The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

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?


10 Responses to “What Does The Assange Rape Case Mean For Feminism?”

  1. “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?”

    Love this, it’s super, duper accurate.

  2. Katte said

    Yes to everything you have written. From a letter in the Guardian “There is a long tradition of the use of rape and sexual assault for political agendas that have nothing to do with women’s safety.”

    And on Sweden in particular:

    “In 2006 six people were convicted of rape though almost 4,000 people were reported” -MP and chairwoman of Social Democratic Women in Sweden)
    They endorsed Amnesty International’s call for an independent inquiry to examine the rape cases that had been closed and the quality of the original investigations.”

  3. Ben McKenzie said

    Thanks for the recap; I’ve been hearing snippets and it’s all been troubling. The most troubling thing being that rabid (and some of them come across that way) supporters of WikiLeaks seem unable to separate the man from the service, or indeed from the principle, they’re seeking to defend. That these people are ostensibly all from the left is pretty damning; as someone said on Twitter, replace Julian Assange with yet another footballer, and think about why your reaction is any different.

    Of course he should be presumed innocent until a court hears the case, but just as importantly the matter should be taken seriously and the women involved treated with respect. It’s appalling the difference in attitude between a case like this, where the sniff of a charge provokes reactions akin to cries of “it’s rigged”, to allegations of paedophilia or child pornography, where the moral panic sets in and someone’s life is over regardless of any court outcome. In a sane society, our reaction to both should be the same – and not at either of these ludicrous extremes.

  4. It’s incredible that everyone on the “left” wants to be a feminist or profess their support for womens rights but when it comes down to a [perceived] choice between womens rights and something else, all of a sudden womens rights are relegated to the backburner. Not realising, of course, that womens rights – like indigenous rights or environmental rights – are inextricably linked to all other rights, that we cannot champion one without the other, if we want to live in a society that is genuine about human rights and freedom of speech.

  5. Gemma said

    The most disgusting thing about this whole case is how the women who have made the accusations have been named and ‘slut shamed’ online:

    Whether Assange is guilty of these charges or not, and no matter what your thoughts are on WikiLeaks, this is so, so wrong.

  6. […] that “Crikey wonder[s] why they don’t have female readers.” The ubiquitous Mel Campbell is “pretty disappointed” I should think the most sensible comment comes from […]

  7. […] to consent because she was not conscious, few have taken a sympathetic view of his victims (we tweeted a round-up of the feminist critiques of this coverage earlier this week). Similarly, my friend […]

  8. marianK said

    The Washington Examiner put up this quote, from one of the websites that published the women’s personal information, ‘justifying’ its decision (the website’s that is, not the Washington Examiner):

    I would like to say that this raw and sanctimonious misogyny beggars belief, but as a battle-scarred veteran of many a blog discussion with men (and quite a few women) who share this kind of blind prejudice against women who challenge male behaviour in any way shape or form, I know it’s all too common.

  9. marianK said

    Sorry, folks. The quote I gave seems to have been lost in my attempt to use the HTML block quote tag. Here it is:

    ‘Posting their addresses and phone numbers isn’t intended to encourage vigilantism, but to send a bigger message to women like Ardin and Wilen – if you lie about being raped, this is what will happen to you. Your anonymity will be compromised, your life will be laid bare for all to see, and your name will be destroyed. No rape shield law or journalistic ethic can protect you. You will suffer as the man whose name you vindictively dragged through the mud has suffered.

    I want women to see that their choices have consequences. If enough false rape accusers have their identities and personal data exposed to the jeering Internet hordes, others will think twice before they accuse men of heinous crimes for petty and selfish reasons.’

  10. Jaa said

    It has been interesting to read people’s take on it all, Wiki supporters, feminists or a combinination of the two as I am.
    It seems the importance of rape allegations are being used in this incidence and given status rarely accorded to them in the Western world, Sweden or not. I hate all the Salander/Assange references. It seems warped.

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