Running Around With Sharp Sticks
posted at 12:01 pm on December 7, 2010 by The Other McCain
“While right-wing groups certainly don’t come out in support of rape, they do promote an extremist ideology that enables rape and promotes a culture where sexual assault is tacitly accepted. The supposedly ‘pro-family’ marital structure, in which sex is exchanged for support and the woman’s identity is absorbed into her husband’s, reinforces the idea of women as property and as simple accoutrements to a man’s more fully realized existence.”
— Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti, Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape (2008)
“Nothing catches an editor’s eye like a good rape.”
— Hunter S. Thompson, Hell’s Angels (1966)
In London today, a left-wing group calling itself “Justice for Assange” is protesting to demand the release of Julian Assange, who has been arrested on a warrant accusing the WikiLeaks founder of having committed sexual assault against two young women in Sweden.
Most of the people who want to see Assange locked up believe that the 39-year-old Australian has committed wrongs far more grievous than those allegedly suffered by these 20-something Swedish women, but it is quite often the case that serial wrongdoers are eventually jailed for relatively minor crimes.
Al Capone finally went to prison on tax-evasion charges, you know.
Any charge that puts Assange behind bars will do just fine, so far as I am concerned. If he jaywalks, litters, smokes in a restaurant or fails to properly signal a lane-change on the freeway, lock him up and prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law. Assange is a menace to society — “a micro-megalomaniac with few if any scruples and an undisguised agenda,” as Christopher Hitchens says — and I heartily approve any law-enforcement effort that would prevent him from further undermining the interests of America and her allies.
Not even my eagerness to see Julian Assange doing hard time in prison, however, can compel me to endorse the silly nonsense of feminists like Jill Filipovic.
You see, the Swedish crime for which Assange has been arrested is something akin to what we Americans would call “date rape,” except it’s even more ambiguous than that. Assange is accused of “sex by surprise” and perhaps the Swedish term loses something in translation, but in essence the two women say that while they consented to sex with Assange, the way he had sex with them somehow violated the terms of consent.
The fullest account of Assange’s alleged sex crimes was reported in August by the British Daily Mail, with all the nudge-nudge, wink-wink salaciousness one expects of the Fleet Street press. To summarize briefly:
Assange flew into Stockholm to speak at a conference sponsored by the left-wing Swedish Social Democrat party. A 20-something woman who worked for the party invited Assange to spend the night at her one-bedroom apartment and they had sex.
The next day at the conference, Assange was approached — “stalked” might be a better word — by an even younger 20-something woman who had seen him on TV and was evidently quite starstruck. A couple of days later, Assange spent the night at the second woman’s apartment and they had sex twice.
Subsequently, the two women talked, each shocked to learn that the other had also slept with Assange, who of course hadn’t told either of them about his other amorous adventures. Comparing notes of their experiences, they realized a common theme, namely Assange’s evasions of their requests that he wear a condom during sex.
The two women then went to the police to accuse Assange of the crime for which he has now been arrested in London.
What we seem to be dealing with in this case, as is true of nearly all accusations of date rape, is one of those “he-said, she-said” situations, in which there were only two witnesses to the alleged crime, one of whom is the plaintiff and the other the defendant. And, as is so often true in these cases, those who plead for the acquittal of the defendant will call attention to the belated nature of the accusation. Neither woman had accused Assange of any crime until afterward, when each woman learned she hadn’t been Assange’s only Stockholm girlfriend. This fact makes it look a lot less like rape and a lot more like buyer’s remorse.
If being a two-timer is now a felony in Stockholm, the Swedes will probably need to build a lot more prisons.
The nature of the accusations against Assange, however, inspired Jill Filipovic to lecture her Feministing blog readers on the proper pro-sex feminist protocols for consensual hook-ups:
Consenting to one kind of sexual act doesn’t mean that you consent to anything else your partner wants to do; if it’s agreed that the only kind of sex we’re having is with a condom, then it does remove an element of consent to have sex without a condom with only one partner’s knowledge. To use another example, if you and your partner agree that you can penetrate her, it doesn’t necessarily follow that she has the green light to penetrate you whenever and however. . . .
OK, let’s all agree: “No” means “no” and “stop” means “stop.”
And if she says, “Slower, and a little to the right,” you’d better comply instantly, buddy, or you can expect to find yourself in court explaining to a jury why you didn’t provide her with exactly the sort of sexual experience to which she consented.
Filipovic seems to imagine not merely a “world without rape” (to borrow the title of the Friedman-Valenti feminist manifesto to which she was a contributor); she is also imagining a world without confusion or misunderstanding, a utopia in which strangers who hook up for one-night stands are in such a perfect accord of mutuality that they can negotiate the terms of their actions with calm precision.
The point of dispute here is not whether Assange is a selfish, sexually exploitative creep — he certainly is, if the Daily Mail account is true — but, instead, how best to protect women from such creeps.
Conservatives who reject and condemn casual promiscuity would argue that the hook-up culture tends to reward and encourage predatory creeps, providing them with an endless series of willing (or perhaps, half-willing) conquests like these two young Swedish women who were evidently eager to have a go at the nearly middle-aged bachelor, Julian Assange, and only regretted that he didn’t live up to his end of the implicit bargain of “consent.”
Critics of the hook-up culture would say that women who engage in such behavior are exposing themselves to all manner of risks, not only the risk of assault, nor merely the risk of disease or unwanted pregnancy, but also emotional and — is it still permissible to say this? — spiritual and moral risks. The best way to avoid the physical, emotional, spiritual and moral hazards of casual hook-ups is simple: Don’t sleep around.
For saying such things, however, conservatives are condemned by Filipovic’s feminist friends as promoting “an extremist ideology that enables rape and . . . a culture where sexual assault is tacitly accepted.”
But whose ideology is it that truly “enables rape”? Is this an accusation that can be fairly made against conservatism? Or is it more proper to cast suspicion on the so-called “pro-sex feminism” of Filipovic & Co.? Theirs is the ideology that urges women to reject the “supposedly ‘pro-family’ marital structure,” instead encouraging women to pursue non-marital sex By Any Means Necessary — up to and including their endorsement of the sort of sexual services that Monica Lewinsky provided to President Clinton. (Nina Burleigh: “I’d be happy to give him [oral sex] just to thank him for keeping abortion legal.”)
This, then, is the ideology of the “pro-sex feminists,” who invite all women to share their vision of a world of hook-ups without hassles, without risks, without misunderstandings, without any possible negative consequences — at least for women. Men participate in this carnival of concupiscence at their own risk, subject to arrest and prosecution whenever one of their one-night stands goes awry.
And men also dare not call attention to the impossibility of the feminist utopia, lest they be accused of misogyny and the tacit endorsement of rape.
Such was my predicament when I decided to mock Jill Filipovic on my own blog and discovered that my meaning was misinterpreted even by some conservative regular readers. A clarification was necessary and, in the process of making my meaning clearer, I wrote a sentence that I think summarizes what’s fundamentally wrong with “pro-sex” feminism:
For the record: I’m against rape. While we’re at it, I’m against pre-marital heavy petting and also take a rather dim view of kissing on the first date, so how the heck can I be accused of being pro-rape?
Never mind. They’re feminists, and it’s unfair trying to confuse them with facts.
- Robert Stacy McCain is co-author (with Lynn Vincent) of Donkey Cons: Sex, Crime, and Corruption in the Democratic Party (Nelson Current). He blogs at The Other McCain.