This essay is reproduced here as it appeared in the print edition of the original Science for the People magazine. These web-formatted archives are preserved complete with typographical errors and available for reference and educational and activist use. Scanned PDFs of the back issues can be browsed by headline at the website for the 2014 SftP conference held at UMass-Amherst. For more information or to support the project, email firstname.lastname@example.org
About This Issue
We are excited to have in this issue several articles relating to women, reflecting in part a shift in priorities within the Boston chapter of Science for the People. We plan to continue this emphasis in future issues, and we encourage our readers to contribute other such articles.
We are discovering from our own efforts to root out sexism within the organization that it cannot be fully described in terms of unequal treatment in a formal, legalistic sense. Women’s oppression is often covert and hard to identify. Nancy Henley’s article uses recent findings in nonverbal communication research to show that subtle cues like tone of voice, posture, and facial expression play an important role in men’s efforts to intimidate women and to keep them in inferior roles.
It is a reflection of the sexism in our society that male contraception should be considered a women’s issue. As Rita Arditti’s article brings out, reproduction is considered to be a woman’s function, and contraception, a woman’s problem. The neglect of male contraceptive development responds to market factors which in tum reflect these sexist attitudes and roles. We hardly need to point out that most of the people who focus their contraceptive research on the female reproductive system are men. At best, research to date has resulted in birth control methods which are only marginally safe and convenient and which place full responsibility on women. Possibilities for safe, effective, cheap, and convenient methods for use by men have not been adequately explored. There are numerous ways we can address this problem. In addition to challenging sexist behavior, attitudes, and role definitions at all levels, we can focus specifically on 1) improving sex education for boys as well as girls; 2) working to change the role of fathers in all aspects of parenthood; and 3) challenging priorities within the biomedical establishment (similar to the current controversies over cancer research and recombinant DNA hazards). These actions could begin to have some effect on the current bias in contraceptive research.
Cancer is an increasingly ominous, delayed “benefit” of technology-for-profit. To be sure, it is essential that laws are designed and enforced which will rigorously control the introduction and use of chemicals and processes. But more basic are the politics upon which such laws depend. Public awareness, while certainly a vital objective, is not sufficient to challenge the devious machinations of industry lobbyists and consultants, regulatory agency task forces and Congressional subcommittees. This can be done only by a conscious, organized and powerful opposition. Working people, especially workers directly exposed to dangerous substances throughout industry, have the greatest stake in controlling these technologies. When organized in progressive unions (i.e. those controlled by the membership and realizing the importance of class struggle), these workers have the greatest potential for forcing changes. These can come through specific contract victories or through national and world-wide campaigns organized by cooperating unions. The development of these kinds of unions and interactions with other organizations (including those of science and technical workers) with common goals is thus a prime objective. For reasons such as these the conference on jobs and the environment reported in this issue is particularly important.
The report from this conference portrays the different, often opposing, political views of the community groups, labor unions, environmental organizations and government agencies especially around the issues of jobs vs. environment and economic growth vs. poverty. At present, it seems that the majority of labor unions have come down on the side of jobs and economic growth, hence they have fought against environmental reforms such as the Nuclear Safeguards Initiative in California (see May issue of SftP magazine).
Union leaders are mainly interested in maintaining jobs and pushing for higher pay, especially now during the economic crisis. The large corporations have been successful so far in posing the issue as one of jobs vs. environment. In this way they have gained the support of union leaders on ecological issues. Corporations have also threatened to relocate or close down if stricter environmental regulations are passed. This tactic of economic blackmail has forced not only unions but also community groups to fall in line against the environmental organizations. On the other hand, environmental organizations have not adequately understood the interests of community groups or unions.
The UA W’s call for an alliance between labor, environmental and community groups is an attempt to resolve their traditional differences and build a movement for jobs and a cleaner environment. The immediate effects of this alliance would be the expansion of the issues these groups usually struggle for in isolation. For example, unions would struggle around environmental issues in and outside the plant as well as wage issues. The alliance could develop into a nationwide movement which would challenge capitalism itself. This movement could push for Federal legislation reforms which would require stricter pollution control for all plants thereby defusing the corporate weapon of economic blackmail.
The authors view this conference with great optimism and we share this optimism to some extent. However we see serious obstacles. First of all, there were no rank and file union caucuses at the conference. Union leaders are notoriously corrupt and will not endanger their carefully organized power by involving their unions in any movement which threatens the status quo. The present system has maintained and enhanced their power. Secondly, union leaders and environmental groups have shown in the past their lack of awareness of the interests of women and Third World and white working class people. Community groups representing these interests are wary of joining an alliance with organizations which do not take their demands seriously. The fact that the Black Caucus and the Women’s Caucus had to struggle to be put on the agenda demonstrates the problem. The fact that these caucuses were to some extent successful in winning their demands is encouraging. The direction of this conference—forming this alliance—is a new and exciting one which SftP should actively support. This conference is a first step.
The Davis affair at Harvard is a graphic demonstration of the connection between theory and practice on the part of a reactionary member of the “intelligensia.” Fortunately mass consciousness on the opposite side of the issue was sufficient to bring about a retreat. The incident’s import is apparent not only from the heavy play in the media but also from the immediate response of the Harvard administration itself. Harvard’s reaction should not be mistaken for a profound commitment to extinguishing racism in U.S. society: Harvard has consistently played a leading role in sustaining racism both at the academic level (consider Banfield, Moynihan, Herrnstein, Glazer et al.) and in its institutional practice in real estate, health care and education. At a time when priori-ties in medical research, ethics in medical human experimentation and funding for medical education are under attack, perhaps Harvard feels especially vulnerable to widespread anger on the part of minorities, women and all supporters of real affirmative action.