Monday, November 21, 2011

The Occupy Movement And Women

This is an interesting take on why there are more men than women in the various Occupy protests:
Women may be the 51%, but the Occupy camps and General Assemblies look as gender-imbalanced as Congress


Thus far I've visited eight Occupations in the U.S. and Canada, four on the West coast and four on the East: Toronto, New York City, Baltimore, DC, Los Angeles, San Francisco, the University of California at Berkeley and Oakland.
The only GA that had anywhere near gender parity was the largest one there's been yet -- the GA on the day of the general strike at U.C. Berkeley. The largest GAs will only turn out 500 people max; Zuccotti Park is a tiny granite slab in lower Manhattan and can't fit many more than that. But the Mario Savio Steps at Sproul Hall at Berkeley held more than 4,000 students and activists -- and half of them appeared to be female. (Go Bears!)


But when it comes to women, Occupy is really a microcosm of the greater culture at large. This should give comfort to those who find Occupy's dynamics puzzling -- and greatly embarrass those in the movement who see themselves as revolutionaries. America's gender conflict fault-lines are making a familiar reappearance inside Occupy, with results both predictable and novel.
I'm not the only one to notice the Occupy gender gap. This issue is talked about at GAs, I'm told, a lot. Nearly every night at Occupy LA, the question comes up: "What can we do to get more women out here?"

That initial comparison to the US Congress may be misleading in this particular case. The reasons why so few women end up in the Congress have much to do with American still-sexist beliefs about who should wield power and with the two-party-winner-takes-all system. But a female member of the House or the Senate does not face a greater risk of rape or sexual harassment by just being there. A female member of the Occupy movement very well may.

I think of it this way: Every person thinking about joining an Occupy-protest somewhere must weigh the pros and cons of that decision, and those cons are a longer list for a woman, especially if she is going alone.

This is because the protests are open, take place in public areas with large crowds milling about and the presence of the police is not necessarily a sign of greater security. Indeed the article I link to suggests (though does not prove) that women may have a higher probability of getting arrested than men. Even if that is not the case, women must think of not only the same risks men take but also the additional risks of sexual assault or sexual harassment.

Given all this, one would expect fewer women than men in those protests even if the same percentage of both genders supports the movement.
Added later: It's hard to get exact numbers on the gender breakdown and it might be the case that the author of the linked piece got the numbers wrong. That initial reference to the US Congress would give us a much lower percentage of female participants in the protests than is the case. Whether the General Assemblies look like the US Congress I cannot say.