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.

"Beyond Vietnam", link to full text and audio of speech by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

portrait of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is from here

I will begin to think that a bud resembling justice and liberation for African Americans is blossoming in the United Rapes of Amerikkka when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is remembered in white male supremacist communities across this not-so-great nation as the person who delivered many stirring messages to this country on how to become great, in part by dismantling all systems of racism, capitalism, and militarism. His "I Have A Dream" speech, in and of itself, is never delivered in full to the public. Only the least threatening portions, very cutely represented on this day on Google's search engine page, get recited with white eyes sometimes welling with tears that would surely dry up, or intensify, if those eyes and the white mind behind them dared to consider what is truly wrong with this country or what the professed values were of this one Great U.S. American. We are not likely to hear any portion of "Beyond Vietnam", which is linked to below. Except, well, please DO take time to read and listen to that speech.

For the entire speech, audio and text, please click *HERE*.

An excerpt from that speech appears below:

As we counsel young men concerning military service, we must clarify for them our nation's role in Vietnam and challenge them with the alternative of conscientious objection. I am pleased to say that this is a path now chosen by more than seventy students at my own alma mater, Morehouse College, and I recommend it to all who find the American course in Vietnam a dishonorable and unjust one. Moreover, I would encourage all ministers of draft age to give up their ministerial exemptions and seek status as conscientious objectors. These are the times for real choices and not false ones. We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly. Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest.

Now there is something seductively tempting about stopping there and sending us all off on what in some circles has become a popular crusade against the war in Vietnam. I say we must enter that struggle, but I wish to go on now to say something even more disturbing.

The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality...and if we ignore this sobering reality, we will find ourselves organizing "clergy and laymen concerned" committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala -- Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end, unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy.

And so, such thoughts take us beyond Vietnam, but not beyond our calling as sons of the living God.

In 1957, a sensitive American official overseas said that it seemed to him that our nation was on the wrong side of a world revolution. During the past ten years, we have seen emerge a pattern of suppression which has now justified the presence of U.S. military advisors in Venezuela. This need to maintain social stability for our investments accounts for the counterrevolutionary action of American forces in Guatemala. It tells why American helicopters are being used against guerrillas in Cambodia and why American napalm and Green Beret forces have already been active against rebels in Peru.

It is with such activity in mind that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable." Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin...we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life's roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, "This is not just." It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, "This is not just." The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.

A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, "This way of settling differences is not just." This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

Martin Luther King, Jr.
Beyond Vietnam -- A Time to Break Silence
Delivered 4 April 1967, Riverside Church, New York City