Anti-Sexism…..the Responsibilities of Socialist Men


New guidance for SWP & SP members

The leaderships of the SWP and SP, in an unprecedented act of cooperation, have jointly produced guidance on the “responsibilities of socialist men” to oppose sexism.

The pamphlet, written by Australian Socialist Alternative member Sandra Bloodworth a few years ago is one of the few Marxist pamphlets that specifically addresses the issue of how men should behave in the movement and in relationships.

“Fighting for Women’s Liberation today” is one of many. But “An anti-sexism Manifesto”, reproduced below, or available here in downloadable pdf from, is one of the few that actually looks at the so called personal politics of men and women. In particular it discusses how men should behave towards women both within left-wing groups or within intimate relationships. As she says

“..understanding political arguments about the structures of society, the obvious discrimination women experience, and the socialisation that reinforces the gender stereotypes is only the first step when raising our consciousness about personal relationships and so-called private life”

She then goes on to look at how a socialist group must operate if it is serious about enabling women to be involved as equals. She discusses everything from the chair of a meeting encouraging contributions from women, how men should treat women in relationships, sexist attitudes to women and alcohol, and particularly what men should do to recognise and stop “date rape”.

She has no time for the idea that

sometimes it is thought that being “radical” or “revolutionary” means refusing to abide by any behaviour argued for by the state or other authorities. And that being for sexual liberation means there should be no restraints on how revolutionaries behave in their sex lives.

She does fail to mention the added dimension of power in abusive relationships – whether that power be based on age, status or both, though it’s hinted at when she writes :

 It can seem that a man can be discredited by spreading stories about his bad behaviour, but the dynamic of sexism works against such an outcome. It is more likely that, in this situation, a man will develop an impervious wall around his persona. When he is seen to be sexist it is dismissed as, “That’s just X”

But otherwise this is a must-read for anyone joining a socialist group, even though most of it should be obvious. Alex Flanellicos and Peter Flaff, in a joint statement from  the SWP and SP siad

We believe most of our members will have no trouble with any of Sandra Bloodworth’s points. But our organisations’ recent crises have made us aware that grains and traces of sexism can remain in revolutionary socialists. We hope our publication of this excellent guide will send a signal out to everyone that we have learnt valuable lessons from our crises. We will not tolerate sexism in our organisations.

Apparently, the next step for the SWP and SP is to publish the procedures of their disputes committees, in order to demonstrate their zero-tolerance approach to sexism and to begin to rebuild trust. Hopefully, it will be nothing like this appalling approach from a faction of Solidarity in the USA.

An Anti-Sexism Manifesto : The Rights of Women and the Responsibilities of Socialist Men, by Sandra Bloodworth

sandra bloodworth

Sandra Bloodworth – previously part of the International Socialist Tendency

In this pamphlet I want to discuss the politics of sexism in personal life and relationships, particularly between women and men. This is often difficult for people, even socialists, to talk about. We are socialised to think of our private lives as separate from public, political life. Our private life can seem like the only area of our life over which we have control, where we find comfort and love as well as some respite from the pressures of this society.

Individuals do make choices about their personal lives in a way they can’t about whether they’ll be sacked, or if a boss will offer them a job, whether there’s decent public transport on which to get to work, etc. But it is an illusion deliberately fostered by those who run capitalism that we have control over our personal lives and can act purely as individuals. The unequal status of women and men in public life, the lower wages and worse job opportunities for women, the sexist portrayal of them in every conceivable form of communication, etc, does not end when we step into our homes or go out to a bar with our friends and lovers.

In the pamphlet Fighting for Women’s Liberation Today I looked at how these inequalities affect the relationships between women and men in a range of situations. For example, men tend to dominate social situations – both men and women take men more seriously, listen to their contributions to conversations more than to those of women, and women introduce the topic of conversation less often than men. These inequalities between women and men continue in their personal relationships.

 The reality of the gender stereotypes is maintained and reproduced by the ideology and experience of the family. And the ideal of the family structure maintains the oppression of women. While relations are entered “freely” by both partners – they less often actually involve marriage in Australia these days – women and men are not equal in these relationships. Women do most of the housework and child care, even when they work outside the home. In group houses, including those of socialists, it is a constant refrain from women that men don’t pull their weight with the housework, cooking and shopping. Socialist men should take their household responsibilities seriously and do their share. Otherwise they are basically colluding in making women’s political involvement more difficult than it should be. Women only have 24 hours in the day too.

 Women are expected to provide nurturing, love and support. Men are seen as the proactive ones who set the agenda. This reflects the largely outdated notion of the “breadwinner”, but it is kept alive by the fact that women who have children are more likely to be the primary carer. The fact of unequal wages, career prospects and job opportunities make it difficult for any couple to redress this inequality even if they wanted to. Women experience inequality with their partners in the family, and at work they suffer both sexual oppression and exploitation as workers. The two interact and reinforce each other. Working class men suffer exploitation, but not gender oppression.The gender roles associated with the capitalist family – strong, aggressive male and nurturing, passive female – pervade all of society through the education system, the mass media, entertainment and so on. No individual can escape them, even if they do not live in the so-called nuclear family, whether they marry and have children or not. The childcare centre where my grandchildren go reported to parents recently that a survey of4-to-5-year olds’ play found that they talk a lot about having “boyfriends” and “girlfriends”. They plan their weddings, they use the threat of breaking off their friendship as a ploy to get their own way, they object to others being friendly towards their “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” with “she’s my girlfriend”, etc. Even though one of the childcare workers is openly a lesbian, there is no hint that any of the children’s interactions acknowledge same-sex liaisons, and it was all reported by staff with great pride and no mention that they would take steps to modify this behaviour or introduce the notion of same-sex relationships. So from this early age, the children have already learnt the gender roles that will dominate their lives and the idea that a relationship with someone is better if it is exclusionary. Put this together with the chosen occupations so far for my grandson: a policeman (of which he was quickly disabused) and a fireman (good choice, they have a strong union!). I doubt any of the girls have chosen these careers.

The hope that the family, or a monogamous, steady relationship with the “right” person will be a haven from the pressures of this society keeps alive these aspirations that are being play-acted at such an early age. However the reality of long hours of work, the struggle to make ends meet, the constraints on social life because of the lack of decent childcare facilities and so on, mitigate against these relationships fulfilling the expectations with which they are entered. The inequality between men and women, added to all of these factors, results in the family, and the relationships that mirror it, being sites of frustration, disappointment and oppression.

The use of women’s bodies as sex objects reinforces old ideas of women’s responsibility to satisfy men’s needs. And it is not just men who view women this way. Studies show how women internalise this view of their role, causing feelings of guilt and inadequacy if they do not come up to their partners’ demands’ A sex survey of 3000 women in a woman’s online magazine called “She said” discovered that only 3 per cent of women initiate sex “often” while 20 per cent of women said “sometimes but they don’t like to”. Other surveys have revealed that more women than men have sex when they “don’t feel like it” simply because they feel that they can’t “say no”. Anxiety and depression were found to be contributing factors, but stress and poor body image had the biggest influence on sexual interest and response.

These statistics reveal that the kind of sexism towards women that occurs in the media, mythologies about beauty and the like, as well as the kind of systematic discrimination towards women at work and in the home, flow through to elements of women’s lives that it is usually claimed are simply “private”. Despite this reality, women who are clear that they won’t have sex whenever a male desires it are perceived as frigid or prudish and are made to feel guilty for such “defiance”‘ This is one reason why abuse of women by men is mostly carried out by members of their family or close friends and lovers.

So the starting point to understand the rights of women and the responsibilities of socialist men it a clear recognition that all heterosexual couples enter their relationships on an unequal basis. And that cannot be changed while capitalism exists. However, that is not to say we are just victims of the structures we live in’ and that our behaviour is programmed and pre-ordained. We are not robots’ We actually can modify our behaviour if we have a clear political understanding of the influence of the horrible ideas of capitalism and the structures that back them up and constantly renew them. Socialists do not passively accept that workers will always submit to their bosses’ authority, or that they will automatically adopt racist or other divisive ideas, which divide skilled from unskilled, white collar from blue collar, etc. We fight these ideas vigorously wherever we can. And so it is with sexism.

However, understanding political arguments about the structures of society, the obvious discrimination women experience, and the socialisation that reinforces the gender stereotypes is only the first step when raising our consciousness about personal relationships and so-called private life’

Consciousness raising

Men are socialised to believe and expect that their ideas, their desires, their needs will be paramount. They are encouraged to see themselves as the dominant actor in everything, and especially in sexual relationships. Men brag about their multiple partners, while women often feel embarrassed if they have sex with more than one man or woman at a time, and others are likely to talk about her as though she’s a “slut”. Men’s magazines, (but not only magazines, also the media, popular culture, music videos, all the images you can think of) present men as the strong, dominant partner in relationships between men and women, and encourage them to take pride in being strong, domineering, aggressive, and taking what they want.

On the other hand women are socialised to defer to those around them, to be more sensitive to others’ needs and demands. They are encouraged to think of their role in a heterosexual relationship as one of pleasing the man, not getting pleasure for themselves. If they are assertive and demanding, they are likely to be dismissed as over-bearing, and “nagging”, and made to feel that if they are not more compliant to the expectations of a male partner, then he’ll look elsewhere for companionship and sex. And women’s experience in less private social situations backs all of this up, reminding them day in and day out that if they’re not nurturing, caring about everyone else’s problems and needs, submissive, quieter than men, if  they’re assertive, have strong opinions and express them forthrightly, they will be thought of as odd at best, but more likely downright annoying and domineering.

 Young women in particular are harshly judged for their actions. University of Melbourne criminology researcher Antonia Quadara in a piece on so called “ladette culture” points out that women are often judged more harshly than men for seemingly inappropriate behaviour. “If women behave aggressively, it’s more quickly pathologised as not being feminine enough. If binge-drinking is seen as aping male behaviour, it’s still seen as more problematic for women than it is for men. There’s an association of women as uncontrollable. When they step outside rigid stereotypes of what’s acceptable, they’re seen as behaving worse than men.”2

 So for socialist men to have relationships with women that are not blatantly sexist, they must integrate an understanding of the structural, social reasons why these ideas are so dominant. But they must also consciously understand how this socialisation affects their own behaviour, and how it affects women’s responses in all situations. And then they must consciously struggle to recognises sexist responses by themselves. When they are thinking that a woman arguing with them about imperialism, or what needs to be done to take a struggle forward, “is so aggressive, she gives me the shits”, they should immediately ask themselves when they last thought that of any man who’s argued with them about politics or any other topic.

 It is a quite common occurrence in socialist organisations that women who step up to take leadership roles, who assert themselves, who make the effort to read and study the politics and to take responsibility for winning arguments about what needs to be done, come up against this kind of sexist response. It is rare for men to be accused of being too aggressive, even though by the very nature of our socialisation, they regularly are. Whereas women are often discouraged from taking on leadership roles precisely because they encounter this response. And this undermines a woman’s very idea of her own self worth; because she is socialised to feel she’s failed if she can’t live up to the stereotype of being sensitive and submissive. Or when she argues with someone, they will undermine her by calling her “bossy” or like a teacher. Again, these comments to deflect a political argument are virtually never used against men. And these responses are typical not just of men, but of women also – because both men and women are socialised to expect certain behaviour from people according to their gender’

 That,s one reason why Socialist Alternative has formal structures for our meetings where everyone is expected to listen in silence to speakers, not to interject, not to sneer, or talk to someone in whispers while others contribute to the political discussion. We have a chair to facilitate and ensure that no one is excluded because they’re a woman – or for that matter, for any other reason. We encourage women to play a leading role and expect both men and women to support them when they do.

 But these formal structures can only make a temporary space for all comrades to participate and to be treated with respect and dignity. If in the social situations around the group and in members’ personal lives women realise they are not treated with respect, that they are in fact denigrated for not adhering to the gender stereotypes. then the formal settings seem like a sham, a show with no content or genuine commitment to building an organisation in which women can take their place as individuals who are respected for their contribution and judged by the political arguments they make rather than how well they measure up as a female.

 Actually, it doesn’t just seem to be a sham, it ls.

Sexism in personal life

Feminist-cartoon1As a consequence of these political understandings, certain conclusions regarding how socialists should strive to live, especially men, follow..So the next section is largely a list of do’s and don’ts, because each individual point does not need special elaboration if you have agreed with the arguments made above.

ONE Men should not talk about women as if they are sex objects, discussing who is a good fuck and who is not, whether they would like to have sex with particular woman, or their expectations as io whether they might be able to get a woman into bed. And they should not have the attitude that a woman who has multiple is a “slut”, or that she is therefore available for sex with anyone, i.e. themselves.

TWO Heterosexual relationships: a man should not drape himself around a woman, keep touching her, or hold her hand in public on the pretext of affection’ These and similar kinds of actions that keep reminding others of the woman’s relationship with the man send a message of proprietorial ownership. It says to men “keep your distance, this woman is mine”. Worse, it feeds into sexist, perceptions that pervade the way people relate to a woman in a relationship with a man. There is always an assumption that the man is dominant’. With the man draped around her, it sends a strong signal that she is his appendage. It thereby undermines her autonomy and independence as an individual . lt never creates the idea that the man might be the woman’s appendage.

 A man should not act in other controlling ways such as ringing or texting a woman he’s been having sex with if she chooses to leave an event or place they’re at with a different partner. “I just wanted to check you’re OK” is not a reason.Iit is a manipulative ploy to excuse controlling behaviour. Ask yourself: if she went home alone, would you check to see if she’s OK? It’s highly unlikely. A man should not try to influence a woman’s decision about who she will have sex with by volunteering the (irrelevant) information that he will be upset. Again, even if this is wrapped up in assurances that it’s her decision, this is manipulative behaviour aimed at controlling a woman’s actions and minimising her independence.If anyone behaved this way, it would indicate inappropriate jealousy and possessiveness towards someone, whether one partner towards another in a same-sex relationship or a woman to a man. But the dynamic is completely different and does not have the sexist, dominating aspect to it that it does when a man behaves this way towards a woman.

 People should not assume that a woman agrees with the opinions of any man she happens to be having sex with, or if she does, that she is his dupe. These responses are not unusual because people are socialised to take men more seriously than women.

A man should not assume, expect and definitely not demand that a woman he has a relationship with agree with him as some sign of loyalty. A man should never assume his dominance over, or possession of a woman or demand that she defer to him in any way. Men cannot in any way deny women their autonomy, their right to independence and their own political opinions.

 Also, a woman should not act in a hostile way to other people who have sex with someone she’s having sex with. This is particularly important towards other women, as there is a strong stereotype that women are always jealous of other women, and compete for men. This sexist caricature can undermine the degree to which people relate to women as political individuals, or undermine a woman’s own confidence. Even if there is an agreement that a couple will be monogamous, or some other arrangement, and the man breaks it, the matter is one for the couple to sort out. The third person has no responsibility for the actions of the person who acted dishonestly.

 THREE There is a strong tendency in our society towards lack of respect for lesbian relationships. Socialists respect all relationships whether between same-sex couples or heterosexuals. So it is absolutely not acceptable for men to talk to lesbians as though they can have a discussion about other women as sex objects – who they’d like to have sex with, etc. This kind of discussion should not occur at all, but it is particularly reprehensible when a man tries to have it with a woman.

Lesbians are not some kind of challenge to men and their sexuality, or their ability to conquer any woman they desire. No man should ever ask “why not if he is told by a woman that she doesn’t sleep with men, or suggest that she’d change her mind if only she slept with him.

 FOUR In both heterosexual and same-sex relationships NO MEANS NO. It doesn’t matter if it’s not shouted, if it’s not repeated, if it’s not forceful. No means no if it’s audible. No means no at any time, no matter how far advanced sex might be. A man does not have the right to say “we’d gone too far for me to stop”. There is no biological evidence that men have uncontrollable urges. They choose to exercise their dominance over women, and they can choose to behave in a decent. respectful and non-sexist way.

 A man must at all times be aware that he is inclined to assume his desires will be taken for granted, that his dislikes are not as likely to even arise as a woman’s because women are generally more reluctant to initiate sex or particular sex acts than men because of the gender stereotypes discussed above. Women are far more likely to feel pressured to just go along with whatever the man does. So if there is any him that a woman is not comfortable, that she is resistant to particular things, or hesitant, a man should ask, and give her a clear opportunity to ask to stop. If in doubt, if he is not certain the woman consents, a man should stop whatever it is she seems to dislike.

What is sexual assault/rape?

Sexual assault is any sexual behaviour that makes a person feel uncomfortable, frightened or threatened. lt is sexual activity to which a person does not consent. The use of emotional or physical violence to force another person to engage in sexual activity also constitutes sexual assault. Sexual assault can occur to people from all cultural backgrounds. lt is a crime that can leave the victim/survivor feeling isolated and silenced. Victim/survivors never provoke a sexual assault, are never to blame and are never responsible for the actions of the offender.


A man cannot excuse himself by claiming “she didn’t mean it” when she said no, or it was a “playful no”, or even that she didn’t say “no” clearly. He should be sufficiently aware to recognise that he is offending her in some way and doing something the woman rejects. It is only when a man clearly acknowledges a woman’s rights, her autonomy as a person, and his own dominant position in relation to her, and acts accordingly, that a woman can truly be free to consent or to say no to any activity between them.

 Just as importantly, a man should not continually – or ever – return to a question to which the answer was no unless the woman expressly suggested he ask another time. Even if she were to say she’d think about it, for the man to raise it again is to create sexist pressure on her. She must have the freedom to revisit the question when she has thought about it, without any pressure explicit or implied.

 Often men (and women) assume that just because a woman has a responsible or demanding job, or is a confident political leader, she can escape the pressures to submit to a man who is not aware of her needs, and is oblivious to her attempts to let him know that she doesn’t like what he is doing. When sexual assault has been committed, those to whom the victim turns should not assume that it cannot be serious because the woman is so confident in other situations that you cannot believe she could not have stopped the assault if she had wanted to. Even a confident woman can find it very difficult to resist a man’s pressure in particular situations.

 Many of these arguments are not just made by socialists. Date or acquaintance rape is widely recognised by sexual assault support agencies, and by the law. This is how it is discussed on a website for teenagers:

A date rape fact sheet for guys

“Call it date rape, call it acquaintance rape, or just call it what it is, rape; whatever you call it, it’s a crime and it is committed at a shocking rate of every two minutes in North America. While public education about rape has made great strides in the past decades, particularly in the area of victim blaming and shaming, many guys still just don’t seem to get it when it comes to date rape. Sure we all

know that forcing yourself on a woman is rape but when we picture this we usually imagine a violent attack, sometimes with a weapon or drugging a woman with a date rape drug. Yet there are other ways to coerce or instigate an unwanted sexual encounter that some guys may not even think about. Often non-violent on the surface and sometimes the result of mixed,messages, not listening, wishful thinking and/or diminished responsibility on the part of one or both parties,date rape is one of the most misunderstood and controversial of sex crimes. In date rape scenarios many guys don’t feel that they have crossed a line or done anything wrong and this is the biggest part of the problem. Society still sends a very mixed message on this topic with many people feeling that date rape is most often the result of miscommunication or misunderstanding rather than a true act of criminal intent.

“Date rape, also called acquaintance-rape, is rape that occurs between two people who know one another and usually happens in social situations. It can happen between people who are dating as a couple and have had consensual sex in the past. It can happen between people who are starting to date. It can happen between people who are just friends, aka acquaintances. You do not have to be on a date for date rape to occur. The first and most important thing a guy needs to understand is NO MEANS NO. This is a non-negotiable fact. As soon as the word No comes out of a woman’s mouth you must stop what you are doing and you should not persist by trying again. Even if its a hot and heavy make out session as soon as she puts the brakes on, you must stop. Even if the kissing starts up again you must not move things any further than she clearly indicates she wants them to go. If you have even a shadow of a doubt about what she really wants you must stop altogether. When a woman says “No”, or starts physically pushing you away even without saying no, or if she repeatedly stops you from moving past a certain point (for example : she’s OK with kissing but physically stops you when you try to reach under her clothes – even without saying “No”) you MUST STOP. Just because she is OK with kissing doesn’t mean she wants more. Kissing is not a promise of giving in to anything you may want. Think of it this way, when you willingly give a buddy a ride home one day does that automatically mean you’ll do it every day or start driving them to work and on errands as well? No, of course not. Consenting to one thing does not mean you are consenting to the same thing in the future. Nor does it mean you are consenting to similar or related things. This is the case with sexual contact. Just because a woman consents to one type of sexual interaction does not automatically mean she is open to others. Just because a woman has had sex with you in the past does not mean she is obligated to have sex with you every time you get intimate together.

Date Rape : What happens when one or both of you are under the influence/

Another area of confusion on the date rape topic is intoxication. Bottom line : if a woman is intoxicated she cannot consent to sex. It does not matter whether you knew she was intoxicated, it doesn’t matter if you were intoxicated too. All that matters is that she was not in a state of mind to consent and therefore it is rape. If you get a woman drunk or high , then “get together” with her, you have committed a sexual assault. Again, it doesn’t matter if you are drunk or high as well. Your diminished abilities do not negate your responsibilities. A good rule to follow is,

if you are under the influence do not have sex.

Another good rule to follow, don’t have sex with anybody you are not 100 per cent certain is able to consent.

“Hope that clears up the so-called grey areas on the topic of date rape. Remember it is your responsibility to protect yourself, not only from pregnancy and STDs, but also from being charged with date rape. Don’t blame your partner for actions you can control.”3

What is consent?

Under the law, “consent” means that you’ve agreed to something freely and voluntarily – because you want to.

  • . If you don’t fight back during a sexual assault, it is still sexual assault. it’s not consent just because you didn’t fight back.
  • . lf the man threatens, frightens or tricks you into agreeing to have sex with him – for example, he threatens to hurt someone else if you refuse, it is sexual assault.
  • . You can agree to sex and then change your mind. The reason doesn’t matter. lf the man keeps going even though he knows you don’t want to, it is sexual assault.
  • . lt is sexual assault if, in the middle of sex you’ve consented to, a man makes you do something you don’t want to.
  • . Sexual assault within marriage/a relationship is a crime. A man does not have an automatic right to have sex with his wife (or partner). lf he does it without her consent, it is still sexual assault, even though she has been willing to have sex with him at other times.

From htm

Men’s responsibilities

In the Australian Study of Health and Relationships survey, 2001-2002, participants were asked about their sexual experience in the previous week. 95 per cent of men said they’d had an orgasm but only 79 per cent of women did.4 This is a clear expression of the inequality between women and men in their most intimate experiences together. There is no biological evidence that women generally have any more difficulty having an orgasm than men. It is mostly the behaviour of men (and partly because women lack the confidence to demand satisfaction from men) that leads to this disparity between their experiences.

 So if a man has sex with a woman and he does have an orgasm, but she doesn’t, he has a responsibility to find out why she didn’t; and if she wants to have one, how she can achieve it. If a man regularly has sex with women and they don’t have orgasms, or he doesn’t even know whether they do or not, he should recognise that he is a sexist brute.

A man should never have sex with a woman who is too drunk or stoned to give meaningful consent, even if they have been regularly having consensual sex. To do so is to assume that the woman automatically wants sex whenever demanded by the man. Such sex is tantamount to sexual assault or rape. This is not just the opinion of socialists, as should be evident from the excerpt above and the inserts in this pamphlet.

Facts and myths

When it comes to rape, the myths are very strong and very dangerous, because they excuse rape and blame the victim rather than the attacker. Here are some of the common myths about date rape and rape in general.

 Myth: “Rapists look evil.”

Facft Rapists are usually “ordinary” guys, of all ages and backgrounds.

Myth: “Rape is committed by strangers in dark alleys.”

Fact: ln 80-90% of cases the attacker is known to the victim, and it may occur in your own home.

Myth: “She was asking for it.”

Fact: Drinking, flirting or dressing in a “sexy” way is not an invitation for sex.

Myth: “Guys can’t control their sexual urges.”

Fact: Guys are fully capable of controlling their sexual desires . – it’s about choice.

Myth: “Women cry rape when they didn’t enjoy it.”

Fact: Only 2-7 per cent of rapes reported are false claims (no higher than for any other crime).

Myth: “She didn’t scream or fight back, so it wasn’t rape.”

Fact: Women may be paralysed with fear – rape is rape, regardless of whether there’s a struggle.

Myth: “She didn’t say no.”

Fact: There are many ways that people say no to sex without using the word “no” (for example, “I‘ve got a boyfriend”, “Let’s just go to sleep”, “l’m not sure”, “l’d really like to but …”, “You’re not my type”, “You’ve been drinking”, “l’ve been drinking”, “l want to be alone”, “‘Don’t touch me”, “l’m not in the mood”).

 From html

FIVE Safe sex: The issue of safe sex is widely discussed in society, so socialists have a responsibility to acquaint themselves with why it’s important, and how to have safe sex at all times. This does not just raise the question of sexism and it is an issue of importance for same-sex couples, especially men. Even if you have a reckless attitude to your own health, safety and life, it is unacceptable for socialists to deliberately risk the health and well-being of anyone else. Short of the very serious issue of contracting the HIV virus, unplanned pregnancy – and therefore abortion – should not be taken lightly. They are not a minor matter for a woman to deal with. And there is always the threat of spreading sexually transmitted infections (STIs), many of which are serious. Ignorance, or lack of preparation, such as carrying a condom, does not excuse such disregard for other people.

Socialists should respect others, not abuse them.

“lt just happened” or “it was unplanned” is no excuse for having unsafe sex- for either heterosexual or same-sex partners. If you go to a party without condoms and end up having penetrative sex it is tantamount to planning it.

Samantha’s story

My situation is a tough one. I met him through one of my colleagues from work. we went out a few times and got on pretty well. we decided we would have sex next time we met – I let him know I only wanted to do it using a condom.when the time came to put the condom on, though, he said he didn’t want to |  said “well let’s not go there then, we can just keep doing what we were doing”. But

he got angry and said that I couldn’t stop him. He forced himself on me anyway. I  was so upset, as soon as he was finished I got dressed and went home straight away.

I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t want to make a formal complaint to the police but wanted to let someone know and see what they could do. I knew it was rape.

Extracted from

Sometimes it is thought that being “radical” or “revolutionary” means refusing to abide by any behaviour argued for by the state or other authorities. And that being for sexual liberation means there should be no restraints on how revolutionaries behave in their sex lives. It is often correct to reject the behaviour advocated by the proponents of capitalism. But when it comes to the question of safe sex, there is nothing liberating or revolutionary about taking risks with our own lives. And definitely there is nothing conservative or wowserish about protecting other people’s wellbeing or preventing a woman from becoming pregnant when she doesn’t want a child.

 When it comes to men and women, the health issue is overladen with all the dynamic of the unequal relationships between women and men. Therefore a man should never ask a woman for, or assume they can have, unprotected sex for all the same reasons as above. A woman is much more likely to feel pressured to say yes than a man will be by a woman. She can feel under-confident about her right to say no, or about what will happen to the relationship if she says no.

 If a couple agree to be monogamous, or to have protected sex with any other partners, but not with each other, it is absolutely a principle that socialists do not abuse the trust of the other person, and do not lie to have unprotected sex with either their primary partner or any others.

 And in such a situation, a man should take responsibility for contraception as far as he is able. So he should pay half of any costs the woman incurs, he should acquaint himself with any side effects or difficulties she may suffer, and be supportive and give any assistance that is possible. Ignoring this aspect of women,s sexuality is as sexist as any other attitudes that are often more readily recognised as sexist.

 If a woman gets pregnant because a man had penetrative sex with her without a condom, when he has no intention of taking responsibility for a child, it indicates the man did not take his responsibilities in these matters seriously. Even if for some reason it is genuinely consensual, a man should always take responsibility for the consequences. He should assure himself that the woman is using contraception, and also make it clear what his attitude would be to having a child. Because it is absolutely unacceptable for a man, after the fact, to try to bully a woman into having an abortion because he doesn’t want to face the prospect of having a child.

It is women’s right to choose, not to be denied the right to abortion, nor to be forced into one by moral or any other pressure. Equally, if a man does not want to have responsibility for a woman having an abortion, he should ensure he does not get her pregnant in the first place, but in the event he has no right to try to deny her the right to an abortion. His opinions don’t count. Therefore no one should ask a woman when she tells them she’s pregnant, “Who’s the father?” or “What does your partner think about it?” That can only signal to the woman that she is not expected to make her own decision, but should worry about what the man thinks.

The slogan “Free, safe abortion on demand” does not mean women should have abortions as a response to unplanned pregnancy. Socialists support the slogan “The right to choose” and insist women must control their own bodies and their future free of coercion by men in their lives.

SIX Political space: Men (or women for that matter) should not treat the political space around Socialist Alternative as equivalent to a pick-up joint. If you are propositioning a woman who comes to meetings, or arranging to socialise with her during political events, it is a clear signal that you are not relating to her as a political person with a contribution to make to the organisation, or that we have political arguments we want to convince her of. Rather it indicates you are thinking of her as a sex object. Definitely women who approach Socialist Alternative information stalls, or who we ring after they have left their name on a contact sheet, or who turn up to a meeting for the first time, should never be asked out or treated as if they’re a potential date. For one thing, if the woman feels uncomfortable with the person who asks, it is unlikely she will feel comfortable to come to our events again if this has been her first contact with the organisation. But if she is conscious of sexism at all, she is likely to assume our group tolerates sexist behaviour from male members, and reject our organisation out of hand.

 The personal is political

 Finally, these are not personal, private matters divorced from the politics of a socialist organisation. To survive in this society as a principled socialist, we need as high a level of consistency in our lives as possible. We don’t allow members of Socialist Alternative to scab, and we demand they join the appropriate union, even if no one else in the workplace does. If we had MPs we would not allow them to vote for war budgets or for cuts to workers’ living standards, we would demand they campaign for the things we stand for even if it meant losing their parliamentary seat. If we had trade union officials they would not be allowed to sell-out strikes in order to stay onside with the rest of the bureaucracy, just as we do not allow our student union office bearers to do things that contradict our principles, even if it means losing the position.

 Impact and consequences

 The crime of sexual assault can have immediate, short and long term effects on physical and emotional well being. Some of the effects of sexual assault include:

. Shock and denial – a sense of “has this really happened to me?”, “why me?”; an inability to accept that it has really occurred.

. Fear – of the perpetrator, of men in general, of being alone; of having to deal with medical, legal or social consequences of the crime.

. Silence – the inability to speak about the assault, to describe what it means or like; afraid of being judged.

. Anxiety – the inability to relax or to feel safe.

. Depression – in a low mood, low motivation, internal pain and grief.

. Guilt and blame – a sense of “why did I go there … allow it… not fight back?”

. Low self-esteem – feeling unworthy, not confident or deserving- . lsolation – wanting to be alone, closed off from family and friends; a need to hide.

. images and memories of the assault intruding on daily life and sleep.

Nightmares and flashbacks

. Mood swings – going from anger and rage to tears and despair’

. Loss of confidence – in work, in study, in social and intimate relationships.

. Loss of trust – within social, family or intimate relationships.

 Most of the issues dealt with here are not open to the everyday scrutiny of a political organisation. Socialist Alternative does not have bedroom police, does not and does not want to pry into every nook and cranny of people’s lives.

Nevertheless, a failure to treat these issues seriously and to integrate them into our political views can be nothing but destructive. It undermines the confidence of  individual women if they experience open, unthinking sexism from other members, and it eats at the heart of the organisation’s integrity.

Bad behaviour of any kind, but particularly sexism, should be challenged when it occurs. The worst outcome is when it is not taken on, but then people whisper about it afterwards. It can seem that a man can be discredited by spreading stories about his bad behaviour, but the dynamic of sexism works against such an outcome. It is more likely that, in this situation, a man will develop an impervious wall around his persona. When he is seen to be sexist it is dismissed as, “That’s just x”. But, because of the insidious way sexism works, it is often any woman who has a relationship with him who ends up being denigrated by such gossip. The attitude, of “How can she stay with such a sexist?” is more likely to be the outcome, rather than a serious attempt to change the man’s behaviour by anyone. Sexism is the responsibility of all members, women and men. Someone who is witness to sexist behaviour and who does not challenge it is guilty of condoning it. “It was their personal relationship” or “I didn’t feel comfortable to intervene because the woman didn’t object” are not reasons, they’re excuses that make the witness complicit in sexism. Then if they spread gossip about it, they are admitting to all and sundry that they condoned it at the time by remaining passive and silent, and their stories should be received in that light. Serious offences should always be referred to the appropriate leadership body to ensure that the organisation takes the issue seriously and a culture that supports women’s rights is nurtured and defended.

 Women have a role to play in creating this culture. Women are not just passive victims of men’s sexist behaviour. Eighty per cent of abused women contacted for a survey by the Queensland Domestic Violence Task Force attempted to leave at some time. American studies back up this figure with one finding that seventy-five per cent of abused women left the violent family situation. Even a study of adolescent women, who could be expected to have the least self-confidence, found that a majority were able to stop attempted sexual assault and avoid rape. Where the assault was perpetrated by a date or boyfriend, two-thirds of the relationships changed and 87 per cent ended.6 So it shows that women can find the strength to resist. Those in a situation where they have more economic independence’ more ‘ options and more supportive social networks are likely to be more confident. So the attitude and traditions that dominate the life of a political organisation can play a role in giving women the self-confidence to stand up to men, to take control of their own lives in as far as is possible. If women know they will get strong support from other members, they are more likely to be able to rebuff sexist behaviour and even attempted sexual assault. A culture where this is usual rather than remarkable can then create some discipline over men’s behaviour and attitudes’

That is why these issues are not trivial, they are not peripheral to the main political work, propaganda and life of a revolutionary organisation. Every revolutionary needs to study and think about these issues as seriously as they do any other political question. Members’ rights and responsibilities are not an added extra to political debate, theory and all the work that goes into building a revolutionary organisation. Anti-sexist attitudes and actions must be an integral part of the culture of the organisation so that men can be challenged openly when they fall into sexist behaviour and so that women are confident to demand respect and their rights. This is not an abstract question, but one of vital importance to anyone who wants to be a socialist and participate in building a serious revolutionary organisation.

‘ Statistics from Vashti Kenway,Serism in Everyday Lfq talk given in Socialist Altemative branches

June 2008.

From Vashti Kenway, Sexism in Everyday Life.

This is an edited version of What Every Guy Must Know About Date Rape which removes the sexist language and some other assumptions of the original which can be found at

From Vashti Kenway, Sexism in Everyday Life.

 For some of the best information on the.dangers of unsafe sex, see: Melboume Sexual Health Centre at and Centres for Disease Control

and Prevention at

Both surveys are from Sandra Bloodworth, Rape, Sexual Violence and Capitalism, available from

Socialist Altenative bookstalls.

3 thoughts on “Anti-Sexism…..the Responsibilities of Socialist Men

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