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WOMEN across the world are suffering an unprecedented assault on our rights but a collective fightback is also starting to grow.
The women’s rights movement is developing in an uneven and confused way, with conservative political forces positioning themselves as champions of women’s rights when nothing could be further from the truth.
The defence of Russell Brand by some on the left signifies that we continue to have a woman problem. A key question we should ask ourselves is why the left consistently fails to put women’s interests at the heart of our movement.
When women make allegations of abuse, rewriting the narrative in favour of the alleged abuser or aggressor sends a message to women that they are not safe or welcome in our movement.
Once upon a time, it was considered OK for famous and powerful men to sexually service themselves at the expense of younger female fans while ignoring their safety and wellbeing.
The noughties “bad boy” culture that led to the rise of Russell Brand was no different in content from that which enabled Jimmy Savile and other sexual predators in the preceding decades.
The powerful media corporations, state forces and the ruling class ensured these men were untouchable. Such behaviour was normalised, and the women and girls described as “groupies” were held in contempt and treated as less than human beings.
The green light to freely abuse people always starts with contempt and the dehumanisation of the victim.
The #metoo movement, which is not a socialist movement and falls short of challenging misogyny in all its guises, has nonetheless led to a layer of young women joining forces to oppose an endemic culture of sexual abuse and exploitation.
Men who abuse positions of power to prey on women sexually are coming under scrutiny like never before. The behaviour of celebrities like Brand and other high-profile men is being put under the spotlight in a way that would not have been possible even two decades ago.
Women are standing up for themselves and sending out a strong message to abusive men that we simply won’t stand for it anymore.
The investigation into the behaviour of Russell Brand during the 2000s reveals that both he and the powerful media corporations who enabled him have a case to answer.
From getting away scot-free with sexually harassing a female newsreader live on air to “joking” about offering up a female assistant to Jimmy Saville, the level of Brand’s contempt for women is a matter of public record. Few can deny hearing about his shameful treatment of Andrew Sachs’s granddaughter live on air.
On top of this, there are harrowing accounts of alleged crimes which may never have come to light but for the efforts of the investigative journalists.
The collective failure of Channel 4 and the BBC to deal with complaints against Brand shows that a toxic misogynist culture is allowed and encouraged so long as the cash flows in.
The profits were rolling in when Brand was at the height of his career, and they continue to roll in now because of the backlash against him. The Savile scandal has not stopped any of the offensive and misogynist content that continues to come out of Channel 4 in particular. There is little doubt that TV corporations create and maintain the conditions that allow for the abuse of young women and girls.
Brand is not some great hero of the working class, so he should not be positioned as such. He does no serious work to organise our class, nor does he take any real risks to bring down the establishment.
He is a powerful multi-millionaire whose status allows him to simultaneously court controversy while also enriching himself. He is not one of us, he is not for us and to gloss over, ignore or rewrite the narrative around these concerning allegations about Brand, does not speak well of the left. Too many are lining up to defend Brand as though he were the reincarnation of Lenin himself.
Are we so devoid of ideas and leadership on the left that some feel compelled to jump to the defence of someone who has at best demonstrated contempt for women, and at worst, may have committed serious and egregious crimes against them?
What does this say about the left and where we stand on the rights of women and girls, or our position on the rising violence against women and girls?
Even if the Establishment is using the #metoo era to line up against Brand, do we collude in absolving him of all responsibility for the way he treated women at the height of his fame? If so, this is deeply dishonest, we end up telling half the story and we throw women under a bus to support what is a conspiracy theory at this point.
Brand belongs to the millionaire class, and he is a product of corporate capitalism and all of the abuse of power and ugliness that goes with it. To argue that Brand is some sort of left-wing hero under attack is false, perverse and potentially very damaging to the cause of socialism itself.
Women are half of the population and alienating us sets back the class struggle. As socialists, we should take a firm stand against all forms of abuse of power including the sexual abuse of women and girls.
Helen O’Connor is a trade union organiser and former nurse. Follow her on Twitter @HelenOConnorNHS.
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