Feminism, Assange rape charges, free speech, and Wikileaks

Today’s arrest of Julian Assange on rape charges is being framed by many people as a conflict between feminism and free speech. I won’t link to them all, but here is a sample: Kirk Murphy from Firedoglake apparently thinks anyone gets to rape Known Feminists with impunity. That article made me especially angry.

I support Wikileaks and ALL the people who worked to create and maintain it, because it’s important political work. I’m very concerned that once Assange enters the court system he will not be treated fairly.

At the same time, I think it’s extremely important for anyone who’s been raped or sexually assaulted to report that crime and for perpetrators to be called to account for it. I would never advise someone to hold back from charging their rapist with a crime just because the rapist is in a position of importance.

I think we can see, though, that Assange is not being treated in proportion with the crime.

I agree with Lindsay Beyerstein and Jill Filipovic that the media story of the charges against Assange and much of the public discussion of them have been shoddy and sensationalist. I actually find myself agreeing with Jezebel bloggers . This excellent post by Leigh Honeywell sums up my feelings on sex and consent very well..

I’m fine with Assange going to trial. I just want him to be treated with justice and to face only what other people accused with rape would face.

Does that seem likely to you?

We need to be watchdogs on this case – yes, for what happens to Assange. Not because he faces rape charges. I don’t care what charges he is facing, actually. It could be murder, or a lot of parking tickets. He is in an especially vulnerable position as a free speech advocate that many governments including my government in the U.S. have openly said they want to destroy. They don’t want to destroy him because of rape charges, they want to destroy him because he is riding point as the PR contact of a collective effort to make secret government information public. The Wikileaks crew worked intelligently to publish information in as robust a way as they could imagine.

We need to call bullshit very strongly for what has already happened in the media to his accusers, who have had their identities outed and who are being attacked by shamers and rape apologists.

But as feminists we also need to defend, not rapists or men’s right to rape with impunity, but free speech and the laws and political climate that help it flourish. That is also an important part of feminism. It’s crucial. It’s THE MOST IMPORTANT part of feminism. We need free speech, the laws that protect it, and the tools that make public free speech possible, as women who have fought hard to have a public voice.

About Wikileaks itself, I understand why it hasn’t been more transparent. But I disagree with that decision.

As a feminist, I believe strongly in collective action. As a riot grrrl I got behind the idea that we should “Kill Rock Stars”. Not literally kill a rock star, duh. We need to kill the idea that we need rock stars, or Great Men, or figureheads, because important political action doesn’t happen because of a lone hero. It really doesn’t. Political solidarity and collective action, and collective statements, have always been a key part of feminist and womanist politics. Wikileaks and Assange have this to learn, I think. They should stand together. And we should stand behind them at the same time as we stand behind Assange’s accusers.

I need to be able to report rape to the “justice” system with some amount of trust. Can any of us say that that’s true? I haven’t found it to be true. Instead, reporting rape or sexual assault becomes simultaneously political fuel if the people in power want to use it that way, and a path to attack and discredit the rape survivor, which will happen no matter what.

Extradite all the rapists you can find, Interpol. Do it right now. Go for it. Great. Enforce the laws against rape. Please! Extradite some war criminals from the U.S. while you’re at it.

Meanwhile, here is an article by Assange: Don’t Shoot the Messenger

He was refused bail.

Continuing coverage is at The Guardian.

Sen. Joe Lieberman is agitating to push a bill through that will make what Wikileaks did illegal so that Assange can be extradited for THAT: the Espionage Act amendments.

Here’s a petition against that from DemandProgress.

Do you think the U.S. will succeed in extraditing Assange from the UK or from Sweden? What do you think will happen to him then? I think we can care about *that* whether he is a douchey rapist or not. Frankly, as a feminist, I would fight to the death to defend the basic human rights of my own rapists. As we all should.

16 thoughts on “Feminism, Assange rape charges, free speech, and Wikileaks

  1. I suspect he was refused bail at least in part because he’s known to be very mobile and the courts have a very good reason to believe he’d skip out of the country. That’s part of what he does, after all, as the head of WikiLeaks: He leaves countries quickly and quietly. It’s the same reason they kept Polanski under house arrest and confiscated his passport.

  2. “Kill rock stars” is the smartest point anyone has made about this mess so far. We’ve all been running around in circles, confused because Wikileaks is important but Assange is flawed. Make Wikileaks transparent and not dependent on a single figurehead: problem solved.

    Fighting for our rapists’ human rights is the hard, true bedrock of feminism.

    1. Is’nt an article like this using Assange as a celebrity/Rockstar exactly as celebrities/Rockstars are supposed to be used – only he’s switched over from representing/exemplifying defiance of state secret realpolitik to represent/exemplify rape culture?

  3. Good post balancing the all the issues in this case. I am very concerned that these charges are a screen to punish someone who has caused the powers that be displeasure. At the same time, I also believe that Assange is the kind of person who constructs the world around his own desires (it’s a frequent character trait of people willing to take huge risks). So I can believe that consent (as far as he was concerned) was present because he wanted consent, his partner’s wishes (the key fact) to the contrary. One thing I don’t believe, though I wish otherwise, is that the legal system will work the truth out.

    And you are TOTALLY right that Wikileaks, and similar troublemakers, should not depend on individual “messiahs”. They never work out.

  4. I am so glad you wrote about this. Every point you make is excellent, and I could not agree with you more. I am not calling you a rock star or hero or anything, but its work like this that inspires me and reminds me how lucky I am to know you. That’s important to me. Thanks.

  5. This is an excellent post, and has helped me sort through my own feelings about the situation.

    I feel like this is the third or fourth time I’ve heard you say something like, “I learned this really awesome concept because of my experiences with riotgrrrls.” If one were looking for a good primer on the best ideas to come out of the riotgrrrl movement, would you have a good recommendation?

  6. “important political action doesn’t happen because of a lone hero”

    A counterexample is Joan of Arc. Even though it was the French nation that defeated the English, they couldn’t do it without a “rock star” to inspire and lead them.

    Don’t worry about people disrespecting Ms A and Ms W: they will have their day in court.

  7. My spouse and I have adopted an invariable policy of referring to him as “Rat Weasel Lieberman,” ever since he ran McCain’s campaign in the Northeast while professing to be an ‘independent Democrat’. Not for his convictions (if any) or political side-of-aisle, but for his utter lack of moral honesty.

  8. Yeah, I wish I could be forgiving enough to wish basic human rights to my rapists. (in a way I do, like I want them to have a fair trial, but instead the legal system said there weren’t enough evidence, so off they went back to freedom) And I (the objective part of me) hope that the rest of you fight for their rights. Because I just can’t find that in me. I can’t. There is no way. I’m so sorry.

  9. “It’s THE MOST IMPORTANT part of feminism.” Free speech? So free speech, for example, entitling anti-misandry groups the right to distribute hate literature about single mothers and other social “ills” is more important to feminism than DOING than taking action? I’m sorry but white, middle-class women sitting in their ivory towers sacrificing the well-beings of other women on a pyre of pathetic free spech rhetoric are not feminists, at least not in my book. Surely those who assist and house battered women, who help women escape sexual labour, or paramility groups who take up arms against mercenaries mutilating and raping their sisters, are more representative of feminism than women who think speech (hate speech?) is a god-given right.

  10. I think it’s important to remember 2 things in the feminist/Wikileaks controversy: 1) that the federal government effectively infiltrated and smashed the feminist movement, just as they did the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, the progressive movement and 2) that the angry, arrogant, ball-breaking stereotype feminists enjoy in the mainstream media is mainly the one the US government created for them. Unfortunately the US intelligence role played America’s feminist poster girl Gloria Steinem is still largely invisible to most Americans. In 1976 Steinem blocked Random House from publishing details about her CIA past (see http://www.mail-archive.com/ctrl@listserv.aol.com/msg02217.html). A great pity – as its publication might have changed history for American women. Betty Friedan, the founder of NOW, publicly confronted Steinem for deliberately sowing dissension and trying to break up the organization. Steinem also very effectively used Ms magazine to create massive divisions between professional and working class feminists and between feminists and progressive men. In addition African American activists have long been aware that the FBI was planting so-called “black feminists” in civil rights organizations to break them up. More recently evidence has surfaced that Steinem created and ran this operation (see http://rah.posterous.com/black-feminism-the-cia-and-gloria-steinem-fwd). I (I’m a woman despite my name) ran across some of these agents when I worked with a group creating an African American Museum in Seattle. I write about it in my recent memoir: THE MOST REVOLUTIONARY ACT: MEMOIR OF AN AMERICAN REFUGEE (www.stuartbramhall.com). I currently live in exile in New Zealand.

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