A WOLF in sheep’s clothing: Maya and Lori take on Naomi’s latest misguided speakout

sheepskin draped over head of naomi wolf

In an article entitled “A tale of two rape charges” Naomi Wolf, most famously known as the author of “The Beauty Myth” and more recently known as the feminist defender of Julian Assange, says that the way the charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn have been treated so far are “worrisome” to her. What precisely is so worrisome? Well, in large part the simple fact that the charges have been treated fairly seriously with not as much of the usual apathy and victim-blaming seen in, well, every other rape case ever. Maya and Lori report.

Maya: Lori, I am so happy we are taking this on together. After we closely followed Wolf’s first foray into what is apparently now her official role as “Feminist” Defender of Powerful Men Accused of Rape, I just couldn’t do it it again alone.

Lori: I’m happy we’re taking this on together, too! Wolf’s points really needs to be critiqued. She is using her feminist street cred for evil! This requires some Prescient Feminist Analysis STAT before we are set back a long, long while by her shameful anti-feminist pandering. Her basic thesis is that the new and increasing (but selective) seriousness with which sex crimes are being investigated is more indicative of a hyper-politicized desire to manipulate policy outcomes by shaming high profile perpetrators than of a drive to achieve justice, and is thus eroding the integrity of the world’s legal systems. A pretty elaborate conspiracy theory to explain a bit of relatively straightforward crime investigation.

Maya: Right. So in this piece, Wolf compares the DSK case to another rape case that’s happening in NYC right now. This one, which represents the “old” traditional way of dealing with rape charges in contrast to the “new” DSK way, is against two police officers who allegedly raped a drunk, partially unconscious woman after they escorted her home. The victim-blaming that’s gone on as the case, which is still ongoing, has unfolded has been unsurprisingly but especially horrendous. (I mean, this is trial in which the defense lawyer compared the survivor’s vagina to a Venus Flytrap. I kid you not.) Wolf writes (emphasis mine):

“The alleged rape of a citizen by a police officer — and the alleged collusion of another officer — is surely a serious matter. But the charges and trial have followed an often-seen pattern: the men’s supporters have vociferously defended their innocence (the presumption of which has been scrupulously upheld in the press); the victim’s pink bra has been the subject of salacious speculation, and her intoxication has been used to undermine her credibility. As the wheels of justice grind unglamorously forward, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has made no public statement supporting the victim’s side.”

See all those things listed under the “often-seen pattern”? Those would be all the trappings of the rape culture that feminists traditionally tend to 1) believe exists and 2) think is a bad thing that helps create a world in which rape is allowed to continue and regularly undermines the quest for justice for many thousands of survivors who are silenced, disbelieved, or never even bother to report their rapes because, oh my god, who wants to deal with this shit?

I assume that after “23 years of experience covering sex crimes,” (!) Wolf must agree with #1. But I’m honestly not so sure about #2. Perhaps, in her view, the victim-blaming that survivors are subjected is just the price they pay for pressing charges; an inevitable part of the “unglamorous wheels of justice.”

Lori: Exactly. This is honestly the saddest part of Wolf’s analysis, to me. It’s like she has become so jaded and disappointed with the legal system that the absence of victim-blaming means something has gone wrong, or someone has a furtive political agenda. Wolf seems to be saying that, to fulfill her warped version of justice, the proper and standard investigation of an alleged perpetrator should be only as thorough as the investigation of their accuser, or at least of the accuser’s potential political motives. But that’s not how legal systems work. The burden of proof for guilt or innocence applies only to the accused. Which is really as it should be.

Maya: Yeah, and it’s not like we haven’t seen any of the usual victim-blaming in the DSK case either. Even though the authorities and most of the media seem to be doing their job, you’ve still got folks like Ben Stein and Bernard-Henri Levy engaging in some good old-fashioned rape apology. (See a great take-down of that nonsense by Jon Stewart here and a thoughtful analysis by Jill Filipovic here.)

Wolf writes later:

“If Strauss-Kahn turns out, after a fair trial, to be a violent sex criminal, may his sentence be harsh indeed. But the way in which this case is being processed is profoundly worrisome. In 23 years of covering sex crime — and in a city where domestic workers are raped by the score every month, often by powerful men — I have never seen the New York Police Department snap into action like this on any victim’s behalf.”

Look, as I said the last time, I do understand what Wolf is trying to get at here. I believe that she cares about the many domestic workers–and many other women of all walks of life–who are raped all the time by powerful men. But no, it is not “worrisome” that this one case is being treated with the seriousness that all rape charges should be treated. And no, it is not evidence that DSK must be the victim of “an age of geopolitics by blackmail” in which sex-crimes are exploited or manipulated. And no, it is not even particularly surprising that a case that involves a high-profile, internationally-known man would be handled with unusual swiftness and vigor–especially compared to one that involves two NYPD cops.

As for the presumption of innocence, which Wolf fears has already been destroyed, of course that’s an important legal standard–and I sincerely hope it is upheld to the fullest extent as the case proceeds–but she cannot honestly be shocked that with an American media and public that loves a political scandal more than anything, DSK’s career “was effectively over–before any legal process had even begun.”

Lori: The most “worrisome” part of Wolf’s stance is that it invokes what I find to be an insidious form of tokenism. Wolf may believe that she is in a unique position to make these points because she has feminist street credibility and feels herself to be untouchably aligned with rape and sexual assault victims because of it. But no feminist in the world has enough street cred to espouse anti-feminist ideals without hurting women. She may believe herself to be leveraging her platform to shine a light on the politicization of the justice system, but at what– and whose– cost is this mostly theoretical point coming? By dressing up an abstract point about selective prosecution and parading it around as a feminist argument, Naomi is revealing herself to be nothing more than a Wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman started blogging with Feministing in 2008, and now runs partnerships and strategy as a co-Executive Director. She is also the Director of Youth Engagement at Women Deliver, where she promotes meaningful youth engagement in international development efforts, including through running the award-winning Women Deliver Young Leaders Program. Lori was formerly the Director of Global Communications at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and has also worked at the United Nations Foundation on the Secretary-General's flagship Every Woman Every Child initiative, and at the International Women’s Health Coalition and Human Rights Watch. As a leading voice on women’s rights issues, Lori frequently consults, speaks and publishes on feminism, activism and movement-building. A graduate of Harvard University, Lori has been named to The Root 100 list of the most influential African Americans in the United States, and to Forbes Magazine‘s list of the “30 Under 30” successful mediamakers. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

Read more about Lori

Join the Conversation