The #MeToo Movement and working-class men

Women defend male sit-down strikers in Flint Michigan 1937. (Screen shot from documentary "With Babies and Banners")
Women defend male sit-down strikers in Flint Michigan 1937. (Screen shot from documentary “With Babies and Banners”)

The uprising of so many millions of women speaking out against criminal sexual harassment and rape has brought to light just how prevalent misogynist and abusive behavior is in this culture. From actors to office workers, from the tomato fields to the factories, there appears no really safe place for women to work, to live, to exist. Some 54 percent of women in the U.S. have reported “unwanted and inappropriate” sexual advances, with “95% saying that such behavior goes unpunished” according to a 2017 ABC News poll.

But now millions of women and many men from all walks of life have spoken out. For example, the hashtag #MeToo, originated over 10 years ago by Tarana Burke, was used recently by nearly 5 million people in the first 24 hours alone on Facebook. This movement has created space for an open discussion on the issue of sexual violence, the role of women in society, and what can be done to bring real, sustainable change.

Rape, sexual assault, molesting women and threatening acts are all crimes. Are arrests being made? Powerful men are being called out, many are getting bad publicity, but there have been very, very few arrests. These criminals are often protected by statutes of limitations and who is to say they have stopped their behavior? Laws on the books have long been ignored so who is to say how much new laws will help?

Catcalling women? Assuming intimacy with someone you don’t know? How invasive and insulting. It is always threatening because who knows what comes next? Not responding can be seen as an invitation; responding can escalate the problem. Every man should see some examples on Youtube. Anyone want to say “Hey baby” to their mother? There is a video in which several habitual cat-callers were identified — then their mothers agreed to walk by in disguise — the results were predictable. Yet every woman is someone’s mother, sister, daughter. Would a man catcall his friend’s mother in front of the friend? Not likely because a fight would ensue. Men should show the same respect to all women, not just those who are related to them or their friends.

Working-class women ignored by media

The capitalist media has focused on prominent women who have shown great courage in speaking out, but  has virtually ignored the millions of working class women who are far more vulnerable to sex crimes, with far fewer resources and whose daily fight is for survival.

It has also given some press to a very few “accomplished men” who have spoken out in support of the #MeToo movement — actors, directors, athletes, among others, while ignoring working class men and their views. The news has generally left out that about 30 percent of the people using #MeToo have been men.

Many men are themselves victims of sexual harassment and assault, such as James Vanderbeeek and Terry Crews. But what have all the others said? Who are they? Are they only “prominent” men?

Capitalism stereotypes working-class men as “sexist”

What we hardly ever, ever see are the sentiments of working-class men, except the most sexist of us. What do we think and feel about our spouses, mothers, daughters, friends — and co-workers — being cat-called, harassed, molested, abused or worse? The constant media image is that working class men are just sexist pigs who can’t think for ourselves and aren’t worthy of mention, except to chastise us as “deplorables” in the words of Hillary Clinton. The media loves to define “real men” as aggressive to women, also promoting the stereotype of  “macho” culture or “player” culture to promote misogyny as well as racism. Of course many working-class men do fall in line with sexist propaganda and are offensive. But at what cost?

System promotes misogyny

In class society men in power have abused women in myriad ways with no fear of consequences. Under capitalism, those with the money and power are like kings and they consider women their property.

The mainstream media promotes this culture everywhere – in movies, in advertising, on TV. It is unrelenting. The fact is that the capitalists don’t give a damn what working class men do in the home or on their own – as long as it doesn’t interfere with their profit stream on the job. So many men, forced to submit to the boss all day in the factory or office — are encouraged go home and take out their frustrations on their family, or on women generally. The boss doesn’t mind if a male worker thinks “his home is his castle and he is king” as long as he behaves like a lowly, submissive serf on the job.

Working-class men are only allowed to, and in fact are encouraged to, mimic capitalist relations against those more oppressed then they are — those “lower down” the social scale set up by the capitalists. But taking out our frustrations on the source — the boss — is a different story altogether.

Women workers are the natural allies of men workers

Women have always worked, in the factories, in the fields, in the home, in the office — everywhere. Women often work at the most difficult jobs for the lowest wages — which is even more true for women of color.

Some time ago I was close with a UPS worker — a big tough guy from North Carolina. He told me he once took time off from work to take care of his baby daughter so his spouse could go back to work.  Being a UPS worker is hard work. But he told me that after a year he went back to work because he “needed a break,” that taking care of his child was “harder than working for UPS.”

Women are often at the forefront of union struggles, fighting on the picket line as hard or even harder than men. Even in jobs that historically kept women out — women have gotten into the struggle. Without women’s active support — staffing pickets against the police, bringing in supplies to the factory, facing down armed thugs and so on, the historic sit-down strikes in the auto industry in the 1930’s would not have been successful. Books upon books have been written testifying to the heroic efforts of working women to organize, and to support their male co-workers. These books do not get nearly the same publicity that sexist literature gets. This is no accident. But for men who are in a union, chances are you owe a debt to women workers who helped get you there.

The divisions between men and women, between people of color and white workers, the oppression of LGBTQ workers — are translated every day into greater profits for the capitalists. When any group of workers are paid less, or denied rights, it puts downward pressure on all our wages and rights. Not for nothing has the historic call of trade unionism been, “An injury to one is an injury to all.” When we show sexist attitudes or actions to women, the solidarity needed to fight the system is broken. When we show solidarity with women, men will find the best possible allies in any struggle.

Fighting sexism is not just up to women

We cannot leave the solution to the problem of sexual abuse to women alone — and certainly not to the politicians, or the police (!) or to prominent or “accomplished” men. Contrary to the media propaganda, working-class men have nothing to lose and so much to gain by showing solidarity with women on the job, on the street and in the home.

There are many ways to show solidarity. Showing respect, listening to women and really hearing them, finding ways to interrupt sexist behavior, or by being a role model are just for starters. No one is saying it is always easy. One man standing up in a group of only other men workers can easily become a target himself, and be isolated. But being a target or being isolated is a small sampling of what so many women face every day. Where there is a will there is always a way to show that sexist behavior is not acceptable, and doing so builds class solidarity. No class in society is more creative, more productive, more energetic and more able to change society than the multinational working class, united. It is our destiny to lead society. No better time than at present to start for all of us.


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