Jaclyn Friedman and Naomi Wolf debate Assange

Jaclyn Friedman and Naomi Wolf went on Democracy Now this morning to debate the rape allegations against Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks. Part 1 of the debate can be found at the end of the latest episode, and part 2 can be found here.

A warning that this debate is incredibly triggering. I am quite frankly shocked by Naomi Wolf’s willingness to downplay the rape allegations in her attempt to defend Assange. What happened to nuance? Is Wolf completely unable to defend WikiLeaks and take rape allegations seriously as the same time? Wolf denies she’s victim blaming in this case, but I don’t know how to read this any differently: her argument falls apart in my eyes, but it seems to start from the place that if you’ve given consent once consent can be assumed from then on. Yeah, she’s basically saying, “Well, it’s complicated,” such an overwhelmingly standard rape apologist argument at this point it’s extraordinary to me someone with Wolf’s years of experience with the issue could speak like this.

Friedman actually has to say, in a debate with Naomi Wolf, “Consent is not a light switch. Just because you’ve consented to one sexual activity, say taking your clothes off, doesn’t mean you’ve consented to all sexual activity.” And further, “Every sexual person has the responsibility to get affirmative consent from their sexual partner.”

I really want to give props to Friedman. I don’t know that I could have responded to Wolf’s opening statements without flipping my shit, and Friedman does an extraordinary job of pushing back against rape apology from a self-identified “feminist.”

You can’t give consent while you’re asleep. This is obvious. So is the fact that states are acting in a politically motivated way when it comes to Assange. I believe a feminist should be able to hold both these realities in their mind at the same time.

Update: Privilege Denying Naomi Wolf. For self care purposes.

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Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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  • http://feministing.com/members/cassius/ Brüno

    The problem lies with the definition of rape in the swedish text of law. That is the culprit that downplays rape. If it isnt rape, you should not call it rape, else people will come forward and say, yeah, he he/she is charged for rape, but look what they refer to as rape.

  • http://feministing.com/members/rhian/ rhian

    Bruno, as you must know there has been a lot of misinformation floating around in the media about whether Sweden has a different definition of rape. I looked up the legal definition, and it sounds, well, like rape. Perhaps you could back up with some actual facts and references as to what “isn’t rape” and how the law “downplays rape.”

  • http://cabaretic.blogspot.com nazza

    Some people’s pet causes are so intense that even morality can be sacrificed in the process. On a related topic, I know that I probably would feel a strong compulsion to defend my partner against strong allegations like these, even though doing so would be against my own moral compass. Loyalty is a funny thing.

  • http://feministing.com/members/sarahbee/ Sarah

    There is so much to respond to that I don’t even know where to begin. I just read Naomi Wolf’s “letter” to interpol and am watching the debate on Democracy Now. Thank goodness for the voice of Jacklyn Friedman because I am absolutely blown away…just totally flabbergasted by Wolf’s response. There is no denying that there is something going on when a government that would never normally respond so strongly to these types of allegations suddenly steps up to the plate. But to seem to imply over and over again that these women don’t deserve to have their allegations taken seriously because their case is not “cut and dry” is ludicrous. I think all I can bring myself to say at the moment is that Naomi Wolf, at least in this case, seems to have no awareness of the fact that most rapes occur between people already acquainted and possibly even with some level of consent to other or previous sexual activities. Nor does she appear to understand that even when a victim does not feel threatened or frightened that rape produces a myriad of responses within the person it is happening to – one of which is very commonly to freeze or disasociate because the situation is so baffling that it is often over before everything registers. As I said, there is so much to respond to but I’m not sure I trust myself not to “flip my shit” at the moment as you put it so well…

    • http://feministing.com/members/sarahbee/ Sarah

      It is so hard to contain myself when I hear her continually seem to suggest that a rape is only rape when there is no ambiguity…

  • http://feministing.com/members/justine/ Justine

    I’m a supporter of Wikileaks, but I don’t understand how Naomi Wolf can argue that someone can give consent when they are asleep. I agree with Naomi Klein (not Wolf) though that the government is using these rape allegations in the same way women’s freedom was used to invade Afghanistan. There is no question that the legal process in this case has been highly disturbing, but let’s stick to attacking the irregularities and lack of due process, not the women involved in this case.

  • http://feministing.com/members/aussenseiter/ Wilma

    This issue seems to have become something of a feminist litmus test, which is a real downer. Some feminist blogs I follow have essentially gone so far as to say that even if Assange is charged, tried and acquitted, he’s still guilty and still a rapist. Also a real downer. Because of the historical and current power (etc.) imbalance between men and women in so pretty much every area of existence, we (feminists) have wanted to insist wrongs be redressed by being careful to pay extra attention to women (the disempowered) in cases of harassment, rape etc. And rightly so, I think. But the line between that extra care and insisting that she is always right and he is always wrong, no matter what, is a really hard one to find. I think it is that “line” is where this disagreement among feminists is located, and I find it hard to take what many feminists are saying in any way other than “she is always right and he is always wrong.” I don’t know if he is a rapist. I disagree that at this point he is necessarily a rapist, and believe it is damaging to insist — at this point — that he is. So I remain ‘on the fence’ shall we say as to whether or not he is a rapist, which also means that I find the “oh I am so disgusted and outraged by Wolf” to be unwarranted and unfair. I see her as insisting that we must not apply “she is always right and he is always wrong” to this case. So while I have sympathy with feminists like Friedman’s concern that the women’s allegations are being summarily dismissed because of who Assange is, I understand and support what Wolf was saying. And, please, I am still a feminist!!

    • http://feministing.com/members/sarahbee/ Sarah

      For whatever my two cents may be worth, because I can really only speak for myself here, the shock I feel at what Wolf has to say in this case comes primarily from the rape myths that she seems to be espousing in order to support Assange, and not from an application of the idea that “she is always right and he is wrong”; I certainly agree that that cannot become an applied standard. I may need to watch the debate again, but I also don’t hear Friedman saying this – what I hear instead is that both parties must have equal and fair opportunities to address these allegations. I don’t think that she is deciding Assange’s guilt when she calls what is described in the allegations rape, she is simply trying to call the allegations what they are. I think that if Wolf truly is trying to get across the point you have made then she has done so very very poorly whereas you have done it quite well. If this is truly where she is coming from then I hope she takes a few pages out of your feminist book. :)

    • http://feministing.com/members/caitlin/ MKE

      It’s not about Assange’s guilt or innocence. None of us know what happened, and we probably never will. It’s about the way that these rape charges are being ridiculed, and the way the accusers have been attacked. It’s about the fact that a lot of progressives are contributing to rape culture in their attempt to protest the corrupt political treatment of Assange, and we need to take that seriously. I can support Wikileaks without making jokes that minimize violence against women, and they can too.

      This isn’t anything new. Minority groups have always been marginalized within progressive movements, and it’s always been justified as “worth it” because of the importance of the larger cause. But it’s not worth it, and they need to listen when we say so.