Where are the women on the left?

TW: Rape, sexual assault, victim blaming, sexism and misogyny

Women on the left are, without a doubt, under represented. The left is supposed to be the place where women are seen as equals and should have the same equality of opportunity as men do. But this blog has found that often, that is simply not the case. The left has been somehwat scarred by accusations of misogyny, sexual harassment and sexual abuse for quite some time. This article is going to ask why it’s the case that women aren’t as well represented in the media or on the television where their male counterparts are acting as firgureheads, it isn’t particularly fair. It will also address the taboo subject of sexism on the left and how lefties can most definitely be seen as sexist- they probably just don’t realise it.

When I talk about the Socialist Worker’s Party, what comes to mind? For me, it’s the fact that they covered up the sexual assault and rape of several women. When I was undertaking my research for this article, I came across a heartbreaking and harrowing article from a female (former) member of the SWP. It was a testimony of her ordeal she suffered at the hands of a fellow member of the SWP. When this happened, she didn’t initially realise that what had happened to her was rape. So, it took her some time to come to terms with what happened and ultimately to make a complaint against him. The victim made a complaint of sexual assault and the member who raped her was suspended. She was then subjected to harrowing interviews with the disputes committee who grilled her about her sex life, how often she drank alcohol among other humiliating questions. The matter was not treated as it should have been. The procedure was not made clear to the victim and ultimately, the perpetrator got off scot free. This had resonating similarities to previous rape cases seen in the SWP. It was clear that their agenda was not to bring about a criminal conviction or investigation, but to protect the interests of the member, who is male.

What does this say to women of a left wing persuasion? It says that the left won’t take you seriously. They won’t put you on a pedestal like they do with the men. Women on the left are not as prominent as the men and that is clear to see with the Telegraph’s 100 Most influential Left Wingers. Thirty one of these most influential left wingers are women- less than a third. Even then, only sixteen of these women AREN’T Labour shadow cabinet members- I’ll leave it up to the reader’s own judgement to decide if Labour cabinet members are on the left.

When we watch programmes like Question Time, more often than not, the miscellaneous person that represents the left is usually male. People like Owen Jones- who admittedly brilliant- are often trotted out as the left’s poster boy. Although I agree with most things Owen Jones says, there’s something a bit annoying about a white man from a relatively comfortable background who was educated at Oxford who then went on to work in parliament and for a well known think tank. But the miscellaneous person on the right, the hysterical, raving, angry and nonsensical one is usually female-we sometimes get Melanie Phillips or Jan Moir sitting there.

Not only that, but you begin to notice after a while that women who ARE given more airtime tend to be those who have more unsavoury views, such as Katie Hopkins. Hopkins is often trotted out on daytime television to tell people about her extremely right wing views. She’s snobbish and classist. She regularly ridicules the working class by saying things like she judges people by their names. The amount of air time that Katie Hopkins actually gets suggests to me that the media are trying to paint women as hysterical, reactionary, right wing snobs.

I’d personally like to challenge that because the women that I know and have been brought up with are not right wing reactionary snobs. Most of my female friends are proud feminists. Many of them come from working class backgrounds, but where are their voices? Why can’t we be on This Morning telling Katie Hopkins she’s wrong? Katie Hopkins has a high salary and can afford a comfortable lifestyle. Therefore she thinks she can tell people she judges children by their names? Where are the women who are working two jobs to keep food on the table for their two kids? Where is the single mother who is juggling children with work and study?

Another more recent example of women on the left being overshadowed is in the case of the London Young Labour Chair campaign. Allegations of misogyny and sexism were made against the candidate Dan Young. Although there is proof that they happened, this ‘proof’ is from several years ago when Young was just a young lad. We all do stupid things when we’re young. When I was fourteen, I wrote an essay about immigration that was blatantly racist. Seven years later, I’ve read enough newspapers, heard enough stories and watched enough Panorama documentaries about Stephen Lawrence to know that racism is wrong and it is still a problem that many people living in this country face. Dan Young is probably more educated now to realise that the things he’s done in the past were stupid, misogynistic and sexist and he most likely deeply regrets it. Going through his facebook to look for incriminating evidence, saying he hasn’t changed is not productive. Women on the left of the Labour Party have voiced concerns about potential harassment and bullying of this candidate. But our concerns were ignored and the right went on a witch hunt against the men that were calling them out on their methods of collecting this ‘evidence’. Once again, a sign that left wing women are routinely ignored.

We need more women with a strong voice on the left. We can’t let the left be personified by white middle class men for much longer. Women feel alienated on the left because society wants to make us out to be snobbish and up ourselves. This is not the case. We need a strong left wing woman to stand up and say things like, zero hour contracts are wrong because they affect areas where women are more likely to be employed or where women are overwhelmingly over represented. We need strong left wing women to say things like having a living wage would vastly improve the lives of women because they are more likely to be paid less than a living wage.

We need to move away from this idea that sexism only exists on the internet and the only place it should be called out is on the internet. It exists in our every day lives, the government have implemented policies that affect women disproportionately.  A report from the Women’s Budget Group found that the people most likely to suffer from the 2010 Tory budget were single parents and single pensioners- both groups were more likely to be women.

As a left wing woman, I don’t feel like I’m being represented fairly in the media. My voice is not loud enough and I want that to change. Start putting more left wing women on Question Time, start having more left wing women write for your newspaper.

After all, haven’t women been proven to be more left wing than men?

References:

http://internationalsocialistnetwork.org/index.php/ideas-and-arguments/organisation/swp-crisis/253-trigger-warning-rape-in-the-swp-a-comrade-s-testimony-and-experience-of-the-disputes-committee

http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2013/03/ten-ways-survive-woman-left

http://hammerandseagull.wordpress.com/2013/10/15/sexism-within-the-swp-lessons-unlearned/

http://www.resolutionfoundation.org/media/media/downloads/A_Matter_of_Time_-_The_rise_of_zero-hours_contracts_final_1.pdf

http://www.wbg.org.uk/RRB_Reports_4_1653541019.pdf

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