Maybe we should thank Michael Moore for bailing out Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and essentially being a rape apologist. Maybe we should thank mainstream media feminists like Naomi Wolf for their sarcastic, dismissive remarks that have ignited such a firestorm in the online feminist world.
In case you haven’t heard, the Wikileaks founder was accused of raping two women in Sweden. He fled to England and fought extradition. The allegations are that Assange had sex with one woman while she was asleep. There is no consent there. The other woman says she first gave consent and then withdrew it. Her yes turned into no. It’s classic “date rape.”
Progressive hero Michael Moore bailed him out with $20,000 of his own money, essentially saying in an open letter that we are all naive if we think Assange is really a rapist. It’s a government conspiracy, you see. Then Wolf came along and said that Interpol was acting as “the dating police” when it arrested Assange on these charges. Because these women were really just whining after having bad dates. Quintessential rape apologies.
Cue: Feminist shit storm.
But so much has come out of this shit storm. So much good discussion about what rape is. So much interesting dialogue about feminism and its role in defining rape, defending victims. And, of course, there’s been a lot of discourse on which feminist is right.
By far, my favorite single piece on the subject has to be Fugitivus‘ brilliant, eloquent open letter to Second and Third Wave feminists. We need to stop fighting with each other, she says. In fact, we need to stand up and be counted as being publicly, vocally against Wolf’s callous statements. But it’s so much more than that. It’s about how far “No means no” went to define rape. And, yes, how we realize now that it doesn’t quite go far enough.
“No means no” took us a long way. To put it simply, but not inaccurately, it took us from a world where no meant yes. That is an incredible gain. But “no means no” has taken us as far as it can. Namely, it has taken us to “yes means yes.” It has taken us to a place where we can recognize, create theory, create terminology, and openly discuss the idea that sexual violence and sexual abuse can happen without a “no” as well as with one. We believe that requiring a “no” is not good enough, not a high enough standard. We require a “yes.”
“No means no” gave a voice to the abused, the raped, the victimized. It created a phrase to describe a phenomenon that men and women knew existed, but were unable to describe in a way that society as a whole took seriously. But it did not end the war on our bodies. It did not end the terrorism that makes us second-guess our clothing, map out our return home, walk with chaperones. It did not end the lifelong aftershocks of guilt and shame, wondering why we let them in, why we trusted them, why we kissed them. It did not lower the statistics that mock our hope that we have justice, or equality. The enemy adapted. The enemy always has. If no means no, why, then, ways will be found to keep us from speaking. Ways will be found to make it seem as if we have said “yes,” or not said “no” enough, or in the right tone of voice, or with the proper inflection, or at the right time. No means no, but only if you are not afraid to say it. No means no, but only if you keep saying it, for a lifetime, hoping it will work before the situation escalates. No means no, but only if you never give up saying it because you are tired, you are hungry, you are frightened, you are alone, you are intimidated, you are convinced that this will happen anyway, and will only get worse for you the longer you go on saying “no.”
We need more than “no means no.”
For many of us, that is what saying “no” during a frightening sexual encounter means; if our partner does not care if we want sex, if our partner does not care how we want sex, if our partner does not care if we are in pain or pleasure, if our partner does not care if we feel safe, if our partner does not care that we are moving away from them, if our partner does not care that we are trying to get to the door, then our partner will not care if we say “no,” and we will be raped. This is not difficult math for us to calculate. The only further calculation is how bad our rape is going to be, how long it will last, and how badly we will be injured. So as long as we keep our mouths shut, it will not be rape, and we will not be victims, and this will be over much sooner. If we say no, it will become rape, because “no” is what creates rape, “no” is what defines consent, not the lack of a “yes”. We are responsible for taking what could just be “bad sex,” over quickly and without too much pain, and turning it into “rape,” because we are responsible for saying “no” and our partners are not responsible for seeking an enthusiastic, mutual “yes.”
The people intent upon raping us know that “no means no” as much as we do. The people intent upon raping us do not want to think of this as a rape, do not want to think of themselves as rapists, do not want to allow the possibility of facing consequences for raping us. They will do everything within their power to make that “no” unbelievable or invisible. Perhaps they will try to make us eventually say “yes,” though we have said “no” twenty times. Perhaps they will threaten consequences that do not amount to force, but amount to our partner threatening consequences, and the implication that they are willing to threaten, to punish, to hurt us to acquire our defeat is not lost upon us. Perhaps they will yell, and cry, and scream. Perhaps they will pretend they did not hear us. Perhaps they will pretend they thought we only meant “no” to this and not that. Perhaps they will ask us to coffee later, or text us sweetly in the morning, or tuck us in afterward, and if we do not scream and cry and flee to the police in a shamble, this will be proof that our “no” could not have been such a “no,” because victims do not have coffee with their rapists, and rapists do not kiss their victims kindly. Or, perhaps, they will hurt us, escalate the rape into something that is now (thanks to your work) more commonly conceived as a rape. We do not wish to go through that. We do not wish to be beaten, threatened, choked, or made to bleed internally as the price for knowing it is not our fault. We will say “yes” rather than go through that. We will say “yes” when we know it is coming to that, and we will do that whether or not we have gained that knowledge through acts or words that are defined as rape in a court of law. We will do that because that is how human beings survive attacks. They do not wait for them to get worse. They do not wait until the legal threshold of allowable violence has been passed. We do this because we must adapt to survive, because we are smart and we are strong and we know that living through this with fewer scars is worth more than the bare glimmer of justice years of harassment from now; we do not do this because we are moral children who do not know better.
In Fugitivus’ piece, she dissects the very nature of not just the Wikileaks rape ordeal (or #wikirape, as the twitter hashtag has deemed it) but how we as feminists can’t even agree about what rape is. How then can we champion the cause to end it?
As I have already said, this whole thing disgusts me and reeks of the blame-culture we have cultivated in America in which the woman is always asking for it, be it rape, molestation or gender discrimination:
As far as I’m concerned, Assange is getting treated just like every other high-profile man ever accused of sexual assault (rape), domestic violence, sexual harassment or any other violent or discriminatory act against a woman. We don’t want to believe it. Oh, not him! But I love Al Gore! But Roethlisberger is awesome! But Clarence Thomas will be the second black man on the Supreme Court! But I love Chris Brown‘s music!
Come on, letting famous guys get out of jail free on sexual violence is what we do! It’s like the fucking national past-time. Why on earth would Assange, who in many progressive circles is being hailed as an anti-government hero, be any different? (I mean, Gore is a Nobel Peace Prize winner. So, he can’t be guilty, right?)
Maybe we should thank Assange for forcing us to examine under harsh lights the very meaning of rape. Eh, not quite.
But I am glad that for once rape allegations are stirring up some productive debate. We do need to look at how we talk about rape and what that says about rape victims. It can be easy to become numb to the idea of rape and its survivors. We talk about re-victimization and blame so much that it can become hollow and meaningless. But survivors deserve better. Our criminal justice system, indeed our very cultural standards, will never change unless we keep pushing for it. We owe it to ourselves to create the world we want to see.