A too-serious take on a silly word?

November 25, 2013

KEVIN OVENDEN recently wrote a piece for SocialistWorker.org titled "Our struggle is for the liberation of all." It's a 5,500-word essay that says some interesting and useful things on the topic of reconciling our socialist ideals with existing consciousness, and on being charitable in the way we interpret what our comrades in struggle say and do.

It's also a very serious take on a very silly word: "brocialism."

In case you aren't in on the latest lingo, a "brocialist" is a male socialist who's also a sexist, or who at least doesn't take feminism as seriously as he should if he purports to struggle for the liberation of all. It's one of those words that convey an image so amusing you'd have to be a real bore not to giggle--in my head, a typical frat "bro," double popped collar, entirely too drunk, slurring "dude, capitalism sucks, I bet all the women will want to have sex with me after the revolution."

As the author aptly notes, the use of the word does not necessarily "deal effectively with the issue" of sexism in the socialist camp or "strengthen the movement to transform society." Thankfully, I don't think there is a single person who was ever so deluded as to think they were doing anything that important by making fun of brocialists.

I would hope that there's a place in our movement for enjoyable things that don't necessarily further the struggle for human liberation. If not, I would have to confess to my comrades that I've wasted entirely too much time reading novels, watching films, and having fun conversations that did not further the struggle in the least.

It's true that "brocialism" is not an apolitical term, so perhaps it's unfair of me to compare it to other forms of entertainment. But it makes light of a serious situation, like most worthwhile humor does, and it does so in a way that doesn't reinforce existing structures of oppression, as rape jokes would if we tolerated them in the socialist movement.

On the contrary (running the risk of hyping the joke as much as Ovenden did), I would say that to the extent that it allows us to cope with sexism in our movement in a light-hearted way, it can help us maintain our commitment while we continue to work towards a united working class fighting together for socialism and women's liberation.

NOW IF it's all just a joke, you might wonder why I even bothered to pick this fight. I'm writing because while this joke certainly poses no threat to the future of our movement, old and respected comrades being such killjoys about what the kids find amusing these days definitely does.

Don't misunderstand me, I enjoy overthinking harmless little cultural phenomena as much as the next person, but generally I try to do it in a way that enhances the fun, not to tell people that their fun isn't furthering the struggle for the liberation of all. If that's going to be the response every time we invent a funny neologism in the same category--we already have "manarchist," "mansplaining," and others--you might as well make us all sit through 14-hour long Bob Avakian lectures every time we meet.

This is obviously not to say that there isn't a time to be serious, or to challenge issues such as sexism in our organizations in a systematic way. But I can't see why we can't have both. Some of the best songs from our long history of struggle are the ones that manage to be entertaining while also highlighting serious problems. Think "The Preacher and the Slave," or "Casey Jones--The Union Scab."

For a more recent example, Laurie Penny's "A discourse on brocialism," written in dialogue with Richard Seymour, strikes a nice balance between poking fun at Russell Brand's brocialism, entertaining the reader, and at the same time dealing with the issue in question in a serious way. You can write all the enlightening things in the world, but if you can't keep people hooked, you might as well write nothing.

You might say that calling people brocialists will turn them away from socialism instead of winning them over to fully intersectional socialist politics, and you might have a point, as I've definitely seen some misplaced anger over the term around the Internet. But this has absolutely nothing to do with what terminology we use.

Try calling people "sexist socialist assholes" and see if they react any better. It's all about context and tone. You can call Russell Brand a brocialist and I doubt he'd see past his ego long enough to care. You can call the dude who thinks feminism is a plot of the Democratic Party a brocialist--some cases are beyond cure. Just don't go around insulting the new guy who's genuinely trying to get better at this whole socialist thing, and be tactful when trying to get people close to you to change their sexist habits.

Lastly, we all need to learn to take it easy sometimes. If I ever act misogynistically without noticing, I hope my comrades will call me out on my temporary brocialism. So long as it's all among friends, I'd have to be really confident of my own perfection to take offense.

And hopefully Kevin Ovenden won't be mad that I called him a killjoy. Kevin, if you're reading this, let me buy you a beer next time you cross the pond.
Icho Schmaluf, Madison, Wis.

Further Reading

From the archives