Sunday, 19 December 2010
You can't have missed the constant media hoopla surrounding the sexual assault and rape charges against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in the past few weeks. Before the snow hit, the media seemed to be covering every minute of his court hearings and bail applications, especially since this has been happening in the UK. But what you may not have heard so much about is the reaction to the Assange case in the USA and boy, is it a shitstorm.
Famous progressive film maker Michael Moore, never a man to keep an opinion to himself, firstly put up $20,000 for Assange's bail and spoke out on to Keith Olbermann, declaring the rape allegations to be 'hooey' and a fuss over a 'broken condom'. Moore is not the first person to come out on the behalf of Assange, declaring they know what happened between three people on two occasions in Sweden several months ago and pooh-poohing the allegations of rape in order to declare their support for the work Wikilieaks is doing, but he is the most derisory about the fact that a serious crime is alleged to have happened. And because he's a left wing type, his rape denial has attracted a lot of attention for several reasons.
Firstly, it's incredibly stupid to make absolute statements about events you aren't involved in and thus don't know the full facts on. Moore was not present when the alleged attacks took place. I haven't even seen anything that suggests he knows Julian Assange. He has since changed his statements about the allegations as the Guardian reports more Wikileaks cables over the weekend. I don't know what happened between Assange and those two women. I'm aware the timing is convenient for some people, but I think that the case should be persued, investigated fully and taken to court if the women wish to continue. Moore and his cronies do not think that this need happen. To them, Assange is such a good guy with his Wikileaks work that he is above the law. This is no better than the rightwingers who think Assange is so evil that he should be extradited to the USA and not stand trial for rape because other things are more important.
And it's this attitude towards rape that's caused the storm online. Angered by the continuing and constant denial of rape, belittling of rape victims and attempt to see powerful men as above the rule of law when rape is alleged, Sady Doyle of TigerBeatdown has articulately and emphatically lost her rag with this epic example of rape culture and started a Twitter based campaign to try and explain what exactly men like Michael Moore are doing to victims of rape the world over, not just the two women in the Assange case. She highlights the fact that since rape is widely acknowledged to be about power rather than sex, declaring powerful men to be above the law in this cases allows all men to be excused from rape allegations. So if all men are exempt from rape claims, it doesn't take much to suggest all women are lying about rape and if all women are lying about rape, then no one has to take the allegations seriously and the police and judiciary don't have to enforce the laws and rape and sexual assault continues unchecked. And for anyone who can't see for themselves why that's a bad thing for society, take a minute to reacquaint yourself with how the Catholic Church has been dealing with their abuse claims...
Infuriated that no one in a position of influence seems to have learnt from those lessons, Sady launched the #mooreandme hashtag on Twitter and urged anyone who felt that Moore (and a lesser extent John Pilger, Jemima Khan, Bianca Jagger and Ken Loach) needed to be informed and educated on the subject of rape and rape culture to tweet their feelings using the tag or addressing @MMFlint directly.
Hundreds of thousands of people, male and female, who have been touched by the tragedy of rape did just that. Stories of unreported rapes, violent rapes and rapes ignored by the authorities flooded Twitter. People talked about the lives the crime ruins and irreparably changes. Debates happened about the wider politics of all rape reporting, but especially the Assange case. Considering it all took place in 140 characters or less, it was informative, engaging, upsetting and nuanced.
Then the tone changed and a more misogynistic and angry element began using the tag to threaten Sady, to threaten the women who had shared the experiences of their own rapes, to excoricate the men who supported their struggles and to bully anyone who disagreed with them or suggested Assange needed to be investigated. I'd laugh it off and call it a troll convention if it was simply an online thing, but the thing is that it so uncannily mirrors the attitudes that come to the fore when rape comes up in converstation in real life that it just can't be ignored. This pool of rape denying women haters are the same people who sit on juries and who apply to be police officers and raise children. Their prejudices are not just confined to their own world. They teach boys to feel entitled to women's bodies and girls to be too cowed to assert themselves. They say they would never do that and bring judgement and blame to the table and they fight dirty when anyone stands up to them, whether that be accusing them of lying on the internet or throwing them out of their house in real life.
They spread a poison of fear and anger and intimidation at every turn. They made my life unbearably distressing for years and within four days have pushed Sady to write one of the most painful personal pieces I have ever read. I don't think I can say much more than she has, except to say that I deeply admire and respect anyone who speaks up for the men, women and children too frightened and traumatised to raise their voices loud enough against their attackers. Sitting seven years to the day since my life, my confidence and my identity was shattered when I was raped, I thank Sady for speaking up for people like me who felt too bullied to do it themselves and urge anyone on Twitter to add their words of support on Sady's account or the #mooreandme hashtag. And if that isn't allure enough, don't miss the chance to be standing tall on a feminist issue with Larry Flynt who has just pledged a $50,000 donation to rape crisis charities in solidarity with Sady!