A Poem by June Jordan

In West Virginia, a 20-year old African American woman is raped, tortured and brutalized for more than a week by six whites. In Saudi Arabia, a US-client state, a victim of gang-rape is herself sentenced to six months in prison and 200 lashes. Around the world, women of all classes face a crushing oppression that weighs like a mountain on their backs and that seeps into the most personal aspects of their daily lives. But, mountains can be moved and the everyday can be revolutionized.

Without a doubt, one of the most inspiring aspects of Maoist-led revolutionary movements in the semicolonial and semifeudal countries is the unprecedented way that they have mobilized women’s participation and taken steps towards developing women’s leadership. This is not incidental, because revolutionary communism theorizes that the abolition of the oppression of women is tied to the abolition of private property and therefore, in the final analysis, the interests of women and the interests of the international proletariat are one and the same. As Lenin said in a 1918 speech, “The experience of all liberation movements has shown that the success of a revolution depends on how much the women take part in it.” Throughout the process of making revolution, all of the social relations and ideas that oppress women must be uprooted and, from the very beginning, tendencies within progressive movements towards gender-based divisions of labor and sexist thinking must be struggled against through criticism and self-criticism.

Here, in the belly of the beast, Maoists must carry out concrete investigations into the concrete conditions of women’s oppression and commit to making it a central pillar of communist theory and practice, in the same way that Maoists in other countries have done. On that note, here is a powerful poem by June Jordan that begins by describing one of the most pervasive and universal expressions of women’s oppression — the fear of walking alone at night — and develops into an all-around exposure of the oppressive family unit and capitalist imperialism and ends with a righteous call to resist.

—–

Poem about My Rights (1980)
by June Jordan

Even tonight and I need to take a walk and clear
my head about this poem about why I can’t
go out without changing my clothes my shoes
my body posture my gender identity my age
my status as a woman alone in the evening/
alone on the streets/alone not being the point/
the point being that I can’t do what I want
to do with my own body because I am the wrong
sex the wrong age the wrong skin and
suppose it was not here in the city but down on the beach/
or far into the woods and I wanted to go
there by myself thinking about God/or thinking
about children or thinking about the world/all of it
disclosed by the stars and the silence:
I could not go and I could not think and I could not
stay there
alone
as I need to be
alone because I can’t do what I want to do with my own
body and
who in the hell set things up
like this
and in France they say if the guy penetrates
but does not ejaculate then he did not rape me
and if after stabbing him if after screams if
after begging the bastard and if even after smashing
a hammer to his head if even after that if he
and his buddies fuck me after that
then I consented and there was
no rape because finally you understand finally
they fucked me over because I was wrong I was
wrong again to be me being me where I was/wrong
to be who I am
which is exactly like South Africa
penetrating into Namibia penetrating into
Angola and does that mean I mean how do you know if
Pretoria ejaculates what will the evidence look like the
proof of the monster jackboot ejaculation on Blackland
and if
after Namibia and if after Angola and if after Zimbabwe
and if after all of my kinsmen and women resist even to
self-immolation of the villages and if after that
we lose nevertheless what will the big boys say will they
claim my consent:
Do You Follow Me: We are the wrong people of
the wrong skin on the wrong continent and what
in the hell is everybody being reasonable about
and according to the Times this week
back in 1966 the C.I.A. decided that they had this problem
and the problem was a man named Nkrumah so they
killed him and before that it was Patrice Lumumba
and before that it was my father on the campus
of my Ivy League school and my father afraid
to walk into the cafeteria because he said he
was wrong the wrong age the wrong skin the wrong
gender identity and he was paying my tuition and
before that
it was my father saying I was wrong saying that
I should have been a boy because he wanted one/a
boy and that I should have been lighter skinned and
that I should have had straighter hair and that
I should not be so boy crazy but instead I should
just be one/a boy and before that
it was my mother pleading plastic surgery for
my nose and braces for my teeth and telling me
to let the books loose to let them loose in other
words
I am very familiar with the problems of the C.I.A.
and the problems of South Africa and the problems
of Exxon Corporation and the problems of white
America in general and the problems of the teachers
and the preachers and the F.B.I. and the social
workers and my particular Mom and Dad/I am very
familiar with the problems because the problems
turn out to be
me
I am the history of rape
I am the history of the rejection of who I am
I am the history of the terrorized incarceration of
myself
I am the history of battery assault and limitless
armies against whatever I want to do with my mind
and my body and my soul and
whether it’s about walking out at night
or whether it’s about the love that I feel or
whether it’s about the sanctity of my vagina or
the sanctity of my national boundaries
or the sanctity of my leaders or the sanctity
of each and every desire
that I know from my personal and idiosyncratic
and indisputably single and singular heart
I have been raped
be-
cause I have been wrong the wrong sex the wrong age
the wrong skin the wrong nose the wrong hair the
wrong need the wrong dream the wrong geographic
the wrong sartorial I
I have been the meaning of rape
I have been the problem everyone seeks to
eliminate by forced
penetration with or without the evidence of slime and/
but let this be unmistakable this poem
is not consent I do not consent
to my mother to my father to the teachers to
the F.B.I. to South Africa to Bedford-Stuy
to Park Avenue to American Airlines to the hardon
idlers on the corners to the sneaky creeps in
cars
I am not wrong: Wrong is not my name
My name is my own my own my own
and I can’t tell you who the hell set things up like this
but I can tell you that from now on my resistance
my simple and daily and nightly self-determination
may very well cost you your life

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6 responses to “A Poem by June Jordan

  1. So why would women feel safer walking around at night simply because they work for a state owned bureaucracy instead of a privately owned bureaucracy? How would socialism help?

    Second, women are more likely to be raped by a drunk frat boy than by a dirty street hoodlum. Yet I don’t think any women are scared to go guzzle beer at a campus party. These “fears” are simply racism and disdain for the working class.

  2. The short answer is that this question is based on the mistaken premise that state-owned bureaucracy is equivalent to socialism. While social democrats and Trotskyists have an obsession with state ownership, Maoists do not. Socialism is actually the transition stage between capitalism and communism, where all of the class distinctions, exploitative production relations, oppressive social relations, and oppressive ideas are struggled against through the continuous revolutionizing of society and eventually abolished in total. The key is a red political line in command, not state-owned whatever. Anything else is just state capitalism.

    How would socialism end the oppression of women? By mobilizing the masses under the leadership of the party, a leadership which is at the same time supervised by the masses, to smash every instance of women’s oppression, from domestic violence to sexist culture to inequalities in the productive sphere to the capitalist family unit itself. This is not just theoretical. Real steps were taken in this direction in the Soviet Union and China, as even reactionary scholars are forced to admit. The case of China is particularly interesting, because some of the revolutionary practices forged by Chinese women, such as the “speak bitterness” sessions where women got together to denounce their oppressors and force them to repent and reform, were actually adopted (in different forms, because of the character of state power) by the US feminist movement. An interesting theory that has been put forward is that the failure to go far enough in sweeping away all forms of women’s oppression was a major cause of the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union and China with the rise to power of the revisionists.

    Yes, rape is widespread. Violence against women on campus is a widespread problem. One widely quoted statistic is that 1 in 4 college women are sexually assaulted during their four years. The essence is, as June Jordan says, “terrorized incarceration” and lack of self-determination over one’s body and freedom of movement. And the solution, the only one that can finally uproot all of these horrible daily injustices, is communism.

  3. That’s funny because it’s usually the Trots who criticize the “state capitalism” of Stalin and Mao. Pretty much the only thing left in China from the Mao era are the State Owned Enterprises. They are in the process of being privatized though. So really if you look at 20th century Chinese history Mao was basically the midwife for Chinese capitalism. He took an agrarian backwards country and ended feudalism and developed the SOEs that would later be privatized to be the first major Chinese corporations.

    As for family structures I think you are confused. The family structure the Chinese where trying to break down was the traditional agrarian family. The large extended patriarchal families are a key feature of any agrarian economy but especially so in Asia where large scale irrigation work is needed to keep the land fertile. The “capitalist family” is really a small largely dysfunctional nuclear family. For an example of the change from agrarian family structure to capitalist family structure look at African American families during the share cropping cotton economy of the American South and compare it with the African American family in one of the northern post-industrial cities today.

    “And the solution, the only one that can finally uproot all of these horrible daily injustices, is communism.”

    Now you’re just sounding religious. Oh yes, the only one who can bring peace to your daily struggles and give you tranquility is Our Lord and Savior Chairman Mao, oops, I mean Jesus Christ. Haha.

  4. Many Trotskyists (including Trotsky himself) believed in the “degenerated workers state” theory, where the existence of nationalized property means a country is a “workers state,” despite the “degenerated” or “deformed” character of state power.

    Maoists say that a state owned enterprise can still be capitalist, if it is run in order to maximize profits and not to serve the people, the abolition of the 4 Alls, and the world proletarian revolution. This is certainly true in state-capitalist China today. However, one of the lessons of the Cultural Revolution is that even in a socialist country, where state power is controlled by revolutionaries, individual state owned institutions like factories and schools can still be “capitalist” if they are under revisionist leadership. Socialist society is a complicated patchwork, some parts of it under revisionist control and others under red political power.

    Hence, there is the need to continuously criticize and overthrow revisionists in all spheres of society and to “exercise all-round dictatorship over the bourgeoisie” (not just the remnants of the old bourgeoisie, but the new bourgeoisie that is constantly generated from the remaining divisions between mental and manual labor, between town and country, between men and women, and from the soil of small-scale production).

    Saying that Mao was the midwife of Chinese capitalism is a teleological argument and I would say extremely mistaken. It overlooks the existence of sharp line struggles within the Chinese Communist Party on whether to take the socialist or the capitalist road, with Mao consistently struggling for the first. It especially overlooks the experience of the Cultural Revolution, which was led by Mao and his close comrades like Jiang Qing and Zhang Chunqiao, and was the highest point that humanity as reached so far in the struggle to get to a communist world.

    Not to go on too much of a tangent though. The conclusion is that socialism is not equivalent to state-owned bureaucracy. Instead, it is a transitional era towards communism, with the progress made towards women’s emancipation as one of the most important standards for judging whether a given society is truly socialist.

  5. On the issue of family structure, yes, there are differences between the family structure in China and the family structure in the imperialist countries. However, I would argue that the experiences accumulated in China during the revolutionary period of developing collective childcare and communal dining halls, as a part of the struggle for women’s emancipation, have a universal significance on the struggle related to family structure. It is not an accident that the saying “women hold up half the sky,” taken up by progressive people around the world, is Maoist in origin.

    Finally, there’s nothing religious about revolutionary communism. It is based on the theoretical summation of class struggles, carried out by Marx and others after him. The theoretical lessons are wrenched from revolutionary practice and then re-applied to revolutionary practice, for its successively higher development. In that sense, it is scientific. It would seem that believing in reformist solutions to the widespread exploitation, oppression, and inequality in this world, when there has been so much historical and present-day evidence that they are dead ends, is much more of an approach based on faith.

  6. I think this poem by J Jordan truly SUCKS – dialectical struggles notwithstanding…

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