How Long? - Thoughts on Women and Occupy Wall Street

Translated from Spanish by Emily Goldman

A few days ago, Iread the following item on Democracy Now!:
 
"In other news from ‘Occupy,’ activists in New York erected a tent to be used only by women, aftercomplaints of sexual assaults in the Lower Manhattanencampment.’”
 
AlexBorders of Occupy Wall Street said: ‘Many women felt their rights werebeing violated, to the point that they were on the campus and there were peoplewho were invading their spaces in the tents and stuff like that, and for thatreason we set up a tent to be used only by women.  We have 24-hour security that patrols theencampment.”’
 
Nan Terriof Occupy Wall Street said: ‘At this time, [the tent] houses 20 people, butonce we organize it, more will fit. That’s why I have my gloves on, because I am going to go clean.  But my idea is to get more women-only tents.  I am trying to get a tent measuring 80 x 80or 60 x 80 to put up on the other side and thereby ensure women’s security.’”
 
I am not sure what bothered me more – the way in which Democracy Now! published the above news item or the newsitself.  It would seem that the sexualharassment and even rape of women have become so commonplace that what became anewsworthy event was not that among a group of people protesting against theviolation of the most essential human rights of 99% of the world’s population,there are some men who rape women’s bodies. No, that was not newsworthy, because raping women’s bodies would seem tobe an inherent characteristic of being a man, whether the man in questionbelongs to the 1% of the elite or the 99% who are outraged.  The only thing that was deemed newsworthy wasthe fact that some women had erected a tent only for women, for the purpose ofprotecting themselves against sexual assaults. Just like that, as if the need to put up a tent only for women were asunavoidable as putting up tents for protection against the rain or ramps topermit access for persons utilizing wheelchairs or having sign languageinterpreters to include non-hearing persons.
 
But what saddens and frustrates me most is that we women remain silent in the faceof these violations of our bodies so as not to discredit a movement which isagainst the pillaging and violation of Mother Earth and in favor of theeconomic, social, and cultural rights of the large majority of the people. Whatoutrages me most is that I have not seen or heard any male co-occupier demandthat women’s bodies not be raped in Occupy Wall Street or any other place.  What makes me despair most is knowing that ifthe Occupy movement, or any other social justice movement, were to achieve itsgoal or dream, women’s bodies would continue to be raped because ending maleviolence against women is not part of the hoped-for transformations.  And I despair even more when I read thatthere are more than one billion women who have been raped worldwide, that rapesand femicides are ongoing in Congo and Guatemala, to name just two of the manycountries where women’s bodies are ravaged on a daily basis, or when I am toldthat pornography is freedom of expression and prostitution is a job like anyother.
 
I am tired of the fact that the rape of a woman’s body is only denounced when theviolation is committed by a man or men who are members of enemy armed groups orby groups against whom we are struggling but when the rapes are committed byour own brothers-in-struggle, we feel it best to keep quiet.  And we silence ourselves because we believethat the movement – be it anti-capitalist, -imperialist, -neoliberal,-colonialist, -racist, -corruption, -impunity, or any of the things againstwhich we organize– is more important than our bodies, or because we know thatdenouncing our brothers-in-struggle would be considered treason both by ourbrothers as well as by other women.
 
How long until we understand that the ones betraying the movement are those who violate women’s bodies, not those who denounce such atrocities?  How long until all of us who organize forsocial justice understand that if we do not pull out by its very roots thebelief that makes possible the millions of rapes of women’s bodies each year –that is, the idea that women’s bodies are merchandise or objects which can bebought or simply taken by force – we will never be able to eliminate thementality which permits and justifies coups d’état, wars, corruption, thepillaging of Mother Earth, her rivers and forests, as well as the appropriationby 1% of the world’s population of 99% of its wealth?  As long as we believethat it is only natural that some men will continue to rape some women, how canwe believe that we will succeed at getting 1% of the men to stop takingwhatever they desire by force?