BY KAREN RAY
NEW YORK - Over the last several weeks there have been reports of elementary school children being disciplined for "sexual harassment." In September Jonathan Prevette, a six-year- old boy in Lexington, North Carolina, was suspended after kissing a classmate on the cheek. Then in Queens, New York, seven-year-old DéAndre Dearinge was suspended after he kissed a seven-year-old girl and pulled a button off her skirt. In early October, New York school officials announced two more investigations of elementary school children from Brooklyn and the Bronx for supposed sexual harassment.
Jane Martin, a spokeswoman for the Lexington school district, said the school policy was clear. "A six-year-old kissing another six-year-old is inappropriate behavior. Unwelcome is unwelcome at any age."
At first, one might laugh at how ludicrous it is to be suspending little children for pecking each other on the cheek. But in fact, it is not something to smirk at. Actions like these undermine what women and men have won in recognizing sexual harassment and other forms of violence against women as a social problem.
Sexual harassment has nothing to do with children, or grown men and women, showing affection to one another. It is part of the sexist abuse and violence that women confront as a manifestation of our oppression under capitalism. It can take forms ranging from lewd remarks to unsolicited physical contact. It is not about sex, but the unequal relationship between the sexes that exists in a class-divided society.
Management often promotes sexist abuse and violence against women workers for the purpose of demoralizing them, deepening divisions of the workforce along sex lines. It is stock and trade of the employing class.
In April, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a lawsuit against Mitsubishi Motor Manufacturing of America for conditions in its Normal, Illinois, plant, alleging that between 300 and 500 women workers faced sexual harassment. Women workers there reported being touched and fondled at work, as well as finding drawings of themselves depicting sexual activities attached to cars on the assembly line. The response by the company, the suit charges, was not to stop these activities but to encourage them.
Mitsubishi organized a protest at the EEOC office in Chicago in support of the company. Some 2,500 employees were paid a full day's wages to participate in the event. Company officials implied that the $10 million sexual harassment lawsuit could cost workers their jobs.
In the Mitsubishi case, the company promoted an atmosphere that allowed this abuse to take place. Then by scapegoating the women who filed the charges, the company pitted workers against each other and created an atmosphere even more threatening to women who work there. It sends the message to both women and men "be happy you have a job, don't stand up and fight for an atmosphere of respect and dignity. These uppity women may take your jobs away."
Sexual harassment saps the self-confidence of women, debases men, and degrades the working-class and all human relationships. What Mitsubishi did, or any other employer does, is not about driving women out of the workforce. It is about dividing the workforce, placing women as a second class of workers. The effect is to drive down the wages and working conditions of all.
As women have become more incorporated into the workforce, we have fought for and won real social gains -from abortion rights to affirmative action. As a result of the women's liberation struggles since the end of the 1960s, broad advances have taken place in women's attitudes towards ourselves and our place in society, as well as in the views of men on these matters. It is with this advance that a broader understanding of and intolerance towards sexual harassment and other forms of abuse and violence against women has been won.
Today the capitalist class and their representatives in the White House and Congress are taking aim at some of the hard fought gains of the working class, including affirmative action, social entitlements, and abortion rights. The working class has a big stake in fighting to defend and extend these victories as part of unifying and strengthening our fighting capacities. By women and men fighting shoulder to shoulder against the attacks of the employers, the working class becomes stronger as a whole.
The flap over the kissing kids takes the victory won by women
in recognizing sexual harassment and turns it on its head. It
misdefines the act, trivializes it as equal to child's play, and
distorts what has been accomplished. Children being suspended
for "sexual harassment" for showing affection to one another or
horsing around miseducates them and minimizes the serious
harassment women face like that at Mitsubishi.
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