For many years, I have dedicated myself to fighting against racism. I have pointed out that we are all contaminated with this disease, even the decent and well-meaning folks.
I’m thinking of a white woman walking down a street who sees a black male adolescent coming her way. Her immediate reaction might very well be fear. She clutches her handbag anticipating a mugging; or the father who becomes concerned about the safety of and/or quality of education for his daughter when he learns black students are being bused into her school; or the white resident of a neighborhood that has seen its first black family move in and his or her fear that the value of their home would drop if more black families follow.
These three examples might very well be of white people who are not outwardly racist and, in fact, might be actively involved in fighting racism. But they live in a society that is structured in every possible way to preserve and perpetuate racism and maintain racist stereotypes.
But, can’t we say the same about our society’s attitudes toward women?
As we acknowledge white privilege, we must also acknowledge male privilege, a man’s adopted right to treat women as sexual objects that exist for their pleasure. Therefore, sexual harassment and sexual abuse become part of the man’s repertoire of behaviors.
There are many ways in which a man can use his power to control and abuse women. First, there is the reality that men have a physical advantage and are usually bigger, stronger, and faster than women. Many men use this advantage to overpower women and sexually abuse and rape them using force.
Then there are the men of power and influence who can use their power to coerce women into acts of unwanted sexual activity. These are men who have social and economic power over women and may be in a position to destroy the woman’s professional career. These men do not have to rely on their physical powers.
Recently, we have seen women come forward to confront those celebrity powerhouses who have used their positions to elicit sexual favors from women whose careers were dependent on them. The list includes, Senator Al Franken, TV host Charlie Rose, John Lasseter, executive of Disney Studios; TV host Matt Lauer, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, playwright Israel Horovitz, actor Ben Affleck, Roy Price, head of Amazon Studios, and so on.
The above list is not complete and does not include those men who have recently come forward to accuse celebrity men of sexually abusing them as adolescents.
Are the accused nothing more than “bad apples?” I think not. Those who have been accused are noted only because the women who have been victimized by them have had the courage to come forward. Many others are likely embarrassed and fearful, and, with good reason. More often than not, they, those who speak out and accuse, are the ones put on trial. Victims of forced rape are often asked why they were out late at night or how they were dressed, with the assumption by the authorities that they were responsible and brought the attack upon themselves.
The manner in which men treat and talk about women is a reflection of the status of women in this society. It transcends class and race and, like racism, must be openly and honestly addressed.
Friedrich Engels had much to say about the historical relationship between men and women. Engels maintained that the disparities of power between men and women were not based on their inherent natures but were the result of social and historical circumstances.
Engels contended that, in the earliest organized human communities, there existed a cooperative and egalitarian sexual division of responsibilities. These communities were without class differences and there was no ownership of land nor herds of animals. Within such societies, he wrote, women were honored and lived freely.
It was in the development of private property that the roles of men and women changed. It was within the context of this private property, that men organized a system of inheritance in which this private property was passed down to their male children.
In an attempt to guarantee that their offspring would indeed be their own, men forcibly inhibited the social and sexual lives of their wives. In order for patrilineage to work, a woman whose function was that of bearing heirs could not live freely. She was cut off from all unauthorized social contact. While male sexuality was unregulated, the law of monogamy was imposed on women. In other words, women became the property of men.
The relationship we experience today between men and women is not a natural one, it is the result of a hierarchal, class determined capitalist structure based on private ownership and wealth.
Despite what one thinks of Donald Trump, he honestly and accurately assessed the position women have when he stated that he is rich and powerful and could do whatever he wished to a woman, even grab her pussy, and she would accept it.
His statement may be brutal and coarse but it is true. After all, despite that comment, he is the president of the United States voted for by a large number of the American people.
And, so it goes. It seems that every time I refer to inequality in our society it always comes back to private property, ownership, and capitalism. Maybe there’s a connection.
Dave Alpert has masters degrees in social work, educational administration, and psychology. He spent his career working with troubled inner city adolescents.