Viewpoint magazine has republished a piece from 1981 entitled "The Politics of Sexual Harassment" that remains disturbingly relevant today. Delivered as a lecture by Linda Gordon, a professor of history, at a public forum on sexual harassment organized by feminists in Boston, the piece argues that among its many abhorrent consequences, sexual harassment of women by men is a serious obstacle to class struggle, perhaps a fatal one. Read an excerpt from the piece below, or the full text here.
In contemplating the many reverberations of the patterns set up by sexual harassment, it is hard to keep in mind all the consequences. That women are forced to accept the image of themselves as fair game in any public space – even if for the least serious of attacks, say, whistling from across the street – maintains and reinforces women’s sense of belonging at home in the family, and hence of the most basic sexual division of labor, one of the biggest sources of sexual inequality
The attitudes that produce sexual harassment also maintain a powerful bonding among men which not only weakens any existing class consciousness, but is one of the major obstacles to its development. I might add that this is the hopeful view; the more skeptical one is that the historically developed notion of class consciousness that we have inherited is based so fundamentally on male bonding, on fraternity, that it cannot be transformed into a comradeship including women without changing the image of comradeship itself.
Thus, from a socialist perspective as well as from a feminist one, no general issue is more important than sexual harassment. To challenge it, to make it unacceptable, is to attack one of the major barriers to unity among people who have the possibility of bringing about radical social change. To challenge it is also to challenge one of the aspects of the male ego and the male-dominated culture that feminists so dislike – the ego and the culture that depend on the subordination of others.
Image: Andy Ewen and John Demeter. Via Viewpoint.