Creating an anti-sexist culture

December 16, 2013

I WANTED to reply in brief to the letter by Trish Kahle and Destiney Linker, "Sexism, liberation and the left," written as a response to my letter, "This discussion doesn't add much."

For one thing, I would agree with the assertion that there is not a "sharp distinction" between personal sexism and political sexism. As I wrote in my original piece, personal sexism tends "to manifest politically." One could expand this to state that personal sexism tends to manifest itself both in terms of political practice and--by connection--theory.

Indeed, Trish and Destiney imply this in their piece. As they note, sexist behavior--when not corrected--tends to instill a culture that systematically discourages and belittles contributions by female comrades. Undoubtedly, this is likely to have a corrosive impact on a group's approach to politics in general and the question of women's liberation in specific.

With this being said, it is clear that the left has much to do in terms of undercutting sexism internally. In the International Socialist Organization (ISO), I agree that this should be viewed as a vital part of building the organization and ensuring the full development of not just female and LGBT comrades--but all comrades.

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So how can this be done? Destiney and Trish rightfully point to the need for "guidelines for comradely discussion and behavior that help to ensure the full participation of women in revolutionary organization." I wholeheartedly agree. I would also add a minor caveat: it is essential that these principles be enforced in a way that does not silence dissent.

By enforcing anti-sexism in our organization, we help build a culture that enables the growth of female leaders and, in addition, takes women's issues seriously. As I put it in my first letter, we must strive to build an "organizational culture that empowers female comrades to break away from the sexist molds that are systematically created by capitalism."

This is something that the ISO has done--and must continue to do in an even more pronounced and forceful way. In this way, we can help to lay the foundation for a revived women's movement. All this points to the most definitive way to abolish sexism: engaging in struggles for women's liberation and helping to build up our side's forces in general.

This is my opinion on this subject. I see it as being fundamentally congruent with the vision put forth by Trish and Destiney--even if our tone and emphasis in this particular debate differs. No matter what, I agree that the struggle for women's liberation must remain at the heart of the struggle for socialism. To this end, I look forward to standing with Trish and Destiney, as their comrade, in helping to build the fight for a world that's free of sexism.

Let me conclude by making this point: in my original article, I discussed the presence of "intellectual stasis and democratic breakdown" in the ISO. The existence of these phenomenon are, of course, in no way the product of the "brocialism" debate. Nonetheless, these issues are very real problems within the organization, and we must address them if we are to progress forward. I stand by my earlier assertion about the need to reevaluate our current political perspectives and open up theoretical debate in general within the organization.
Ben Smith, Atlanta

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