It's a rare moment when I call for a demerit on anyone's feminist card and almost unheard of for me to call for someone's card to be revoked outright. That's why the past month's debate about Naomi Wolf has me feeling a bit boxed in. It's not the first time feminism has fit me too snug for comfort, only the most recent.
Do not read that as in support of all of what Wolf has been saying since Assange was arrested on rape charges. Rather this post is about how the full force of the online feminist community came charging against Wolf. Lori at Feministing wrote a good piece on how to respectfully disagree with Wolf, but that only scratches the surface.
Wolf started responding to the arrest in a way, I think we would all want, questioning why HE deserved to be arrested on rape changes when there surely must be other accused rapists on the loose. When Wolf started to change the debate from whether or not a country used rape charges to arrest a man who released state secrets to the world to whether or not rape accusers should be anonymous the feminist community released its wrath on Wolf.
The climate was chilling. There was no room for debate. How do you ask a question in an environment where a fake Naomi Wolf Twitter account was quickly set up to mock her?
How do we as feminists question the judicial system to increase justice for rape survivors? How do we discuss the slippery slope of consent? After reading the charges, it is still not clear to me if the woman who woke up with Assange on her was sleeping in the same bed as him or not. I was and still am scared to ask this question because I think some would see this as questioning her truth. The vocal feminists in the debate seemed to adhere to the idea that consent must be given at every opportunity. But do we all do that? Can we have a conversation about that? Not if we should, but do we? And if not, why? How do we tell men that silence is not consent when in some relationships it is? The women didn't go to the police asking for rape charges and what do feminists think of that? Are we so unable to make that decision ourselves that the police have to make it? What kind of message does that send to women who might want to check in with the police and make the decision herself? Yes, I do question the purpose of moving forward with rape or domestic violence charges without the survivor's approval. I get why, I'm just not 100% sold on it.
But really, how can we have a civil debate about anything, even the toughest issues, if we are vilified? I think that Wolf's arrogance on Democracy Now! vilified her enough. We didn't need to add to her fall from grace. How many people, feminist or not, had serious and honest questions, but felt too scared to ask them? How are we to reach out of our circle to reach new people?
Maybe my questions are dumb and stupid and I'm the only one thinking them, fine. But when I take gender & women's studies courses, the best ones start off with a statement of safety. That they are safe spaces to debate, ask questions, clarify issues....Why can't we have that same standard with our conversations online?