Sunday, 9 January 2011

Being a feminist is a lot like being a bowl of petunias

I was in the middle of reading Gordon Campbell's mostly sensible article about wikileaks, and I came to this paragraph:

In one of the two incidents, the alleged conflict over consent reportedly turns on whether or not (in the midst of what had hitherto been consensual sex) Assange knowingly proceeded after a condom failure had occurred. In the other incident, consent is reportedly not the issue – it is whether the act involved unprotected sex, which is a (minor) offence under Swedish law.

The idea that Sweden has sexual assault laws that would be unrecognisable in the rest of the world has been repeated lots, but it's wrong. Plenty of English language sources have been explaining this for a while now.

There is no longer need for any prevaricating or lack of clarity about what Assange has been accused of. It is three weeks since the Guardian posted a full account of the accusations of sexual assault against Assange. There is no excuse for misrepresenting those accusations.

This is what one woman described:
Her account to police, which Assange disputes, stated that he began stroking her leg as they drank tea, before he pulled off her clothes and snapped a necklace that she was wearing. According to her statement she "tried to put on some articles of clothing as it was going too quickly and uncomfortably but Assange ripped them off again". Miss A told police that she didn't want to go any further "but that it was too late to stop Assange as she had gone along with it so far", and so she allowed him to undress her.

According to the statement, Miss A then realised he was trying to have unprotected sex with her. She told police that she had tried a number of times to reach for a condom but Assange had stopped her by holding her arms and pinning her legs. The statement records Miss A describing how Assange then released her arms and agreed to use a condom, but she told the police that at some stage Assange had "done something" with the condom that resulted in it becoming ripped, and ejaculated without withdrawing.
That is not an account that "turns on whether or not (in the midst of what had hitherto been consensual sex) Assange knowingly proceeded after a condom failure had occurred."

Gordon Campbell describes the second accusation like this: "consent is reportedly not the issue – it is whether the act involved unprotected sex, which is a (minor) offence under Swedish law." This is how the woman describes it:
The following day, Miss W phoned Assange and arranged to meet him late in the evening, according to her statement. The pair went back to her flat in Enkoping, near Stockholm. 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".

Early the next morning, Miss W told police, she had gone to buy breakfast before getting back into bed and falling asleep beside Assange. 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. "According to her statement, she said: 'You better not have HIV' and he answered: 'Of course not,' " but "she couldn't be bothered to tell him one more time because she had been going on about the condom all night. She had never had unprotected sex before."

I really like Gordon Campbell; I think he's written some really important stuff. There aren't enough solid left voices in the New Zealand media.

I hoped, I still hope, that this was a mistake based on ignorance and not paying attention. I left a comment making most of the points I've made here on his post on Scoop. It hasn't been posted yet, although other comments on that article have been.

There are better ways of being the New Zealand Michael Moore or John Pilger than misrepresenting women's descriptions of sexual abuse. Please Gordon Campbell, delete that paragraph and replace it with an accurate one.


Hugh said...

Isn't misrepresenting women actually a very appropriate way of being New Zealand's Mike Moore? His record on the Assange accusation has been quite appalling.

Boganette said...

"I hoped, I still hope, that this was a mistake based on ignorance and not paying attention"

- Fair enough. But why wasn't he paying attention? I really don't understand how reporters/columnists/personalities (God forbid) etc find it so fucking difficult to do their homework when it comes to the Assange allegations. Assange seems to be able to turn seemingly intelligent people into hysterical groupies who worship him as a rockstar. It's a complete cult of personality. I don't understand why people can't support WikiLeaks without spreading bullshit about the rape allegations.

It's like Naomi Wolf's original Guardian piece. She's since said on the BBC WHYS* it was published before she knew all the facts (or something, I'm paraphrasing). So why do people keep writing shit about Assange without doing their research, or waiting for the facts? Is it that fucking hard?

*Did everyone hear the broadcast? I almost passed out with rage. Wolf has actually lost the fucking plot big time.

Anonymous said...

What I think would be great is if we did something about active local misogynists instead of targeting Gordon Campbell, e.g. the Stuff story last week about ACT on Campus likening compulsory student union membership to gang rape, and like anti-choice blogger (and ACT on Campus office holder) Andy Moore writing a blog post under this heading: "Abortion is a Woman's Choice. Just Like Rape is a Man's Choice." -- TreeClimber

Boganette said...

You know what's awesome? Being able to be angry at more than one thing at a time.

Like thinking it's piss-poor that people are spreading false information about the Assange case and also speaking out against 'active local misogynists'.

Where is your blog? Have you blogged about it? Why don't you provide a link?

Anonymous said...

@Maia: Heck yes to all the above.

@Hugh: Yes, tragically, Campbell would be putting himself entirely in the mould of US "liberals" like Michael Moore and Keith Olbermann by demeaning rape victims and supporting rape culture.

As I said on Maia's blog, I just don't get why, if these allegations aren't relevant to Wikileaks' reputation or work, he needs to mention them at all.

I guess the temptation to act like a superior know-it-all and pass judgement on whether PC Has Gone Too Far is just too great.

Dr Stuart Jeanne Bramhall said...

The plot thickens as the Swedish press reports on Karl Rove's likely involvement in all this. Seems like he's up to his old tricks again - only in Sweden this time. I strongly recommend people have a look at this article translated from Swedish before they dismiss Wolf’s allegations about Assange being set up:

The whole Wikileaks/feminist controversy is starting to smell like classic Cointelpro tactics to me. The use of identity politics to divide the progressive movement dates back to the 1960s civil rights movement. I write about my sad personal experiences with all this in my recent memoir THE MOST REVOLUTIONARY ACT: MEMOIR OF AN AMERICAN REFUGEE ( I currently live in exile in New Zealand.

Psycho Milt said...

They aren't relevant to Wikileaks' work but they are relevant to various govts' attempts to discredit Wikileaks, which will be why he mentions them.

You have a point, though - given that nobody other than those involved will ever know whether the allegations are true or not, and that it wouldn't stand a chance of making it to prosecution in any country with a justice system operating on presumption of innocence, the allegations themselves aren't really something you can have an opinion on. Campbell really should have stuck with that.

Anonymous said...

I'd agree, PM, except that Campbell doesn't actually touch on the whole "suspicious timing of these allegations" thing, or even the "in a hell of a lot of other countries and maybe even in Sweden these charges would be taken less seriously if made against a non-"enemy-of-the-state"" issue.

He just says "these things should be unconnected" and then goes on to repeat massively outdated misinformation about the Swedish prosecutor's office and the allegations being made.

He's not even "having an opinion" on the charges, he's lying about the facts of the case. And I say lying because as Maia stated, accurate information has been available for weeks and there is no excuse for a journo of Campbell's calibre to be unaware of that. (If only because it apparently means he doesn't read The Guardian!)

Anonymous said...

And then of course when you add that Maia and myself have both made comments correcting him which have mystically failed to be published while supportive comments have gone up ... one doesn't like to scream "conspiracy!" but I'm running low on Faith In Male Media Figures at this point.

Hugh said...

Assange seems to be able to turn seemingly intelligent people into hysterical groupies who worship him as a rockstar.

It's not just Assange. I know you're very familiar with the similar brouhaha around Stephen Fry - admittedly, Fry wasn't accused of doing anything as serious as raping anybody, but the fervor with which his internet buddies leapt to defend him was if anything even more vitriolic. And the less recent shitfight over Amanda Palmer's jokes about the KKK seems to be similar agian.

This sort of thing isn't limited to the Left but there's a particular hypocrisy to it on the Left which always makes it quite sad in my point of view. Every time I see some cooing about how awesome and insightful and enlightened some public figure is I always imagine the people doing the cooing leaping to defend that person when something like this happens.

It's a useful mental exercise for me, whenever I start thinking about how advanced and progressive some public figure is, to imagine them raping somebody, or defending somebody else raping somebody, or saying something racist. Because I'm pretty sure for everybody who gets caught in the act, like Assange, or lets their mental censor have a day off, like Fry and Palmer, there are plenty who harbour these views but manage to keep their thoughts from finding their way into the public eye.

Maia said...

Thanks for your comments everyone.

Boganette - I agree that if we assume a mistake, the question of why Gordon Campbell made this mistake is important. Why comment on the accusations if you haven't done your research?

I think the lack of care that left-wing men can take with rape - the lack of understanding that this is something that needs care every single time - is a sign that both sexual violence and women are not taken seriously.

Boganette said...

I totally agree Hugh & Maia. Well said.

Also - not to beat a dead horse but there are a bunch of NZ Con links at the bottom of this page that have nothing to do with this story. Or feminism. Or anything of value whatsoever.

When I see links at the bottom of a post I expect to be able to follow them to related posts by intelligent people.

Needless to say - This is NZ Con. So is this going to be fixed? They're getting traffic to their troll site and it's undeserving.

Giovanni Tiso said...

Agree, Boganette, and it should be possible for the mods to remove those links by clicking on the helpful garbage bin.

Boganette said...

If only all NZ Con posts could be sent to the garbage bin where they belong.

Deborah said...

I would if I could even see them. I don't know what the story with the links is, I', sorry. Will do my best to sort something a.s.a.p.

Giovanni Tiso said...

I think one of your colleagues preceded you, Deborah, the links are gonsky.

K said...

Three links are back (NZ Conservative again). There is also a new irrelevant NZ Conservative link on the easy targets post. You could ask NZ Conservative to stop posting their links onto The Hand Mirror?

Maia said...

I'm pretty sure that the NZ conservative isn't linking to the Hand Mirror on purpose. It's just that they (like The Hand Mirror and other blogs) have a widget which links to the latest post.

Deleting the links individually is not a task that I can commit myself to, and I doubt it's within anyone else's time priorities either. We're talking about solutions - but as the only one I know about would involve disabling links we will have to think about it. Other members of the blog are away for the next few days, so we won't be able to make any decisions soon.

Random Lurker said...

Off topic, but (@Hugh) what did Fry do?

Boganette said...

Is it a widget? At the bottom of each post it says you can 'create a link' to said post. I have the same thing on my blog. And I don't get any NZ Con links. I only get links that apply to the post I've written about. And maybe one spam a month? I mean it might be a widget - I don't know. Anyway it doesn't matter that much.

Hugh said...

Random Lurker

Welcome back! I hope you had a nice holiday for the last couple of months. It must have been very relaxing living among that isolated group of Native Americans in the Brazilian rainforest.

In response to your query, rather than attempt to explain myself, I'll just point you to some posts by people better qualified to comment than I am:

Random Lurker said...


Ah. Thanks.

Sometime back I followed a cryptic link that merely said something along the lines of "The Art of Apology ... well, it worked for him". I clicked through to this page which I read with some perplexity as I had been fairly ignorant about this. The links you posted gave some context. So thanks for that. Foreign celebrity goings on aren't really an area I'm familiar with.

I know Fry primarily as the host of QI, and the actor in Blackadder, Fry & Laurie and Jeeves and Wooster. I understand he is playing Mycroft in a Sherlock Holmes film. I understand that he is considered fairly knowledgeable on Euro-centric general knowledge and history, is considered to be an eloquent wordsmith, and is particularly fond of poetry and philosophy, but not dance, or the Catholic church. I don't follow his Twitter, read his blogs, or articles and as such amn't particularly well informed on his specific opinions on anything*. The internet is full of people getting up in virtual arms at all sorts of things, and so it's unlikely that I hear of various furores. I clearly missed the Hand Mirror post, but that's to be expected - I only lurk randomly.

*Actually I do know that he has a low opinion of people who complained about the vuvuzela buzzes to the BBC. "What do they expect the BBC to do?" he retorted in a speech to broadcast media industry insiders (on Youtube). I remember thinking, well, if it were me, I'd expect the BBC to implement an optional notch filter.