement for abortion rights in Argentina protested on the red carpet at the Cannes Film festival at the premiere of ‘Let it be Law,’ a film about their struggle. A glimpse of the capacity to build such a movement in the United States happened on May 21st with a day of protest actions called Stop the Bans. Thousands mobilized in a day of action that consisted of over 400 protests spread across all 50 states.


The feminist movement must build upon the successful mobilization for the Stop the Bans day of action and continue to show up in mass to put pressure on politicians to support abortion rights.  Based upon recent feminist organizing that culminated in the International Women’s Strike, a framework for building a global feminist movement was put forth by Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya, and Nancy Fraser in“Feminism for the 99%: A Manifesto.”  Key ideas from the manifesto include tactics such as mass action and strikes against the conditions of paid and unpaid labor.  The feminist movement must abandon liberal feminist vision of equality under the law and instead fight capitalism head on, including fights against imperialism, mass incarceration, environmental destruction, and austerity.   Social Reproduction theory grounds the tasks of building a global anti-capitalist feminist movement. Understanding social reproduction theory (SRT) is vital to combating anti-abortion laws in the context of capitalism. SRT posits that capitalism does not reproduce the labor power required to perpetuate itself.  In other words, capitalism produces goods and services, but doesn’t in itself produce workers and due to profit motive (wherein profit is derived from surplus value of labor), capitalism does little to provide for the upkeep of workers. Thus, women are tasked with supporting the continuation of capitalism through biological reproduction, the care of non-laborers such as children, elderly, or people with illnesses, and unpaid household labor such as cooking and cleaning.  When women can control their biological reproduction through birth control or abortion, they are denying capitalism the reproduction of a future labor force. Lack of bodily autonomy enforces the traditional family and gender roles, thereby further enforcing social reproduction. At the same time, the drive for profit always works to erode or deny social provisioning such as paid maternity leave, free daycare, socialized health care, or other social benefits which the United States lacks, but encourages or supports reproduction.  This creates a contradiction wherein birth is mandated but not supported. It is little wonder that the war against abortion access has intensified in the last decade, following the world economic crisis that erupted in 2008. Abortion became legal in the United States in the same era as our waning hegemony and the accompanying age of neoliberalism that promotes austerity and the movement of industrial production to the low wage “developing” world. Women’s bodies are punished into ameliorating the crisis of capitalism.


The United States was founded upon the subjugation and destruction of bodies through slavery and genocide.  Reproduction is controlled in the name of national interests, which is itself a guise for the overarching interest of amassing wealth for an elite few.   At times, this has meant the forced sterilization of Native Americans, Puerto Ricans, Blacks, low income women, and women with disabilities. In the interest of population control, birth control was first tested on women with mental illness without their consent and later Puerto Rican women.  Today, the rhetoric of walls and criminal immigrants is used to control some populations while the limits on abortion access are used to control another. A part of this continuum of control is violence and oppression of trans and non-binary people, whose existence challenges the gender binary and traditional family structures that have so long been the cornerstone of social reproduction.  Trans and non-binary people are denied reproductive rights along with women, as not all abortion seekers are women. The struggle for abortion access, as part of the larger movement for a feminism for the 99% must also be a struggle against racism, transphobia, ableism, and for the liberation of all bodies long subjugated by capitalism.


 

Lessons from World War I

lessons

Lessons from World War I

H. Bradford

11/12/18


November 11, 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.  This is a momentous anniversary since our world is still deeply influenced by the outcome of World War I.  Yet, in the United States, World War I is not a popular war to learn about. It is not a war that American students love to learn about in the same way the they love World War II, with its villains and seemingly black and white struggle against fascism.  Despite its impact on world history, it does not lend itself as many movies and documentaries. When it does, for instance in the popular Wonder Woman film released in 2017, it is warped to resemble World War II to make itself more interesting to American audiences.  Of course, World War I is important in its own right and offers important historical lessons. As an activist, it is useful to examine the struggle against World War I, as it was a crucible that tested the ideological mettle of revolutionaries and activists.


World War I- An Introduction


World War I is significant for its brutality, industrialized warfare, and for reshaping the globe.  The brutality of the war is massive stain on the blood soaked histories of all imperialist nations. As a low estimate, over 8.5 million combatants died in the war with 21 million wounded and up to 13 million civilian casualties.  The nations that went to war were criminal in their barbaric sacrifice of millions of soldiers. For instance, the Russian Empire sent troops into battle armed only with axes, no wire cutters, and without boots. Early in the war, of an army corps of 25,000 soldiers, only one returned to Russia, as the rest were either killed or taken prisoner.  In the first month of the war alone, 310,000 Russians were killed, wounded, or taken prisoner. On several occasions, British soldiers were ordered to advance against German trenches, which only resulted in massive bloodshed as they faced machine gun fire and tangled miles of barbed wire fences. When forced to march against the trenches at Loos, 8,000 of 10,000 British soldiers were killed for a gain of less than two miles of occupied territory.  In the first two years of the war, Britain had 250,000 dead soldiers for the gain of eight square miles. At the Battle of Verdun, 90,000 British soldiers perished in six weeks. At the Battle of Somme, 57,000 British troops perished in one day and 19,000 in one hour alone. The fighting continued even after the Armistice was signed on 11/11/18, as it was signed at 5 am, but did not go into effect until 11 am. In the twilight between war and peace, 2,738 soldiers died and 8,000 were wounded.  The scope of this senseless bloodshed seems unfathomable. The scale of human suffering was magnified by industrial methods of war. World War I saw new weapons, such as tanks, airplanes, giant guns mounted on trains, machine guns (which had been used in previous conflicts such as the Boer war), aerial bombings from zeppelins, submarines, and poison gas. Barbed wire was also a recent invention, which secured the defensive lines of both sides, ensuring a bloody stalemate. The conflict itself resulted in the collapse of empires and the division of colonial spoils (Hochschild, 2011).  

 


Almost everyone who has taken a history class remembers the tired narrative that World War I began in June 1914 with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and his pregnant wife, Sofia in Sarajevo by the Bosnian Serb, Gavrilo Princip.  This unleashed a chain of events wherein Russia vowed to protect Serbia against an Austro-Hungarian invasion. In turn, Austro-Hungary sought to ally itself with Germany against Russia and France vowed to ally itself with Russia against Germany.  Britain justified entering the war on behalf of poor, innocent, neutral, little Belgium (which just years prior was neither poor, innocent, or neutral in King Leopold II’s genocidal rubber extraction from the Congo Free State), a strategic passage for German troops invading France.  The narrative goes that World War I was born from the anarchy of alliances. Of course, the causes of the war are far more profound than upkeeping treaties and national friendships. This method of framing the war as a domino of effect treaties renders the possibility of resisting the war invisible.  It also ignores that these treaties themselves were the outcome of imperialist countries volleying for power.


For historical context, there were massive changes in Europe during the 1800s.  On one hand, the 1800s saw the accelerating decline of the Ottoman Empire, which had been considered the sickman of Europe in terms of empires since it lost at the Battle of Vienna in 1683.  Wars and independence movements of the 1800s shrank Ottoman territory as countries such as Greece, Serbia, Egypt, Bulgaria, and later Albania, became independent. The Ottoman Empire was strained by internal debate over modernizing or harkening back to bygone times.  The century saw the disbanding of the Janissaries, defeat in the Russo-Turkish war, and the revolt of the Young Turks. The Russo-Turkish War saw the establishment of independent Serbia, Romania, and Bulgaria. The Treaty of Berlin awarded Bosnia to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which upset Serbians and inspired the formation of the Black Hand, which fought for reunification with Bosnia as well as unification with other areas populated by Serbians.  The disintegration of the Ottoman Empire created territorial concerns as newly emerging countries such as Serbia, Bulgaria, and Albania sought to establish boundaries at the expense of one another. The Balkan Wars fought just prior to the start of WWI came out of these territorial disputes. Thus, the Ottoman entry into WWI on the side of Germany and Austro-Hungary was largely in the interest of retaking lost territories. Likewise, Bulgaria joined the conflict on the side of the Central Powers with the hope of regaining territory lost in the 1913 Balkan War, namely southern Macedonia and Greece (Jankowski, 2013).


While Ottomans were in decline, Germany and Russia were struggling for ascendancy.  The 1800s saw the formation of the German state, an outcome of the 1866 war between Prussia and Austro-Hungary and the Germanification of people within this territory under Kaiser Wilhelm II.  The 1800s also saw Germany’s entry into the imperialist conquest of the world as it sought to colonize places such as modern day Namibia, Botswana, Cameroon, Rwanda, Burundi, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Marshall Islands, etc (Jankowski, 2013).  It should also be noted that Germany was 50% larger than its present size with one of Europe’s strongest economies (Hochschild, 2011). The Russian Empire saw its own economy growing with the expansion of railroads and a population twice the size of Germany’s (Hochschild, 2011).  Although Russia was hobbled in the 19th century by serfdom and slow industrialization, it won the Russo-Turkish War only to see its gains reversed by the Treaty of Berlin. It was further humiliated by the loss of a 1905 war against Japan and held on to brutal Tsarist autocracy at the cost of hundreds of lives in the face of protests for bread and labor reforms that same year.  The 1800s was also a time of Russian imperial expansion into Central Asia and the Caucasus, with interest in expansion as far as India, much to the chagrin of Britain. After losing the 1905 war with Japan, Russia began to expand and modernize its military, which led to Germany doing the same for fear of being eclipsed (Jankowski, 2013). This drive for global conquest and for gobbling up the shrinking territories is again related to imperialism.


German colonies at the turn of the century


Prior to the outbreak of World War I, European powers expected that war was inevitable.  British and French officials were expecting Germany to go to war with Russia after Russia’s 1905 uprising.  In 1894, France and Russia entered an alliance with one another that if one was attacked by Germany, the other would declare war on Germany to ensure a war on two fronts.  France had lost territory (Alsace and Lorraine) in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, so there was a strong desire for revenge among nationalists who wanted to go to war with Germany to reclaim lost land (Tuchman, 1990).  Between 1908 and 1913, the arms expenses of the six largest countries of Europe increased by 50% and 5-6% of national budgets were devoted to military spending (Hochschild, 2011). For nine years, Britain and France strategized what a German attack would look like and duly prepared.  Belgian had been created as a neutral state in 1830 with Britain a strong proponent of neutrality to secure itself from invasion. In 1913, Germans helped to reorganize the Ottoman Army, which upset Russia. France and Germany had each developed their own war plans, such as France’s Plan 17 and Germany’s Schlieffen Plan (Tuchman, 1990).  Even in popular culture in the years leading up to the war, German invasion became a fiction genre. For example, the Daily Mail ran a novel called The Invasion of 1910, which depicted a German invasion of the East coast of England (Hochschild, 2011).   

     

 

WWI and Imperialism


From a Marxist perspective, the primary cause of World War I was imperialism.  Imperialism was the linchpin of the anti-war socialist analysis of World War I, a topic which we be explored in greater detail in the next section.  The main proponent of this perspective was Vladimir Lenin, who drew his analysis of imperialism from the writings of Rosa Luxemburg, who wrote The Accumulation of Capital and Nikolai Bukharin, who wrote Imperialism and the World Economy.  Lenin also developed his theory based upon economist John Hobson’s Imperialism: A Study and Marxist economist Rudolf Hilferding’s Financial Capital (Nation, 1989).  According to Lenin, imperialism was the highest stage of capitalism, characterized by such things as monopoly capital, a monopoly of large banks and financial institutions, the territorial partition of the world, the economic partition of the world by cartels, and the control of raw materials by trusts and the financial oligarchy.  Lenin characterized imperialism resulting from a trend towards the concentration of productive power. That is, imperialism features fewer companies with larger worker forces and greater production. To him, the movement towards the monopolization of capital occurred following a series of economic crises in capitalism in 1873 and 1900 (2005)  The fusion of capital into larger blocs was an important characteristic of capitalism observed by Karl Marx.   It occurred when larger capitalists destroying smaller ones and through the union of smaller capital into larger ones, a process mediated by banks and stock markets. Once there were fewer firms on the playing field, they often united into cartels or agreements to limit competition and divide the market.  Banks also became concentrated into fewer powerful banks, which melded with industrial capital and the state (Patniak, 2014). On one hand, imperialism provided the advantage that it increased economic organization, planning, and efficiency, which were economic characteristics that Lenin theorized might serve a transition to socialism. On the other hand, imperialism also resulted in less innovation, stagnation, and an unevenness in concentrations of capital.  This unevenness created contradictions in the development of cities versus rural areas, heavy versus light industry, gaps between rich and poor, and gaps between colonies and colonizers. These contradictions created systemic instability in the long run, which cartels could only temporarily stave off (Nation, 1989).


Imperialism resulted in increased competition of state supported monopolies for markets and raw materials.  World War I was the result of partitioning the world. In this context, workers were given the choice between fighting for their own national monopolies or making revolution.  Lenin believed that workers should turn imperialist war into a civil war against capitalism. This was in contrast to social democrats who wanted workers to fight for their nations or Kautsky who felt workers should defend their nations, but not fight on the offensive.  Kautsky had postulated that the world was in a state of ultra imperialism, which would actually result in greater peace and stability as the stakes of war were higher. Rosa Luxemburg believed that capitalism had not yet reached every corner of the globe, so revolution was not yet possible.  Thus, there was debate over the nature of imperialism within the socialist movement. To Lenin, imperialism allowed the prospect of revolution in both advanced and colonized countries, since colonized countries were brought into imperialist wars as soldiers (Nation, 1989). For instance, 400,000 African forced laborers died in the war for Great Britain.  The first use of poison gas in the war was in April 1915 and the first victims were French troops from North Africa who observed the greenish yellow mist of chlorine, then succumbed to coughing blood and suffocation. Although the horror of zeppelin bombs fell on Britain in May 1915, the first use of zeppelin bombings was actually by Spain and France before the war, to punish Moroccans for uprising.  And while Britain justified the war as a matter of self-determination for Belgium, they crushed self-determination for Ireland when 1,750 Irish nationalists rose up in 1916 for independence. Britain sent troops there, eventually out numbering the nationalists 20 to 1. Fifteen of leaders of the uprising were shot, including James Connolly who was already wounded when executed and had to be tied to a chair to be shot (Hochschild, 2011).  Further, while the European arena is given more historical attention, battles were fought in colonies as well. In 1916 in south-west Tanzania, Germany fought the the British with an army of about 15,000. Of this number, 12,000 were Africans- who fought other Africans fighting on behalf of the British. Because the borders were created by Europeans and did not represent cultural, historical, or tribal lands, these African soldiers sometimes had to fight members of their family.  More than one million East Africans died in World War I (Masebo, 2015). France enlisted 200,000 West Africans to fight on their behalf in the war, calling them Senegalese tirailleurs, even though they came from various West African countries. These soldiers were forcibly recruited, then promised benefits that they were later denied (AFP, 2018). Colonies were inextricably linked, economically and militarily, to imperialist war efforts. Thus, in addition to blaming imperialism for the outbreak of World War I, Lenin postulated that the national struggle of oppressed nationalities was part of the larger struggle against imperialism.     

From Forgotten African Battlefields of WWI, CNN


Lenin noted that by 1900, 90% of African territory was controlled by European powers, in contrast to just over 10% in 1876.  Polynesia was 98% controlled by European powers compared to 56% in 1876. As of 1900, the world was almost entirely divided between major European powers with the only possibility of redivision.  Between 1884 and 1900, France, Britain, Belgium, Portugal, and Germany saw accelerated expansion of their overseas territories. He quoted Cecil Rhode, who saw imperialism as necessary for creating markets for goods and opportunities for surplus British population (Lenin, 2005).  By the time World War I began, the banqueting table of capitalists was full. World War I was a means to redistribute these imperialist spoils. Germany sought to test its power against that of Britain and France. To Lenin, one side or the other had to relinquish colonies (Lenin, War and Revolution, 2005).  Indeed, World War I resulted in a re-division of the world. The war saw the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, whose territories were divided among the victors. For instance, Syria and Lebanon became French protectorates and Britain took control of Mesopotamia, most of the Arabian peninsula, and Palestine. The United States, a latecomer to the war, cemented its position as a world power.  The defeat of Germany resulted in the redistribution of German colonies, such as German East Africa to Britain, part of Mozambique to Portugal, the division of Cameroon between British and French, and the formation of Ghana and Togo under British and French control, respectively. Even New Zealand and Australia gained control of German Pacific island territories German Samoa, German New Guinea, and Nauru.  Various states came out of the defeated Austro-Hungarian Empire, including Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, The Kingdom of Yugoslavia, and the Kingdom of Romania.  Of course, revolution destroyed the Russian Empire before the conclusion of the war, resulting in the independence of Finland, Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia. Poland was constructed of territories lost by Russian, German, and Austro-Hungarian Empires.        


Socialist Resistance to World War I


Like all wars, there was resistance to World War I.  A group that would have been well positioned to resist the outbreak of the war was the socialist movement.  However, in August 1914, various socialists in Britain, France, Germany, and Austro-Hungary sided with their national governments in participating in World War I (Partington, 2013).  For some context, the Second International was a loose federation of socialist groups which arose out of the collapse of the First International in 1876 over debates related to anarchy led by Bukharin.  Between its founding in 1889 to the outbreak of World War I, the Second International saw success in terms of rising standards of living for workers, mass popularity, and electoral success that brought socialists into various governments.  One the eve of the war, there were three million socialist party members in Germany, one million in France, and a half million in Great Britain and Austria-Hungary respectively (Nation, 1989). The German Socialist Party was the largest party in the the German legislature.  Even in the United States, where socialism was less popular, socialist candidate Eugene Debs garnered 900,000 votes in his 1912 presidential bid (Hochschild, 2011). During this time period, socialists of the Second International certainly had opportunities to debate war, as there was the Balkan Wars, Boer Wars, Italy’s invasion of Libya, and war between Russia and Japan.  However, the international failed to develop a cohesive anti-war strategy. As World War I approached, socialists made some efforts to organize against it. For instance, in July 1914 socialists organized modest anti-war protests and there were strikes in St. Petersburg (Nation, 1989) and strikes involving over a million workers in Russia earlier in the year. In July 1914, socialist leaders such as Kerrie Hardie, the working class Scottish socialist parliamentarian from Great Britain, Jean Jaures, the French historian and parliamentarian from the French Section of the Workers International, and Rosa Luxemburg, the Jewish Polish Marxist theorist from the German Socialist Party (SPD), met in Brussels for a Socialist Conference to discuss the impending war.  Hardie vowed to call for a general strike should Britain enter a war. Jaures spoke before 7,000 Belgian workers calling for a war on war. Unfortunately, Jaures was assassinated in Paris shortly after this meeting by a nationalist zealot. Nevertheless, there were trade union and leftist organized marches in Trafalgar Square in London against the war, where Hardie again called for a general strike against war (Hochschild, 2011). Despite these agitational efforts, the fate of the international was sealed when on August 4th the German SPD voted for emergency war allocations. Socialists in other European countries followed suit, adopted a “defensist” position in which they opted to suspend class struggle in the interest of defending their nations (Nation, 1989).  Only 14 of 111 SPD deputies voted against war allocations (Hoschild, 2011). The fact that the majority of socialists supported the war shattered The Second International, which over the course of the war saw the decline of socialist party membership. For instance, Germany’s SPD lost 63% of its membership between 1914-1916 (Nation, 1989). With millions of members in all of the belligerent countries, positions of political power, and union support, socialists had the power to stop the war.  Putting nationalism before internationalism was one of the greatest failures of socialists.

Rosa Luxemburg


Not all socialists agreed with the defensist position and during the course of the war they formed an small opposition within the Second International, a segment of which would eventually became the Third International and Communist Party.  This opposition had diverse views, ranging from the Menshevik position that socialists should call for neither victory nor defeat of imperialist powers to Lenin’s position of revolutionary defeatism. As her SPD counterparts were calling for war allocations, Rosa Luxemburg called a meeting at her apartment to oppose the war and strategize how to shore up an anti-war opposition within the party.  After this meeting, Karl Liebknecht campaigned around Europe with the slogans that “The Main Enemy is at Home”, “Civil War Not Civil Truce” and echoing Jaures, a call to “Wage War Against War.” They shared a further left position in the party that the only way to end the war was to make revolution. However, both Luxemburg and Liebknecht were arrested in February 1915 (Nation, 1989).

  

Another early mobilization of socialists against the war was a Women’s International Conference first proposed by Inessa Armand, representing the left faction of the anti-war socialists and organized by Clara Zetkin, who was a centrist within the anti-defensist opposition.  Zetkin’s centrist anti-defensist position emphasized peace over making revolution (Nation, 1989). After writing An appeal to Socialist Women of All Countries, Zetkin organized the March 1915 Women’s International Conference in neutral Berne, Switzerland for anti-war socialist women.  Although she was not as quick to place blame on the socialists for supporting their governments nor emphasize the need for revolution, Clara Zetkin had a long history of  anti-war credentials. She was the secretary of the Women’s Socialist International and which she founded in 1907. She was also one of the founders of International Women’s Day.  She was a vocal opponent of British war against Boers in South Africa, articulating this position on a May Day speech in 1900. Later, she was an opponent of the First Balkan War and warned that it could develop into a war between greater European powers (Partington, 2013).  

Clara Zetkin


The Women’s International Conference was attended by 28 delegates from 8 countries, who developed resolutions on such things as an immediate end to the war, peace without humiliating conditions on any nation, and reparations for Belgium.  A manifesto based upon the conference was published later in June. Again, slogans such as “war on war” and “peace without conquest or annexations” were called for. The role of financial interests such as the arms industry was spotlighted as well as how capitalists used patriotism to dupe workers into fighting in the war and weakening socialism.  Russian delegates voted to amend this resolution to clearly blame socialists who had collaborated with capitalist governments and called for women to join illegal revolutionary association to advance the overthrow of capitalism. This amendment was rejected as it was viewed as divisive and called for illegal activity. The British delegation added a amendment that condemned price increases and wage decreases during the war and which welcomed other anti-war activists to join them in struggle.  The second part of this resolution was not passed (Partington, 2013). The conference was significant because it was the first anti-war conference attended by representatives from belligerent nations. The conference also set the stage for the Zimmerwald conference, which sought to better organize the opposition within the Second International towards ending the war, reforming the international, or abandoning it (Nation, 1989).

     

The Zimmerwald Conference began on September 11, 1915 in a small swiss village of Zimmerwald under the auspices that it was the meeting of an Ornithological Society.  The conference was attended by 38 individuals from 11 countries. The conference is more famous for its male attendees such as Trotsky, Lenin, Zinoviev, Radek, and Martov.  However, several women attended including Henriette Roland-Holst a poet and Social Democratic Party member from the Netherlands, Angelica Balanoff of the Italian Socialist Party, Bertha Thalheimer and Minna Reichert of the SPD in Germany.  Henriette Roland-Holst went on to oversee the creation of Der Verbote, a journal which served as a mouthpiece for the ideas of the conference. Clara Zetkin and Rosa Luxemburg were in prison at the time.  The conference manifesto blamed the cause of the war on imperialism, demanded an immediate end to the war, peace without annexations, and the restoration of Belgium.  Clara Zetkin was actually against the conference because she viewed it as sectarian. A point of contention at the conference was the nature of self-determination. Lenin and the Bolsheviks supported self-determination for oppressed nationalities.  Rosa Luxemburg, not in attendance, felt that this was a distraction and that national liberation was impossible under imperialism. Lenin argued that national struggle complimented socialist struggle. Another point of contention was whether or not to break with the Second International.  Since defenism was still the majority position among socialists, most members of the opposition feared breaking with the international as it would mean being part of a smaller, less viable organization. Rosa Luxemburg disagreed that it was a matter that the organization should decide from within, but should be a worker initiative (Nation, 1989).


The socialist movement continued to debate strategies and the nature of the war throughout the war.  As the war continued, anti-war actions increased. For instance, in July 1916, 60,000 soldiers died in a single day at the Battle of Somme.  In the first six months of 1916 alone, here were one million war casualties. It is unsurprising that in May 1916, 10,000 people protested in Potsdamer Platz in Berlin.  The protest was organized by Rosa Luxemburg’s socialist organization, The Spartacist League. There were also strikes and demonstrations in Leipzig that year (Nation, 1989).  In 1916, 200,000 people signed a petition for peace in Britain (Hochschild, 2011). Of course, the most dramatic event was the strike of workers at the Putilov Arms factory on the 3rd of March, 1917.  This spiraled into a general strike in Petrograd, the mutiny of the army, and the abdication of the throne after three hundred years of Romanov rule. The February Revolution in Russia resulted in a Provisional Government.  In the months that followed, there were mutinies in France and Germany, general strikes and protests across Europe (Nation, 1989). Following the February revolution, 12,000 Londoners rallied in solidarity with the Russians and activists began organizing soviets.  In April 1917, there were mutinies in France, wherein soldiers waved red flags, sang the international, and in one case, soldiers hijacked a train and went back to Paris. French troops were diverted from the front to French cities to quell rebellion. At least 30 French army division created soviets.  In Russia, the army fell apart as a million soldiers deserted (Hochschild, 2011). The February revolution strengthened the Bolshevik position within the Zimmerwald left, but it took a second revolution, with the Bolsheviks assumption of power to end the war, as the Provisional Government lacked the political will to exit the war (Nation, 1989).  

February Revolution in Petrograd


The new Bolshevik government announced an armistice on December 15, 1918 and sent a delegation to meet the Germans at Brest-Litovsk fortress.  The delegation consisted of a woman, soldier, sailor, peasant, worker, and at least two Jewish men, all chosen to represent the new society in Russia.  The peasant in the delegation, Stashkov, was pulled from the street randomly, but happened to be a leftist.  He had never had wine before the meeting and had the unfortunate habit of calling his fellow delegates “barin” or master. The female delegate, Anastasia Bitsenko, made the German delegates, all from the higher echelons of German society, uneasy, as she had just returned from Siberia after a seven year imprisonment for assassinating the Russian Minister of War.  Together, these enemies in terms of class, ideology, and war feasted uneasily in honor of the Russian exit from the conflict (Hochschild, 2011). The terms of this exit were settled by a peace treaty in March 1918, which set the conditions of Russia’s exited the World War I at the cost of territorial concessions to Germany. The armistice between the countries antagonized Russia’s allies (Nation, 1989).  Russia’s end to the war meant that Germany could devote an addition half million soldiers to the Western Front. It also resulted in more unrest in the warring countries as activists were emboldened by the Russian revolution and immiserated by the ongoing war. Throughout the war, Germany was blockaded by the Allies, which led to food shortages. German troops were reduced to eating turnips and horse meat and civilians ate dogs and cats.  Real wages in Germany declined by half during the war. In turn, German submarines downed over 5,000 allied merchant ships, sending 47,000 tons of meat to the bottom of the sea in the first half of 1917 alone. By 1918, war cost made up 70% of Britain’s GDP. 100,000 workers protested in Manchester against food shortages. In July, rail workers in Britain went on strike. Even the police went on strike for two days, as 12,000 London police walked off the job (Hochschild, 2011).  


Lenin had pinned his hopes on revolution spreading across the world.  Considering the mutinies, desertions, strikes, and protests in 1918, this does not seem entirely far fetched.  British military officials even considered making peace with Germany as a way to contain the threat of the Russian spreading revolution elsewhere.  March 1918 saw the founding congress of the Communist Party and the Third International, the final break from the Second International. That same year, there were soviets formed in Germany and a sailor mutiny wherein the sailors raised the red flag. 400,000 Berlin workers went on strike in January 1918 demanding peace, a people’s republic, and workers rights (Hochschild, 2011).  Revolutions were attempted in Bavaria, Hungary, Braunschweig, and Berlin. Revolutionaries captured the Kaiser’s palace in Berlin and declared a socialist republic. The Berlin Revolution led by Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebnecht’s Spartacist League was crushed by Social Democratic Party of Germany in alliance with the German Supreme Command (Nation, 1989). Both revolutionaries were captured, tortured, and executed. The SPD, which had led the member parties of the Second International to side with their belligerent governments, went on to crush other uprisings across Germany, taking its place in the Weimar Republic that followed.  Suffice to say, the chasm in the socialist movement that began in 1914 had become an irreparable trench of millions dead and the graves of revolutionaries.


Other Resistance to World War I:   


The debates and division within the the socialist movement is certainly an interesting aspect of how war was resisted or failed to be resisted.  However, there were many other groups involved in resisting World War One. Another natural source of resistance against World War I might have been anarchists, however, like the socialist movement, the anarchist movement split over how to react to the war.  A number of leading anarchists, including Peter Kropotkin, signed the Manifesto of the Sixteen in 1916, which argued that victory over the Central Powers was necessary. The manifesto encouraged anarchists to support the Allies.  Kropotkin’s support of the Allies may have been the result of a desire to defend France as a progressive country with a revolutionary tradition.  To him, defense of France was a defense of the French Revolution. His approach to the war was pragmatic. He felt that any uprising against the war would be small and easily crushed and that there was a responsibility to defend the country from aggression.  He viewed Germany as particularly militaristic. The year that the Manifesto of the Sixteen was written was particularly brutal and saw the beginning of British conscription (Adams and Kinna, 2017).


Not all anarchists were as lost on the issue of war as Kropotkin, for instance, Emma Goldman believed that the state had no right to wage war, drafts were illegimate and coercive, and wars were fought by capitalists at the expense of workers.  As the United States moved towards war in 1916, she began using her magazine, Mother Earth, to espouse anti-war ideas.  Once the United States entered the war, she launched the No-Conscription League.  Subsequently, her magazine was banned and she was arrested on June 15, 1917 along with her comrade, Alexander Berkman (War Resistance, Anti-Militarism, and Deportation, 1917-1919, n.d.).  Before she was arrested, Goldman had planned on curtailing anti-conscription speeches, as speakers and attendees of her meetings were harassed by soldiers and police. She was arrested for violating the Selective Service Act, which was passed five days before her arrest.  The New York Times covered her arrest and trial, blaming her for two riots that had occurred at her meetings.  However, the reports of riots were overblown, as the meetings themselves were peaceful until disrupted by police and soldiers who demanded to see draft registration cards from attendees. Goldman did her best to use the trial as a platform for her ideas, arguing that she didn’t actually tell men not to register for the draft, as according to her anarchist beliefs she supported the right of individuals to make their own choices.  She also framed her organizing as part of an American tradition of protest and that democracy should not fear frank debate. Despite her efforts of defending herself and ideas, she was sentenced to the maximum sentence of two years (Kennedy, 1999). Upon serving her sentence at Missouri State Penitentiary, she was deported in December 1919 along with other radicals (War Resistance, Anti-Militarism, and Deportation, 1917-1919, n.d.).  Interestingly, Goldman had gained U.S. citizenship when she married Jacob Kershner in 1887, but he had his citizenship revoked in 1909. According to the laws at the time, a wife’s citizenship was contingent on the husband’s. Thus, she was deported based upon the citizenship of her dead husband.

Emma Goldman


European anarcho-syndicalists experienced the same split socialists did, as many came out in support of defensism (Nation, 1989).  In the United States, The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) was the target of propaganda from the Wilson administration, which claimed that they were agents of the kaiser who were trying to sabotage the U.S. war effort (Richard, 2012).  The IWW is an international union with ties to both the socialist and anarchist movements. While not specifically anacho-syndicalist, the IWW was founded several anarcho-syndicalists such as Lucy Parsons and William Trautman. Because the IWW was trying to organize industries important to the war such as mining, lumber, and rubber, they were targeted with Red Scare tactics.  To avoid persecution, the leadership of the IWW refrained from taking a public stance against the war, but members were free to critique the war. This tactic did not work and in September 1917, the Department of Justice raided 48 IWW halls and arrested 165 members, some of whom had not been active for years (Richard, 2012). One of the members who was arrested as Loiuse Olivereau, who at the time was an anarchist IWW secretary.  After the raid of an IWW office that she worked at, she went to the Department of Justice to have some of her property returned. Among this property were anti-war fliers, which were a violation of the Espionage Act. Like Goldman, she went to trial and tried to make a political defense. She defended herself and her ideas, arguing that wartime repression and zealous nationalism were not “American” values. She appealed to plurality and nationalism based upon internationalism.  In her pamphlets, she had emphasized that men who avoided war were not cowards, but brave for living by their convictions. The media gave little attention to her arguments, instead portraying her as a radical foreigner with dangerous ideas, as Goldman had been portrayed (Kennedy, 1999). IWW members who were not arrested faced vigilante justice from lynch mobs. For instance, Frank Little was disfigured and hung from a railroad trestle in Butte, Montana. In 1919, Wesley Everest was turned over to a mob by prison guards in Centralia, Washington.  He had his teeth knocked out with a rifle butt, was lynched three times, and shot. The coroner deemed the death a suicide (Richard, 2012).


In addition to anarchists and socialists, suffragists were another group of activists with an interest in anti-war organizing.  In addition to the March 1915 socialist women’s conference, there was a much larger women’s gathering at The Hague in the Netherlands.  April 1915 conference brought over 1300 delegates together and was organized by suffragists under the leadership of Jane Addams. It was mostly attended by middle class, professionals though representatives from trade unions and the Hungarian Agrarian union was also in attendance.  Like the socialist movement, the suffragist movement was divided between those who supported their governments and those who were anti-war. For instance, the International Suffrage Alliance did not support the Hague conference. Invitations to the conference put forth the position that the war should be ended peacefully and that women should be given the right to vote.  Attendance was difficult, since it meant crossing war torn countries or asking for travel documents, which was often denied (Blasco and Magallon, 2015). Attending the conference was itself illegal and all 28 delegates from Germany were arrested upon their return. 17 of the 20 British delegates were refused passage by ship when they tried to leave Britain (Hochschild, 2011).  Like the socialist conference, the The Hague conference made a resolution that territorial gains or conquests should not be recognized, though it put the onus of ending the war on neutral countries rather than working people. There was no call for a “war on war” but for mediation, justice, and diplomacy through a Society of Nations. Some of the points of this resolution were adopted by Woodrow Wilson in his 14 Points (Blasco and Magallon, 2015).


The sentiment of The Hague Conference, which focused on progressive internationalism, was echoed by the Women’s Peace Party before the war.  In 1914, 1,500 women marched against World War I in New York. Fannie Garrison Villard, Crystal Eastman, and Madeleine Z Doty organized the first all-female peace organization, The Women’s Peace Party.  After the end of the war, the Women’s Peace Party became the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (Jensen, 2014). Despite the peaceful orientation, the WPP also promised to defend America from foreign enemies and worked to get Woodrow Wilson elected in 1916.  They also framed their peace work as a matter of maternal duty as nurturers. Irrespective of their patriotic politics, they were critiqued for being too nurturing or feminine, as this was viewed by men as having a negative and weakening effect on the public sphere (Kennedy, 1999).  At the same time, it seems contradictory that a peace party would support national defense. However, supporting the U.S. war effort might be viewed as an extension of the interest of middle class white women in finding increased state power through voting. The war sharpened the differences between radical and reformist suffragists.  The New York State Suffragist Party argued that the Silent Sentinels protest outside of the White House was harassing the government during a time of national stress (Women’s Suffrage and WWI, n.d). Even before the United States entered the war, The National American Woman Suffrage Association wrote a letter to Woodrow Wilson pledging the services of two million suffragists.  The letter appeared in the New York Times and promised that the suffragists would remain loyal to the war effort by encouraging women to volunteer in industries left vacant by men at war and collect medical supplies and rations (The History Engine, n.d.). The National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) engaged in patriotic volunteering, but they did not abandon organizing for the vote.  NAWSA’s president, Carrie Chapman Catt was a pacifist, but supported the war effort by promoting Liberty Loans, Red Cross drives, and War Savings Stamps. Around the country, suffragists supported the war effort by planting victory gardens, food conservation, Red Cross and volunteering. The National Women’s Party took a more radical approach, and during the war 200 of them picketed the White House and were arrested, went on hunger strikes, and were forcibly fed.  In the United States, women finally won the right to vote in 1920, but this mostly impacted white women as Native American women were not U.S. citizens until 1924 and first generation Asian women were not granted the right to vote until after World War II (Jensen, 2014).

         

Silent Sentinels who protested outside the White House during WWI


The divide in the suffragist movement is illustrated in the Pankhurst family.  Sylvia Pankhurst, was a British suffragist who with her mother Emmaline and sisters, Christabel and Adela, founded the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) (Miles and McGregor, 1993). Emmaline Pankhurst, the matriarch of the family, became engaged in politics after working with poor women to collect data on illegitimate births. She noted that many of these births were caused by rape and also took issue with the fact that female teachers in Manchester made less than their male counterparts.  Thus, sexual assault and the wage gap have a long been observed as social problems by feminists. The WPSU did not allow male members, though they infiltrated meetings of the Liberal Party to demand voting rights. The WSPU eventually split over the issue of whether or not they should support candidates. Emmaline Pankhurst was against this, as all of the candidates at the time were male. Charlotte Despards, a novelist, charitable organizer, Poor Law Board member, and proponent of Indian and Irish independence, was for supporting candidates, as she was a supporter of the Independent Labor Party.  Despards went on to found the Women’s Freedom League (Hochschild, 2011). Again, male membership and supporting male candidates are still issues that modern feminist groups consider.


The WSPU was the most radical of the British suffragist groups and it engaged in arson, window breaking, and bomb attacks (Miles and McGregor, 1993).  The WSPU burned the orchid house at Kew Gardens, smashed a jewel case at the Tower of London, burned a church, and carved out “No Votes, No Golf” on a golf green (Hochschild, 2011).  Due to these activities, suffragists were imprisoned and Sylvia herself was arrested nine times between 1913 and 1914. To protest imprisonment, they went on hunger strikes and had to be forcibly fed.  Sylvia was expelled from the WSPU for socialist beliefs and founded the East London Federation of Suffragists. Despite their extreme tactics, Emmaline and Christabel became less radical at the outbreak of World War I and ceased their radical tactics, instead supporting the war and handing out white feathers to shame men to who didn’t enlist to fight (Miles and McGregor, 1993).  The eldest sister, Christabel traveled to the United States to drum up support for the war. Most British suffragists supported the war effort, which may seem surprising as many had earlier denounced war, gender essentializing it as a masculine endeavor. This turn towards national defense over voting rights was strategic, as it did offer mainstream legitimacy to suffragists who had otherwise been arrested and persecuted.  Even the author Rudyard Kipling had expressed concern that the women’s suffrage movement weakened Britain, making it less prepared for war. The WSPU organized a march of 60,000 women, though not against war. The march was to encourage women to buy shells. Perhaps due to their compliance in the war and part because the Russian revolution had granted universal suffrage, women were granted the right to vote in Britain in 1919 (Hochschild, 2011).  


As for Sylvia, one of the few anti-war suffragists, she organized ELFS to set of free clinics to mothers and children, a free day care, a Cost Price restaurant, and a toy factory for fundraising.  She supported strikes against conscription, the Defense of the Realm Act, protested the execution of James Connolly, and her group was the only British suffragist organization which continued to organize for the vote during the war (Miles and McGregor, 1993).  She had even suggested that an anti-war march of 1,000 women should occur in the no man’s land between enemy lines. Throughout the war, she documented the suffering of women, noting that women were forced out of hospital beds to make room for soldiers or struggle to survive on the military pay of their husbands.  The wives of deserters received no pension from the government and women were subjected to curfews to avoid cheating and faced imprisonment if they had a venereal disease and had sex with a soldier (Hochschild, 2011).

Sylvia Pankhurst


In 1916, the organization changed its name to the Workers Suffrage Federation and in 1918 to the Workers Socialist Federation.  It was the first British organization to affiliate with the Third International and she herself articulated that while women could win the vote under capitalism, they could achieve liberation.  She was arrested for sedition in 1920 for urging British sailors to mutiny over poor conditions and for dock workers to resist loading arms to be used by Russian counterrevolutionaries. While in prison, the Workers Socialist Federation joined the Communist Party.  She never joined the Communist Party herself and was critical of the New Economic Program (Miles and McGregor, 1993). Sylvia never joined the party, but paid a visit to the Soviet Union, which impressed her. She continued her activism throughout her life, warning about the rise of fascism and drawing attention to Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia.  She eventually moved to Ethiopia, where she died at the age of 74.


Conclusion:


Resistance to World War I in many ways seems like a series of stunning betrayals.  The socialists, which had the power to stop the war, sided with their national governments at the cost of millions of lives.  The hardships of war created the conditions for unrest in many countries, but it was only in Russia where revolution was successful (at a high cost and with lasting consequences to the shape the new society).  Suffragists, like socialists, sided with their national governments. This Faustian deal, in some ways, secured the right to vote. Today, women can vote to send women to kill other women in war, just as socialists voted for the money to arm workers to fight other workers.  Anarchists were also fractured by the war, when this group seemed the most ideologically unlikely to side with government war mongering! At the same time, activists of all of these groups made hard choices. Anti-war socialists found themselves unable to organize workers early in the war due to their small numbers and the swell of nationalism and prejudices.  Any activist organizing against the war faced imprisonment in beligerant countries, and Emma Goldman, Clara Zetkin, and Rosa Luxemburg among many more were arrested. Some activists faced mob justice and death. Still, there are some lessons to be drawn from all of this. A major lesson is the importance of unwavering internationalism. Another lesson is to take a long, principled view of power.  Suffragists abandoned their organizing in the interest of legitimacy and national power. In doing so, they made powerful allies, but they also took their place in the state apparatus that oppresses of women. So too, socialists, who enjoyed popularity and a share of state power, crushed other socialists and supported the violent, senseless slaughter of workers to maintain their place in capitalism.  Activists should always stand against imperialism and in solidarity with all of the oppressed people of the world.  Doing this may mean standing in the minority or at the margins of history making, but it may also mean keeping alive the idea that a better world is possible and the ideas with the power to build movements that make this happen.


Sources:

 

Adams, Matthew S., and Ruth Kinna. (2017) Anarchism, 1914-18: Internationalism, Anti-Militarism and War. Manchester University Press.   

 

AFP. (2018, November 6). France addresses painful history of African WWI troops. Retrieved November 12, 2018, from https://www.timeslive.co.za/news/africa/2018-11-06-france-addresses-painful-history-of-african-wwi-troops/

 

Blasco, S., & Magallón, C. (2015, April 28). Retrieved October 25, 2018, from http://noglory.org/index.php/articles/445-the-first-international-congress-of-women

 

Hochschild, A. (2011). To end all wars: A story of loyalty and rebellion, 1914-1918. United Kingdom: Macmillan.

 

Jankowski, T., 2013. Eastern Europe! – Everything You Need to Know about the History (and More). New Europe Books.

 

Kennedy, K. (1999). Disloyal mothers and scurrilous citizens: Women and subversion during World War I. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

 

Miles, L., & McGregor, S. (1993, January 01). Suffragette who opposed World War One. Retrieved October 25, 2018, from http://socialistreview.org.uk/395/suffragette-who-opposed-world-war-one

 

Jensen, K. (2014, October 8). Women’s Mobilization for War (USA). Retrieved November 7, 2018, from https://encyclopedia.1914-1918-online.net/article/womens_mobilization_for_war_usa#Suffrage_Movement

 

Lenin, V. (2005). Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism. Retrieved October 23, 2018, from https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1916/imp-hsc/  

 

Lenin, V.I. Lenin: War and Revolution, 2005, http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/may/14.htm.

 

Masebo, O. (2015, July 03). The African soldiers dragged into Europe’s war. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-33329661

 

Nation, R. (1989). War on War: Lenin, the Zimmerwald Left, and the Origins of Communist Internationalism. Haymarket Books.

 

Partington, J. S. (2013). Clara Zetkin: National and international contexts. London: Socialist History Society.

 

Patnaik, P. (2014). Lenin, Imperialism, and the First World War. Social Scientist, 42(7/8), 29-46. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/24372919

 

Richard, J. (2012, November). The Legacy of the IWW. Retrieved November 12, 2018, from https://isreview.org/issue/86/legacy-iww

 

The History Engine. (n.d.). Retrieved November 7, 2018, from https://historyengine.richmond.edu/episodes/view/5322

 

Tuchman, Barbara Wertheim. The Guns of August. Ballantine Books, 1990.

 

War Resistance, Anti-Militarism, and Deportation, 1917-1919. (n.d.). Retrieved November 12, 2018, from http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/goldman/MeetEmmaGoldman/warresistance-antimilitarism-deportation1917-1919.html

 

Women’s Suffrage and WWI (U.S. National Park Service). (n.d.). Retrieved November 7, 2018, from https://www.nps.gov/articles/womens-suffrage-wwi.htm

 

The Gender Question: My Pronouns

The Gender Question_ Unpacking my Pronouns

The Gender Question: Unpacking

My Pronouns

H. Bradford

10/21/18

Wednesday October 17th was the first International Gender Pronouns Day.  The goal of the day is to raise awareness of gender pronouns, including referring to people by their preferred pronouns and normalizing asking about the pronouns.  In activist circles, this is increasingly becoming commonplace.  Recently, both of my workplaces asked me for my preferred gender pronouns.  But, I can remember just a few years ago when I was asked for the first time to publicly announce my pronouns.  This is a reflection of how I felt and my own gender journey.

Image result for they them their name tag


The first meeting that I was asked to use my preferred gender pronouns caught me off guard.  I felt afraid and unsure of what to say.  I knew what the expected answer was…she/her/hers….and I felt afraid to say anything but the pronouns that would match my outward appearance.  I didn’t answer at all.  Meeting after meeting, I didn’t answer.  I dreaded when it was my turn to share.  I would simply say my name and something else (for instance what group I was in or why I was there), avoiding the question or trying to bury the question in other information.  Only a few times was I called out.  “Oh, you forgot to share your pronouns!”  I wanted the question to go away.  It seemed like some hokey, liberal trend to be inclusive- but really, it felt like an interrogation into the walled up parts of myself.   I have wrestled with gender identity, but came to no conclusions or worse, no plan of action.  Thus, I have slid through life avoiding the question and relegating it to some condemned, musty, walled off part of myself that could be attended to when I had the time, courage, or emotional safety.  The “gender question” asked at activist meetings forced it out of the dark corner that I had been avoiding.  I resented that.  No one shines a light in my haunted house! Image result for haunted house

Mn State Fair Haunted House


For some context, I have felt alienated by my femaleness.  It started sometime around the 5th grade.  I didn’t want to grow up to be female…or the “w” word.  I didn’t want breasts or a period.  I didn’t want curves or for people to see me as a woman.  I didn’t want to become…such an alien thing.  It is a feeling that has hung around.  I could provide more details or examples, as often creating a narrative of lifelong questioning is necessary for legitimacy.  But, I don’t care to and legitimacy does not have to be rooted in history and long stories.  In any event, despite feeling un-female, I wondered what alternative existed for me.  What else could I be and how could I become it?   Despite these feelings, I have generally presented myself in a feminine way (to some degree), with makeup, shaved body, and long hair.  Thus, to question or feel disgusted by and alien from my body and biological/social lot seemed disingenuous.   Worse, when I have talked to some people close to me over the years, the reactions have been that I must be mentally ill or just trying to be trendy….because gender dysphoria is cool.   This left me feeling a bit lost and defeated.  By my 30s I tried not to think too deeply about it.  That is…until that pesky question kept coming up!


I started to test out answers.  Mostly, when it came up, I said I go by she/her/hers and they/them/theirs.  No one cared.  The question moved on to the next person.  This was nice and gave me more confidence.  No one stopped the whole thing and said, “Wait!  You are NOT they, them, theirs…. you are just trying to be trendy here!  Call the gender police.”  Or, “They, them, theirs is for MORE androgynous looking people.  Clearly you wear makeup and have long hair.  You are not constructing gender properly.”  In the few instances where I felt that I needed to give an explanation, I said that I was gender questioning.  By cautiously answering…but being met with zero reaction or questioning, I began to feel more comfortable.   These questions felt invasive and loaded at first, but it turned out it was not an inquisition. Image result for gender police


What am I?  I feel weird calling myself a woman.  It just seemed so…not me.  It seems like a special title reserved for some other people.  I didn’t ask for this body.  There are parts of it I would be happy to be rid of.  At the same time, I think she/her/hers is appropriate for me.  Despite how I might feel about myself, the world sees me as female.  I am treated like a woman.  Each time I fear for my safety or am treated as “less than” a man, I am living a female experience in a female body (I don’t mean this to reify biological gender, but as a shared experience of oppression).  I feel safer in female spaces than in spaces dominated by men and I feel like I do not behave or present in a fashion that is gender queer enough for trans or non-binary spaces.  I present myself in a “feminine” way.  I have been subjected to and subjugated by female gender norms.  I fear aging.  I fear becoming too ugly or too fat.  My presentation of self is still very much governed by patriarchal gender norms for women.   At the same time, gender is socially constructed.  There is no feminine.  Long hair and makeup can be masculine, androgynous, feminine, or really anything or nothing at all.  Despite the arbitrary nature of these rules, my presentation has social meaning that is associated with femaleness.  I could reject this, but there is no real way to reject this as reconstructing gender usually hinges upon gender tropes.  Binary gender is such a part of our cognitive landscape that it is hard to escape.  Inevitably, it depends upon rejecting what is viewed as masculine, feminine, mixing up these characteristics, or inventing something androgynous (which is often stereotyped as thin and skewed towards masculine).  She/her/hers is also useful in showing solidarity with women.  I am a feminist.  Maybe I don’t always feel like a woman, but I live in this world perceived and treated as one.  I experience oppression as a woman and she/her/hers can be useful gender shorthand for these experiences and my solidarity with those who also experience this.


Although I am she/her/hers….I am also not these things.  It feels like gender is Schroedinger’s cat, which both IS and ISN’T.  Both things exist in the box that is myself.  I am female in body and experience, but also not these things, both because there is no female body and universal female experience and because I feel alien from the female parts of me (whatever those may be).   This is hard to explain.  To address the first aspect of my non-femaleness, well, femaleness does not really exist.  What is female?  Breasts, certain hormones, certain chromosomes, vaginas, or other biological characteristics?  Some females have some of these characteristics and not others, have all of these to varying degrees, or have some of these in some parts of life and not in others.   I have some biological markers of being female, but I do not necessarily want them, and being female is more than just biological rules and boundaries (which are themselves socially determined).   I would be happy to not have breasts, for instance.  I have always hated them.  I am actually really happy that mine are small, since I really don’t want these female associated appendages hanging off my body.  They serve no purpose in my life.  I have no intention of breast feeding, which seems like a body horror, nor enjoy their utility in sexual attraction.  Yes, I called it a body horror.  I feel that chest feeding can be wonderful and nourishing for OTHERS who are not alienated by their bodies, but to me existing in this body, the very thought of it seems like a torturous humiliation.  In this sense, and others that I won’t share, I am very much not a woman.


Femaleness is also related to gender roles, expected behaviors, and social position.   Where do I fit in to that?  Sure, I think that I am “feminine”, but I think that this is one facet of who I am and more or less just a part of the full constellation of human traits that everyone shares to varying degrees.  I am not “feminine” in some ways, in that I don’t necessarily follow female gender roles.  I am not particularly nurturing, not at all motherly or maternal, am emotionally reserved, not much for traditional roles of care giving and cleaning, independent and self-reliant, not romantic, generally more rational and scientific than spiritual or emotional, etc.  Once again, these are characteristics that get divied up between masculine and feminine, but are not inherently either.  Still, I think that bodily, emotionally, and socially, I have traits that I feel are masculine, feminine, and androgynous.  I don’t feel a close affinity with my femaleness, but I don’t entirely reject it either.  Thus, I really like they, them, their as gender pronouns.  I also like to go by H. as well as Heather, since I think it represents my non-binary self.   Heather is very feminine in our society.  I used to hate my name because of it.  However, I am trying to accept that Heather is just a plant.  It is a flower that grows in rocky, boggy conditions- with no innate femininity, masculinity, or androgyny.  The sound of the word Heather is not feminine, as people in other countries have similar sounding names which are pegged as masculine- such as Hadir in Arabic speaking countries.  I can be Heather and not necessarily be feminine.  But, I do enjoy when friends call me H.

Image result for heather plant


Gender is complicated.  I don’t have the answers.  I consider myself gender questioning because I haven’t arrived at my final destination.  I don’t know that I will.  There may be times in my life that I embrace my femaleness more.  Other times, it may be a source of pain and humiliation.  I haven’t always enjoyed getting asked what my pronouns are, but at the very least, I am starting to feel more confident.  At this point, I feel confident enough to say that yes, there is a they, them, their part of myself.  It doesn’t matter if I don’t look or behave in a non-binary way or reject gender enough.  I don’t need to be legitimate in anyone else’s eyes.  It is gender that is illegitimate, not me.  Even if my feelings ARE the result of being trendy or mentally ill, why stigmatize either? Traditional concepts of gender (and sex) benefit no one but those at the top of our patriarchal, capitalist economic system.   As my life progresses, perhaps I will feel bolder and ask to be H. or they, them, their more often.  Perhaps not.  For now, this is where I am at.  Thanks for asking.

 

Deconstructing Duluth’s Demographic Crisis

Deconstructing Duluth’s Demographic Crisis

H. Bradford

4/11/18

On February 24th, the Duluth News Tribune ran an article about Duluth’s impending demographic crisis.  I wanted to write a socialist feminist response to this, but never got around to it.  Not that I am the authority on socialist feminism, but I am a feminist and a socialist…and I do think about these things…so, why not break it down?  Now, whenever I hear the word “demographic crisis” I want to run for the hills, or burn something, or both.  Not really, but I think it is one of those sexist, ageist, racist, pro-capitalist concepts that begs to be dismembered.   Here is why…

Ageism:

Early into the Duluth News Tribune article, when describing the shifting population of the Duluth region, the aging population is described as problematic.


“If population levels were even across age groups, this wouldn’t be much of a problem. But, as you may have heard, the largest generation in the country’s history is marching into retirement, leaving many jobs vacant just as unemployment levels are bottoming out and productivity growth is stalling (Johnson, 2018).”


It is true that our population is aging, but, one must consider why this is a problem.  According to the article, it is a problem because there will not be enough workers to replace those who retire.  On the surface, this seems like a problem, as society needs workers to produce things.  However, this frames the post-retirement age population as the cause of a social problem.  Framing the older population as a “problem” is ageist.  It also ignores their labor, as labor does not end when wage labor ceases.  Their contributions to society do not cease when they reach the age of 65 (or higher ages for the many people who do not have retirement savings, pensions, or the ability to survive on social security alone).  Older adults do unpaid work such as volunteering, caring for grand children, gardening, baking, canning, sharing their knowledge, checking up on one another, and a plethora of other important economic activities that are dismissed because they are unpaid.  Just as the invisible, unpaid labor of women is ignored as a natural or unimportant, this invisible labor and its contribution to society is also ignored.


This connects to the socialist feminist concept of social reproduction.  Basically, in capitalist society, the labor force must reproduce itself.  This can literally mean that the work force must replace itself through biological reproduction, but also means that each worker must sustain themselves through sleep, eating food, washing clothes, maintaining their health, relieving stress, and all the many things that are required to survive and work another day.   Typically, women have played an important role in providing the invisible, unpaid labor that keeps the work force …working.  Caring for children, giving birth, caring for the elderly, washing clothes, cleaning a home, doing dishes, making meals, grocery shopping, etc. are all important unpaid activities that ensure that capitalism will continue.  Of course, older adults who leave the work force also provide some of these services as they are “free” to (my own grandparents made many meals for me, baby sat me, bought me school clothes, taught me information, etc.).  Thus, is it really a problem that people grow old?  Aging is a natural process.  It may happen that we have an aging population, but why is this a problem?  Some people might respond that it is a problem because this group requires more care and there are not enough young people to care for them.  The article itself argues that it is a problem that there is not enough workers to fill jobs and that productivity will decline.


I am not an expert on matters of aging, but I imagine that the “problem of aging” could be mitigated by providing quality, free health care to people of all ages, along with clean environments, living wages, robust pensions, housing, etc.  The aging population might very well “age better” if a high quality of life was ensured for people of all ages.  What does it mean to “age well” anyway?  I think to most people means the ability to care for one’s self, enjoy a high quality of life, and live independently for as long as possible.  If this is what this means, the locus of “aging well” is framed as an individual responsibility and the very human need for care is viewed as burdensome.   This concept is very individualistic and puts the rest of society off the hook for taking responsibility of providing and caring for the variable needs of older adults.  It is also ageist, as aging well is basically the ability to live as similarly to a young person for as long as possible.  Maybe it is okay to be wrinkly, sedentary, crabby, or anti-social.  Society is awful.  Living through decades of economic ups and downs, cuts to social programs, pointless wars, and the general nonsense of everything deemed meaningful by society might sour a person against living with youthful optimism and vibrancy.   After years of being alive, “aging well” might seem like a racket to sell beauty products, skin treatments, fitness memberships, etc.

Image result for aging well

(This image leads me to believe that aging well has something to do with being white and wealthy.  Capitalism doesn’t have resources to spare on caring for the elderly, so make certain you stay healthy with fresh air and bike rides in the country.)


If indeed there is a shortage of workers, there are certainly plenty of people in the world and United States itself.  These people might be more inclined to move to this frigid region and provide elder care if this was not low paid, under appreciated service work but unionized with benefits (including retirement plans!), better wages, and better working conditions.   A true shortage of workers might require open borders to allow new workers to enter the country, but this would require a move away from our current racist, xenophobic, nationalist, and exploitative immigration policy.  The “aging population problem” is not a problem with age, but an ageless problem of capitalism to meet the basic needs of humanity.


Of course, the notion of declining productivity must also be challenged.  Why is it a problem when productivity declines?  Why must productivity always increase?  What does this mean for the environment?  When have we produced enough?!  Productivity is a problem in capitalism because of the tendency for profits to decline.  Because competition lends itself to increased investment in fixed capital and there are human thresholds of how much variable capital can be exploited from workers, profits decline over time.  Markets also become saturated as there is only so much people can buy (again because wages only allow so much consumption).  When too much is produced and too little is consumed, capitalism falls into a crisis, which Marx called the crisis of overproduction.  Therefore, productivity is not necessary good.  It is not good for the workers (who must work longer or harder).  It is not good for the environment (as it creates waste and overuse of resources).  And it is not even good for capitalism, since it lends itself to instability.  I think it is important to think against blind productivity and instead think about rational, careful production in the interest of human needs.

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(Capitalism probably produces enough…  though I suppose the gulls don’t mind.)


Sexism:

Another reason why I dislike the concept of “demographic crisis” is that it is sexist.   Although the article only mentions it briefly, increasing birth rates is often suggested as a way in averting the crisis.  Even if it is not mentioned in detail in the article, it is implicit in the premise of the argument.  If the population is aging and this is a problem, that means that not enough new people are being born.  Thus, not only are older adults the problem, the bigger problem is that women are not gestating enough babies.  The bodies of women have long been treated as public property, inasmuch as their reproductive power is harnessed for state interests.  The fight for reproductive rights is a fight to liberate women from their role as the producer’s of the next generation of soldiers and workers.  The birth rate in the United States (according to 2018 CIA World Factbook Information) is 12.5 births per 1000 people.  Our birth rate is slightly higher than the UK, Sweden, France, and Australia which all have 12.x births per 1000.  The rate is higher than Finland, Canada, Switzerland, Netherlands, and Denmark, which have 10.x births per 1000 people.  Our birthrate is certainly greater than South Korea, Japan, and Germany, which range from 8.x to 9.x births per 1000 people.  Despite our higher birth rate, there is enormous pressure upon women to reproduce- to the point that the organized movement against abortion has made birth nearly compulsory in many parts of the country due to restricted access to abortion.  In many of these countries with lower birth rates, the issue of abortion is far less controversial.  Here, anti-choice activists bemoan the loss of millions of fetuses, which they argue contributes to our demographic crisis (fewer workers, fewer students, etc.)   At the core of demographic crisis is a demand to control reproduction- because if population is viewed as a resource, women’s bodies are responsible for producing this resource.


 In the context of capitalism (and unfortunately many economic systems), population is treated as a resource.  Workers need to reproduce so that there are more workers.  This leads to a precarious balance.  Capitalists do not provide for the reproduction of labor (this has often fallen upon women and families) as this requires an investment in workers.  At the same time, workers have to have a basic level of sustenance to continue working and to allow for a new generation.  For instance, if a woman works too hard or consumes too few calories, she may stop menstruating.  Therefore, workers generally have a basic threshold of exploitation which if reached these workers will no longer be able to survive and reproduce.   In the United States in particular, our status as a world power has an economic component and a military component.  The military domination of the world is an extension of the economic component, as military might ensures access to markets, thwarts competitors, offers access to capital (for instance natural resources and labor), etc.  For the United States to remain an economic and military power, babies must be born.  Babies are needed so that there will always be a supply of soldiers and workers.  Reproduction is a national interest.  I think this contributes to the controversy around abortion and the drive to limit it.
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(A piece of art that I created called Capitalism is Built on the Bodies of Women)

As I alluded to in the previous paragraph, capitalism has a contradiction.  On one hand, in seeks to increase profit by extracting more surplus value from workers.  Because profits decline over time, workers are pressured to work harder and longer.  This increased exploitation limits the ability to reproduce labor (to reproduce biologically, but also to maintain a certain level of health as workers).   In the United States, not a lot of profit is redistributed towards caring for our existing population (i.e. ensuring the reproduction of labor).   We do not offer paid parental leave.  We do not have free day cares.  There is a shortage of housing.  Health care is expensive.  The list goes on.  The conditions of capitalism are so extreme that 5.8 infants die out of 1000 born.  In Japan, two infants die per 1000 births.  In Iceland, Norway, Finland, and Sweden, there are slightly more than 2 infant deaths per 1000.  In the European Union as a whole, there are about 4 deaths per 1000 according to the CIA world Fact Book.  Once again, rather than a demographic crisis, our crisis is an inability to care for our population.  Certainly, anyone worried about our economic or military strength might begin by tackling the causes of infant mortality.  But, this would mean diverting profits towards human needs.  Re-thinking profits and capitalism itself would undermine the logic of militarism and nationalism.


Supposing that the United States provided free access to abortion, birth control, all health care, and social conditions favorable to reproduction (paid leave, free day care, adequate housing, etc.)  Even if these conditions were met, women have no obligation to reproduce the next generation.  They should not be scapegoated for demographic crisis.  In the end, it is up to society to creatively adapt to changing populations- not women.


Racism and Classism:

The article concluded that a key to averting Duluth’s demographic crisis is promoting immigration to the city.   Regarding this point, Mayor Larson said,  “Duluth needs to be a community that is welcoming and open to new experiences, new faces, new ethnicities, new races to solve workforce shortages (Johnson, 2018).”  I think that it is generally a positive, feel good conclusion, since well, who doesn’t want Duluth to be a more welcoming city?  The mayor suggests working with education and health care partners to attract more diversity to the city.  Hmm…alright.  What does really this mean?


In a subtle way, the statement hints at what kind of diversity is acceptable in Duluth.  I interpret working with education and health care partners to mean attracting diversity by attracting professionals of color.  The center of this argument is not “let’s build more low income housing so we can attract all of the African Americans in Chicago or Minneapolis who are on housing waiting lists and house those who already exist in our community!”  Duluth DOES have some racial diversity BUT, this diversity is segregated into poor neighborhoods, homeless shelters, and jail.  Yet, because they are poor and people of color, this population is not seen as a solution to the “demographic crisis” because they are an OTHER at best and problem at worse.  They are those people.  Those people who are blamed for crime or making things not like they used to be for white people.  This is another problem with the notion of “demographic crisis”- since demographic crisis always refers to the shortage of a desirable population.  We have a low income population that would probably be happy to invite friends and relatives and grow if Duluth was a more welcoming, less racist, expanded housing, housing and employers ceased discrimination against criminal backgrounds, day care was expanded, public transportation was more reliable, schools were not segregated and plainly racist, etc.


Truly making Duluth a city for everyone, as the Mayor suggested, would mean changing what Duluth is right now.  Right now, Duluth is focused on being a city for business.  In particular, it is a city for businesses that serve tourists.  Centering the city on the tourist industry makes Duluth a city not for everyone, but for middle class, mostly white people, who have the leisure and money to stay at a hotel or the outdoor gear to enjoy our nature.   Duluth can’t be a city for business and for everyone.  We CAN be a city that is for everyone that happens to attract tourists, but the reverse is not possible.  The reverse is what has made Earned Safe and Sick time so controversial, as segments of the business community that are most opposed to it are those sectors that serve tourists (restaurants and hotels).  The reverse has also been what has stalled the Homeless Bill of Rights- because homeless people are a “problem population” not one that should be accounted for in “demographic crisis” and certainly not one that deserves to be treated with basic dignity.  After all, they might just spook the customers!  If we want to be a city for everyone, then we should start by being a city for workers, for the homeless, for people of color, and all of the oppressed in our community.


Conclusion:

Duluth is just one city.  It would be pie in the sky to try to think we can build socialism in a single city.  Many of my suggestions require a massive struggle on a national scale to accomplish.  I do believe that we have local activists with the talent and audience to contribute to such a national struggle.  I am not one of them, but am a small and marginal voice in that struggle.   Beyond the national, there are some things that can be done on a local level.  We can focus local priorities on meeting human needs and support things such as Earned Safe and Sick Time and the Homeless Bill of Rights.  We can challenge the policies of our schools and police to make the city less racist and classist.  We can also think against business interests and promote diverting profits towards social good.  Beyond these material things, I wrote this because I wanted to challenge the ideological logic of “demographic crisis.”  Like many crisis and panics, it is a social construct.  Inherent in this constructed crisis is ageism, racism, sexism, nationalism, and classism.  There are no population problems.   There are only failures of societies to address the needs of populations.  It is only through struggle that we will win the means to address these needs.


Johnson, B. (2018, February 25). ‘Stability’ not enough for Duluth jobs; aging population isn’t being replaced on pace. Retrieved April 11, 2018, from https://www.duluthnewstribune.com/business/workplace/4408874-stability-not-enough-duluth-jobs-aging-population-isnt-being-replaced

https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2091rank.html

Bright Eyed and Bushy Tailed: Reflections on Being the Easter Bunny

Bright Eyed and Bushy Tailed: Reflections on Being the Easter Bunny

H. Bradford

4/3/18


This spring, I saw an interesting opportunity posted on Facebook.  The post was a call-out for anyone interested in becoming the Easter Bunny at the mall.  Despite the fact that I already have two jobs, or three if you count subbing, I posted my interest and was interviewed later that week.  The interview was pretty informal, mostly consisting of questioning why I was interested in the job and trying on a giant Easter Bunny head.  With little effort, I was hired on for a two week stint as a costumed Easter Bunny at a mall kiosk for seasonal photos.  I thought the whole thing seemed silly and certainly would provide the raw materials for a good story.


The Costume:

The costume itself was hot and claustrophobic.  When I first tried the whole thing on, I felt a little overwhelmed by the sense of being trapped.  The trapped feeling came from the general heaviness and stuffiness of the head, which provided a dim and limited view of the world.  The head does not allow for adequate peripheral vision or the ability to look down.  The rest of the body is less challenging.  It consisted of oversized rabbit feet, baggy fur pants, a velcro velvety blue jacket, and furry gloves.  One thing that I appreciated about the costume was that the bunny looked intellectual, with round glasses and gold trimmed velvet clothes.   This was not a rowdy Peter Rabbit, but perhaps his pedantic uncle who is allergic to carrots (unless they are boiled) and whose favorite painting is Gainsborough’s Blue Boy.

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(My first time wearing the costume)

In any event, the costume could become hot.  Thankfully, there was a fan aimed at the bunny.  The only downside was that sometimes the fan upset children or messed up their hair, so it was turned away or tilted up, resulting in a sweltering rabbit.  On the upside, I tried to think what skills wearing the suit might translate to.  Paul (a fellow rabbit) said that maybe I would be more comfortable in a gas mask, since those are also claustrophobic.  I thought perhaps I would do better underwater (with a lessened sense of the space around me or a sense of confinement in a wetsuit or scuba/snorkel mask).  Yes, I want to believe that being the bunny better prepares me for revolution, apocalypse, or underwater adventures.


 

Gender:

The Easter Bunny was usually gendered as male by parents and children.  The bunny doesn’t have any specific gender markers, but might be viewed as male due to the blue velvet vest and jacket.  In a Twitter Poll, 80% of respondents believed the Easter Bunny to be male.  Though, velvetty anything seems pretty gender ambiguous in my opinion.  Only Paul suggested that the bunny could use they, them pronouns.  Otherwise, parents almost universally used masculine pronouns with the rabbit.  A few people inquired about the gender of the person inside of the costume.  For instance, a girl asked me if I was a girl bunny or a boy bunny.  An older woman asked one of the cashier/photography workers if the person inside was male or female.  I don’t expect that most customers would have the knowledge or experiences to envision the bunny outside of the binary of male or female.  I myself tended to gender the bunny as male, hence my Peter Rabbit’s uncle story.  I often wondered how parents felt about setting their child on the lap of the Easter Bunny.  Did the parents envision the person inside as male?  If so, how did this make them feel?  Male gender and sexuality is always viewed as more potentially threatening to children.  This is because we are socialized to view women as more “naturally” disposed for caretaking, more nurturing, and more invested in children.  Statistically, men are more likely to be perpetrators of child sexual abuse, though females make up 14% of the abusers of male children and 6% of female children.  With this in mind, I wondered how parents might react differently based upon their perceptions of the gender of the person in the costume.  As far as I could tell, most parents were extremely comfortable putting their child into the lap or company of a stranger in a rabbit costume.  This leads me to my next point…


Consent:

I was not able to speak as the Easter Bunny.  This made negotiating consent difficult.  As I mentioned, parents were pretty comfortable with placing their child in the temporary care of the Easter Bunny.  However, many children were not at all comfortable meeting the bunny.  It seemed that children over the age of two and under the age of five were often quite terrified of the bunny.  From a distance, they seemed excited.  As they grew nearer, the magnitude of meeting the bunny struck them- as well as the general weirdness of having to sit on this character’s lap or beside them.  This resulted in reactions ranging from shyness to terror.  Parents addressed this a number of ways.  A common tactic was to bribe the children.  Children were promised that they could ride the train, have candy, go to Build a Bear, or get a toy if they endured a photo with the bunny.  Parents also assured their children that the bunny was safe and nice.  This was done by approaching the bunny, touching its paw, high fives, sitting next to the bunny with the child in arms, and other tactics to increase the child’s exposure to the bunny and demonstrate that it was no threat at all.  Some parents threatened their kids, telling them there would be no candy or that they would go straight home.  A final tactic was to simply place the child on the bunny’s lap or on the bench, then run, hoping that the photographer would grab a few shots before the child inevitably ran away.


Parents played an important role in mediating the child’s consent.  However, most parents wanted a photo for their own collection of memories or to send to relatives.  They had a vested interest in forcing their child to endure a photo.  This put me in an awkward position.  When one parent placed a child on my lap, the child immediately thrust themselves off my legs and flopped onto the floor.  This resulted in more crying.  Since I did not want more children to fall over, I would hold them securely on my lap- a violation of their consent.  Parents encouraged this, even telling me to hold on tight to their child.  When I finally released one child, the crying boy wailed that he would never return to the Easter Bunny again.  I felt bad that many kids did not consent to being photographed with the bunny.  While I think that with time and patience, many frightened children would warm up to the bunny, the length of the line or impatience of the parents did not allow for this to happen in some cases.  In other cases, children naturally became more comfortable with the giant rabbit and ended up having a positive experience.  Thus, I can conclude that I think it is alright for parents to challenge their children to overcome their fears in a patient and supportive manner.  But, I do think it sends the wrong message for parents to threaten or force the encounter.


As for my own strategies for trying to make children comfortable, I would sometimes grab an egg for the children to hold.  This seemed to distract them from the frightening, giant rabbit.   I would also try to make the children comfortable with high fives and thumbs ups.  If kids rushed towards me (without showing fear) I might gesture for a hug.  I didn’t want to be a cold Easter Bunny with walls of boundaries, but I also didn’t want to make children uncomfortable.  I found that this was a little challenging to balance, as I naturally am more reserved when it comes to showing warmth and affection.


 

Working with Kids:

While I work with children at Safe Haven Shelter, I enjoyed my interactions as the Easter Bunny far more.  Within the context of the shelter, I am just me.  If a child is placed in my care, it is usually in the office, where there are computers, office supplies, and phone calls.  Thus, I always feel pretty stressed out about childcare at the shelter because 1.) I have nothing to entertain them with.  2.) I am in a room full of expensive or breakable things- i.e. computers.  3.) I often don’t know how long the encounter will last.  4.) I may have other work to attend to.  5.) I am not actually all that fun or interesting to children.  As the Easter Bunny, I was immediately fun and likeable.  Afterall, I am the one who brings candy and hides eggs.  On several occasions, I was able to ride on the mall train which was a grand entry and an opportunity for sort-of dancing.  While I could not speak, I could wave, gesture, high five, and pretend to hop.  In all, it was great to NOT be boring old Heather, who has nothing to offer children.  Really, being the Easter Bunny is the closest I will ever be to being a celebrity or God. Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, sitting and child

(a photo of a photo- of my friend Jenny’s niece)

 

Labor:

From a Marxist perspective, all workers sell their labor power in exchange for a wage.  Labor power is not only labor (i.e. selling shoes, making shirts, paving roads, or other examples of the act of working).  It is time, work, along with the whole human being.  In short, every worker sells their work and time, but also their personality, body, and the sustenance the person (physical health, mental health, caloric use, bodily wear and tear, etc.).  My temporary gig as the rabbit was a “hobby” job or one that I did more on a whim than for my actual survival.  Therefore, I didn’t feel particularly exploited.  At the same time, I think it would be very hard to be the bunny all year long or as a professional job.  There are some people (such as Disneyland workers) who do not have the luxury of a two week gig.  Thus, I think it is useful to illustrate the way in which this form of work is exploitive (as all work is).


When a worker sells their labor power, they are selling themselves.  In the bunny example, the worker is invisible, hidden inside a stuffy, hot suit.  The sweat of the worker, the inability to scratch an itchy nose, immediately use the toilet, easily ingest water, move hair that has flopped into the face, to speak, to see beyond the periphery of the eye holes, etc. are all ways in which the body is subjugated in the sale of labor.  Playing the character is how the personality of the worker is subjected in the interest of the emotional labor of entertaining children.   The way in which work subjugates the body and personality of a worker is pretty obvious inside the confines of a costume.  Even other workers tended to ignore the bunny, sometimes neglecting to turn on or move of the fan.  The bunny can’t easily communicate needs.  Another hardship as the rabbit was a lack of a sense of time.  There was no nearby clock, so time could move quickly or slowly depending upon how many customers were visiting.  At the same time, the bunny was paid better than other workers.  Workers who were not the bunny were pretty adamant that they did not want to end up in the costume.  I believe that at some level they realized that the bunny produced more “value” in terms of labor output (i.e. had a harder job but also contributed more to overall profits).


But, a person does not have to be in a bunny suit to realize the bodily oppression of labor.  A waitress who has to smile and look pretty for more tips, a social worker whose stress or compassion is a strain on their mental health, and a janitor whose heavy routine deteriorates physical health are all examples of how labor is more than just our work and time, but our whole being.

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(A little house of capitalist horrors)

Conclusion:

I would say that the job was certainly novel.  Towards the end, I was happy that the season was over since my coworkers seemed worn out and the hours in addition to my regular work hours was making me weary and eager for free time.  It was a fun side job and more insightful than one might imagine.  While hidden in my costume, I had plenty to think about in terms of gender, consent, and labor itself.  There were fun moments.  I liked to make children happy.  I liked to play a character.  I liked the opportunity to be something other than the more serious and quiet version of myself that I sometimes am as an activist and worker at my other jobs.  I enjoyed eating at Noodles and Company at the mall and visiting the mall at all!  It was something different from my normal routine.  I was also happy to have stories to share with my friends, coworkers, and family.  I even had a several people visit me as the bunny.  If the opportunity arises, I may be the bunny again next year.  Being the Easter bunny made me feel more inclined to celebrate Easter.  I visited my family and even purchased myself an Easter basket full of candy I don’t need.  But, even the Easter bunny needs a little treat!   Anyway, we’ll see what next Easter brings.  And who knows, maybe I will be one of Santa’s helpers…

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https://www.quora.com/Is-the-Easter-bunny-male-or-female

The Lenin In Me

Once again, I am trying to write poems about each book that I read.  Since I mostly read non-fiction, it can be a bit of a challenge!  One of the books that I read in January was Lenin on the Train, by Catherine Merridale.  This poem was what I came up with after reading the book.  It is about gender as a revolutionary train ride.

The Lenin in Me

By H. Bradford

1/30/18

There is a Lenin inside me,

A man with a sharp mind.

The female body is his train.

Taking him places, carrying that brain to those who will listen

to a program that cuts through

time and space and night,

also like Lenin on the train.

I am on my way to revolution.

I am on my way to change.

The she, the he, and the they will meet at Finland Station.

We are writing what we will say.

In eight short days the world will change.

But, I am content to bide my time.

It is enough to enjoy this ride.

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Drawing by Pyotr Vasilievich Vasiliev, Lenin on the Train to Petrograd

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