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The “rugby rape” case

More than indignation is needed to bring change

1 April 2018

The outcome of the recent "rugby rape" trial in Belfast, which saw two Irish rugby players and two of their friends acquitted on charges which included rape and sexual assault of a young woman, was followed by widespread anger across the country, illustrated by large demonstrations in Belfast and Dublin.

However alongside the anger, the overall political weakness of the Irish feminist movement was very apparent.

As with any other energetic phenomenon, the anger needs a vehicle if it is to turn emotion into social and political change. In other words they need a political programme.

In the absence of political analysis, especially in the absence of the class analysis that Marxism can provide, people tend to focus on the immediate surface details of a problem, so much discussion focused on the guilt or innocence of the accused, on the horrific ordeal that a rape trial represents to the accuser, and on the self-evident misogyny that was evident behind the process.

Yet under the surface the dominant narrative is of class privilege. On receipt of the complaint the police approached, not the accused directly, but through the rugby authorities. Officials from Irish rugby attended the trial with the defendants. The defence imported a specialist legal firm from Britain. The reference to "middle class girls," clearly seen as being of a higher moral standard than the working class.

Yet the clearest evidence of class privilege and misogyny came from the defendants themselves. By their own admission they used a young woman as a object without any concern for her. They boasted of their acts in a series of misogynistic messages. They acted to cover their tracks. The main defendant, standing behind a defence of consent, was unaware of any wrongdoing or any sense of shame. Only one offered a limited apology to the victim.

The absence of a radical socialist feminist perspective is evident in the women’s movement more generally. Guided by the Communist Party’s”Popular Front” strategy demonstrations in the North are often fronted by right wing figures who offer limited support for women’s rights. In the South, with the repeal the 8th referendum looming, there has never been a better time to proclaim the right to choose, yet most militants find themselves enclosed in a campaign restricted to the single issue of repeal.

The women's movement in Ireland is weak because the workers movement is weak. Years of austerity, defeat after defeat, betrayal by traditional leaderships and political retreat by left groups have taken their toll. In the absence of a radical working class movement feminism tends to focus on the individual and on personal needs. The struggle of women is separated from other struggles and weakened by this separation. Mention of unity with other workers is dismissed by a section of the movement as class reductionism.

Yet the exploitation of workers is the central element of capitalist society. When the workers organise independently they provide a scaffold around which all other oppressed groups can come together and unite.

This does not mean for a moment that feminists should wait for a non-existent revolutionary movement to arise. The main problem at the moment, as with many suppressed struggles in Irish society, is that the movement is not yet big enough - a truly mass movement would sweep away many of the hesitations and confusions.

Socialists and Feminists can bring forward that day by working together around a programme for thee ending of capitalism and the revolutionary transformation of society.

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