Here’s one of the pieces I’m going to show at “Art Mama Moves”, a group show opening next week in Fort Lauderdale. The details are here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1485781201518746/
And I’ve been working on a statement to read there. Here’s what I’ve got…
I appreciate so much anyone who speaks out against any kind of abuse, and right now, all the women currently speaking out against sexualized abuse in the workplace. Just naming it for what it is, is a huge accomplishment. We were silenced for far too long.
When I was in my teens and twenties, 30+ years ago, workplace sexual harassment (as well as “date rape”) weren’t even socially recognized concepts. So when they happened, the only way to deal with it was on an individual basis, with little or no support. At work, choices were limited: do we confront the creep, which might put us in a perpetual state of war with him and maybe also everyone else in the place, get us labeled as a troublemaker, and risk losing the job? Or we could try to avoid being alone around him, but stay in a constant state of anxiety and silent rage, and leave if it got worse. Or we could normalize it, convince ourselves that nothing’s wrong, and start drinking too much.
When I was 19, at one job interview I was told straight out that the job included sex with the owner, and if I had a problem with that I shouldn’t even bother applying. Back then, the only option I saw was to leave in disgust. Hell, even as recently as a couple years ago, one of my clients decided to parade around in only a towel during a work meeting. I dropped him as a client, but never confronted him about it. I was embarrassed and didn’t want to seem intolerant. Like many women, I was so conditioned in codependency that I dreaded making him feel uncomfortable more than I cared about my own discomfort — how twisted is that???
But there is courage and strength in numbers. With back up, we can do so much more. We can crush those creepy fuckers. I hope this new spirit of defiance spreads to every workplace in the whole damn world.
The fact that these accusations are spreading like wildfire, forces society to name this abuse for what it is, and acknowledge its pervasiveness. There’s no longer any excuse for saying it’s no big deal. There’s no longer any excuse for not backing up your coworker who makes a complaint.
The only way to stop abusers is to make them face extremely unpleasant consequences. They only stop when they’re forced to. Until now, being a workplace predator usually didn’t entail consequences for him; only for his victims. But today we have the chance to say: you’re done. Your career is over. Everyone fucking hates you. This time it’s not MY life being ruined – it’s YOURS.
The spotlight on this issue may seem sudden, but it’s the culmination of many years of patient organizing and speaking out with little result. Now a tipping point has finally been reached. Organizers around many issues – homophobia, civil rights, police brutality, ecocide – toil for decades before crimes finally become widely seen as such, and can no longer be ignored. This doesn’t mean they’re resolved – far from it – but it’s a necessary step toward that possibility.
The “me too” movement makes me think about what other kinds of normalized systemic abuse might come to be seen for the crimes they are, might reach that tipping point and suddenly become unaccepted. If we’ll one day say to some corporate polluter: you really fucked up, your career is ruined, you’re never going to work again. That we’ll say: you put a cancer-causing chemical in people’s food, you cut down trees to build a mall for your own profit, you crafted a law against distributing food to homeless people, you denied someone health care, you threatened humanity with nuclear annihilation – you’re going DOWN!
How far could this go? Let’s dream big. Why not go for taking down the entire fucking capitalist system, the root of so much misery and oppression?
To make that possible, another normalized workplace violation needs to be exposed for the crime that it is, so that, too, it can no longer be ignored, excused, or tolerated. That crime is profiting off the labor of others. That crime is exploitation.
Imagine if we heard people on TV saying: “I was denied the means to obtain food or shelter unless I agreed to do whatever business owners asked of me for eight or ten or sixteen hours a day, and when I complied, I was only paid a small fraction of the value that I produced, and they stole all the rest for themselves.” And then imagine that instead of everyone going, “Eh, that’s just how it is, deal with it,” that mass outrage spread like wildfire. And then imagine that everyone subjected to these criminal acts began refusing to accept it, and that a majority of the population supported their resistance. Imagine the exploiters disgraced, isolated, driven from our midst. The way that everything humanity produces would have to change. Think about what else could melt away once that happened: wealth inequality, imperialism, ecocide. The control that capitalists currently have over the world would be broken.
Today, workers who speak out against exploitation are not generally listened to. They’re labeled complainers and troublemakers. They’re told that their abuse is not a problem, but a normal and necessary function of human society. They are told to suck it up and take their heartache to the bar on the weekend.
But we should consider it a badge of honor to be a troublemaker against abuse and exploitation. Let’s all be troublemakers. Let’s stop protecting or being loyal to our oppressors, our exploiters, our enemies. Call out their crimes for what they are, name the abusers and their violations against us, and stand up for each other in increasing numbers until justice can no longer be denied – until we can deprive predators of every systemic structure that has allowed them to exist.