Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Feminist Conspiracies and Julian Assange

It is hard to avoid all this hype around Assange and Wikileaks. I know this will be my third consecutive post on it, but there is just so much that is off with the entire circus.

Today, another one of those anti-rape charge news articles were posted by Daily Mail. (I wrote about the AOL News article yesterday.) This one is not much better than the last one, and some of the bits made me close my eyes in disgust.

Once again, a lot of the emphasis is put on the fact that at least one of the women is a self-proclaimed feminist. In this article it is described as follows
An attractive blonde, Sarah was already a well-known ‘radical feminist’. In her 30s, she had travelled the world following various fashionable causes.
While a research assistant at a local university she had not only been the protegee of a militant feminist ­academic, but held the post of ‘campus sexual equity officer’. Fighting male discrimination in all forms, including sexual harassment, was her forte.
She is this time not only a radical feminist, but a militant one, taking this description of aggression and rabidness to a whole different level than when she was simply described as 'radical.' It is also implying some kind of physical method of resistance, I suppose against the patriarchy, or men in general. I'm reiterating what I said yesterday: just because this woman is a feminist, radical, militant or whatever type doesn't mean that she cannot be raped or sexually assaulted in any other way. In fact, having manoeuvred the legal system in cases of sexual harassment before means that she is probably more knowledgeable about what rights she has and doesn't have. Likewise, it does not tell anything about the case that Assange has said that he will fight the extradition to Sweden.

Also, about some of the rumours about the power relations in rape cases. The legislation exists. But as far as I have gathered from reading about it, both in media and various discussions, it was passed because of different relations than the ones involved in this case. The legislation is, the argument goes, there for the protection of people that are essentially in a dependency position, for instance a boss and his/her employee. If the boss at one point indicates or expressly says to his/her employee that sex is needed for advancement, this would be counted as rape. The same goes for a situation with, say a university Professor and his/her student with regards to grades. If the person that clearly has more power over the other forces the other person through verbal threats, explicit or implicit, that if the dependent person does not have sex with him/her, they will not receive the promotion/grades promised. Note that this is not simply sleeping one's way up to the top, there is an element of coercion in this case. I don't know what allegation the women accusing Assange made in regards to power relations or anything similar, but I would think that this particular piece of legislation would not be applicable in this case, unless there is information that we do not know about that points to something like this. If this law can be thrown around on little to no basis at all, then yes, I agree with its critics, it needs to be seriously revised, but I would like to have a little more faith in the judicial system than that.

This whole business seems to me have turned into an affair of Wikileaks vs. the women. And I do not mean Wikileaks as in the organisation itself has turned against the women; I mean Wikileaks in the sense that people seem to have made Julian Assange synonymous with Wikileaks. Wikileaks is an organisation, not a person, and people would do very well to keep this in mind. There is no doubt that Wikileaks have done people good through releasing information; people have the right to know. However, just because Wikileaks, the organisation has done something good, does not mean Julian Assange the person cannot do something bad. This argument is applicable in the reverse as well for those who see this information leak as something negative. Just because Wikileaks the organisation did something you consider horrible, does not mean that Julian Assange the person will inevitably rape women.

Lastly, I want to point out that just because Sweden has a legal system that is equal, that takes into consideration women's needs in such cases as rape, where the conviction rates are appallingly low, does not mean it hates men or that it inevitably discriminates men. The statistics speak to the reverse, it is very hard to be sentenced for a rape crime. Besides, Sweden is not exactly known for its fierce punishments and long prison sentences. I would believe many people regard the Swedish legal system as 'soft' because of its focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment.

The Swedish state is great in many senses, it has been at the top of the list for democratic countries for a while, and is according to the previously linked index the most democratic country. This does not mean it is flawless, but it does mean that we do have a judicial system that is reliable. It does also point to the fact that there is no huge feminist conspiracy of this seemingly man-hating country in addition to the much-speculated government conspiracies. (By the by, I would like to set something straight here - feminism doesn't mean being against men; it means the struggle for equality between men and women and although there are man-hating people identifying as feminists, this is not the norm.)

Sweden is a country that respects women's rights, some would even argue perhaps not as much as it should, and I, as a native Swede, resent that this should be painted in a bad light. There is no anti-male bias, or an exclusive pro-female bias, but there is a will to reach equality between the sexes. This equality is completely opposite to the view that all men are rapists, so there is no logical basis that anyone should judge Sweden as a country who is anti-male, which is what all this talk about Assange "running afoul" of pro-feminist laws seems to imply (from the AOL News article cited in yesterday's post).

Also, keep in mind, Sweden is not charging Assange for any involvement he has with Wikileaks; they are charging him with the alleged rape, sexual harassment and duress against two women. This is not a trial of Wikileaks, this is a trial of a man who has been accused of sexual offences.

For any specific questions regarding Swedish rape law, a Swedish law student under the pseudonym Mortality has kindly offered to answer questions. If you are genuinely interested with the nuances and grey areas of Swedish rape law, contact this person with your questions. If you are just out to criticise Swedish rape law, I suggest you do not clutter this person's mail box.


  1. My problem with Swedish law is not that there is an anti-male bias (I agree that there is not) but that there is a pro-"feelings" or pro-"self-esteem" bias strongly evident. I hate the idea that any person - regardless of gender - could be convicted of a crime - any crime - solely because one person - regardless of gender - feels that he or she is a victim. Unless there is actual proof that somebody's actual rights have been violated, there's simply no crime; convicting someone solely to soothe the hurt feelings of another person is downright awful.

  2. I don't recognise your description of the Swedish legal system. Granted, I haven't been involved in it myself, but I've lived in the country most of my life. I would say it definitely has a strong focus on rehabilitation instead of punishment, but that is not equal to "pro-feeling" or "pro-self-esteem." The difference is in the treatment after the legal process, not during.

    Well, technically, a crime can have been committed without sufficient evidence having been presented in court. Simply because enough evidence doesn't exist doesn't mean it didn't happen. Of course, there should be solid evidence for a sentence.

    As for this case, the prosecutor thinks she has quite strong evidence. I know nothing, and neither do most of us, so it's just silly speculating based on rumours flying around the internet.

  3. same poster as above08/12/2010, 00:08

    Yes, of course there is obviously evidence in this case. I would love for it to be public, but that may be asking too much, so I am forced to assume that there's evidence somewhere. And I suppose that, in my immediate burst of irritation, I definitely both exaggerated details unfairly and singled out Sweden in what I really perceive as more general to much of European politics. What I really meant, now that I have had more time to think about it, is that I see, in Europe in general but especially in Sweden lately, a startling trend of "guilty until proven innocent" predicated on the notion that it's somehow disrespectful to the accuser to operate on the assumption that the charges are false. In fact, "respect" seems like a much more accurate description of what I see than "feelings". All too often people seem to believe that it's disrespectful to suggest that someone may be lying or wrong - but the idea that the plaintiff must prove the case to people who assume that it is wrong is fundamental to our idea of justice. Does that make sense?

  4. Yes, it makes sense. And I appreciate both of your comments, by the way. I forgot to say so in the last comment.

    I see what you mean, and I don't really have an opinion on it. I suppose I haven't really been paying too much attention to how legal cases are portrayed in media, or maybe I just have been too thick to pick up the bias (not saying you're insinuating this, it's just a reflection on me made by me). I suppose you might be right.

    The problem with rape cases, however, and why I keep on cautioning against judging these women without a proper trial, is that it is often a traumatic crime. Sexual assault in all its forms are attached with stigma and they are often attached with victim blame (she shouldn't have done that, she shouldn't have gone there, why did she get into bed with him?). Apart from that, there is an appalling amount of rape cases that even reach a verdict because there simply isn't enough evidence in a 'he said - she said' case. But this doesn't mean that the rapes didn't occur. It means that the a lot of survivors are unlikely to ever see retribution. There are simply a lot of problems, assumptions and bias attached to rape cases.
    This is why I think that cases concerning sexual assault and other forms of exploitation deserve special consideration and respect.

  5. "DON'T even reach a verdict" it should of course be. My apologies. It must be that time of night when words just fall away.

  6. Oh, I agree that it's wrong to judge these women personally in this case. We don't know anything about them, really. There's a difference between assuming that they are lying or wrong for the sake of an objective verdict, and assuming that they are liars. Really, I don't remember why I chose to say this here, as you seem to be quite reasonable, and I think it's just that this is the only blog I found that was talking about this and also seemed to welcome comments like this.
    In a lot of other sites I see people who seem to believe that "innocent until proven guilty" necessarily entails thinking that all women are horrible monsters or that Assange is some kind of god. The worst are the people who'd like to think they are feminists, but who do more harm than good because they believe that the accusers deserve absolute faith and respect, without any dissent, simply because they are women - exactly the attitude that too many misogynists cite as descriptive of feminism as a whole. So, I hope you understand, I've been reading people's emotional appeals over this all day and I keep wanting to point out how irrational it all is, but nobody seems inclined to let me do that - except for here. So... sorry about all this pointless argument. :D

  7. Thank you for thinking I'm reasonable! And I also think that any argument is good to have, even if it is just to realise that it is pointless (if there even is such a thing as a pointless argument, one can always learn).

    I, too, have a problem with the attachment of personality to a crime from both parts and although I am sure there are feminists who would want to protect them out of solidarity rather than reason, I think the majority are actually just aware of the complexities surrounding rape issues. Rape is often an issue feminists have an interest in as it is typically a form of domination (see the myths in the "Sex by Surprise" blog post), and a form of assault that mainly affects women. I think that, perhaps, the perceived irrationality on the behalf of people/feminists defending these women may come from the fact that it is, as you say, an emotional issue. It's really hard not taking a position on it, or at least lean to one direction, and when one does, and gets sucked into the discussion, it is often with full force, when it comes to a touchy issue like this one.

    I will allow any comments as long as they are not rude, trolling or anything like it. All discussions can be productive and until they are not, I see no reason to restrict them. I'm glad you were able to blow some steam off, and I have appreciated your comments!

  8. Hi linnea, I enjoy reading your blog. Some more thoughts:

    1) What makes many so uncomfortbale with these kind of rape accusations, is that a simple alegations (w/o evidence) seems to be enough for an arrest (if hopefully not for a conviction). if i accused you of stealing 1 million from me, without evidence, the police would laugh about me. but if you accused me of raping you, i might end up in a prison for several months before a trial even starts. as a man, that makes me uncomfortable.

    2) if feminism is, as you say, about equality, why is it called feminism? the word alone suggests (at least to me) that it is a movement for the advancement of the female sex. therefore it is a lobby group for one part of the population. that is legitimate, but it is of course far from being a movement for equal rights. as long as women were discrimated by law, working for the advancement of women was roughly the same as working for equal rights. but as soon as women enjoyed equal rights, it startet to become a movement for special privileges for women (and therefore automatically for the discrimination of men): in my home country you can see that when feminists are strongly opposed to rights for men and women in areas where women enjoy privileges (i.e. a lower entry age for retirement or male-only conscription to the armed forces)

    3) it seems that in sweden it is a crime not to use a condom when the partner wanted to use a condom. fine with me. is it also a crime, when a woman says she uses a contraceptive (e.g. pill) and she really doesnt?

  9. Thanks for your comment and your kind words!

    As for the evidence, I have pointed over and over again in both this blog post and the one called 'Sex by Surprise' and the comments that the prosecutor feels she has enough evidence to bring Assange in on the second level of charges, which means that she suspects it is likely the verdict will be in her favour. This is not a weak case, it is a "medium strong" one if one wants to use terms such as that, and possibly even stronger.

    You are right that in feminism works primarily with women's issues. There are feminists, I am one myself, who are outspoken proponents for better men's rights, especially in areas of child care and other areas where women are privileged. So being for women's rights and men's rights are not mutually exclusive, I have argued that they are very much inter-linked, and this is what I still believe. Feminism is, however, a way of recognising that women have been structurally discriminated against historically, and while we have reached legal equality, we are not quite there yet in social status. This is what feminism wishes to change.
    Important to remember as well is that feminism is like any other approach, very broad. There are different kinds of feminists, and just because someone identifies as a feminist does not mean they agree with everything that has been said in the feminist literature. Actually, the largest criticism of feminism comes from other feminists within academia.
    I strongly disagree with what those feminists that you describe do. It is not my place to say that they cannot identify as feminists or any such thing, because I am not the Mother of All Feminists, but I will distance myself from those opinions, if they are, as you say, wanting to keep female privileges while taking away male privileges.

    As for legal questions, I will have to refer you to the poster under the pseudonym 'Mortality' who has commented a lot in the 'Sex by Surprise' post. That poster has offered to answer any legal questions as (s)he is a law student, and I am not. If you find the pseudonym, simply click on the name and it will take you to his/her web page where there is an email address. Alternatively, Mortality might pop up her during the day and answer your question re condoms/contraceptive pills.

  10. Trish Zanetti30/01/2011, 06:39

    @ 'Anonymous' Re your third point:

    You said "it seems that in sweden it is a crime not to use a condom when the partner wanted to use a condom. fine with me. is it also a crime, when a woman says she uses a contraceptive (e.g. pill) and she really doesnt? "

    I don't think you are really asking a legal question here are you? You are using the question to make a point, but in doing so you are really missing the point.

    If a man goes ahead and 'has sex' with you without a condom, when you have repeatedly said that you don't want to (or even just said it once) that is by all definitions - rape, because he has had sex without with you without your consent.

    In other words, he has penetrated your body with a part of his body when you didn't want him to AND possibly impregnated you against your will, and/or exposed you to a sexually transmitted disease, one of which can kill you.

    If a man suspects a woman is not being truthful about being on the pill he can simply choose to wear a condom, or not have sex with the woman. It is COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. Your comments, whilst relatively benign, do show a complete lack of understanding of the issue.

    Bottom line is, the experience of sex is obviously different for men and women - and I think that some men have a problem with understanding rape at all because (and I'm not accusing you of this, but speaking of men I have known in the past) they can not grasp that just because something feels great to them - doesn't mean it is the same for the woman at the other end of it, so to speak. So they might say "but she must've enjoyed it".

    In Australia we have laws covering 'withdrawal of consent' also - so that at any point I can withdraw my consent to sex - and the sex, or attempt at it, should stop.