Occupy's Lack of Interest in the Issues of Women and Other Marginalized Groups Parallels the Narrowness of Occupy's Focus

Heidi Stevenson is an Occupy supporter, but is still troubled by a serious lack of inclusion.

Women WorkThe coverage of the Occupy Movement has stirred the soul, given hope to the masses, and no one has been more thrilled by it than I have. Nonetheless, an uneasiness has developed as the images are projected and the stories are told. It strikes me that there’s a certain sameness to it, a déjà vu, and perhaps an indication that, ultimately, the Occupy Movement may be headed for same place we’re currently occupying.

Then it struck me, what role are women playing in it? What’s the role of other marginalized groups, like the disabled, blacks, asians, and those of causes that result from the system that Occupy protests against, capitalism? That’s what hasn’t changed.

Where are the women?

Women are, as ever, playing support roles, but are their issues valued? Are the disabled anything more than mascots? In “Whose Occupy? “, Mimi Yahn had this to say:

Women have been pushed to the margins, just as they’ve been in every failed revolution and progressive movement throughout history and across the globe. Once again, women are being threatened, silenced and made irrelevant by those accustomed to writing the agendas, formulating ideology, setting policy and implementing practice.

In the media, the dominant images have been of men, with the exception of violent acts against women, where they’re portrayed as helpless. Who speaks for Occupy? Men. Consistently, men are the faces of power in the Movement. In the mainstream media, we see images of men as violent leaders. However, the alternative media is no better. The faces of Occupy are predominantly male. They’re the righteous, brave, selfless image of Occupy. The women? As ever, they’re on the side—the traditional helpmates to the true leaders.

Do you recall when there was a little stink about accusations of rapes and attacks against women at Occupy camps? It was ballyhooed by the right wing press, but how was the issue handled within the camps? Was it seen as a matter for concern? The answer is a resounding No!

[E]Coco Papy wrote for Persephone Magazine on the issue. These were not rare or isolated incidents. They even take on a sense of being part of the Occupy culture, perhaps not wanted, but not really discouraged. Incidents seem to occur in all Occupations. If the response were of a sort that indicates recognition of the implications of rape on women, and the few men who are also attacked, and its implications in this capitalism-based society, then progress might be made and the Occupy Movement could hold its collective head high. Sadly, though, that’s not the case:

  • In Zucotti Park, New York, the Occupy Movement’s Ground Zero, rapes occurred and groping was routine.
  • Occupy Dallas portrayed the rape of a 14-year-old girl as an “isolated incident”.
  • In Occupy Portland, a rape suspect was pressed to leave the camp before the police could arrive.
  • In Occupy Cleveland, it was implied that a woman was party to her own rape, with the statement, “This is all about personal decision and consent and we offer tents and that’s all.” (It should also be noted that the victim in this instance was a student at a school for children with autism spectrum disorders.

When victims are sheltering with Occupy camps, rather than being full-fledged members, the tone of the Occupiers’ comments become much like those of mainstream society when outsiders are harmed. You can just hear the whining: “Well, you know he didn’t belong around here.” “Nothing would have happened if she’d stayed where she belonged.”

The organizers of the original camp, Occupy Wall Street, responded to the issue of violence against women by setting up a guarded sleep area. That’s nice, but it doesn’t address the issue itself. In fact, it’s a recreation of the same old problem. It doesn’t address the fact that, when women live with the threat of rape as part of their daily existence, they aren’t free. It doesn’t say that the actions of the rapist are simply not acceptable. [E]Coco Papy describes it like this:

What does it mean if those who say they are fighting against the system are recreating the system? What does it mean when rape and sexual assault are excused because there are “bigger things than us”? What does it mean when you disenfranchise the same folks you are claiming to fight for? Why are specialized spaces having to be created for those affected most by rape culture or gender based violence? Why can’t everyone be able to be full participants in the same space? Where is the miscommunication about that whole 99% thing happening?

Feminist LogoThat’s just it. The acceptance of violence against women is a de facto decision by a bunch of men, and sadly many women followers, that women aren’t really part of the 99%—that they don’t truly have a right to be free in society.

Let’s put it like this: If a series of attacks against blacks were happening, would anyone consider a separate guarded sleeping area an acceptable response? Obviously, that would not even be close to adequate. It would be clear to most that such a response is a de facto agreement that blacks are considered different, that this is just the way it is, and that they should simply get on with it.

What this also brings to mind is that rape is only one area in which women are not equal members of society. As the photo above indicates, women are not treated fairly in the workplace. Women are not even treated fairly in homes, where they still carry the bulk of the burden for keeping the home together, and where men too frequently simply skip out, leaving the women to carry on—and that doesn’t seem to be of much concern. Oh, a little lip service is paid. Men are now expected to chip in a bit and women are castigated for being without a partner. However, the fact that women carry most of the burden for the home and childcare, and do so with far fewer resources than are available to men, is largely ignored..

In the face of minimization of violence against women, how is it possible to even bring up issues of gender inequality? As it happens, some women have been trying. However, as Occupy Patriarchy has discovered, the response has been labeling as an infiltrator and censorship. The message is clear: Leave this to the Big Boys. It isn’t the place of women to make demands, unless it’s in support of those made by men.

The Issues of Other Marginalized Groups

Occupy’s response to the issues of women, not to mention other groups, has generally been dismal. Aside from the outright belittling of women, another more insidious response is routinely made to suggestions that the issues of minorities be taken up. The standard response is, “We can’t do that. It would be divisive.”

A dear friend of mine was delighted to see the Occupy Movement arrive in Colorado. She has been a major player in the fight against iatrogenic (medical) injuries. This is a large and growing group of people, most of whom suffer as a direct result of the capitalistic focus on profits in the modern medical system. It takes little imagination to see that their issue is the same as that of the Occupy Movement.

So what was the response to her suggestion that their cause be taken up by Occupy? She was told that it would be “divisive”.

It’s such an easy claim to make, and it might even hold some truth. However, the question must be asked: If a group of people who are the epitome of all that’s gone wrong in a capitalist society are considered disposable by the Occupy Movement, just as they are by society at large, then what does Occupy truly stand for?

Why should any group whose problems in society are not addressed by the Occupy Movement feel secure in throwing their weight behind it? What truly distinguishes the movement, if it doesn’t include all the people who are marginalized by this system of capitalism? If the Occupy leadership looks much the same as what’s now seen in politics and board rooms, what are the chances that, in the end, the results will be different from what we now face?

What of the Big Picture?

It is, in fact, interesting that the focus of the movement is exclusively on banks, as if they are the only factor in capitalism, as if removing them will resolve the issues. It won’t. Before banks existed, capitalism flourished as feudalism. Those who owned and controlled property held power, and those who didn’t yielded to them.

So, even if the banks are gone, capitalism will continue. We will still have Big Oil, Big Pharma, and all the other Big Industries that are ravaging the world. They will still control the distribution of virtually everything we require. They will still own nearly everything.

Occupy’s focus on a narrow target, banks, ignores the broader picture—and mirrors its disregard for the battles of the vast majority of the 99%. The movement’s PR is brilliant. It has focused on something that virtually everyone can agree is disastrous and uniquely representative of a rampaging capitalist society. But it isn’t the whole issue. It’s just the most obvious one. Where does Occupy stand on the rest of capitalism? And where does Occupy stand on the the human fallout of the society that’s supported capitalism?

Inequality in society is rampant. This article focuses on women’s issues, but those of immigrants, racial groups, the disabled, medically injured people, the unemployed—all of them are dealing with inequalities and lack of opportunity that result directly from capitalism. To treat the needs of any of them as unimportant or divisive is to ignore the reason for battling against the corruption.

The Occupy Movement cannot achieve significant and lasting social change if it cannot see the whole picture, including the people themselves, and bring it all under the same tent. It’s messy and yes, it can even be divisive. But if the needs of any marginalized group are ignored from the beginning, who does Occupy truly represent?


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