Brocialism or fauxcialism?

November 27, 2013

THERE WAS a popular joke in the 1970s that went like this: "How many feminists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?" The feminists respond, "That's not funny!"

Women who take their own liberation seriously have been mocked for being drab and humorless for as long as I can remember. But when I read the Readers' View by Icho Schmaluf ( "A too-serious take on a silly word?") defending the term "brocialism" because, hey old commies, chill out and get in on the laugh, I thought: Wow, that's new! First time my cohorts and I have ever been age- and humor-baited from the left. For me, a first ever, actually.

Icho was criticizing an article by Kevin Ovenden ("Our struggle is for the liberation of all") about how the term "brocialism" is being used, without much reflection about its implications, as a synonym for apparently considerable sexism among individual socialist men and within socialist organizations.

I think Kevin's lengthy comment actually grew out of some random musings on Facebook and the debate that followed when, a couple weeks ago, I posted that "I'm not a fan of the term."

Readers’ Views welcomes our readers' contributions to discussion and debate about articles we've published and questions facing the left. Opinions expressed in these contributions don't necessarily reflect those of SW.

Here's why: While no woman on the left needs to be reminded of how sexism spills into most group dynamics, I oppose the term "brocialism" primarily because it implies two falsities: 1) sexism can be a variant of socialism; and 2) men who hold sexist ideas on the left are misogynistic clods, either incapable or unwilling to break from those ideas and behaviors.

Precisely because socialists challenge all manifestations of oppression, we are positioned to break from bigoted ideas and practices. As for whether such ideas are immutable or the men who hold them incapable of shifting, this is hardly the case. If men active in socialist organizing can't be convinced by argument and experience to break with crappy ideas about and behaviors toward women, they're not "brocialists"--they're "fauxcialists," as someone suggested on my Facebook wall.

And by the way, have you considered what this term says about the women inside socialist organizations? Are we rebel women who stand in defiance of oppression and exploitation brocialists, too, because we stick around left groups and tolerate sexist men? That bears no resemblance to the dynamics of the ISO, an organization I've spent decades building. And if sexist ideas are immutable, even within the left, what's the point of building a left if we'll end up being another bastion of reaction, no matter what we do?

I'M NOT sure why Icho thinks Kevin and I are just missing the joke about the word "brocialism," or reading too much into it. If we are, so are a lot of people. The most prominent place I've seen it used is in a New Statesman column by British feminist and left-winger Laurie Penny, in a discussion with socialist author Richard Seymour.

They were talking about comedian Russell Brand's problematic reputation in the media as a "revolutionary" despite his "track record of objectification of women and of playing cheap misogyny for laughs," as Penny put it--plus the catastrophic crisis of the Socialist Workers Party-Britain because of the failure of its response to rape charges against a leading member. Not exactly hilarious subjects, no matter what word you use to describe them--and I can think of better ones than "brocialism."

Ben Silverman, who claimed the distinction of coining the word "brocialism" in another SW Readers' View ("A word for calling out sexism"), did call it a "silly meme-like joke," but went on to explain that it was useful in calling out "[s]exist group dynamics and policies [that] still exist within socialist organizations." Again, if that's true, it's not very funny.

Here's the deal: use the term, don't use it--I detest the language police. But if Icho wants to claim that Kevin Ovenden is merely a killjoy for objecting to the term brosocialism and explaining why, then Icho is missing the point, and in a not-very-funny way.
Sherry Wolf, Brooklyn, N.Y.

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