Tuesday, December 21, 2010


I think Naomi Wolf gets the issue exactly right in this discussion with Jaclyn Friedman. Reading the Guardian's report of the charges, it does not seem to me that what Assange is being accused of doing is rape, and I think Wolf is right to say that to treat Assange as an accused rapist on that basis is wrong. She is also right that he is being treated outrageously even if he were an accused rapist—where the outrage lies in the many accused rapists who are in no real danger of prosecution by the same legal systems that are so zealous here. But that seems to be something everyone agrees about.

There is an important point here that Friedman misses, but Wolf rightly emphasizes: the women themselves have not accused Assange of rape,* the Swedish authorities have. So it may be true, as Friedman says, that Assange is "guilty of what these women are alleging". But they are not accusing him of rape. The Swedish prosecutors have trumped their story up into this charge. Wolf is right that the way Assange is being treated fails to take rape seriously, but the conversation we have to have about this is obviously very difficult to have.

Wolf at one point talks about young women who have "felt raped" without saying anything to their sexual partners. She is right that to accuse that partner of rape goes against any reasonable standard of justice, not least, I would add, because of the impossibility of arguing the point on evidence. Likewise, Friedman's suggestion that I have raped the women who have consented "unenthusiastically" to having sex with me in the past is as silly (i.e., not taking it seriously) as the idea that I've been raped by women that I have had unenthusiastic sex with.

As Wolf emphasizes, this story can't be about rape and be serious. It is really just an attack on journalism, one that exploits ("pimps", as Wolf puts it) both feminists and rape victims. It perhaps also about sexcrime in the Orwellian sense; it is about the state deciding when you are having "goodsex". And the state, you can be sure, is not really interested in whether or not you or your partner are enjoying it. It is interested in control.

I would have a hard time living happily under Friedman's regime of "enthusiastic consent". Sex is necessarily ambiguous, sometimes boring. Sometimes done for one's pleasure, sometimes for the other's. Ideally, for both, of course. But get real.

It is perfectly okay to wake up aroused in the middle of the night and start coming on to the person who has chosen to share a bed with you. Even if they are asleep. It is not okay to keep at it if they tell you clearly to stop. But it is okay to keep going even if they seem a bit bored with it, would rather go back to sleep, or would have preferred that you used a condom, etc., but are clearly allowing it to continue to please you. These women may not, finally, have liked Assange's lovemaking (or judgment). Indeed, one describes it as "the worst screw ever". But, even when followed by a word like "violent", this doesn't seem like a way you would describe your own rape. Neither of the women (as I understand it) said even that she felt raped, let alone that she believed Assange had raped her (Friedman's repeated formula "he raped her in her sleep" is patently unjustifiable.) And I think Wolf's reading of the report is right on the question of whether there was explicit consent.

These women appear precisely to have called "the dating police" on Assange. They did not report a rape.* They sought only some leverage on a man they thought was being a jerk to them and was behaving irresponsibly in regard to pregnancy and STDs. After that, the authorities ran with it. And there is no real mystery about why that is.

"Keep Assange in prison without bail until he is questioned, by all means, if we are suddenly in a real feminist worldwide epiphany about the seriousness of the issue of sex crime: but Interpol, Britain and Sweden must, if they are not to be guilty of hateful manipulation of a serious women's issue for cynical political purposes, imprison as well -- at once -- the hundreds of thousands of men in Britain, Sweden and around the world world who are accused in far less ambiguous terms of far graver forms of assault." (Noami Wolf)

*Update: I'm no longer sure about his. Here's a Guardian piece that talks about "two women in Sweden, who accuse him of sexual misconduct and rape". But it remains unclear whether this is the women's lawyer's and the prosecutor's word ("rape") or the women themselves who are using it. Bjorn Hurtig, the Swedish defense lawyer says: "Both complainants say they did not report him to the police for prosecution but only to require him to have an STD test." My view is obviously that if a woman says she's been raped, the police ought to take it seriously. I'm still not sure that that is what the women claim, however.

Another update: Cathy Young has a pretty sober reflection on what is going on here.

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