A rift has emerged on the activist left, as some feminists turn on fellow progressives over the rape allegations against WikiLeaks director Julian Assange.
Feminist groups say that in rallying to Assange’s cause, many progressives have dismissed the accusations against him as a possibly CIA-inspired plot, thereby diminishing the seriousness of the allegations and discouraging future victims from stepping forward.
Yana Walton of the Women’s Media Center told The Daily Caller that progressive activists such as Michael Moore and Keith Olbermann, in their treatment and coverage of the charges against Assange, have made light of rape allegations and put blame on the alleged victims.
“When sexual violence and rape is such a huge part of women’s lives internationally I don’t think it is ever helpful to legitimize it. Rape is rape is rape is rape, and should be prosecuted as such,” Walton said.
It is not, however, just the left that has caused harm to women with the coverage of this case, Walton says. According to Walton, it is anti-female to care about rape only when there are other factors at play — in this case, the leakage of highly sensitive documents.
“Rape should be taken seriously regardless of the situation. And to sort of pick and chose when you deploy gender and care for women and sexual violence against women is doing just as much of a disservice to women,” Walton said.
The frustration on the part of feminists has permeated the blogosphere. After Michael Moore (who helped post bail for Assange) appeared on Keith Olbermann on December 14 to make light of the charges, Sady Doyle, founder of the the feminist website Tiger Beatdown, started a mass twitter campaign against Olbermann and Moore.
In a blog post at Salon.com, Doyle explained her anger:
“I was frustrated with the way the Julian Assange rape case had been treated by fellow left-wing media figures, including Keith Olbermann, but especially Michael Moore, who minimized the accusations while pledging bail money to Assange.”
The campaign was effective enough to get Olbermann to step back from his Twitter account through the weekend.
While feminists are practically united in their anger over the manner in which the left has maligned Assange’s victims and minimized the allegations, one prominent feminist has taken a different tack: feminist icon Naomi Wolf. In a debate with Jaclyn Friedman of Women, Action & the Media on Democracy Now! Wolf defended Assange as a victim of political persecution.
“If you are going to take the issue of rape seriously,” Wolf said, “the person who is engaging in what he thinks is consensual sex has to be told, ‘I don’t want this’ and again and again and again these women did not say, ‘this is not consensual.’ Assange was shocked when these were brought up as complaints because he had no idea that this was not a consensual situation.”
Friedman took issue with Wolf’s characterization, saying that rape in all instances needed to be taken seriously.
“Rape is a very serious crime and it is also one of the most under reported crimes across the globe and one of the reasons is every time the issue comes up in the media people come out of the woodwork to blame the victims and minimize the crimes. Unfortunately when we see somebody who is a progressive hero like Assange is, those critics, those people who are doing that minimization and that victim blaming often come from the left as well as the right,” Friedman said, noting that Assange’s alleged victims have received death threats and gone into hiding.
Amy Siskind, president and co-founder of The New Agenda, echoed Friedman. Siskind told TheDC that the way the left is treating the Assange case will act to perpetuate a culture of victim blame in society and the media.
“I have been shocked and disgusted by the reaction of some people on the left to these rape allegations. Throughout the media there has been an inability to separate out what happened with these rape allegations from the WikiLeaks and it seems as if these women are meant to be roadkill so that the people on the left who view what Assange did as heroic can celebrate him. And they really are two separate things,” she said.
According to Siskind and others, Wolf and those in her corner have been completely out of line in minimizing the charges against Assange.
“[Wolf] trivialized these women and rape generally and if you look online and at the blogosphere, she certainly stands alone,” Siskind said. “If this is what it is to be a Progressive, that we sublimate women and rape so that we can celebrate whatever [Michael Moore] is celebrating with freedom of speech. And I think women on the Progressive side need to reexamine how they are being treated.”