Women’s rights are not negotiable
Bernadette Kelly
volume 38
issue 1
February 2017

Fighting for women’s rights means fighting for good jobs and good pay. Photo: Scott Olson / Getty Images

Women who fight back are beautiful. When women of all colors, ethnicities, ages and sexualities come together to demand full equality, they are absolutely gorgeous — and so are the men who are standing with them!

The Women’s March on Washington, a week ahead as of this writing, is a howl of defiance against the sexist, racist and xenophobic rhetoric that characterized the presidential campaign. What is predicted to be the largest gathering of feminists in at least 10 years is a priceless opportunity to revitalize a militant women’s movement. And to recognize that the U.S. government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich will never grant full equality to all women, no matter who sits in the White House!

Twenty-five years into the third wave of feminism, the victories of the 1970s are under more vicious attack than ever. Activists are continually using precious energy to shore up this reform and that one. Wouldn’t it be simpler just to push this rotten system over?

Knowledge is power. Black women and other women of color know that they and their families are targeted by racist cops and bigotry at every level of society. Muslim and immigrant women know that they are being used once again as scapegoats by white supremacists and right-wing politicians; so too do lesbians and trans women. Working women, whose wages have once again been effectively cut as prices for food, gas, housing and healthcare go up and up, know that homelessness is one unlucky break away.

Young women going off to college learn that their safety from rape and sexual assault is not as important as their school’s or attacker’s reputation. Older women, whose life savings and pensions have disappeared into the off-shore bank accounts of billionaires, know that privatizing or cutting Social Security and Medicare means the choice between meat and heat.

Victims of domestic violence know what it means when money is cut once again from shelters, job placement programs, welfare and food stamps. It means they are trapped with their abuser because they and their kids can not live on air.

Women’s experiences make them acutely aware of the suffering caused worldwide by the wholly corrupt capitalist system. Many understand that its insatiable need for ever greater profits can only be met by more war, by more environmental destruction, by more trampling of Native rights, and by more exploitation of the working class. That is why women are at the core of any movement for social and economic justice. They have no choice but to defend themselves and their families.

Anyone paying the remotest attention to feminist blogs, video postings, articles, artwork and protests knows that women have had it with unfulfilled goals and the rollbacks of hard-won rights.

Feminists are still fighting for access to safe abortion and contraception and against forced sterilization of women of color or women with disabilities. Parents still need free, quality daycare and early childhood education. More than ever, women need free college and trade school educations. We want universal healthcare. We want affirmative action. We want equal pay for equal work. We want an end to discriminatory laws aimed at LGBTQ people. We want to live in a society free from rape and assault.

These are our survival needs and our human rights!

A strong movement fights for everyone. Capitalists own the media and bankroll the politicians. They own the banks and the factories and most of the farms; the energy industry, the “defense” industry, the retail giants, and the slickest lawyers.

They’ve got it all, baby. And just what have we got?

We have the only thing we have ever had — we have each other. That’s all the people in the anti-slavery movement had, that’s all the suffragettes who won the vote had, that’s all the fighters for the eight-hour day had, that’s all the people in the civil rights movement who ended Jim Crow had — each other. And that’s all the feminist movement of 40 years ago had when it fought for female control of female bodies and lives. When working people of all colors and genders stand together and demand justice not only for themselves but for all the people who are marginalized, the capitalists must either concede or break themselves on the rock of that solidarity.

To put it simply, solidarity is our best defense and our best weapon. It is the beating heart of all the great achievements for human rights and dignity in all the movements the world over.

But a tragic thing happened on the way to women’s liberation in the 1970s. A large sector of the feminist movement focused on career advancement for more privileged, predominantly white women and for reform within the system — translation, getting Democrats elected. Lesbians were told that their issues were distracting from more important goals. The issues of women of color rarely made it onto the agenda. Socialist feminists were politely and not so politely asked to leave their “scary” socialism at the door and “just be feminists.”

Those breaks in solidarity caused the second wave of the feminist movement to fracture along race, class and sexuality lines. This must not happen again.

Building solidarity through action. There is no doubt that many of the feminists coming together for the Women’s March on Washington have learned the lessons of their foremothers’ successes and failures. The original organizers were white and didn’t address racism and xenophobia. To their credit, they responded to criticism, broadening their ranks to include Black, Latina and Muslim organizers, and addressed their issues.

The mission statement for the march says it well: “We stand together, recognizing that defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us.”

Some dissension has continued over whether women of different races can or should work together, and if so, how. Who could expect otherwise in today’s fractured USA? The only road forward is by breaking down the barriers dividing us with unshakable solidarity.

The women of today possess the imagination, intelligence and organizational skill to push for much-needed reforms even under a President Trump. But if we leave the capitalist system in place, our daughters will have to fight these same battles all over again.

Let us commit to each other that no one gets left behind this time, that no one’s rights get negotiated away. That this time we don’t stop at reforms. This time we go for a socialist feminist revolution. And yes, you can dance in this revolution.

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