Naomi Wolf Joins Team Roiphe
Apparently, when she has a chance to curry favor with the sort of fauxgressive dude who is currently supporting Assange by any means fair or unfair, Wolf is just fine with turning her back on over twenty years of work with rape survivors. I listened to her on Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now, debating my friend and colleague Jaclyn Friedman, and I’m saddened but not surprised. Many folks have known for some time now that Wolf is … well, I’ll let my readers choose their own descriptor.
The estimable Angus Johnston at Student Activism already noted that she’s just misrepresenting the facts about Assange’s accusers:
In the course of the debate, Wolf repeatedly insisted that what Assange is alleged to have done could not have been rape because his accusers never told him “no.”
But here’s the thing. According to the published account that Wolf herself cited, one of them did tell him no. She told him no repeatedly and forcefully enough that he was first dissuaded from pursuing sex, then later complied with her demands.
Here’s the relevant passage from the Guardian:
Miss W told police that though they started to have sex, Assange had not wanted to wear a condom, and she had moved away because she had not wanted unprotected sex. Assange had then lost interest, she said, and fallen asleep. However, during the night, they had both woken up and had sex at least once when “he agreed unwillingly to use a condom”.
They start to have sex. He doesn’t want to use a condom. She insists. He refuses. He gives up and goes to sleep. They wake in the night. He doesn’t want to use a condom. She insists again. He complies.
And then what happens?
He fucks her in her sleep without using a condom.
She had awoken to find him having sex with her, she said, but when she asked whether he was wearing a condom he said no.
[Internal quotation in original.]
I’m critical of contract analogies, particularly in my Yes Means Yes book essay, Toward A Performance Model of Sex — but here, it serves to illustrate just how full or fail Wolf’s notion of consent is. And the less it’s about sex the more clear it becomes.
I’m a lawyer, I have a lot of protected, confidential material in my possession, some of which has to be properly disposed of. Suppose I contact a recycling vendor to get rid of boxes of highly confidential documents, but because I feel I need protection, I ask, “can you shred all the documents prior to reselling the paper?” If the vendor says, “we don’t do that, we just haul and resell,” then I’m going to turn them down. I’m not interested in their services, because they can’t provide me the protection I need. Now, imagine they just show up in my freight elevator and start hauling my boxes of confidential material away. We don’t have a deal! We don’t have a deal in the legal sense — we don’t have a meeting of the minds on a material term. And we don’t have a deal in the ethical sense. I said no! They’re invading my office and my confidentiality, they are exposing me to risks I expressly said I would not and could not take. They’re in the wrong in every conceivable way. They’re in the wrong even though I contacted them first. They’re in the wrong even though I demonstrably wanted a recycler. They’re in the wrong even if I agree to let it slide, agree that it was some sort of misunderstanding, because those vendors are a small community and I don’t want to get a reputation for being difficult. They’re in the wrong even if I later hire them to do a similar job for me!
What I’m saying here is that even by the most narrowly construed notions of consent, what has been described is not consensual. Wolf eventually — when called on her misrepresentation — conceded that Assange put his penis in a sleeping woman, and she relies on statements after the fact as, essentially, a waiver. (What it sounds like to me is that Assange badgered a woman until she gave up resisting.)
Wolf is arguing for a standard where even in the face of an express denial of consent, some combination or prior relationship and after-the-fact conduct creates a non-rebuttable presumption of consent. That view is anathema to any and all feminist thinking on rape ever, and she would not possibly say such a thing if she had not decided to go 100% in the tank for Assange.
There’s little in human relations that saddens or angers me more than people with principles throwing them away in order to support the popular and powerful. Corruptio optimi pessima.
[ETA: People who are new here may not be aware of the mod policy. The mod policy is that my posts are my domain, in which my decisions are arbitrary, capricious and final. I am not the government and therefore the First Amendment does not bind me to give anyone a forum — folks are free to start their own blogs. Here, anyone can be banned at any time for any reason or no reason. In practice, rape apologist comments go in the trash can immediately unless they offer really great comedic mocking potential. If you feel like you want to support Wolf, insult Jaclyn or mount a spirited defense of Assange, you can feel that way somewhere else.]