A word for calling out sexism

November 12, 2013

IN A recent and excellent exchange between Laurie Penny and Richard Seymour on the case of Russell Brand, I was pleased to see them use the word "brocialist" in their discussion. Pleased in part because, at least to the best of my knowledge, I'm the first person to ever use the word.

Brocialist came about some two years ago in one of my many arguments on Reddit forums, a noted Internet hive of sexism and misogyny. The word "manarchist" was becoming popular as a means to describe and call out the prevalence of sexists within the anarchist community, and I felt that there was a need for an equivalent epithet for the socialist movement. So "brocialist" and "brocialism" was what I came up with.

Much like manarchist, brocialist is really not high theory. It's not some great contribution to Marxist thought or discourse, it's just a silly little meme-like joke and insult designed to be hurled at sexists who falsely claim they are acting in the interest of socialism. But the word has aroused some disagreements and discussion that should be drawn out.

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The first thing that needs to be said is what the word doesn't imply. It shouldn't be seen to mean that socialist men are all sexists, or that sexism is more common in the socialist movement then the rest of society. I'm of the opinion that the truth is quite the opposite--hat those movements, organizations and individual men who hold up the banner of socialism, the self-emancipation of the working class from the bonds of exploitation and oppression, are far more likely to see sexism and confronting sexist oppression wherever they find it as a higher priority then many others in society. But being "more likely to be a fighter against sexism" doesn't equal a universal guarantee.

Sexist group dynamics and policies still exist within socialist organizations, as the utter implosion of the British Socialist Workers Party has shown. What is more, there are even supposed "socialists" who actually give theoretical justification for brocialism--that is, the dismissing of women's oppression issues as "identity politics," "middle class politics" and "divisive."

These are trends that need to be combated. If people are finding some utility in a silly insult word like "brocialist," it is only because they see a need for it. Calling out sexism in our movement, or privilege checking in general, should and needs to be accepted as a necessary part of the due diligence for all socialists.

We cannot pretend, as individual socialists or socialist organizations as a whole, that we are immune to the alien influences of the oppressive context that we emerged from. We have a responsibility to be aware of these privileges and oppressions, confront them when we see them, and not pretend that we ourselves are free of all "brocialist" influences. Your "red party card" isn't a get-out-of-privilege-free card.

But I'd be the first the to say that calling out the sexist behavior of a comrade as "brocialist" or "manarchist" isn't the best way of dealing with these issues. Those are paper-thin epithets and insults, coming from a place of justified frustration, that don't nearly do the serious work that these issues demand. No one is going to be convinced to check their sexism, or even acknowledge the fact that they or their behavior is sexist, by calling them brocialist. To address oppressive group dynamics takes patient and serious work of political discussion and reflection.

I don't purport to have any of the answers. This is a discussion still in its infancy. The use "brocialism" as a descriptive word is clearly not the answer alone--it has no postmodernist superpowers. It is only a reflection of a political need and a political problem. But much like "manarchist," as long as those political problems remain, the word still has a certain amount of utility.
Ben Silverman, from the Internet

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