I was reminded during the 2008 election when the New Yorker was portraying the Obamas as radicals on its cover; a liberal blogger was showcasing a graphic depicting Michelle Obama as a siren tied to a tree; Hillary Clinton invoked "hard-working white people;" liberal, white feminists like Gloria Steinem denied my experiences as a black woman; and Geraldine Ferraro...well...Geraldine Ferraro just showed her ass.
I've been reminded again as liberal lions like Keith Olbermann, Michael Moore and Naomi Wolf rush to defend Wikileaks founder Julian Assange by maligning the women who have alleged that he sexually assaulted them.
I have not written here about Wikileaks or the accusations against Julian Assange. I have not written about them, because both situations are complicated and made more complicated by conflicting information, rumor mongering, redacted documents and people's personal biases. But I have read enough to know this:
- I don't know what happened between Assange and the women in question. Neither does anyone else who is not one of the people involved.
- Facts surrounding the cases are contradictory and may reveal damning behavior by both Assange and his accusers.
- The zeal with which Sweden is pursuing Assange may be politically motivated.
- Whatever is motivating Sweden's pursuit of Assange, he may still be guilty.
I also know this:
Much discussion of the accusations against Assange bears a striking resemblance to the sexist way our society almost always talks about sexual assault. Conversation devolved quickly into attacks on the women involved. There is sneering about tight, pink sweater dresses and disbelief that a woman who said "yes" once, might say "no" later. There is a denial that it is rape when a woman says "Yes, I would like to have sex with you, but only with protection" and her partner holds her down and forces her to have sex unprotected. If true, that's rape. "Rape rape" as Whoopi Goldberg might say. There have also been attempts to minimize the women's accusations by misrepresenting Sweden's laws on sexual assault, portraying them as so far out that even if Assange is charged and found guilty, he is not truly guilty of much. (There is more than a little "American exceptionalism" in this trope.)
These arguments--they are not coming from Fox News. (Well, they may be. I stay far away from that cesspool.) They are coming from liberal defenders of Assange's work with Wikileaks. They are coming from people like Wolf and Olbermann and Moore. I just read a good diary on Daily Kos--"Dear Michael Moore," about the Assange cases. The comments from supposed liberal men and women are staggering. One even begins "You feminists..." You feminists? "Feminist" is a slur on fucking Daily Kos? Also, Swedes are drunks and drinking leads to "awkward sex" that shouldn't be classified as rape.
Progressives--just as xenophobic and sexist as any other group when one of us is challenged.
This is not to say that Assange is guilty. He may well be innocent and the victim of a government smear. It is just that some of my fellow liberals seem assured of his innocence for all the wrong reasons--for all the same reasons that women who report sexual assault are always disbelieved.
Every so often, we need to be reminded that the needs and experiences of white, Christian, heterosexual, able-bodied and male folk are as privileged among progressives as anyplace else. Forgetting that fact endangers the core values of progressivism, because we won't fight for what we think already exists. And we risk looking like hypocrites. It is not a big tent if membership requires marginalized people put up with rampant "isms" when it serves the liberal cause.