Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Julian Assange Rape Debate: Which Women Do You Support? The Most Privileged and Empowered, or the Most Marginalised, Traumatised, and Disbelieved?

Naomi Wolf is a white liberal heterosexual feminist who has extraordinary privileges and it shows up in her viewpoints and analysis; she is an advocate for viewing rape as something that can only happen when women verbally express no to every action men take that may be coercive, manipulative, or accomplished while a woman is dissociated or  asleep. She, like the somewhat younger white class privileged writer for mainstream media, Ariel Levy, go out of their way to keep the spotlight off men as a class of terroristic, violating, and controlling abusers of women. These two prominent spokespeople for U.S. white feminism are problematically pro-WHM, in my view. Both women are on record for distancing themselves from radical feminist activists, which I see as a sign of internalised and externalised misogyny.

Jaclyn Friedman, is the editor of the popular U.S. book Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape. But her viewpoint is closer to that of women whose views and perspectives on rape I find respectful of women as a class, not just speaking out for the most privileged Western white women in that class of gender-oppressed people. But I don't believe "Yes" can consistently mean "Yes" in a world where men economically, culturally, socially, environmentally, spiritually, racially, and sexually terrorise women and women experience dissociation, post-traumatic stress, Stockholm Syndrome, fear of being deported, fear of being silenced and shamed again, fear of being re-victimised in and by a criminal justice system, fear of losing their children in a custody battle if they reveal they've been raped by their ex-husbands, etc.

Why it is that only privileged white women are allowed to speak on Democracy Now on the issue of rape is a bit beyond me. White women don't speak for all women and aren't aware of what many women experience as the context in which rape occurs--in the context of also being racially denigrated, marginalised by immigration status, or by not being a First or Second World woman.

White women, no matter how privileged, are women-in-a globalised racist capitalist patriarch-ruled world, however, and do illuminate the condition of women in racist patriarchies: they just aren't the authoritative voice for all women and I wish those with such extraordinary privileges as Wolf would own how those privileges shape her own views on what constitutes rape by men of women. Wolf and Friedman are U.S. women and don't speak for women in Sweden, including either of the two women who are named by Swedish police as possible victims of Assange.

Sweden has demonstrated, as a country and a nation, a commitment to make political, economic, and social equality between men and women a reality in a way that I doubt the U.S. ever will. Sweden is serious about stopping sexual exploitation, violation, and subordination of women which means their laws about men's predation, abuse, and domination of women are necessarily more radical than are the laws in the U.S., which are liberal at best.

So what are we to expect U.S. liberals to say about what Sweden is doing to stop rape and hold rapists accountable? If you've been watching Democracy Now over the last two days, you have a good idea of how these conversations are allowed to occur in liberally progressive media. It's not encouraging; it's depressing, to me. Each woman defends her credentials in being able to speak for rape survivors. And Wolf only ever speaks about a kind of rape that is the least common form of rape--that which is unambiguously predatory and criminal according white het male supremacist law.

If Democracy Now refuses to have women of color speak as women about rape, they might consider booking Catharine A. MacKinnon, who has a far more compassionate and sophisticated view of what rape is, how it is accomplished, and why it is that most rape survivors are often reluctant to ever name their experience as rape, let alone report it as such, let alone prosecute the rapist as such. I believe we ought to consider the many ways in which women of color are often silenced by more means than white women, when it comes to speaking out about rape? And how immigrant women without a secure legal status are often not able to speak out for fear of drawing attention to themselves as immigrants.

And what about poor women, academically uneducated or illiterate women, incest and child molestation survivors, mentally or physically challenged women, emotionally and physically traumatised women, Indigenous women who do not live on U.S. land and are raped by white men who know this, non-English-speaking women in countries or places where English is the dominant language, or trans people, or lesbians, or women in prostitution, who have learned, along with their more privileged sisters, that speaking out about rape is not going to be respected or regarded as truthful and may land them in jail or negatively impact them in any number of other ways?

For more in depth discussion about the problems with how rape is currently understood in most of the West, please see chapter 19, "A Sex Equality Approach to Sexual Assault" in Women's Lives, Men's Laws. That is one of the best Western-English white discussions of rape I've ever read.

Here's one effort underway to give voice to women who are able to speak out. *Here* is the source website for what follows next.

In english

Talk about it

Sometimes it’s difficult, even impossible, to talk about negative sexual experiences. About the times when our boundaries were violated, but we didn’t say anything. About times when we violated others without realizing it. About times when we violated ourselves. Initiating an honest conversation about sex and consent is scary. Reactions can be cold or even hostile towards those who try. Because of this, many people hold their tongue and put a lid on their thoughts – but that doesn’t make the thoughts go away.

In connection to a conversation regarding the media coverage of the Assange case, Swedish journalist Johanna Koljonen started to tweet, openly and intimately, about her own experiences of drawing lines and negotiating gray areas in sexual situations. Hundreds followed Koljonen’s example on Twitter under the hashtag #prataomdet (”#talkaboutit”). As a result of this, several Swedish magazines, newspapers and other media outlets are publishing pieces on the subject. In a matter of days international media, such as The Guardian, Die Welt, BBC World Service, Norway’s Dagbladet, Finland’s Helsingin Sanomat, and others have followed.

We need a language for sex that isn’t stifled by shame, we need to think about our boundaries as well as others’. Something is going to change. We are going to dare to #talkaboutit.

Are you a media representative who wants to get in touch? Contact us on press@prataomdet.se

Do you want to tell your story, or contribute to the conversation in some other way? Awesome! Unfortunetaly, we are so overwhelmed with responses right now that we can’t promise to publish stories – but what we can do is put up links to other blogs. Write your story as a blog post, send a link to talkaboutit@prataomdet.se, and we will make it happen. If you’re a novice to blogging, here’s a how-toget you started.

Find more english language content here.
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All that follows is from Democracy Now. The video that opens this post is Part 1 of a two-part discussion. 
We can note how what Assange is accused of doing is reduced from rape charges to "sexual allegations" in the title. 
Before we get going, I'd like to offer support to activists working to pass legislation that illuminates, challenges, and remedies how liberal rape law is inadequate to deal with most rape cases. And how "not verbally expressing non-consent" does not or ought not imply meaningful consent when men engage in sexual activity that men collectively find unproblematic and non-rapist. 
I'll await hearing from the two survivors of Julian Assange's sexual advances, to know in what ways those two women experienced his behavior as violating, disrespectful, coercive, silencing, and/or traumatic. I have no reason to believe Julian Assange isn't fully capable of violating women. His egotism alone indicates a propensity to ignore or override the will of others and to promote himself and his own self-interest. This doesn't make him a rapist necessarily, but if he did start having sex with a woman who was asleep, and if he did engage in intimidation tactics to obtain what he calls "sex", without observing and validating signs of enthusiastic welcoming of sexual contact from his sexual partners/victims, I'd consider him a rapist and a sexual predator.

And the fact that Michael Moore, Keith Olbermann, Glenn Beck, and many, many other privileged white conservative, liberal, and progressive men are speaking out en masse in support of Assange without understanding much if anything about how rape happens in the lives of most women, leads me to believe that we are far from radically and effectively addressing rape as an atrocity committed by men and boys that disproportionately targets women and girls. For a more complex understanding of the role of rape in some Indigenous women's lives, please read Chapter 1, "Sexual Violence as a Tool of Genocide", in Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide, by Andrea Smith.

Naomi Wolf vs. Jaclyn Friedman: Feminists Debate the Sexual Allegations Against Julian Assange

As more details emerge about the sex crimes allegations against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, we host a debate between two feminists: Jaclyn Friedman argues the sexual assault allegations shouldn’t be dismissed just because they’re politically motivated, while Naomi Wolf says by going after Assange, the state is not embracing feminism, it’s "pimping" it. [includes rush transcript]

Jaclyn Friedman, executive director of Women, Action & the Media a charter member of CounterQuo and the editor of the hit anthology Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape.
Naomi Wolf, feminist, social critic and author of seven books, including The Beauty Myth and The End of America
AMY GOODMAN: More details have emerged about the sex crime allegations that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange faces in Sweden. Assange was released on bail from a London prison Thursday, in now under house arrest at a country mansion. His next hearing, set for January 11th, will determine whether he’ll be extradited to Sweden to face allegations of rape and sexual assault.
On Friday, The Guardian newspaper obtained unauthorized access to a Swedish police report that provides the first complete account of the allegations against Assange. According to The Guardian, the allegations are based on a 10-day period in August when Assange was visiting Stockholm, during which he had sexual relations with two women that started out as consensual, but the women say they turned into assaults. The Guardian reports one woman told police that Assange pulled her clothes off and snapped her necklace. Then, she said, he held down her arms and legs and prevented her from grabbing a condom numerous times. After he let go and agreed to wear a condom, she claims, he did something to the condom to rip it. Assange denied the allegations, telling police he did not tear the condom and that the woman had allowed him to sleep in her bed for the following week. The other woman in the case told police Assange had sex with her while she was asleep, without using a condom.
On August 20th, the women went to Stockholm police. They had not decided whether to report Assange’s behavior as a crime, but the prosecutor on duty that night opened an investigation, issued an arrest warrant for Assange. Assange and his supporters have said the case against him is part of a wider conspiracy to discredit him because of his work with WikiLeaks.
Speaking to reporters outside his friend’s mansion in eastern England, where he must live while on bail, Assange said the allegations are part of a smear campaign.
JULIAN ASSANGE: This has been a very successful smear campaign so far, but I think its days are numbered, and people are starting to wonder, is what is claimed really true, and if it is true, where is the evidence? Why has no evidence been provided even to me and my defense attorneys?
AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, the lawyer for the two women, Claes Borgström, has denied the allegations against Assange are part of a political conspiracy.
CLAES BORGSTRÖM: Well, I think it’s very, very unfortunate for my two clients that they were molested in some way or another by a person like Julian Assange, because what has happened afterwards is not that they will have a fair chance at this moment, because they are sort of being treated like the perpetrators themselves and they have—there is a conspiracy and all that nonsense. So it’s very, very unfortunate.
AMY GOODMAN: The case against Assange has sparked international controversy, as well as controversy within the feminist community. We’re joined by two women right now. Jaclyn Friedman is executive director of Women, Action, & the Media and the editor of the anthology Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape. She’s joining us from Boston. Naomi Wolf is a social critic, author of seven books, including The Beauty Myth, The End of America. She’s joining us here in New York.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Jaclyn Friedman, as this information comes out, why don’t you talk about your thoughts on the—we can’t even say charges against Julian Assange, because he has not yet been charged.
JACLYN FRIEDMAN: We can say allegations. Certainly these women are alleging a crime.
What I want to say is that these are—the details, certainly, have become more clear since that unauthorized leak, but we’ve known those basic facts for weeks, that the allegations—in fact, we’ve known them since August, that the allegations were that he held one woman down, that he raped another in her sleep. These allegations have been out there. The Guardian has been reporting them.
Rape is a very serious crime, and it’s also one of the most underreported crimes across the globe. And one of the reasons is because every time the issue comes up in the media, people come out of the woodwork to blame the victims and to minimize the crime. And unfortunately, when we see someone who is a progressive hero, like Assange is, those critics, those people who are doing that minimization and that victim blaming often come from the left, as well as the right. And we’ve seen that across the board. Unfortunately, with—Naomi Wolf has participated in that, as well as Michael Moore, Keith Olbermann, Glenn Beck—of course, plenty of people on the right are participating, as well.
And the result of that is not only that these women are receiving death threats, they are in hiding—one of them has gone to Palestine, because she couldn’t feel safe in Sweden anymore—but the even more important result of that, when we perpetuate rape myths in the media—and this is not just my opinion, this has been documented by social research—is that victims, nameless victims, victims who have been harmed by people who are not famous, become much more reluctant to take their experiences seriously, to report those experiences. The system, the justice system that’s supposed to work for those victims—the cops, the juries, the prosecutors, the judges—they become much more reluctant to take these allegations seriously when they are reported. And men become less likely to identify their own behavior as sexually violent. And the result of all of that is that rapists go free.
And what we know about that is, the majority of rapists are repeat rapists. So, the result of perpetuating these rape myths in the mass media is that we literally are creating more rape in the world. And that’s my main concern about the way these allegations have been discussed so far, is that it’s doing real harm to real women around the world who have nothing to do with this case.
AMY GOODMAN: Naomi Wolf, your response?
NAOMI WOLF: Thank you. Well, Jaclyn, let me say that I’m very, very offended that you’re suggesting that I’m blaming the victim. In fact, it’s because of my 23 years of supporting rape victims, working in rape crisis centers, traveling around the world, to report more than any journalist I know, which, in a way, I’ve been very blessed to have had the chance to do so, from Sierra Leone to Bosnia to Ireland to the United Kingdom, interviewing people who support rape victims and work with the legal system—it’s because of that that I’m raising my voice about these very ambiguous and corrupt allegations.
First of all, let me just correct you. And Jaclyn, these—The Guardian account, which is based on leaked original documents, doesn’t say that he had sex with either of these women without the consent. The reason I’m hearing from rape victims across the world who are emailing me, saying, "I’m a rape victim. Thank you for standing up to put these charges in context," is that this is the only case I’ve ever seen in 23 years of supporting rape victims which is based on multiple instances of consent.
If you read these allegations, he took off Miss A’s clothes too quickly for her comfort. She tried to tell him to slow down, but then, quote, "she allowed him to undress her." This is what the report says. The second woman says she woke to find him having sex with her. When she asked whether he was wearing a condom, he said no. Quote, "According to her statement, she said: 'You better not have HIV.'" He answered, "Of course not." Quote, "She couldn’t be bothered to tell him one more time because she had been going on about the condom all night. She had never had unprotected sex before."
So, if you’re going to treat women as moral adults and if you’re going to take the issue of rape seriously, the person who’s engaging in what he thinks is consensual sex has to be told, "I don’t want this." And again and again and again, these women did not say, "This is not consensual." Assange was shocked when these were brought up as complaints, because he had no idea that this was not a consensual situation. Miss A kept Assange in her home for the next four days and threw a party for him.
So, because I take rape seriously, because I’m aware that in 23 years, you know, in Sweden, which has been criticized by Amnesty International for disregarding rape, for letting rapists go free, because you have a better chance in Sweden, if you’re a rape victim, of, you know, dying in an accident or getting breast cancer than having a serious rape allegation prosecuted or getting any kind of legal hearing, according to Amnesty International’s report "Case Closed"—it’s because of that that I know that these charges are utterly, utterly atypically handled. In 23 years, I’ve never seen any man in any situation this ambiguous, involving this much consent, have any kind of legal process whatsoever. And all over the world, women who have been gang-raped, brutally raped, raped in alleyways, pimped, prostituted, trafficked, you know, their rapists go free.
So, yes, this stinks to me. And yes, it’s about politics, and it’s about the same kind of politics that dragged you, when you were trying to cover a march, you know, violently into legal jeopardy, because really this is about a journalist who has angered the most powerful and increasingly brutal nation on earth, and it’s about all of us who are journalists being dragged into a dangerous situation because of criticism of the government.
AMY GOODMAN: Jaclyn Friedman, your response?
JACLYN FRIEDMAN: Wow. First of all, I’ve also been working with rape survivors for 20 years, and I am one myself. And I can assure you that you do not speak for me or many of us. I, too, have been speaking with rape survivors around the world since this case broke, who have been so hurt and disappointed that someone like you, who understands about the danger of perpetuating myths in the media, would be perpetuating rape myths that hurt all of us. There are so many rape survivors that are up in arms about the way this case has been discussed and the way these women have been disregarded.
NAOMI WOLF: But Jaclyn, Jaclyn, with all due respect—
JACLYN FRIEDMAN: I fully agree—no, no.
NAOMI WOLF:—where did they say no?
JACLYN FRIEDMAN: I did not interrupt you when you were speaking, and I would appreciate—
NAOMI WOLF: I beg your pardon.
JACLYN FRIEDMAN:—if you don’t—I’m going get to that.
JACLYN FRIEDMAN: OK. So, I fully agree with you that the zeal, shall we say, with which these charges are being pursued is politically motivated. We have no disagreement on that. That is not an issue here. We are in agreement about that. I bet Amy agrees with us, too.
But if you want to talk about what the women in Sweden want, you should look at their political actions. There is a massive Twitter campaign that the women of Sweden have launched called "Let’s Talk about It." I think that’s right. It’s translated from the Swedish, because they are all—
NAOMI WOLF: That’s fair. Let’s talk about it.
JACLYN FRIEDMAN: I’m talking about it right now. They are coming forward, and they’re saying these things aren’t taken seriously in Sweden, and this is an opportunity to prove that the Swedish government can take these issues seriously. This is an opportunity to set the international bar higher for the way we take seriously rape charges.
Now, let’s talk about those charges. Those women did not consent. If she was consenting, he had no need to hold her down. A woman in her sleep cannot consent to sex. Consent is not a light switch, OK?
NAOMI WOLF: I have to speak to this.
JACLYN FRIEDMAN: Just because you’ve consented to choose one sexual activity, say, taking your clothes off with someone, does not mean you’ve consented to all sexual activities.
AMY GOODMAN: Naomi Wolf?
JACLYN FRIEDMAN: That’s preposterous.
JACLYN FRIEDMAN: If I go home with someone, it’s not consenting to every single thing that might be done to me by the person I’ve gone home with.
AMY GOODMAN: Jaclyn, let’s get Naomi Wolf’s—
JACLYN FRIEDMAN: Both women have clearly claimed that they did not consent.
AMY GOODMAN: We need to get—we only have a minute to go. We need to get Naomi’s response.
NAOMI WOLF: Jaclyn, of course I agree with you that consent isn’t a given and that obviously with every sexual act, everyone needs to be sure that everyone is consenting. There is no doubt about that. But I don’t know if you’ve actually read the Guardian report, because again and again and again—
JACLYN FRIEDMAN: I most absolutely have.
NAOMI WOLF: Alright. So, again and again and again, Assange consulted with the women about what they wanted, and they didn’t say no. And to me as a feminist—and this is why I’m hearing from so many rape victims around the world—and of course the issue needs to be discussed more, obviously, but the reason, as a feminist, I am distraught about this miscarriage of justice is that you can’t—you’re not respecting women by casting them as unable to assert what they want, unwilling, you know, to speak about what they wish. The women—
JACLYN FRIEDMAN: Women may be afraid.
JACLYN FRIEDMAN: If she’s been held down by someone, she is afraid.
NAOMI WOLF: But wait, read—
JACLYN FRIEDMAN: She’s in a state of fear.
NAOMI WOLF: Listen to me. Jaclyn—
JACLYN FRIEDMAN: No is not enough. Every sexual person—
AMY GOODMAN: We have 15 seconds.
JACLYN FRIEDMAN:—has the responsibility to get affirmative consent from their sexual partner.
NAOMI WOLF: He then consulted with her—
JACLYN FRIEDMAN: Not just no, but affirmative yes.
NAOMI WOLF:—and asked her what she wanted, and she did not say no. She continued to have sex with him. And what I’m saying is—
JACLYN FRIEDMAN: She was afraid. He had held her down. She was in a state of fear. Many, many women—this happens over—you talk to rape survivors. I can’t believe you don’t know this. Many women are in a state of fear and unable—they’re in a panic situation. This is so common as to be laughable. And the reason they don’t take these seriously is because you tell them that.
AMY GOODMAN: Ten seconds. We have 10 seconds. Naomi, you can respond.
JACLYN FRIEDMAN: I travel in the country and the world talking to rape survivors.
NAOMI WOLF: I mean, all I can say is if a man or a woman who’s engaging in a sexual act that they think is consensual never hears "no" and hears "yes, yes, yes—yes, let’s go ahead without a condom; yes, let’s go ahead"—that insults rape victims.
AMY GOODMAN: Naomi Wolf, Jaclyn Friedman, we’ll continue this after the show. Go to democracynow.org. Thanks so much for joining us.

[Part 2 doesn't offer a transcript yet but the video discussion follows.]

Part II...Feminists Debate on the Sexual Allegations Against Julian Assange

Moving Out from BelowThe Belt: Theory-Q and Julian Real Discuss Radical Activism and Academic Liberalism

image is from here

Join the Radical Feminist and Pro-Indigenist 
 Challenge to Academia and the Conservative-to-
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This is, effectively, part 2 of what may be a series of conversational posts between myself and Theory-Q, a white academically-educated U.S. liberal-to-progressive man who is one of the contributors to a pro-Queer Theory blog called Below The Belt. I hope he is comfortable with them existing on both of our blogs.

Part 1 may be found *here*.

Theory-Q writes:


Many thanks for what is indeed a thorough analysis of my posts. I am sorry to have disappointed you so much, but I am eager to engage with your comments. I see some of your criticisms as a wake-up call, e.g. - to read more radical feminist work, esp. by Black feminists, to find out more about the movement, and to be more informed about Andrea Dworkin.

Regarding the critique on your website…

I do think that Andrea Dworkin is putting forth “a perspective.” There is no necessary identical correspondence between what she describes in her book and the reality “out there.” And since my column on this blog is academically-oriented, I see Dworkin’s view of the world as overly rationalistic and as depending on the presumption that extremely large collectives behave in conscious ways. I am not going to assume that everything she says is true because she is a radical feminist, nor am I going to assume that the way she describes reality is the only way to do it or the best way to do it.

About “the burden always being on women” to figure out how to combat misogyny – this is not at all what I am saying (unless you see Andrea Dworkin as a representative of all women). I believe that if a writer/activist/theorist attacks an oppressive system, they should also provide a plan for overcoming that system. Plenty of excellent writers and activists do not do this often enough – Noam Chomsky’s books on U.S. hegemony, for example, are full of important critiques, but contain precious little about how U.S. imperialism can be overcome.

You are right about my lack of empathy with the author and my lack of understanding for her predicament or of the social context of her work. I don’t think I have enough specific knowledge to understand why she became more pessimistic in the late 1970s, why the whole women’s movement moved in a more pessimistic direction, actually. I also do not know enough about the feminist work of non-White thinkers – I’ve read some bell hooks and a smattering of Audre Lorde, but definitely not enough. I also haven’t read all of Dworkin’s work – my commentary is based on a reading of three works – so I’m definitely not an expert. I do really like that essay she wrote critiquing biological determinism. Evidently, I need to learn more. Thanks for pointing that out – I would welcome more advice on stuff to read.

About the problem residing with men, you’re also right. I am not saying that Andrea Dworkin is completely delusional and that the small numbers of men who have committed themselves to overcoming patriarchy has not led her to become more pessimistic. The misogynistic society, and misogynistic men, are responsible for her pessimism – there is no doubt about this. That misogyny is prevalent among men (and among some women too) is indisputable. But how one portrays that reality, how one responds to it, and how one views its origins, is very much up for debate.

I guess the thread that runs through our disagreements is about the relationship between empirical and normative claims. You seem to believe that people can unproblematically perceive the world “as it is,” that all Andrea Dworkin is doing is describing a problem, and not making a normative statement about what ought to be done to end oppression. In my work on Below the Belt and elsewhere, I’ve argued that descriptive claims cannot be separated from normative claims in this way. I think that when we are discussing complex phenomena such as genders, nations, and economic systems, it is impossible to describe them exactly as they are. This is because social reality is complicated; descriptive claims can never fully capture it. Indeed, there is a real difference between describing the chair in my room and attempting to describe “all women” or “patriarchy.” And since every description of phenomena such as the latter is necessarily incomplete, this means that different descriptions (prioritizing varying aspects) will proliferate and that each description will have huge implications for how one normatively behaves towards the phenomenon. The solutions that one seeks to end oppression (the normative) will depend hugely on how that oppression is described, which elements of it are prioritized, what its causes are viewed as etc… As silly as this may sound, description is not a purely empirical venture!

Hence, it makes a major difference whether one sees misogyny as beginning in the individual minds of virtually all men (as a response to the mother’s powerlessness in the face of the father’s violence) or whether one sees it as a system-level social characteristic, as embedded in collectively held ideas, political institutions, and in expectations about what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman. Neither of these views is completely empirically accurate, but they both promote different kinds of responses to the problem of oppression. As I said above, with the first response, one might be tempted to write off men altogether as inevitably “the way they are.” The second offers more room for action, more hope for change. I think this is important…

And on more theoretical matters…

I don’t think that seeing power as rooted primarily in ideas that are collectively held about the world is particularly neo-liberal. As I understand it, neo-liberalism assumes that people are motivated by the desire for self-preservation and that they make decisions about the world on the basis of rational (cost-benefit) analyses. In that sense, Dworkin’s view of how misogynistic mindsets are developed is actually very neo-liberal. And I define neo-liberalism here as the extension of market capitalist logic to all other social spheres, which basically involves the assumption that people always behave as consumers, looking to minimize costs and maximize benefits.

Now – I do understand that the dominance of social constructivism in academic thought during the 1990s and 2000s has led to a complicity with neo-liberalism, in that the system of narrowly concentrated material wealth in the United States and around the world remained largely free of critique. While social constructivists have attacked the explanatory value of materialist theories (e.g. – that distributions of material wealth are the driving force behind a variety of social phenomena), they have not undermined the power of materialism itself, nor the power of those who horde virtually all the material wealth. Thus, it can be said that social constructivism – as it was practiced in the 1990s and 2000s – is complicit with neo-liberalism, and largely silent about its evils, even though its analysis of society does not contain the main tenets of neo-liberal ideology.

Evidently, therefore, social constructivism needs to be transformed – but in what way? I don’t think that it should ditch its focus on the power of ideas in society. While a fist in a woman’s face, gang rape, or sexual slavery are not ideas as such, it is ideas about women and their place in society which make such acts possible. I am not talking about causality here – what leads a man to violate a woman in a specific instance can be a variety of things. Rather, these ideas form the condition of possibility for the man to even think about forcing himself on her. Without the ideas to uphold it, such an act would be inconceivable. Ideas serve to circumscribe the realm of the do-able and the acceptable in society, and until the notion that the body of a woman does not solely belong to her is crushed, rape will always be a possibility.

So how to reconcile social constructivists’ ideational view of social relations with the reality of material oppression? Simply put, constructivists need to critique materialism as a dominant ideology. Apart from fulfilling one’s basic needs (food, shelter, clothing, etc…), the seeking of material wealth is an ideological choice – the ever-greater amassing of wealth and power by a privileged few is dependent on the fact that money and positions of power are imbued with such significance in society, that material possessions are valued so much at the ideational level.

Yesterday, 5:27:32 PM

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My reply follows with a few minor revisions since it was posted to Below The Belt. I'll put those minor changes in bold for Theory-Q to be able to easily note them:

Hi Theory-Q,

I genuinely appreciate your willingness to discuss these issues, and thank you for your thoughtful reply. Would you mind if I cross-post our discussion here to my own blog?

I'll respond to several points trying not to leave any major area of critique or concern you raise unresponded to.

I see the U.S. academic project, in the broadest sense, to be an entirely different and only occasionally overlapping project with that of many radical activists. As I see it, liberal arts exists in academia not to stop rape, genocide, or poverty, but only to examine them in various ways--through the lenses, for example, of psychology, sociology, anthropology, and economics. The Academy, generally, exists to maintain the status quo, if also being open to studying it. And occasionally those who study the status quo might figure out how deeply oppressive and deadly it is, and might be motivated to do something about that, although the current climate is one which refuses almost all radical activist efforts.

I'll note that in my opinion this is not the fault of the radical activists putting forth inadequate or poorly presented ideas, primarily. It is primarily a problem of a corporately controlled media which refuses to allow radical activists to speak to the public about anything at all of substance, about "the status quo". Even Facebook is notorious for tossing off pages of activists who are challenging the status quo, while allowing pages that promote ideologies such as one that HaShoah never happened, or that rape is fun. To reduce the lack of revolution on the radicals being not so good at expressing ourselves, I'd argue, is to basically blame the victim for our conditions. Women who are raped speak out rather eloquently against rape. The ideas some radical anti-rape activists express aren't that complicated: rape is terrorism; rape is subordination (by men) of a class of people (women), and is not just the bad behavior a few rude men.

So a fundamental difference in our own writings is what they are designed to do. And this also gets to what Andrea Dworkin's writing was designed to do. It, and my own, and that of many radical activists, is not designed to get people to think more about things. It is designed to move people to act, to take action against systematised harm. To speak out against injustice, however they can do so without being arrested and killed. This isn't easy. I've had death threats leveled against me, for example. And the threat of being raped and beaten first. This isn't done because I write things that make people think. The threats come because I write things to incite social change, to challenge male supremacist power, white supremacist power, genocidal anti-Indigenist power, and heterosexism too. As Andrea's life partner once remarked, rather astutely--I'll paraphrase, although these may well be his exact words--"If you're not catching shit, you're not doing shit." He said this not to an audience in a college, but to fellow activists. So that was the context. It wasn't meant to shame people. It was intended to offer people a measure by which we might know whether or not we are being successful at challenging the powers that be.

I may be misusing the term "neo-liberal" and my apologies for doing so. I'll stick to a term I'm more familiar with, which is simply, "liberal". As in how politic positions and movements express themselves in the U.S. currently. As someone once said, the problem with liberalism is that it makes promises it has no intention of keeping. This means, specifically, that while liberals are notoriously anti-racist and pro-gay, they have absolutely no social program for making racism or heterosexism be challenged other than by trying to assimilate marginalised people into dominant culture, which remains racist and heterosexist. Do you know the work of Dean Spade?

Here's a link to a speech which gets at some of my own concerns, although I wouldn't say his views express mine exactly. There are clips of this available, and I realise I'm sending you a link to something that is about 45 mins. long. But maybe we could have a whole separate discussion on Below The Belt and A Radical Profeminist about it. That'd be something I'd be interested in doing.


Liberal academic enterprises are not designed, usually, to do anything to remedy the evils of society: to stop rape, to end racism, to curb genocidal practices that are currently globalised. So this very discussion can do several things. I want it to inspire you and others to take action against injustices that are real to you and also to consider the injustices that are not real to you as just as important to take action against.

You may wish for us to engage in lots of theoretical debate. I don't see these two aims to be in opposition, necessarily, but I'll note that I'm not likely to launch into deep discussion about the history of ideas, including the idea called "neo-liberalism", because, again, I don't see "the problem" the same way you do. Here are some of your words that leads me to conclude you see what activists do and don't do as "the problem" with activism not being effective:

I believe that if a writer/activist/theorist attacks an oppressive system, they should also provide a plan for overcoming that system. Plenty of excellent writers and activists do not do this often enough – Noam Chomsky’s books on U.S. hegemony, for example, are full of important critiques, but contain precious little about how U.S. imperialism can be overcome. 

I guess the thread that runs through our disagreements is about the relationship between empirical and normative claims. You seem to believe that people can unproblematically perceive the world “as it is,”

And since every description of phenomena such as the latter is necessarily incomplete, this means that different descriptions (prioritizing varying aspects) will proliferate and that each description will have huge implications for how one normatively behaves towards the phenomenon. The solutions that one seeks to end oppression (the normative) will depend hugely on how that oppression is described, which elements of it are prioritized, what its causes are viewed as etc

Do you appreciate how, from my vantage point as a radical activist working with Indigenous people, working with women across race and ethnicity, working with marginalised queer folks, this kind of discourse isn't terribly helpful, and in many ways functions to be obstructionistic? Diversionary? And anti-change?

Again, there's a place for theorising. But noting that American Indians and First Nations people's societies are under assault isn't really something you and I need to debate, is it? The reality that rape is an endemic globalised problem that functions to terrify a class of people and to sexually subordinate a class of people--and other people too in other contexts, is not something we need to debate, is it? That capitalism functions to oppress the poor I hope is evident to those who come to your blog, and to its contributors.

So, I begin, usually, with truly basic observations that I believe don't require post-structuralist intellectual responses as much as they require--or ought to instigate--responses of outrage and "What can we do about this!?!"

That's where I want most every conversation I have to go: to the place where we talk about strategy, and share news of one another's actions to challenge the oppressive, murderous, and otherwise grossly inhumane status quo.

Dworkin was an activist writer, not an academic writer. Chomsky is a bit of both. Each, I believe, has generously and generally assumed that people can take in information about "what's going down" and find their own best ways to respond to it, hopefully not in isolation. There have been many things written and said about "how to organise", including against gendered oppression, but I'll bet you that there are far more books on "how to critique the idea of 'gender'" in Academia right now than there are on "how to end male supremacy". Why? I'd be interested to know why you think that is the case, and what the function of such anti-activist 'gender discourse' is, politically/socially?

I do appreciate your statements about not having enough knowledge of Dworkin's work and of other radical activists' writings, particularly those by women of color. There is, in my experience, never enough time to gather up all the knowledge one might need to act, and I think it's important we not make being fully informed a prerequisite to engaging in political activism. Nor should misguided, unguided, unaccountable, irresponsible action be what people with privilege "just go out and do". This is all to say, engaging in responsible, informed, political activism is one way to get an education, a very good one, in fact. Not one that capitalist, racist, patriarchal society will give you any degrees for, usually. And one gets informed in the process of doing it responsibly. For me that means being accountable directly to the people who are activists and are also the population targeted for the specific harm we're working to end or curb. I oppose most white activism against racism if whites are not directly accountable, in meaningfully engaged relationships of cooperative action, to those we structurally oppress who are fighting racism. The same with sexism, heterosexism, and genocidal atrocities.

A sort of personal question is this: what do you wish to do with your many talents and abilities? You have a voice, a writing style which is sharp and not obtuse, and a platform, on your blog. What do you wish to do about rape, genocide, and poverty, on Below The Belt?

When you, as a white man, take up the issue of whether or not Dworkin is describing reality, the first and potentially diversionary question is this: whose reality? As someone who has studied post-modern and post-structuralist philosophies of the White West, I will affirm that no one can accurately describe the whole of reality, but the whole of reality is, for you, really only what those you know and engage with, and are impressed or influenced by, collectively agree it is. Whites and men are uniquely positioned, as classes of privileged people, to regulate and control how oppressed people speak of their reality.

Dworkin fully owns that what she writes is her own view and supports her readers and listeners to take from it what is useful and leave the rest. But to request that any activist only or always couch their discourse in terms of "how I see it", is to do to women and non-white people what white men have always historically done: to place oneself over and above the speaker/activist, as an authority on "reality".

My challenge to men and whites is this: what if you read the work of radical feminists and radical anti-racism activists as if their reality WAS reality? This isn't making an argument that there's only one; it is making an argument for the importance of recognising the subjectivity of oppressed people as just as valid as any other, particularly in political contexts (in societies) where marginalised voices become understood as less-than-truthful. And it is to put forth a hope that whites and men can learn how not to control (or attempt to control) discourse when the discussions are about people being beaten, raped, and killed en masse.

I've gotten a threat or two. Malalai Joya has to move most nights from place to place because both the Taliban and the U.S. invaders want her dead and have many threats out to accomplish this heinous task. You can read all about it in her autobiography, A Woman Among Warlords. Here's a link to it:


But women leave each day, intimately, with men who threaten their lives in non-verbal ways. And Indigenous people are not being relocated across the globe from their homelands because of a failure to communicate effectively their own needs and viewpoints. These things are not done because of improper sharing of ideas; they are done because of structural differences in power, concretely arranged, systemically and institutionally imposed, and interpersonally and socially enforced.

As for a critique of liberalism, I welcome you to read some of the written work of Catharine A. MacKinnon, a U.S. Constitutional Law professor, an attorney who has fought for women's human rights globally, and a feminist writer. 

If time permits, I recommend reading the first few chapters of her book, Toward a Feminist Theory of the State. Links follow, but it should be available through a library system, as should Malalai Joya's book. Specifically I recommend, for now, the four chapters which comprise section one of the book, "Feminism and Marxism"; in it, she discusses the problems within U.S. white liberal feminism, offering up a marxist critique. She also offers up a radical feminist critique of Marxism, or at least some branches of it. Further along in the book there is a single chapter I'll link to separately which you may wish to start with as it's available to be read online. Here's the one that's immediately available, which may tackle some of your own criticisms of some forms of feminism.


Beginning with the link above may suffice for out discussion. But here is a link to the whole of the book:


In two other MacKinnon books, there is a chapter in each which deals with some of the issues you touch on and I think you will find them to be very engaging and useful.

The first of those is called "Keeping It Real: On Anti-"Essentialism", and is found at Google Books, in her book Women's Lives, Men's Laws:


The other chapter is called "Postmodernism and Human Rights", in her book, Are Women Human?: And Other International Dialogues, which may also be found at Google Books. But another incarnation of it appears in a PDF doc, here:


Additionally, and for now, I'd recommend reading this book by Andrea Smith called Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide, particularly chapter 7, "Anticolonial Responses to Gender Violence", and chapter 8: "U.S. Empire and the War Against Native Sovereignty". Here is a link to that book:


Finally, I want to thank you for reminding me to use non-corporate links to books! It's really something I'd gotten sloppy about, in part because I know most of my readers cannot afford to pay full prices for books and may not have access to them through libraries.

I look forward to your reply, Theory-Q.

Cheers. And Happy Solstice! I hope you got to see the first Lunar Eclipse falling on a Winter Solstice in about 450 years.