The apparent police murder of Sarah Everard has lifted the lid on the foul, sexist system that we live in.
Sarah went missing while walking to her home in Brixton, south London, last week. Wayne Couzens, a Metropolitan Police officer from an elite unit, has been arrested for her alleged kidnap and murder.
Met commissioner Cressida Dick said it is “incredibly rare for a woman to be abducted from our streets”. But violence against women, harassment and abuse is not rare at all.
Sarah’s disappearance has led to an outpouring of stories of harassment and abuse, as women post their experiences online. Many said they change their behaviour, such as avoiding certain places, because of fear of attack.
It’s no wonder many women are scared.
A survey this week found that nearly all young women in Britain have suffered sexual harassment. A massive 97 percent of women aged between 18 and 24 told the YouGov poll they had been harassed. And 80 percent of women of all ages had suffered sexual harassment in public spaces.
Police recorded 56,152 rapes in the year to September 2020. Reports of rape to police have nearly doubled since 2015, and many more will have gone unrecorded.
Many women don’t report rape because it is trivialised. Women are either not believed or treated as having brought attacks on themselves. Police referrals of rape cases to the Crown Prosecution Service fell by 40 percent in the last three years.
Prosecutions and convictions have more than halved.
Nearly one in three women in England and Wales will suffer domestic violence in their lifetime. Two women are killed every single week at the hands of their partner or an ex-partner.
The figures are extremely depressing – and more distressing ones are available if we look at how women are treated across the world.
Overwhelmingly it is men who attack women. But the majority of men don’t rape or murder women. And many are appalled at the level of sexism that exists in society.
So violence against women isn’t a problem caused by men as a group. But it isn’t just caused by nasty individuals either. The problem is much bigger than individuals and it’s rooted in the system we live in.
Under capitalism, women’s bodies are sexualised, used to sell products and treated as public property. Pornography dehumanises women, encouraging men to see women as objects that exist solely for their gratification.
Ideas about women and their bodies reflect an oppression that is ingrained at every level of society.
So, for all the gains made, women workers earned 15.5 percent less than male workers on average in Britain last year. Women still do more childcare and housework than men.
Attitudes that might seem old-fashioned about women’s role prevail. So marriage, or at least a long-lasting romantic relationship, is still seen as a top priority that women should aspire to. Women who don’t have children are still too often judged as being strange.
These ideas didn’t develop spontaneously by themselves. They are actively encouraged.
So government ministers repeatedly talk up the importance of “the family” and blame single parents for things like knife crime. They’ve drawn up entire tax and benefit systems that reward marriage.
For instance, people who are married or in a civil partnership can cut their taxes with the marriage tax allowance. People who are living together can’t.
Married people get double the capital gains tax allowance of single people, among several other benefits.
Technically of course, everyone is “free” to live how they like. But low wages and benefits make it much less feasible for someone to afford to live alone.
It can seem hard to fathom why marriage and the family is so central to the system. But the family gives big benefits to our rulers.
It means many women take on caring roles for family members free of charge, saving the state money. When care services are cut, the fallout can be limited if women fill the gaps by looking after relatives.
Women, by still taking on more responsibility for childcare, raise the next generation of labour.
Divisions such as sexism have a wider benefit for our rulers because they help to set working class people against each other. They encourage us to see each other as enemies instead of allies who have the same enemy – the ruling class.
So working class men are encouraged to feel that they benefit from women’s oppression. It can seem to make sense—they earn more than women on average, so surely it’s true?
But wages for workers in general are appallingly low, male and female. It isn’t a great “benefit” for a man to be poor but just not quite as poor as a woman.
Men were also encouraged to blame women for “taking their jobs” as more women began to work. And today, they are told that “political correctness gone mad” could see women promoted ahead of them.
Again, this helpfully hides the fact that the system creates unemployment and crap jobs. And it divides the working class men and women who have a common interest in fighting back.
Our rulers promote divisions such as sexism because it’s much safer for them if we blame each other for our problems instead of the system.
They don’t care that these ideas can lead to violence. After all, violence is at the heart of their society. So for all the gains made, women’s oppression remains because it benefits our rulers.
This is also why disgusting sexist ideas are rife at the top, and among those whose job it is to protect those at the top.
Much has been said about how “shocking” it is that a police officer is implicated in Sarah Everard’s disappearance.
Yet time after time, cops are implicated in the abuse of women. Sometimes they are doing the abusing, such as forming inappropriate relationships with vulnerable victims.
Other times they are covering up the abusing, such as ignoring evidence of rape or dissuading victims from pursuing complaints.
Cressida Dick has been dismayed that a cop is implicated in Sarah’s disappearance. “Our job is to protect people,” she said.
It’s not true. The police exist to protect the system and those at the top who benefit from it. They are useless at investigating crimes against working class women because they don’t value the victims.
Socialists should call out every instance of sexism, abuse and oppression. We should stand with women who suffer abuse and fight for justice with them.
But we shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking men as a group are the problem.
Feminist Julie Bindel said in the wake of Sarah’s disappearance, “Only men can stop male violence.”
She is wrong. Working class men haven’t a hope in stopping violence against women while the system that creates it in the first place remains.
And the only way to get rid of that system is for working class men and women to fight together to smash it. Blaming men for violence weakens that fight. And treating men as naturally violent cuts off any hope that we could win a world free from oppression.
Many people have called events open to men and women over the coming days to remember victims of violence and demand a better world. It’s right to protest over how women are treated – and socialists should join the protests.
To end violence against women for good, we need to get rid of oppression. To do that we have to smash the system that created it and fight for a world where ordinary women, and men, run things in their own interests.