Monday, January 17, 2011

Who's Afraid of Naomi Wolf? On Rape and Responsibility

photograph of Naomi Wolf is from here
A subtitle to this post that first appeared with the title above is:
A Challenge to White Conservative and Liberal Commenters on Blogs that Discuss Sexual Assault

This post, one among several, is a response to recent remarks made in public by Naomi Wolf. She used to be someone who embraced some anti-status quo pro-feminist politics. She has since moved in a very socially conservative direction with her views and values, promoting those supremely privileged, out-of-touch, racist/pro-rapist ethics in books and in other media, including on Democracy Now!

I do not consider Naomi Wolf to be pro-feminist or pro-woman. Although a woman and Jewish, she  maintains a lot of class, race, education, sexuality, and region privileges. I consider her to be among the few pro-status quo (pro-CRAP) spokespeople doing discursive harm to women; she has had and perhaps maintains feminist cred in the white corporate and progressive media circuit. I think referring to her as even a liberal feminist denigrates the meaning of liberal feminist activism, which historically has worked with radical feminist efforts, not against them.

The whole of what is sometimes termed Third Wave Feminism, of which Naomi Wolf is a part, has been devoted to proving that bashing Second Wave/radical/anti-racist feminism and womanism may be done by people who call themselves feminists. That disrespect and attempt to subvert its energies by denigrating its spokespeople, principles, and practices is nothing new. It existed most commonly among men in the 1970s and has continued well beyond the period in which the Third Wave was curling and crashing to shore, absorbed in the patriarchal sands of the Western world.

From what I hear, there has been a Fourth Wave for several years now, a newly invigorated radical feminism, that is strong and vibrant among women of many ages, most especially women in their twenties and early thirties. Most Third Wavers are in their forties. Many Second Wavers are in their fifties, sixties, and seventies, and older. Naomi Wolf is solidly Third Wave, politically and historically speaking. She began as a liberal feminist and has ended up a conservative anti-feminist.

Her perspective, which may found in the many centuries-old institutions which effectively function to embed them in dominant society's mind, imperils women whose lives depend on unmodified radical feminist efforts and other efforts--white liberal, radical woman of color, Indigenist, queer, anti-racist, anti-capitalist, anti-militarism--to challenge to the roots the causes and conditions of CRAP which maintain rape and other forms of terroristic sexual assault and gendered violence as a means to the end of keeping white het men in charge of every social, economic, academic, medical, religious, and political institution.

Make no mistake: Naomi Wolf doesn't have a lot of power: she is a woman who doesn't hold political office; she doesn't run any major corporations; she doesn't control or own media. She is the author of a few books and speaks when invited to do so; I personally hope Democracy Now! doesn't ask her back; they are not strong in giving voice to radical feminists, and adding Wolf's voice into the discussions doesn't help anything, except patriarchy. But it is the anti-feminist, white conservative-to-liberal communications conglomerates, and other WHM supremacist, CRAP-loaded media and other institutions and systems in the West that most imperil women and girls globally. Naomi Wolf has simply joined the chorus of the more privileged oppressors.

I have no expectation or hope that white het men's blogs , for example, will approach the matter of ending men's sexual violence against women. They remain steadfastly and stubbornly (if predictably) pro-rape, pro-rapist, pro-genocidal, and pro-patriarchal. That won't stop me from challenging some of them but there's a point where spitting in the wind gets a bit monotonous and proves to be a waste of time and energy. I believe in the power of oppressed people to work together to challenge the powerful.

White het men, everywhere, as a group, are the most powerful people on Earth. The rest of us are not as powerful. Naomi Wolf, however pro-patriarchal she is, is not a U.S. Christian white het man promoting the same values. She is not as dangerous as millions of Christian WHM are, across North America, the UK, Europe, and Australia, and elsewhere around the world, as they enforce and craft anti-woman laws, traffic girls and women, procure girls and women, rape girls and women, and maintain corporate capitalism, Western militarism, corporate media, and other systems that are profoundly and almost unfathomably rapist and murderous.

I remember when Anita Bryant was targeted by white gay men as THE enemy of white gay men. Anita Bryant was a spokesperson, well-exploited by white het men more powerful that she'd ever hope to be. And white gay men were vitriolically misogynistic in the ways they insulted her, without caring in the least about how any expressions of misogyny insult all women, including lesbian women. Their outrage was appropriate; their misogyny was not responsible. I don't support misogynistic or anti-Semitic remarks being made about Naomi Wolf or any other Jewish woman. I do support the calling out of antifeminism, misogyny, heterosexism, racism, militarism, capitalism, genocide, ecocide, and Western imperialism inside and beyond the blogosphere. There's far too little of that going on in the name of being "fair" to people with the power to destroy others with complete anonymity, callousness, and lack of humanity.

For more on this topic of Wolf's shift in political views, see also the following links:

And there's this excellent point, in Ms. Magazine,
Wolf’s argument that naming rape victims will force institutions to take rape seriously ignores all sorts of evidence of crimes not being taken seriously despite the fact that the accusers are known. How about assaults against people of color, the disabled, gays and lesbians, genderqueer and transgender people, prostitutes or the homeless? These victims often get little respect, culturally or institutionally, even when their names are publicly proclaimed.
Wolf uses the gay and lesbian movement as evidence for her claims, citing “coming out” as being a transformative practice that has normalized being gay or lesbian. But coming out, for the most part, is an optional decision, and queer activists acknowledge that it isn’t the best or safest choice for all people. It’s also dismissive to act as though coming out has completely transformed how our justice system treats gays and lesbians. [For the whole article on Naomi Wolf, please see *here*]

Jill at Feministe has a respectful, critical post discussing the value of protecting rape survivors by legally enforcing the right of the abused to be publicly anonymous after filing charges. Please click on the title just below to link to that discussion. Below is my comment, which is an indirect response to Naomi Wolf and a reply directly to two of those who had posted comments before me.

You may read the whole of that post as well as all of the 97-plus comments which follow, *here*, or by clicking on the title, just above. My comment to Feministe, as yet not published, follows below. It was posted there with a large portion in bold, by mistake--my mistake. So what is below is the comment as I meant for it to appear online. This is an indirect response to Naomi Wolf and to two of the commenters at Feministe directly.

Julian Real 1.17.2011 at 2:04 pm

With apologies to anyone who has responded to this point. I have not read over the all the comments. But I have read many, including the last few.

So, first, to Azalea:

If some women do feel non-anonymity is another form of grossly exploited over-exposure, of violation, and the creation of a more hostile environment in which to bring charges against their attackers and assaulters, ought not the ability to choose be left in the hands of the survivors, such as yourself? Are you making a case that legally ensuring survivors don’t endure the abuses that publicity often generates and fuels, creates more shame in those of us who are survivors (I am a survivor of child sexual assault, child molestation, and a form incest; my mother was probably incested as a girl and was definitely raped as a woman; most female family members are survivors of incest and a few also of rape in adulthood) than the removal of that legal right? I personally find sexual assault, terrorism, violation, and humiliation far more shaming than the fact that I can decide whether or not I wish to have my name released to the media. Any charges I bring against anyone are not and may not be done anonymously. I must give my name. As do any and all survivors who report the assault/abuse.

I will now address and earlier commenter:

Hi Nathan,

I am concerned by the assumptions I hear in the questions you are raising. I’ll respond to several portions of what Wolf and you wrote that you posted as a comment above.

“Anonymity serves institutions that do not want to prosecute rapists.” (N. Wolf)

Lack of anonymity more effectively serves institutions that do not want to prosecute rapists. Of the two choices, public anonymity vs. public non-anonymity, one allows survivors to choose whether or not it is in their best interests to reveal their name to the public; the other doesn’t.

As mentioned in my response to Azalea above, no one can legally anonymously bring charges against someone for raping them. So the only issue here is who gets to have access to that information, not whether or not legal authorities have it.

“In the US military, for instance, the shielding of accusers’ identities allows officials to evade responsibility for transparent reporting of assaults – and thus not to prosecute sex crimes systematically.”
(N. Wolf)

This appears to me to be a woefully ignorant assessment of why it is rape is not prosecuted in the U.S. military. Let’s keep in mind that many survivors of rape by U.S. men who are soldiers are “foreign” women and girls, often also murdered. A percentage of the raped are also female U.S. soldiers and women who are in the lives of male soldiers. Rape, like murder, is part of what the military teaches men to do. It won’t prosecute rape appropriately or systematically because it thrives on rapist ethics and practices. Rape is part of warfare for a reason–because it is effective as a means of terrorising and subordinating the “enemy”. I recommend reading chapter one of “Conquest” by Andrea Smith for more understanding of rape as a tool of genocidal warfare. That Wolf pretends the military has any interest whatsoever in prosecuting rape systematically shows a glaring lack of insight into what the U.S. military exists to do, with or without international human rights law and policy on its side. The issue is that the U.S. military protects the anonymity of its trained and paid rapists.

“The same is true with universities. My alma mater, Yale, used anonymity to sweep incidents under the carpet for two decades. Charges made anonymously are not taken as seriously as charges brought in public.”
(N. Wolf)

Wolf is one of the most privileged U.S. women to ever make feminist arguments, and therefore speaks without personal-visceral-cultural experience of what it means to survive rape in the contexts in which most women experience, endure, and respond to rape as a raced and gendered atrocity perpetrated at least 90% of the time by men, against women and girls disproportionately; perpetrated at least 80% of the time by U.S. white men when the survivors are American Indian women and girls. Charges made by women, generally, are not taken seriously. On college campuses, it is often known, in some student, faculty, and staff circles, who it is that brings the charges. We have witnessed how women who publicly challenge the rights of men to have unwelcomed and unwanted sexual access to women using force, coercion, drugs, alcohol, or by any means necessary, have no protection from further abuses, threats, and violations.

I remember meeting with security officials and our college chancellor over the rape and sexual assault statistics published on campus – which basically said such things never happened there. The fact that there weren’t any faces and names available made it difficult to get changes made both in reporting and in campus safety policies. And I have no doubt this happens in the military as well. Individual cases might be resolved, but the culture of the institution doesn’t have to change. (Nathan)

This also shows little to no understanding of what racist patriarchal institutions like the Academy and the Military exist to do. They exist to promote the welfare and well-being of U.S. white het men. First and foremost. College personnel have access to the names of those who have brought charges; they choose to ignore them. They do this because they see it as not in their financial interests to alert prospective students that rape occurs on campus. They do this because they don’t wish to “alarm” other women on campus that rape occurs, systematically. Their motives are entirely self-serving and aren’t due to not being able to publicly release the names of those who report rape.

So, while I agree that the media is entirely unreliable at best when it comes to handling rape and assault cases, I do wonder if anonymity for individual victims protects them, but ends up potentially limiting the ability to get cultural/institutional shifts to occur. (Nathan)

Nathan, do you understand why and how rape occurs in the U.S.? Do you get that media’s function, if corporate, is to support racism and misogyny, and all forms of terrorism, not challenge them? The corporate/dominant media is entirely reliable in not supporting ending rape, in not supporting challenging the status quo in any regard whatsoever, unless that status quo somehow, rarely, impinges on the civil liberties of racist, misogynist het men, and even then we have the gool ol’ ACLU to defend them against those dreaded HaShoah survivors (vs. Neo-Nazis), terrorised African Americans (vs. the KKK), and women and girls raped systematically in the pornography industry (vs. the likes of rich woman-silencing pimps like Larry Flynt and Hugh Hefner).

I don’t have a clear answer here. Nor would I want anonymity policies to just disappear, as Wolf seems to be arguing for. I just think it’s worth considering the ways in which anonymity functions, and whether that might be producing some unintended consequences. (Nathan)

I encourage you to examine the function of anonymity of the structurally powerful/enfranchised/privileged/advantages/entitled, as a tool for maintaining all manner of perpetration of atrocity: rapist, genocidal, racist, heterosexist, capitalist, ecocidal, and misogynistic. “Anonymity” is what CEOs, COOs, and CFOs usually have, what corporate pimps have, what military leaders have, what the rich who put their taxable money in foreign bank accounts have, what racists and rapists have, most of the time, almost all of the time. So why do you focus on the anonymity of survivors of rape when anonymity is most frequently a tool of the White Master to protect his political interests and power?

Let’s not forget, Academies protect the names, reputations, and personhood of the accused, of the rapers on campus, and it is generally women who name their rapers on campus who end up dropping out of college, not the rapers, when charges are ignored or are handled with planned, institutionalised irresponsibility.

I support what Sheezlebub and Radfem have written above.



The only reason Naomi Wolf is being accorded so much media coverage is because she, like so many women unfortunately, refuses to accept reality. Namely women who courageously charge male(s) with having subjected them to sexual violence have immense courage by reporting because they know they not the male perpetrator(s) will be subjected to minute examination of their lives and character. Immense effort will be made to discredit these female survivors because it is essential pseudo male sexual entitlement to women must remain unchanged, which is why rape is commonly dismissed as 'just a misunderstanding' or 'she is an innate liar.' Ms. Wolf is a tool of male supremacy and yes she has no power or authority since that continues to be held by white powerful men. White male supremacists want the focus to be on Ms. Wolf because this conveniently takes the heat off their accountability and whilst everyone is discussing Ms. Wolf's claims, men continue unabated their lethal war against women and girls. Ms. Wolf is not a feminist and if she thinks she will gain any 'cookies's from the powerful men she will swiftly discover her error. She, like all women is just a disposable commodity to be used by male supremacists and then discarded with the trash. That is male supremacists' view of women - we are not human according to their ideology.

The issue of anonymity for women survivors of men's sexual violence continues to be widely viewed as 'a privilege' not accorded to males who are charged/prosecuted for rape/sexual violence against women. Naturally this simplistic view conveniently ignores the fact it is always female survivors of men's sexual violence who are subjected to media trial and minute examination of their personal histories in order to proclaim said female survivors to be 'innate liars.'

Notice how the males charged/prosecuted with the crime of sexual violence against women are never subjected to minute media examination (unless of course the male is coloured or is perceived not to be of Anglo/European descent).

As always those men who claim to believe in justice are only concerned with maintaining their pseudo male right of unlimited sexual access to women and girls 24/7. These men are not really concerned with knowing the identity of the female survivor - rather they are determined that the male-centric and male created legal system must in no way accord female survivors any dignity or even justice.

Such is the skewed thinking of male supremacists and their supporters.

lauren said...

I don't want to criticize Naomi Wolf any more than I already have.
She has a lot of supporters, including leftist women in their fifties and sixties who defend Julian Assang. Anyone who has read Wolf's work, especially Fire vs Fire, already knew where she stood.

I had no idea there was a fourth wave - where is it??

I've been re-reading lots of Second wave feminists the past five years, and to me that is where the heart of feminism is. It pains me that their work is largely ignored and often out of print.

Julian Real said...

Hi Lauren,

If we're going with the wave theory, which has its own problems--mostly locating theory in time periods, as if radical feminism is contained by the writers and activist 1970s.

Soooo not true. Catharine A. MacKinnon and Patricia Hill Collins, for example, have produced major works in the last ten years.

But there is clearly and identifiably a resurgence of radical feminism across the globe. In some places it is called by other names, and in some places it is revolutionary feminist work that has been going on for decades, without pause. Such as the work of RAWA in Afghanistan.

But if we're talking about North America, most radical feminists I know, across sexuality, are in their twenties and early thirties. And none of those women are the "generation" typically assumed to be Third Wave, and all of them reject the liberalism and individualism of the Third Wave. I link to many blogs by such "Fourth Wave" women. I think because so many of these women have come up during the Internet age, there is less "scholarship" by them, because they've been writing online for years.

Personally, I've seen this resurgence most prominently in the last five to six years in North America and in the UK. Jennifer Drew (the commenter above) in the UK can speak to this also. She's part of that resurgence, I believe. And in my experience the radical feminism is not white-centric. It is a radical feminism built from the lives of women of all colors. Andrea Smith is another key figure, for me. And Yanar Mohammed. The ages are across the lifespan. Teen girls to elderly women: a rejection of liberalism, a rejection of pro-pornography, pro-prostitution politics, a rejection of politics that ignore intersectionality too, in many instances.