There have always been misogynist views amongst men on the left. Those views have once again risen to the surface, no longer banished to the shadows.
Misogyny on the left is enjoying a resurgence. For a while it seemed to have been forced underground. Much like racism, open expression of sexist views was typified as a pastime of the right, not the left. It was not much of a surprise to anyone when UKIP men like Godfrey Bloom referred to international aid going to ‘bongo-bongo land’ and called women ‘sluts’ for failing to clean behind their fridges. However, in recent years we have clearly seen it become more acceptable on the left to subject people to both racist and misogynistic abuse, often whilst hiding behind a claim to be campaigning for human rights.
For many, the misogyny of the right is more visible, pressing and frightening. There are, after all, attempts in the US to roll-back women’s reproductive rights. The misogyny of the left is, in my opinion, just as dangerous as the misogyny of the right. It is subtler, often couched in the language of ‘progressivism’ and ultimately supported by liberal feminism.
For many men on the left, liberal feminism has provided cover for their misogyny. Liberal feminists are pro-prostitution, so it is perfectly acceptable for left-wing men to claim that ‘sex work is work’, conveniently making the inside of a woman’s body a ‘workplace’. In a vile display of misogyny just before the UK General Election in December 2019, Owen Jones tweeted this photo, suggesting that the only role for women in the struggle for socialism was to provide sexual services for men.
Liberal feminism also allows left-wing men to call women ‘TERF’. This is a term described by Mr Justice Knowles, a High Court Judge as ‘…a derogatory term used by those who seek to de-platform those who hold different views”. Most of those called ‘TERF’ are neither trans-exclusionary nor radical feminists. Radical feminists include transmen within their feminism, and there are plenty of women (and men) who do not believe that it is possible to change sex but who are not radical feminists. TERF is just a ‘progressive’ way of name-calling women, whilst claiming to be standing up for the rights of trans people.
Another openly misogynistic pastime of left-wing men on social media seems to be trying to shut down Mumsnet. Women talking to other women does seem to terrify certain sections of the woke-left, and not content with targeting advertisers like Flora or Audible, men like ‘comedy writer’ James Felton felt it necessary to target the GMB Union who were partnering with Mumsnet to provide employment advice to women. Women, who, let us not forget, have been hardest hit by the economic impact of COVID-19. Dr Adrian Harrop is clear that he wants to ‘financially ruin’ the forum, despite women replying to his tweets to tell him how important the site has been for them.
This misogyny from the left is, unfortunately, nothing new. Women have always been encouraged to put the needs of others before them, which has made it easy for left-wing organisations to ignore the views of women. Trades Unions often failed to support women workers, preferring women to remain in the home whilst men worked. The Trades Union Congress supported the closure of nurseries that had allowed women to work during the Second World War, and the reaction of the unions to the fight for equal pay for female workers at Ford’s Dagenham plant was at best ambivalent and at worst hostile.
If we go back even further, the left rarely gave women much thought. Marx and Engels produced contradictory statements about women. Marx recognised that ‘Great social changes are impossible without the female ferment. Social progress can be measured exactly by the social status of the beautiful sex (the ugly ones included).’1 However, he was also capable of bemoaning the birth of a daughter rather than a son. Engels clearly saw that ‘The emancipation of women and their equality with men are impossible and must remain so as long as women are excluded from socially productive work and restricted to housework, which is private. The emancipation of women becomes possible only when women are enabled to take part in production on a large, social scale, and when domestic duties require their attention only to a minor degree.’2 Yet he was also to claim that women working and men taking on domestic duties was an ‘insane state of things’.3
The first person to describe themselves as an anarchist, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, was clear in his philosophy towards women. He justified patriarchy due to men’s greater physical strength and recommended that this greater strength was used to keep women in their place, arguing that “a woman does not at all hate being used with violence, indeed even being violated”.4 Although dead by the time of the Paris Commune, which featured women in a number of roles, the misogyny of the Proudhonist faction led Louise Michel, in response, to exhort her fellow revolutionaries to “play a part in the struggle for women’s rights, after men and women have won the rights of all humanity?”5
Keir Hardie supported women’s suffrage, but others within the fledgling Labour movement maintained misogynist views, with Henry Hyndman claiming that ‘women who wanted to vote should be exiled to a desert island’.6 Philip Snowden’s objections were that enfranchised women would vote Conservative.
Soviet Russia might have made International Women’s Day a public holiday, but women were still sentenced to the gulag for the ‘crimes’ of their husbands. Women in the gulags also had to contend with sexual violence on top of the other privations suffered by inmates. This did not stop Goldsmiths University LGBTQ+ society suggesting that women should be ‘re-educated’ in gulags for daring to stand up for their rights.
Back in 2020, the misogynistic ire of left-wing men is now focused on J.K. Rowling. A former single mother who uses her vast wealth to support those in need, for example recently donating £1m, half to Crisis and half to Refuge.
Rowling’s crime was to tweet a message supportive of Maya Forstater, who lost her job for refusing to believe that men can become women.
What really has the misogynists howling, however, is her refusal to be ‘cancelled’. When she could not be shamed into retracting, numerous left-wing commentators decided to question her suitability to be around children. When she refused to be cowed by this, they complained that she used her wealth to bully them. Classic DARVO tactics.
Misogyny has always been as prevalent on the left as it has the right. Now it is clear that left-wing misogynists have found a way to openly vilify and denounce women, whilst hiding behind a claim to support trans rights. Similarly, many on the left found a way to be openly anti-Semitic whilst claiming to be pro-Palestinian. Acknowledging the material reality of sex, agitating for the maintenance of sex-based rights and highlighting the sexism of reducing women to something you can identify as, to a feeling in a man’s head, are enough to see you denounced and threatened with violence. Beware the left-wing misogynist, for he is hiding behind liberal feminism and a façade of concern for human rights. The right-wing misogynist might be trying to legislate what you can and cannot do with your body. The left-wing misogynist is busy trying to legislate away the definition of woman as ‘adult human female’.