What Does The Assange Rape Case Mean For Feminism?
Posted by Mel Campbell on December 9, 2010
I’ve been very uneasy reading the commentary about the pending rape and sexual misconduct charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Of course, I’m suspicious about the timing of Assange’s recent arrest in London, and the effort which international law enforcers put in to ‘catch’ him (whereas dude handed himself in, after keeping in touch with UK police for several weeks prior).
However, as Ms .45 has commented in relation to an earlier Dawn Chorus post, there’s been a pretty distasteful tone to the coverage. The media seem to want to both pruriently detail the allegations against Assange, and to suggest these charges aren’t that serious.
There have been various suggestions that the women were not really raped, but rather were embarrassed at having been ‘played’ by our snowy-haired Lothario (a media narrative we often see in allegations of sexual assault against famous men). Alternatively, they made up the rape allegations for political reasons: they want to ‘bring Assange down’.
Like Ms .45, I’m pretty disappointed that Crikey‘s WH Chong would think “the most sensible reading [of the ‘sex by surprise’ charge] comes from the mouth of babes, Assange’s son Daniel”. What? Someone on the other side of the world who knows as little about these incidents as anyone, and who hasn’t seen Assange for ages? Political commentary doesn’t suit Chong; he should probably confine his thoughts to arts and culture, which is the remit of his Crikey blog.
This Salon article is probably the best rebuttal of all the subtle, hearsay misogyny in other media coverage, while this Feministe post neatly rebuts all the disbelieving sniggering that’s been going on over the charge of “sex by surprise”.
But most troublingly for me, some media accounts have suggested that these vexatious charges could only have been laid in Sweden, where feminism has become institutionalised. As Salon’s Kate Harding sarcastically puts it:
The only reason the charges got traction is that, in the radical feminist utopia of Sweden under Queen Lisbeth Salander, if a woman doesn’t have multiple orgasms during hetero sex, the man can be charged with rape. You didn’t know?
The feminist project has long aimed to reach and reform the highest political institutions, and this has happened in Sweden, “where even conservative male politicians call themselves feminists”.
Swedish law has also eliminated many of the subtle anti-victim legal biases that we’ve previously documented here at the Dawn Chorus. The idea that women can withdraw their consent is the backbone of the ‘sex by surprise’ charge, and Swedish activists are now agitating for further reform which recognises that women can signal their non-consent in non-verbal ways.
But I’m getting the disquieting feeling that for the mainstream (and especially the conservative) media, Sweden is becoming a case study in the crazy, Kafkaesque shit that happens if we let those wacky feminists get their hands on the wheel. The central hypocrisy of the Julian Assange coverage seems to be that it’s a good thing for information to be free, but women should be kept down as much as possible – or where would society be then?