Putting things in context
Posted on December 6, 2010
Okay, so some of you may have noticed a bit of a spat going on over the past few days between me, Sunny Hundal, and John Band. What kicked it off was this piece by John B over at Liberal Conspiracy which I and a few other feminists took exception to about Julian Assange and the sex crimes charges he’s facing in Sweden – ‘Wikileaks’ Julian Assange isn’t accused of rape’ (the title has since been edited).
Sunny and I had a heated Twitter exchange on Friday about it, then (at Sunny’s request) I wrote a response to John B’s piece for LibCon – ‘Why it’s wrong to casually dismiss the allegations against Julian Assange’ (where in the comments John Band informed me I should have sought his approval before publishing!)
Now Sunny has written a response to something I said in my Tweets about how left wing men always sell out women in the end – ‘Do left wing men always sell out women in the end?‘ (again, the title has since been changed, but you can see the original in the url)
It’s all a bit in-fighty and meta for my liking, but whatever, I’m pretty fucked off about the whole thing. So, I’m going to publish the tweet exchange here, in its entirety, so people can make up their own minds about who said what to who, because to be honest, I don’t think it’s fair to selectively quote from tweets as Sunny has done without putting things in their full context.
And yes, I’m going to go all Wikileaks on your arses and publish the original Twitter Direct Message (DM) exchange that prompted me to go on to Twitter and call Sunny out. Because if Assange can leak shit, then what the hell, so can I.
Then came the Direct Message exchange, which I reproduce below:
Sunny – I read your comment (Ed – reference here is to this comment I posted under Band’s piece, which began “I’m disappointed to see this piece up at LibCon to be honest.”) I don’t really agree Cath. Think it’s relevant to discuss the actual allegations
Me – My issue is with the way that discussion is framed though. The piece is sexist and racist/xenophobic 😦
Sunny – sorry but I don’t agree. How is it farmed to be misogynist? Not sure where the xenophobia comes in either…?
Me – It feeds into the whole women lie about rape schtick, and then there’s the weirdo Swedes with their strange ideas nonsense.
Sunny – Two points: calling this ‘rape’ IS ludicrous. And if you think any nuance on subject is misogynist we’ll have to disagree
Sunny – I was also accused of disunity when I criticised black orgs for making common cause with HuT remember?
Sunny -john goes out of his way to say rape under-reporting is a problem and women are wrongly castigated. Hence, making this clear
Sunny – …that it’s not rape and having nuance I think is justified.
Me – Sunny, can’t you see why some of us might have an issue with men attempting to dictate what is and isn’t rape?
Sunny – sure you can but this isn’t either/or. Aren’t men allowed to be worried about what is called “rape” too?
And then back on to public Twitter:
Then DM to me – PS – if you want to outline your concerns in a blog post for LC, that might be a better way to discuss. But up to you
And that’s where it ended.
Now can someone point me to the bit where I said that any discussion about Assange and the sex crimes allegations should never have been allowed on LibCon please, because try as I might I just can’t find it.
Oh yes, and I can also point out, before there are many more responses under Sunny’s piece like this one: “I think throwing the term ‘misogyny’ around is a very annoying habit of some feminists.” that if you follow the exchange from the start you’ll see I used the term “sexist” initially, and it was Sunny who then chose to translate it as ‘misognist‘.
Anyway, that’s it, that’s what this whole furore has been about.
Now can we all please move on.
I think you say misogynist clearly here. Nobody put the word into your ‘tweet’.
I’m not saying I didn’t say it QRG. I’m saying that initially I used sexist, Sunny turned that into misogynist, and I ran with it.
I’m a WikiLeaks supporter but not an Assange evangelist. Really liked your article & completely sickened by response of the WikiLeaks boys club on the rape accusations.
Oh how infuriating Cath, sympathies. The world of comedy is so full of guys who insist they’re super-left-wing and are in a hurry to go onstage and criticise the BNP and homophobia but at the end feel the need to throw in a “hilarious” rohypnol joke without twigging the irony in that.
Yet again xenophobia and what is and is not ‘rape’ can only be defined by men and of course this means if a male writer makes disparaging comments about Sweden and its laws then that is clearly not ‘xenophobic’ but simply common sense. Same applies with regards to ‘rape’ – because ‘rape’ is only ‘rape’ as and when a male says so.
But of course when a ‘left wing idol’ is charged with a crime (note I say charged not convicted) then immediately his other left-wing male buddies rush to his defence, instead of just reporting the facts. But we must not forget these ‘left-wing buddies’ yet again add a few choice rape myths claiming the women who have charged Assange with raping them are indeed ‘liars.’
Remember everyone – the only ones who are in a position to define what is and is not ‘rape’ are left-wing males – particularly when one of their buddies is charged with this crime. Such collusion is common among men of whatever political stripe or leanings – it is called male supremacy/patriarchy.
Exasperating exchanges with males is the reason I am a separatist online as well. Cannot be bothered going around and around in circles with them.
Not sure that I love the Land of Twitter either.
Thank God you two have joined the Labour party! With that sort of petty, spiteful, and ego driven argument taking up so much of your time you’ll be in opposition for decades.
great post cath.
altho i appreciated what band was saying about how this could further the myths that women lie, his whole piece seemed to encourage that myth anyway! and so he thinks swedish law is stupid, but that’s really rather his opinion isn’t it? he doesn’t get to make the law in sweden! and if assange broke the law in sweden then the courts should decide that. it isn’t up to him to decide who is innocent or not.
i am sick of left wing men (not all) tying themselves up in to linguistic knots when it comes to vawg. the amount of horrible comments you get from left men, who happily decry capitalism and the cuts when it comes to women’s issues, such as violence, sex industry or even that affects of the cuts on women is disgusting). it happens all the time. i have a lot of time for sunny and i enjoy talking to him on twitter, but this whole discourse around the assange allegations have made me distinctly uncomfortable. i understand he needs to publish a range of articles (which has sometimes caused issues for me) but the whole tone of the piece was this idea that because swedish law is ‘stupid’ then assange must be innocent, and then using the stuff about rape myths to try and dispel the idea that he’s actually suggesting them himself.
if that makes sense!
Cath, imho you’re picking the right fight with the wrong guy.
also, i don’t like the headline of his piece, it seems quite provocative and leading. because, of course it is not selling out to talk about difficult issues. but it is problematic when you defend someone who has yet to be found innocent or guilty of a crime, because he has done some good stuff you may agree with.
Thanks for writing your piece. Although there were some very good comments questioning the original piece, none really addressed the framing issues in the way you did.
I understand the exasperation Fab Libber expresses. With John Band’s piece which was essentially an outraged rant based on one source, it was hard to know ‘where to begin.’ It is the tediousness of addressing the same old/same old questions again and again that is so enervating; it is the struggle to try to remain civil when constantly defending a point or viewpoint that is reconfigured into some straw-feminist argument that you never made that requires too much time.
But I think it has to be done. So thank you.
That libcon piece was disgusting, but not at all suprising. Ditto the whining by the “liberal” men.
There’s actually a really good piece on the US Feministe site about the attitudes around this.
Worth a read.
As a complete outsider i am fairly shocked by the level of anger and hatred, the huge generalisms and sweeping statements. It’s not that i don’t agree with some of the arguments,i haven’t read the article and i’m sure it’s shocking, i just don’t see this kind of exchange as a positive means for progress and change. I have enjoyed your blog but i blog for enjoyment (tears and laughter) and so alas this one isn’t for me. All the best.
I really appreciated your article in response to Band on LibCon. I have seen quite a few articles on “liberal” sites taking the view that for Assange to be accused of rape must be some sort of conspiracy. I was glad to see something exposing the sexism that is implicit in the assumption of Assange’s innocence.
Thank you Cath for your piece on LibCon dealing with the problems with John B’s piece. I want to comment more on the various LibCon posts but am having trouble keeping pace with it all (the comment threads and the developments in the case, and all the stuff written about the case) and just finding time to focus on composing anything substantial. [Added just before posting: I spent most of my day off today reading even more and composing this ever-growing comment 😦 ] I have been reading an awful lot about the Assange case though, and am so frustrated with the dismissive commentary and minimising framing of the sexual assault charges that predominates.
Looking at the charges reported at Assange’s bail hearing, From the BBC report, they are that he:
* Used his body weight to hold down Miss A in a sexual manner.
* Had unprotected sex with Miss A when she had insisted on him using a condom.
* Molested Miss A “in a way designed to violate her sexual integrity”.
* Had unprotected sex with Miss W while she was asleep.
It’s interesting how the minimising bias manifests even in the most “neutral” and restrained kind of media. The BBC report linked has those charges detailed in a sidebar. But in the body of the article the charges are referred to only as charges of “unprotected sex”, thus following, no doubt unintentionally, the wider hoohah in blogs & conventional media that has basically been obsessing about the utter red herring of whether not using a condom is or should be a crime. The problem with the unprotected sex was that the women did not consent to it.
So, Assange had already used force before the unprotected sex that Ms A did not consent to (it says it right there!). The media by and large seems not to make the link that non-consensual sex is rape; that the lack of consent is what makes rape a bad thing, that something is being physically done to someone against their will. (Another general trend & bias in the reporting & commentary on the case: the idea that laws about sexual assault that centre on consent are a bit weird and outlandish. In all the cheerleading for Assange there’s little of substance to be gleaned about Sweden’s laws on rape, which were reformed in 2005. So the 1999 English translation that’s been linked to a lot is useless. Finding good information via internet searches about the reforms and their implementation is proving difficult. But here’s a link that describes the current laws in English, on the Interpol site. )
And another am-I-going-mad-it-says-it-right-there thing: Assange “[h]ad unprotected sex with Miss W while she was asleep”. “while she was asleep” <- no consent <- rape. But again, the focus is on the sodding lack of condom use.
The statement of charges at the bail hearing confuse things further in a few ways. Rape is not explicitly one of the charges reported, yet official Swedish statements about the charges were that they were rape, coercion & molestation. Is this a media omission, is it an issue of translation? (A lot of the LibCon thing has been obsessively focussed on whether or not Assange is charged with the big bad R word – as opposed to whether he committed any kind of nonconsensual sex full stop). Also, the first two charges related to Ms A are stated consistently across media reports as having taken place on the night of Saturday the 14th August, so after the Social Democratic Party seminar that day & the party that night? The widely reported timeline prior to the bail hearing was that they happened on Friday night/Saturday morning. (Though this blog post 22 August that rounds up Swedish media coverage of the case at that point says that the molestation of Ms A (given pseudonym “Eva” in this article) was alleged to have happened at the party).
The third charge of molestation of Ms on 18th August (so after the incident with Ms W on Monday 17th) has not been part of the previously reported timelines. (Btw, does anyone else feel a tad positively overwhelmed at seeing an actual legal statement that is concerned with defending a person’s “sexual integrity”?)
What to make of all this confusion? My guess is which incidents involved which woman may to some extent be getting mixed up in various reports from August; we’ve had a lot of speculation and uncertainty around language; and possibly the where & when of consensual sexual encounters are being mixed up with the non-consensual incidents under investigation. All we can really be certain of at this stage is that speculations about what happened and when it happened, and stuff like what it means that the women were not hostile to Assange at times after the incidents is just useless speculation.
Amid all the obfuscation, the statement by one of the women in August is clearly unequivocal about the central issue of consent:
Oh my dear dawg, I have SO stayed out of discussions about this, largely because it seems utterly sanity sapping. Anyway Naomi Wolf should be bleeding ashamed of herself. End of.
What is really bugging me about this is the cult of Assange. Why is he such a hero? He hasn’t taken as many risks as the folk who leaked stuff, and I very much doubt Jemima Khan will be running to offer bail for any of them. Or any of the people who are working for him for nothing. So he set up a site where people leak stuff (correct me if I’m wrong, the whole subject is boring me shitless by now). And that makes him a hero. And he’s awfully charismatic and tactile and sexxaay apparently, according to some breathless woman from oxford uni who was going on about him in the Times this weekend. And all these people volunteer. And apparently this means he can’t possibly be a rapist.
I’m wondering how shit the intelligence services of the USA really are. As bad as their diplomats? If they really want to get rid of Assange is a ‘false’ rape charge all they can come up with? When the duke of Edinburgh bumped off Princess Di with a white fiat Uno. And President Kennedy was shot by – fill in conspiracy theory as applicable.
Maybe the charges are true, maybe they’re false. But I should think they’re no more likely to be false/no less likely to be true than any other rape allegation actually. So yes I am a bit sickened by the rush of the chattering classes to his defence.
Oh and I dunno about anyone else, but ‘prince andrew is a rude bore’ is hardly news. Wikileaks? Wikiyawn more like. Yes some of this stuff is worth knowing, but a lot of it’s bollocks.
Oh and you know what else is bollocks? Saying that continuing to have sex when consent has been withdrawn isn’t rape in England. It is. It’s almost impossible to get a conviction, but it IS rape.
Of course is there plenty of evidence that the women in question are making it up, there’s no problem -assange will be acquitted.
Should read ‘of course if there is plenty of evidence’
I have not really been following the whole WikiLeaks saga – polly is correct when she labels it WikiYawn. Or DikiYawn even.
As far as his guilt for the rape/SA charges, I just knew he was guilty when I read “sex that started out consensual … unprotected sex”. That is rape, no doubt.
Thanks Maria for the summary on the SA charges:
“Assange “[h]ad unprotected sex with Miss W while she was asleep”. “while she was asleep” <- no consent <- rape."
Yes indeedy. "Sex" with a sleeping woman is most definitely rape.
I am not really sure why librul dudebro land has soooo much trouble grasping the concept that DikiLeaks Dude could be guilty of rape – the events as described are really really common. Common forms of RAPE.
It makes me think they could all be rapists at heart with such attitudes.
Here is a link to a Guardian article on the views put by the lawyer for the two women involved. I imagine that they are in considerable danger.
From the Guardian interview with the lawyer that Elaine linked to:
What victim-blaming does to victims and to justice.
Also from that article:
“[they are] victims of a crime, but they are looked upon as the perpetrators”
Summarises the attitude to all rape victims.
Why are these women’s names public knowledge?
For the same reason that the names of Baby P’s mother and her boyfriend were public knowledge when they were theoretically still secret. They’re on the internet.
I understand that Sweden is about the best place in terms of women’s freedom, and that it is far ahead on women’s rights than just about any other country. Also they have a much more sophisticated rape law system, that of course feminists helped develop.
What’s at issue here is liberal men calling the Swedish women liars, and it’s about the male left never taking rape seriously, because well, leftist men rape women. They get away with it. All men essentially don’t want women writing the rape laws or defining what concent might be.
Assange refused to get tested for STDs, what the Swedish women were worried about, among other things. Why women continue to work with leftist men is beyond me.
These arguments are always the same, and the smugness with which men in the media say “it’s another he said / she said” the thing is, when it comes to anti-rape laws it seems that the law is one big HE SAID all day all the time.
What if Assunge is a rapist under Swedish law? What if those women did get sexually transmitted diseases and he refused to get tested so that they could get treatment in time? He has admitted to having sex with both women, and men with multiple sex partners should be a worry to all women.
As for Mr Assange practising casual unprotected sex, that alone, for a man in his position may not deserve an international arrest warrant, but it does deserve international censure.
Well of course, if he were HIV positive and transmitted the disease to someone knowingly, that in itself is a criminal offence in some EU countries.
And if he agreed to sex with a condom and then didn’t wear a condom, he’s an arsehole.
here’s a good article by jessica valenti on the assange issue
And another great article from Jaclyn Friedman http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles?article=what_we_talk_about_when_we_talk_about_rape
Unity has written some very good posts on all this on his blog http://www.ministryoftruth.me.uk/
SheilaG – Amnesty International don’t share your view about women’s rights in Sweded regarding prosecution of rape http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/ACT77/001/2010/en
Just wanted to add my support, Cath. John Band’s original ‘it’s all a conspiracy’ piece is just…strange… haven’t followed the case in detail, but it seems pretty clear that agreeing to use a condom and then not using one is rape to my mind.
Gah, I share your frustration with leftie men. I agree with you that there is an element of hero-worship – or at least, the mistaken idea that ‘good’ ‘respectable’ men don’t rape.
Sometimes I’d rather deal with out and proud sexists, than left-wing men who totally think they are not sexist. ‘You’re so mean, you just don’t agree with me, that doesn’t mean my view is sexist!’ is a highly unoriginal tactic.
They agree that rape is *bad*, of course, and even deplore the conviction rate…it’s just that if they want to, they can come up with 100 reasons, in a specific case, why the woman is lying.
BBC radio 4 interview:
Julian Assange puts the responsibility for the serious sexual assaults he’s accused of, on to two women in a tizzy.
Two women in a tizzy? Wasn’t that always the case, muddle headed women complaining about nothing.
Damn Women! Victory!! I watched American MSNBC T.V. –political commentary show tonight with lesbian host Rachel Maddow. She had Michael Moore on as a guest… the same guy who days ago said the rape charges were hooey… well all the feminist blogs tweeting him in outrage must have caused him to change his tune. Tonight he said that the rape charges should be fully investigated and taken seriously AND… he had helped start a Rape Crisis Center back in Michigan, USA — 70s probably. Well what do you know, we forced a leftist jackass man to backtrack big time!!
Good work women!! Now let’s hope the police and the brave women who reported his sex crimes get that jackass extradited and in front of a court of law in Sweden.
For another perspective go here: