Byron Clark, Coordinating editor of The Spark
The Occupy movement began as a movement championing the “99%” united against the 1% of the world’s population that control a disproportionate amount the worlds wealth. A possible flaw in this is that oppression is not as simple as a 99:1 ratio and exists within the working class and even within social movements. A movement that saw an even gender balance when it arrived in New Zealand last October saw the number of women involved dwindle to just a hand full. The Spark asked women currently or previously involved in the movement why they thought so many women left. Their responses are printed here. Some names have been changed for privacy reasons.
The guys there put out a really uncomfortable energy. Its not the occupy that it used to be aye, its just gross now – no, offence - girls feel unsafe and uncomfortable whenever they’re there. Most of the guys there are friggin’ predators.
I think the movement got all gross. It was very try-hard I felt. Women were driven away with the misogynist attitudes, sexist attitudes and promotion of prostitution- I remember I spoke to a few about what they felt like doing at night… and yup, all really sleazy
Many males at Occupy camps worldwide seem to believe that it is acceptable to harass females to give themselves power… Although a lot of males at camps don’t share this view, they find it difficult to empathise and carry out justice accordingly. Occupy didn’t have the resources or know-how to combat and prosecute offensive or dangerous behavior that left many women feeling threatened. Lord knows wider society, with its high rape statistics and low conviction rate, has done a poor job of teaching ethical behaviour with regard to gender. Our current justice system, pushing its one-size-fits-all imprisonment system, isn’t always helpful either.”
The problem at Occupy camps stemmed from its insistence that it was a leaderless, non-hierarchical movement. A lovely thought, but currently unrealistic. Occupy wanted to accept everyone into the group, but was unable to deal with the fact that some people’s behavior impinges on others’ freedoms, and needs exclusion.
Some guys there are on a ‘I’ll do what I please’ rampage… people in that socio-economic bracket don’t get taken seriously too often, so when something like this comes along where the point is to liberate, then unless you have been very well taught I’m sure its easy to get confused on exactly how to liberate.
The Occupy camp has attracted unwanted attention from passers-by, the hospital across the road has banned occupation people from going there- a clear lack of support from them- and especially at night when there is no other place for women to go to the toilet without having to talk a long distance… Though I have had to deal with aggressive male behavior on site, I have felt supported by those staying there when doing so most times, for me it’s worth the struggle to stay involved and support the women who are staying there as much as I can, trying to ensure their safety on site too, rather than just walk away. Yet everyone has their own breaking point I guess.
The Workers Party has developed its own policies and procedures for dealing with potential sexist or misogynistic behaviour. At our conference over Queen’s Birthday weekend there will be a presentation on the concept of safer spaces in activist movements.