Originally published on January 19, 2011.
Celebrity leftists such as filmmaker Michael Moore, British film and television director Ken Loach, Australian filmmaker John Pilger, and British human rights activist, Jemima Khan, have hailed Julian Assange as if he were Roman Polanski and Che Guevara rolled into one. They have pledged money for lawyers to defend him against rape allegations in Sweden. They view Assange as a revolutionary outlaw, an internet “artiste,” the new Daniel Ellsberg, a war-stopper, a show stopper, the people’s hero.
On the one hand, as I’ve written elsewhere, I think that we, the people (without the slightest accountability) have access to far too much non-stop, unfiltered information, without the requisite measured and trustworthy analysis, and that privacy rights have gone the way of the dodo bird. Contrary to those who are glamorizing Julian Assange’s WikliLeaks, I do not really need to know what diplomats privately say to and about each other; I am no more than a voyeur here and the collateral damage in terms of how such “transparency” endangers human lives and hampers diplomacy is more important than my access rights to gossip.
Yes, I was momentarily “happy” that the world media was put on notice about Saudi Arabia’s view that Iran, not Israel, was their main problem—but so what? If poor Jonathan Pollard has been locked away for more than 25 years for having disclosed some secrets that harmed no one but which may have saved Israeli lives—how many years should Assange be facing in each country where lives will be lost, not saved?
However, the pro-Assange celebrities have now been joined by an American Third Wave pro-sex “girls-just-wanna-have-fun” feminist, none other than my friend, junior colleague, and unexpected sparring partner in the Great Burqa Wars, Naomi Wolf, who has jumped on the Free Assange bandwagon. Wolf believes Assange is being pursued by the Furies and is about to be arrested by the “global dating police”; she wishes to inform Interpol that there are at least 1.3 million (no more, no less) other men who would equally qualify. Tongue in cheek, Wolf calls for a “global manhunt” for all of them.
What has become of the feminism I once knew? The feminism that once took incest, sexual harassment, rape, pornography, prostitution, and trafficking very seriously?
We are all (almost, but not quite) gone with the wind, and in our place we have pro-sex feminists like Katie Roiphe and Naomi Wolf, who have both been rewarded for mocking and rejecting the works of their Second Wave foremothers, especially in the areas of sexual violence. Psychologically, this is a mother-daughter rebellion, an historical pendulum swing, a need to strike out differently, to mark one’s own territory, cast one’s own shadow.
But it is also an act of timidity, a retreat, an attempt to turn what the late Andrea Dworkin described as “feminism, not the fun kind” into a more pleasing, appeasing burlesque of what it once was, and should be.
Thus, the “girl power” feminists are sexy, love men, love sex, are given to wearing “fuck-me” shoes, lots of lipstick, high fashion—and consider their “right” to do so liberatory. (See the above paragraph about mothers and daughters; read up on the endless Sex Wars among Second Wave feminists as well).
In 1991 Susan Faludi, in Backlash, at least noted that a decade-long and serious backlash had been underway against 1970s style feminism.
Feminists Katie Roiphe and Naomi Wolf focused elsewhere—mainly on themselves and on their own navels. Allow me to focus on Katie Roiphe first.
Roiphe’s 1994 book, The Morning After: Fear, Sex, and Feminism, argues that many incidents of alleged campus date rape are also the woman’s fault and/or that women should finally assume moral responsibility for drinking, taking drugs, attending a fraternity party. Roiphe declared that women are not helpless victims, have moral agency and judgment, and should bear the consequences of their own actions.
She said just what a backlashing patriarchy wanted to hear.
But Roiphe was thinking mainly of herself and of her own cohort of upper middle class super-educated and wealthy young woman who attend Ivy League universities. I do not believe she was thinking of very young incest victims in America or around the world; or about illiterate, under-educated, impoverished Americans, both immigrants and non-immigrants, of all races and ethnicities, who are subjected to sexual harassment and repeated rape both within their families, their neighborhoods, schools, relationships, at work, and in marriage. Only Third Wave feminist Leora Tanenbaum, in Slut, which was published in 1999, dared to do that for American teenagers, and her focus was also on the role teenage girls played in the sexual harassment and slandering of other girls.
Naomi Wolf became known for her work on women’s image and self-image. She published The Beauty Myth in 1990 (I attended her book party). Now, Wolf has just launched a 2011 one-woman crusade, first in the Huffington Post, then in the London Guardian, on Julian Assange’s behalf. Wolf is demanding that the names of the two Swedish alleged rape victims be published, that hiding their names is a “Victorian relic.” Using Roiphe’s argument of woman’s moral agency and responsibility, Wolf states that “the convention of anonymity lets rape myths flourish” and suggests that full transparency will serve the interests of both men and women, rapist and rape victim, feminism and justice.