During its Oct. 7 incursion into Israel, Hamas killed, abducted, and raped women, as forensic teams have confirmed. Instead of decrying this sexualized violence, some progressive organizations celebrated the attack. Black Lives Matter groups led the way. On Oct. 10, the Chicago chapter of Black Lives Matter posted a celebratory tweet depicting a paraglider, a reference to the airborne means used by Hamas terrorists to descend upon Israeli concertgoers and murder some 200 of them. BLM Grassroots, an organization that claims more than two dozen chapters, declared that Hamas’s acts “must not be condemned, but understood as a desperate act of self-defense.” For feminists, these statements revive long-standing concerns about the sexual politics of the Black Lives Matter movement.
In 2020, shortly after the death of George Floyd, the black American feminists I work with began expressing concerns about machismo within BLM. Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi are the mothers of the movement: The three women were responding to yet another fatal shooting of a black male by police, this time Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager. But according to a number of black feminists in the United States, male sensibilities soon dominated the movement. Garza told The Observer in 2015: “We were carrying this burden around with us every day, of racism and white supremacy. It was a verdict that said: Black people are not safe in America.” But women were rarely mentioned, and the focus remained primarily on black men. And yet, as Kimberlé Crenshaw, the legal scholar who coined the term “intersectionality,” points out, between 1975 and 2022, 177 black women and girls were shot dead by police. “We can’t give these women back to their families, but we can make sure that they are not lost to history,” Crenshaw told the progressive journalist Amy Goodman, highlighting the fact that the deaths received little or no media attention at the time.
BLM supported decriminalized prostitution (“Sex Work Is Work”), as well as gender ideology (“Trans Women Are Women”), and the shrinking of police responsibilities (#Defund). My correspondents warned that black women and children would suffer most if police weren’t available to intervene in domestic disputes and prisons were emptied of sex offenders. In short, BLM had turned into a black men’s movement.