There is something rotten in Hollywood. If anything has been proven by the events and revelations of the past few months, it is that. It is also clear that the rot goes far deeper than Harvey Weinstein. Though he is clearly the worst kind of predatory slime. Or any collection of creepy, entitled individuals with a measure of power. It is a culture in which abuse is not just accepted but often rewarded, or at the very least invites no consequence.
Nor is it just Hollywood. Since the #MeToo hashtag has emerged, powerful figures in film, television, music and literature have been exposed as guilty of rape, sexual assault, or harassment. Be it Leon Wieseltier in the literary world or former Marilyn Manson bassist Twiggy Ramirez, the acceptance of misogynist manipulation and violence is deeply entrenched in the landscape of the culture industry.
Red Wedge, as a collective of artists, writers, and culture workers, longs for a different landscape, a more equitable form of human relationship and radically more democratic culture. For that reason we are proud to endorse the 2018 International Women’s Strike. We urge artists, musicians, writers and all cultural workers to support it in any way they can.
On March 8th, International Women’s Day, where possible, our editors will be participating in actions around the United States and the world drawing attention to violence against women, trans and non-binary folk. These actions also seek to root this violence systemically, making clear that all women, particularly working class women, have been objectified in one way or another by an economic structure that is profoundly patriarchal from top to bottom.
The actions in the United States are organized in coordination with similar ones in Argentina, Spain, Mexico, Italy and other countries. What all share in common are a radical insistence that gender violence is not merely a matter of bad ideas. Demands that it end must be accompanied with demands around reproductive justice, healthcare as a basic right, the right to organize, anti-racism and anti-imperialism. This is, as the International Women’s Strike calls it, a feminism of the 99 percent.
It is indeed the women and trans people of the 99 percent who bear the brunt of sexual violence and harassment. The countless horror stories coming from the entertainment world reflect an untold number of incidents daily experienced by servers, hospitality workers, teachers and in just about any working class occupation where women exist. Which is to say every occupation and form of employment. Misogyny is, unavoidably, a labor issue and an issue that must inevitably be confronted by any genuinely emancipatory movement.
By that same token we cannot act as if the arts world is separate from the one in which people work and survive. The two interact and overlap. Most arts and culture workers in the industries aren’t famous. They do not have the clout of major box office draws. One of the virtues of the #MeToo phenomenon has been the fact that it so quickly has shifted from the daily operations of Hollywood to those of the workplace, the street, the campus, and the domestic sphere.
The relations of the culture industry – hierarchical and exploitative – mirror those of any other industry under capitalism. These relations can’t help but apply pressure to the products the industry produces – the pressure of commodification. The ideas and expressions those products contain, be they thematic or aesthetic, are seen as less risk-averse if they can be easily corralled back into the cycle of profit and commodity.
The same tendency toward formulaic plots and predictable rhythms makes things of us all, and reinforces conceptions of what a human being should or should not be. Sexism and misogyny are integrated into this structure. And they have found expression in works of art for centuries.
As John Berger put it in Ways of Seeing, “The female nude in Western painting was there to feed an appetite of male sexual desire. She existed to be looked at, posed in such a way that her body was displayed to the eye of the viewer…” He continues:
A woman is always accompanied, except when quite alone, and perhaps even then, by her own image of herself. While she is walking across a room or weeping at the death of her father, she cannot avoid envisioning herself walking or weeping. From earliest childhood she is taught and persuaded to survey herself continually. She has to survey everything she is and everything she does, because how she appears to others – and particularly how she appears to men – is of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as the success of her life.
This is a state of affairs that deserves to be annihilated. It cannot be done by media moguls or by merely cutting off the most egregious manifestations of sexism. Left to its own devices, this is a culture industry which will pat itself on the back for its progress while continuing to award known sexual assailants with honors. As happened just this past weekend at the Academy Awards. This is a state of affairs that must be uprooted wholesale.
The International Women’s Strike is intended, in part, to draw attention to the indispensable labor performed by women and non-male-identified people in keeping society running. This labor, this creativity, is criminally undervalued. We believe if withdrawn it will play a central role in overthrowing a way of life that puts profit before need and the commodity before human fulfillment. We hope that Red Wedge’s support for IWS can play some practical role in helping us envision this kind of future.