Sex, Scandals and Power
#MeToo Mania and the Democrats' "Resistance"
Publisher: Workers Vanguard
Date Written: 26/01/2018
Year Published: 2018
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX22103
A wide range of behavior -- including flirtation and innuendo, a vulgar text or a crude joke, not to mention unpleasant sex -- is being lumped together with real crimes of coercion and assault. Those called out for sexual impropriety, no matter how trivial, how unproven or how long ago, run the media gantlet, are declared guilty and their careers ruined.
Backers of the liberal #MeToo and #TimesUp movements present this as a reckoning and cathartic response to sexual inequality. There are indeed pervasive crimes against women, but most are not being splashed across Twitter and the press in America today. In factories, the military and prisons, assault and rape are routinely covered up. Poor, black and immigrant women, as well as sex workers, have little recourse against sexual predation. Meanwhile, mum's the word on urgent questions such as the assault on abortion rights, which have been whittled down to a formality that is inaccessible for the majority, rising costs of health care, and lack of access to childcare. The hype over inappropriate peccadilloes minimizes the terror of rape and trivializes sexual abuse, like that suffered by numerous female Olympic gymnasts for decades under their doctor Larry Nassar. Such hype also does nothing to address womens subordination and oppression, which are built into capitalist society.
In good old American puritanical tradition, an anti-sex frenzy has been unleashed that serves to divert attention from the staggering brutalities carried out by the ruling class against working people: anti-immigrant roundups, the sanctioning of white-supremacists, attacks on unions, threats of unleashing the U.S. nuclear arsenal. In a cutting commentary, The Great American Sex Panic of 2017 (counterpunch.org, 22 November), William Kaufman aptly calls this a moral panic, which is ironically, immoral at its core: repressive and diversionary, an identity-politics orgy of misdirected moral energies that breeds a chilling conformity of word and deed. He also notes a bizarre inversion of values. As imperialist Commander-in-Chief, the male Clinton slaughtered hundreds of thousands abroad and tossed millions of women and children off welfare at home, but he is stigmatized for a blow job. As Secretary of State, the female Clinton helped turn Libya to rubble and grooved on the torture and murder of Qaddafi (which included being sodomized with a weapon), but she is lauded as a symbol of diversity.
An open letter signed by actress Catherine Deneuve and a group of 100 French intellectuals and professionals denouncing the wave of purges provoked a full-frontal feminist uproar. The letter objects to neo-Victorianism, which paints women as frail children: Just like in the good old witch-hunt days, what we are once again witnessing here is puritanism in the name of a so-called greater good, claiming to promote the liberation and protection of women, only to enslave them to a status of eternal victim and reduce them to defenseless preys of male chauvinist demons. Within hours, supporters of #MeToo condemned the French signatories as apologists for rape. No critic is granted immunity. Actor Matt Damon faced a ferocious reaction for his patently obvious statement that rape is distinct from a pat on the butt.
If penalties are instant and draconian against anything deemed offensive, the net effect will be to police all behavior, especially the unconventional (anything kinkier than When Harry Met Sally). Defining inappropriate behavior is as subjective as defining immoral behavior. To the extent that codes of decency exist, they are prescribed by religion and regulated by the racist guardians of old-time virtue, the bourgeois rulers.
On the university level, decades-long campaigns against a purported date rape epidemic have increased the in loco parentis powers of the campus administration to enforce acceptable conduct. Virtually any encounter, from a drunken hookup to a regrettable romance, can be classified as nonconsensual, leading to punitive consequences according to the campus initiatives implemented under the Obama administration.
As Marxists, we oppose any and all efforts of the state to regulate the manifold consensual expressions of human sexuality. Consensual relations between individuals are purely their own concern, and no one has any business interfering (including when it comes to those in Hollywood who lead very exposed lives). We do not support rules dictating affirmative consent, which decree that partners engaging in any sexual contact must get explicit verbal permission for each caress. The guiding principle in any sexual encounter should be effective consent, that is, nothing more than mutual agreement and understanding, regardless of age, gender or sexual preference.
Of course, determining what is truly consensual in this viciously class-divided, racist, sexist, not to mention religious, society is complicated. The attitudes and institutions of the capitalist society in which we live sway interpersonal relationships, and there are often ambiguities. Relationships can also be exploitative and unequal, including marriage. Rape, however, is not on the spectrum of sex. It is a degrading, brutal and horrific act of violence. To treat any bad encounter as rape means to demand legal retribution, or else some form of vigilante justice.
Bourgeois women face sexual oppression but not class oppression. For feminists, the most important division in society is that of men against women, not capitalist exploiters against exploited workers. Feminism as an ideology reflects the concerns of professional and petty-bourgeois women who aim to break the glass ceiling and integrate themselves into the upper layers of the American capitalist power structure. The current era of Lean In feminism, which promotes success in the realm of corporate and political leadership, speaks directly to white, university-educated and upper-class women.