The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Where are the Women? Julian Assange Meets Todd Akin

August 25, 2012

The left (and even the semi-left) has been legitimately stewed in the past week or so about Todd Akin’s remarks about rape. Akin is apparently under the impression that women can’t get pregnant from “legitimate rape,” thus simplifying the whole ugly and complicated abortion-as-a-result-of-rape debate. Others have showed what an asshole this guy is – I have no need to repeat that here. What I liked about the responses to the now-hopefully-unelectable Akin was that women and womanhood became front and center. I read narratives about women who had become pregnant from rape, who had babies and who had abortions. It made me think and feel for the people involved, and I saw a lot of solidarity around something that is close to a political consensus in the US: rape is not okay.
Right next to articles about Akin, though, are articles about Julian Assange. Assange is attempting to escape extradition from the UK to Sweden on charges of rape, molestation, and abuse by seeking political asylum in Ecuador (or, currently, the Ecuador embassy in the UK). Where are the women there?

Assange is accused of rape. He is accused of having sex with a woman while she was asleep (which a British politician called “bad sexual etiquette,” not rape, apparently because she had consensual sex with him before she fell asleep. This apparently made his penetrating her without her consent simply ‘rude’ rather than rape). It was also apparently only “really bad manners” if Assange had sex with a woman who consented to having sex with him with a condom, sans condom, not telling her. What’s the difference, after all? Pregnancy, disease ….

But Assange’s cause has become a crusade. Those who would defend Assange claim that Sweden would extradite Assange to the United States, which might him on ‘more serious’ charges like espionage (since rape is not that serious, apparently, especially when it is just ‘rude’). While there is some doubt to that story, even assuming it were true, does that mean it is okay not to explore rape charges?

I have a radical idea for Julian Assange: how about not being ‘rude’ and arousing suspicion of rape? How about, if you decide that you’re going to break a lot of US laws exposing the US government, abstaining from behavior that might leave you wanted for rape in a state allied to the US? How about hurting leftist politics more than you help it because of an egocentric decision that put you at risk when you could have easily avoided the risk?

But more than that – if WikiLeaks is all about showing the invisible – where are the women? Even if we were to assume that their charges are false and a product of US government conspiracy (which seems unlikely to me, given that I hope a machine like the US government could make a better conspiracy), the women (and what might have happened to their bodies) are often invisible in the discussion of Assange, who is characterized as a political prisoner. In a number of accounts, women are getting blamed for Assange being wanted for questioning, and a number of groups of ‘women against rape’ have come out, certain the charges against Assange are false, to identify charges against him as political, and the women who levied the charges as liars.

Not deciding whether Assange ‘did it’ or not – none of us have the evidence to know that – I want to know why we’re so sure (and the women are so vilified) when an impressive, rebellious guy is accused of rape. After all, good leftists would never do that, right? Turns out, I think, wrong – but, either way, the blinders to women (potential) victims of this redefinition of rape seem particularly ironic, especially given the commonalities of ignorance it has with Akin’s recent comments.

(Brief aside/conclusion): I’m about the biggest anti-government leftist there is. I firmly believe that the US should apologize for its imperialism, stop screwing with other people around the world, pay reparations for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and actively seek a socialist economy. For me, WikiLeaks is a hard thing. Do I like information-uncovering espionage? Definitely. Its the sort of thing that gets my blood boiling. But leftist anti-government action has never really seemed to be what WikiLeaks is about. In fact, I’ve been following WikiLeaks on twitter since its inception, and the content seems to be more about WikiLeaks generally and Julian Assange specifically than it is about intelligence secrets, government interference, and the sort of stuff WikiLeaks said it was about – information. WikiLeaks has, several times, claimed to be holding its best information in the case of its own demise. REALLY? Because I don’t care whether WikiLeaks exists or not if the politics of it were followed through on – and I would say that even if I were a principal in WikiLeaks. But stardom and self-preservation seem to be more important to WikiLeaks than the politics, and I lose respect. Even were Julian Assange a purely political prisoner, I’ve counted literally thousands of tweets about him and Bradley Manning, and very few if any about the nameless political prisoners held longer and for less reason in Gitmo. REALLY? So if this post came off as a little anti-WikiLeaks, …well, fair enough. Even though I’d think of myself as their most likely audience.

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Laura Sjoberg is British Academy Global Professor of Politics and International Relations at Royal Holloway University of London and Professor of Political Science at the University of Florida. Her research addresses issues of gender and security, with foci on politically violent women, feminist war theorizing, sexuality in global politics, and political methodology. She teaches, consults, and lectures on gender in global politics, and on international security. Her work has been published in more than 50 books and journals in political science, law, gender studies, international relations, and geography.