Naomi Wolf and those ‘childish’ feminists

6 January 2011


Naomi Wolf has written a piece for the Guardian on Julian Assange, rape accusations and anonymity. It’s dire. Perhaps one shouldn’t expect much from a liberal ‘feminist’ who has already misrepresented the accusations and seems to think being asleep doesn’t prevent giving consent – see the excellent piece on StudentActivism.Net. But Wolf has got herself so tangled up in confused libertarianism and conspiracy-spotting that she’s now actually arguing anti-feminist lines in national newspaper. Wow.

Apparently, the women who are accusing Assange of rape ‘deserve’ to be named. Not because they’re CIA stooges (although, no doubt, Naomi thinks this or similar) but because anonymity is patronising to women. Her argument continues that anonymity is a hangover from the Victorian era, when to be raped was shaming. We’re no longer ‘Angels in the House’, fragile, retiring things, so we should be allowed to be ‘moral adults’ when we accuse someone of rape. Anything else is just paternalism in the guise of defending women. Right…

If this was a general argument, it’d be bad enough. Anonymity for rape victims (‘rape accusers’ in Wolf’s slightly odd language) isn’t a burden, it’s all too frequently a necessity. We live in a culture where many still believe drunk women are ‘asking for it’, where a woman under pressure from abusers to drop rape charges was jailed last year, where prominent left-wingers call for rape charges they cannot judge to be false be dropped, where the press give many times more column inches to the few false accusations than to any rape conviction and where columnists can seriously claim that the 40% rape court cases ending in acquittal are all malicious, false accusations. Would you report a rape if it meant having your morals, your motives, your background and your sex life scrutinised in the press? I can’t say I would.

These are feminist ABCs – we still live in a society that does not take rape and sexual violence seriously, where stigma thrives, particularly when it comes to a woman’s sex life, and where the rape conviction rate is woefully low. So we defend anonymity for rape victims, and campaign for it where it doesn’t exist. Naomi Wolf has found herself a cause celebre and dropped all this. She’s dropping feminism, and selling out her sisters on the way. Inside the bizarre suggestion that women be allowed to be ‘moral adults’ by being named is a kernel of real spite. Anyone who doesn’t agree, either politically or as women who have made rape accusations anonymously, is a moral child, not operating on the same plain of maturity as Wolf. Feminism is childish.

But it’s worse than this. Outside of the general issue, the spur for this piece is the continued anonymity of Assange’s accusers. Wolf isn’t just doing a controversy-seeking thought piece. She’s advocating two specific women are unmasked, their identities revealed to the baying mobs on both sides of the Assange debate. Presumably so she and the other utter feminist sell-outs who signed this letter can pick through their histories, politics and personal lives to find some evidence to back up their true blind faith that Assange is innocent. Surely there has rarely been a case in which the case for accuser anonymity has been so well demonstrated. Apparently “laws exist to protect women from such inquiries”, though. It’s ok, feminist comrades. The legal and media establishment has been declared patriarchy-free. We can give up now.

Finally, to compare the Assange case to the Oscar Wilde trial is ludicrous. Oscar Wilde was found guilty and he was guilty. The injustice springs from the law, at fault for criminalising homosexuality – he was not falsely accused. This is not a conspiracy issue. ‘No one is proud of the outcome of that trial today’ because very few people think homosexuality should have been illegal. Julian Assange has been accused of rape. Unless Naomi has truly lost it, and really thinks consensual but proscribed gay sex is analogous to rape allegation which may or may not be true but deserve a hearing, she’s just being disingenuous here.

The whole tenor of the piece is disingenuous, hiding her desire as a die-hard Assange supporter to reveal and discredit his accusers, to delegitimise their right to due process, behind a pseudo-feminist argument about women’s maturity and that damn patronising patriarchy. This isn’t feminist. It’s a witch-hunt.

Update: studentactivism.net comments on the Wolf article.