In a little over a weeks’ time, the 1,100 members of Boston DSA will be electing a new Steering Committee. Elections season is in full swing, with candidates releasing parts of their statements on social media. It is an exciting time for the chapter, but a bittersweet one for us as we end our respective tenures on the Steering Committee. The bitterness of this moment is sharpened by the reasons that we have chosen not to seek reelection.
The continual oppression of women and other folks in our society has, unfortunately, not been absent from the culture of the SC. This has made the steering committee an inhospitable place for many of us. Despite a commitment to socialist-feminism and anti-oppression in our chapter’s statement of purpose, women, non-binary folks, people of color, and trans and disabled comrades are perpetually expected to bear the brunt of the chapter’s administrative and emotional labor.
As women, we have experienced the trenchant effects of sexism. It is a constant struggle to find white cis-men willing to take notes for meetings, volunteer for Child Watch, offer to book rooms, arrange the logistics for events, and generally follow up on commitments that they make. To date, the child-care offerings at every single Boston DSA event in the past 12 months have been bottom-lined by a woman. Although there is a Planning Committee, the monthly General Meetings have been exclusively bottom-lined by a woman.
Whether these men are on the steering committee or not, it contributes to a culture in which women leaders and rank-and-file members are routinely expected to deal with the specifics of projects, leaving men to focus on the “bigger picture” aspects of organizing, including the shape and future of our chapter. A repetitive trope within Boston DSA are events where the men want to present or speak, but hand off the coordination and planning of the event to women.
While we acknowledge that this work is often thankless, we are not hoping to receive gratitude or even pity with the examples given here. We firmly believe that administrative tasks such as the ones outlined above are a form of organizing and should be seen as such. Without microphones, powerpoints, volunteer coordination, communication, Child Watch, and agendas etc. our meetings would cease to exist.
Unfortunately, the gendered division of labor within our chapter — that is, the division between who is involved with administrative and emotional labor and who is not — indicates that such roles are not seen in a positive light. With a lack of men willing to take on these roles, the women in our chapter are stretched thin. This is unacceptable. In a society where women not only sell their labor in the workplace, but are often disproportionately responsible for labor at home, our double oppression is further intensified via the labor we partake in as DSA organizers.
In addition, the men who rely on us to bottom-line administrative tasks are often the same men who rely on us for emotional support, or lash out at us when we express a political opinion they they disagree with — sometimes in explicitly aggressive tones. We have also encountered men in our chapter trying to downplay the importance of liberation for women and gender non-binary folks under the banner of ‘idpol’, with their reductionist views failing to recognize that trans and other comrades are more likely to belong to the most mistreated sections of the working class.
From conversations with other women organizers in our chapter and around the country, we know that our experiences are not unique. While there is much discussion within DSA about the need for more diversity, we’ve seen little evidence that people are committed to doing the hard work to make it possible for women and other oppressed groups to take leadership roles without feeling tokenized, burnt out, and thoroughly discouraged. As socialists, we are supposed to work to dismantle oppressive structures, yet DSA only seems to be replicating them. Both of us have considered resigning in the past year, and we helped form our women’s caucus and mental health working group to address these issues. We ask all men who have declared their candidacy to think about their contributions to the daily life of DSA, and whether they can point to tangible actions that show support for women’s liberation.