When some people on the left use "feminist" as an insult, I wonder where they've been in the last 30 years. Surely socialism and feminism are indivisible?
A socialist society that doesn't liberate women is not socialist. Equally, women's liberation isn't going to happen without equality and redistribution of wealth.
And we can't postpone the fight for women's equality until after the revolution - or it won't be any sort of revolution for women.
So far, so uncontroversial on the left. But drill down a bit into what that means in our everyday practice and it seems that some men on the left still haven't got it.
In the last few years, I've despaired. As the Scottish Socialist Party fell apart, Tommy Sheridan singled out the women - not the men - who refused to commit perjury for him as "covens of witches" and "a gender-based discussion group."
George Galloway, supporting Sheridan, talked about "a Wee-Free brand of feminism." Some supporters of Julian Assange called the rape charges against him the result of a "honey-trap" and seemed to take for granted the pernicious idea that women make up allegations of rape.
Notoriously, Galloway referred to sexual intercourse without consent as "bad sexual etiquette" but not rape. And now, as the current crisis in the Socialist Workers Party unfolds, it seems that dissidents have been accused of "creeping feminism." This seems to have been meant as an insult. I hope the recipients took it as a compliment.
I don't want to go into the arguments that led to these comments. My concern is how feminism came to be used as an insult, and how some people - mainly men - still seem to think it appropriate to attack women for their gender, rather than for their actions and beliefs.
A lack of understanding about violence against women isn't confined to the left, of course, as scandals in the BBC, the Liberal Democrats and elsewhere make clear.
But we expect practices on the left to be better than the Establishment. Obviously none of us on the left is perfect and there will always be individuals who don't treat women appropriately. The question for the left is to what extent our institutions can challenge sexist and misogynist behaviour.
I want to make the case for socialist feminism, not radical or mainstream feminism. Radical feminism, rooting women's oppression solely at the hands of men and ignoring class, doesn't really seem to exist today. Although many of the slurs used against feminists - that we believe that all men are rapists, etc - are really attacks on the slogans of a very few radical feminists from the 1970s.
Mainstream feminists, arguing that women should be treated equally under capitalism, also ignore the oppression of class. Most women are as oppressed by poverty and class as much as they are by gender.
Recognition that women are oppressed as women is vital to achieving both women's and men's liberation, in other words to achieving a socialist society. Women can be subject to domestic and sexual violence, and to belittlement, no matter what class they come from.
In my over 30 years of political activity, I've seen socialist feminists change the left. Labour Party women's sections went from making tea and organising jumble sales to pushing through policies on childcare, reproductive rights, positive discrimination in the form of women-only shortlists and many socialist policies not directly associated with women's issues.
Hard though it is to believe now, Labour Party women's sections were usually on the left of the Labour Party. The fact that women-only shortlists ended up promoting Blairite women reflects the Blairite political dominance over the Labour Party, not the policy itself.
One of the first demonstrations I went on was the Campaign against the Corrie Bill in 1979. A Tory MP wanted to restrict abortion rights. The 80,000-strong demonstration was called by the TUC and remains the largest demonstration in Britain on the question of abortion rights. Socialism and feminism working hand in hand.
At first, the women's peace camp at Greenham Common seemed problematic. With Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister, the suggestion that women might be innately more peaceful than men was obviously nonsense.
But Greenham showed that women creating a women-only space was liberating and was also powerfully symbolic. Greenham got far more press attention than the many other peace camps around the country.
Women Against Pit Closures (WAPC) remains the most powerful example of women organising as women, but side by side with men. Traditionally, when workers in male-dominated industries went on strike, the press would find women to say they wanted their husbands back at work. WAPC was the opposite.
Women from mining families organised their own meetings in support of striking miners, organised food distribution and cooking communally, and often expected the men to do it.
Their presence made it clear that Thatcher's programme of pit closures was an assault on the whole community, while the women-only space provided by WAPC supported many women to speak at meetings. They gave inspiration to later groups, such as Women on the Waterfront who supported the Liverpool Dockers' strike.
Women-only spaces can fulfil several roles. There may be a need for a safe space for women. It's certainly an indictment of the organisation as a whole if women don't feel safe and the organisation has to seriously examine its own practices.
In order to do so, then the safe space, and taking seriously what women are saying, is absolutely vital.
But even if no-one is calling for a safe space there is a particular benefit in women discussing women's issues, if they want to, separately from men, sharing our experiences and ideas and then bringing those discussions into the main organisation.
Given that no left organisation is perfect, women-only spaces, if women want them, can help to strengthen women to play their full part.
Within existing labour movement organisations, women can and have organised autonomously with real advantages for both women and the organisations as a whole. Precisely because women are oppressed in particular ways and therefore have a particular perspective.
We've made progress over 40 years of feminism. It's no longer assumed that women will make the tea, take the minutes, and leave the hard political work to the men.
On the whole, women can stand for election on the same terms as men. But these recent misogynist comments betray a serious lack of understanding of violence against women and of women's participation generally. Feminist concepts and practices should be central to the left, not belittled.
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