Writing, yesterday, about Julian Assange, from a fairly feminist perspective, I found myself all too quickly reminded of links to other issues where the powers-that-be prove just how hypocritical, how quick to co-opt they can be, when it comes to basic women’s issues.
Of course, they do it elsewhere as well: just think of all the times that the mantra “for the sake of the children” gets interjected into debate with more or less subtlety as a means to silence opposition. All the same, it does get me hot under the collar whenever I hear politicians doing it.
A pat on the head
The springboard for my piece (hopefully being published at the weekend) was the way in which various commentators have so quickly focussed on Julian Assange’s supposed sexual crimes as an excuse for all that has been going down in London over the last week or so. Women who have dared to question the establishment consensus that this guy is mad, bad and dangerous are undercut with the not-too-subtle suggestion that by backing Assange, they are somehow going soft on sex crime.
Or as legal expert, Joshua Rozenberg, put it oh-so-patronisingly on Wednesday: “I’d have thought you (his female co-interviewee) would want to see Assange brought to book, given the nature of the allegations”. (I paraphrase as to words: the tone was unmistakeable. I half expected him to lean over and pat his studio partner on her head).
Oh Yes: the sub-text is pretty clear. You women have been banging on about sexual violence for all these years. So now we’re actually doing something about it, just shut up about little matters like evidence and charges and leave the grown-ups – the lads – to sort it out.
Of course its complicated: neither black nor white, but somewhere in between. One can take the view that Assange is being railroaded by the legal system, using charges of sexual violence as a means to silence dissent, without in any way detracting from the underlying seriousness of what is being accused.
Those who take fundamentalist positions, such as the Guardian’s Libby Brooks, or, initially, Naomi Woolf, are likely to find themselves wrong-footed.
The guy MAY be a mixture of angel and devil: good on civil liberties, crap when it comes to respecting individual rights. Or he might not. What is to the point is the assertion made by Women Against Rape – and more recently by Naomi Woolf, that this focus on someone for the crime of rape is unprecedented. We just don’t make this sort of fuss: rightly or wrongly, men accused of rape tend to be out pending trial. Some on bail, many not.
As Woolf argues: we in the west regularly sit down and negotiate with the leaders of revolting regimes that have either turned a blind eye to rape or, worse, have used it as an instrument of policy.
The West’s hypocritic history
WAR, again, remind us of how closely entwined the supposedly pro-women West in Afghanistan is with the warlords…and that pricked at my own memories.
Listening to reports of the short but sharp war in that country earlier this decade, I remember being less than happy that “my side”, the so-called civilised powers, were taking the easy way out, allying themselves with the Northern Warlords, despite their appalling record when it came to women’s rights and rape.
I listened with a growing sick feeling to repors that the Northern Warlords were racing the allies to Kabul – and we would permit them to enter, unchallenged.
But then, unlike much of the gung ho British (and American) public, I had been following Afghani issues for a while: I understood that much of the support for the Russians, at one time, and later for the Taliban, derived from the populace’s sheer terror at the antics of the warlords. We chose the easy way out, allying with individuals whose record on human and women’s rights was a hundred – a thousand – times worse than Assange, rather than risk having to take them on as well.
Ah. But that’s realpolitik, I hear you say. Perhaps.
Then yesterday, another friend reminded me of a quite different – yet similar issue: the rush to pass laws against extreme porn. This was supposedly all about “protecting women”: except, of course, it wasn’t.
If the government was really about that, then there would have been far more done to ensure that laws already on the books were properly enforced, rather than dreaming up more and more abstracft laws that co-incidentally had the side-effect of controlling that all-too-awkward beast, the internet.
But its such an easy argument to make. Who after all can object to steps being taken to “protect” women? Well, hopefully, women.
Because time and time again, when politicians talk about women in this way, the last thing on their mind is protection. Rather, it is in their interests to co-opt women to otherwise dubious causes and to shelter behind the excuse of “looking after” the “weaker” sex.
Its pretty revolting. But absolutely to be expected.