Trigger warning: this post contains some of the transcript from the Assange appeal hearing
I thought I was part of the 99%. I’m on an average income, and even though I own my flat, this is thanks to a first time buyer initiative from Labour. I’ve been on the dole and I’m from a (legally) single parent family. I have a lot of privilege – I’m white, able-bodied, cis-gendered and middle class (with a good degree) but I still fit that 99% model. I believed in a movement that was saying it wasn’t acceptable that so few controlled so much of the wealth, and used it so irresponsibly. I believed in a movement that was about collective action.
But then I heard about members of the movement calling women c**ts and b***es and denying that there is a problem with hate language (http://fortyshadesofgrey.blogspot.com/2011/10/occupations-safe-spaces-and-privilege.html - read this post if you read nothing else).
And I heard that accessibility was not really considered or noted (http://www.thefword.org.uk/blog/2011/10/we_are_the_49).
And that 99%-ers on Wall Street had set up a Tumblr showcasing all the ‘hot’ women involved in the movement to try and encourage more men to take part (http://me.lt/3AFhd).
And, in the straw that broke the camel’s back moment, I learnt Assange was invited to speak by the organisers of the London Stock Exchange occupation. Never being one to eschew the spotlight, speak he did.
And I realised that as a woman, I felt excluded from the 99%.
Assange is currently waiting to hear the results of his appeal against extradition to Sweden on two charges of sexual assault. Now, there has been a lot of debate in the lefty liberal media about whether what he allegedly did was actually sexual assault. So here’s a reminder of what the defence said at his appeal hearing:
‘AA felt that Assange wanted to insert his penis into her vagina directly, which she did not want since he was not wearing a condom … She did not articulate this. Instead she therefore tried to turn her hips and squeeze her legs together in order to avoid a penetration … AA tried several times to reach for a condom, which Assange had stopped her from doing by holding her arms and bending her legs open and trying to penetrate her with his penis without using a condom. AA says that she felt about to cry since she was held down and could not reach a condom and felt this could end badly.’
The defence also tried to explain how, despite being asleep, and therefore unable to consent, AA actually did consent to sex with Assange:
'They fell asleep and she woke up by his penetrating her. She immediately asked if he was wearing anything. He answered: "You." She said: "You better not have HIV." He said: "Of course not." She may have been upset, but she clearly consented to its [the sexual encounter's] continuation and that is a central consideration.’
Now, if you don’t believe that someone penetrating another person when they’re asleep isn’t sexual assault, isn’t rape, then you have a pretty poor understanding of what constitutes a violation of someone’s bodily autonomy. The same goes for the first description. Remember, this isn’t the prosecution talking. This is his defence. His defence is trying to redefine rape.
The prosecution said:
“they did not freely consent without coercion" but agreed to sex because of physical force, or consented "already having been trapped into a position where they had no choice, and they submitted to Mr Assange's attentions".”
Now, Assange is innocent until proven guilty. But I find it distinctly troubling that the people who booked the speakers thought it was appropriate to invite someone who is facing rape and sexual assault charges. Because by doing so, they isolated a lot of the women who supported the movement. This decision said to women, and to survivors and victims of sexual assault, that they didn’t matter. The movement no longer feels welcoming. It no longer feels inclusive.
Inviting Assange is part of the continued history of left-wing politics where women are expected to ‘put up’ with sexism and misogyny for the “greater good”. In Nat’s blogpost above, she was expected to put up with being called a c**t for the “greater good”. The women who are being objectified and shared on Tumblr are being expected to give up their image to encourage more male members – for the “greater good”. And women are expected to listen to an accused rapist for the “greater good” because after all, he’s a left wing hero who Bianca Jagger and Jemimia Khan like.
And yet, all these actions exclude women. All these actions entrench sexism. One of these actions stinks of rape apologism.
What’s the point of a greater good that excludes women? Why are women being sold out by the left? Again?
A movement that doesn’t challenge sexism; that actively invites the presence of an accused rapist; that excuses hate language; that treats women as objects – that movement is not fighting for a better world. It is upholding and entrenching the same old patriarchal world. You cannot fight capitalism and not fight patriarchy. Otherwise you will only change things for some, not for all.
And the same applies for a movement that is not questioning its own privilege by not considering accessibility and intersectionality.
If we want to fight for a better world, then that fight has to include ending sexism. That fight has to include holding misogyny and violence against women and girls to account. That fight has to condemn sexism and misogyny. That fight has to include women.
We shouldn’t have to put up and shut up. We should be included. Listened to. We shouldn’t have to put up with being called c**ts, or have our bodies used, or have to listen to an accused rapist tell us how to create a better world.
As @incurablehippie tweeted yesterday:
I mean it. Where's the revolution that doesn't invite people awaiting trial for rape to speak? That has an access plan? #wheresmyrevolution
Women make up most of the world’s (and UK’s) poor. Women are being hardest hit by the government’s spending plans. Women do 2/3 of the world’s work, earn only 5% of its income and own 1% of its property (http://www.unifem.org/gender_issues/women_poverty_economics/facts_figures.php). Any movement to redistribute wealth, any movement that aims to highlight the inequalities of wealth, this movement cannot risk isolating women.
Inviting an accused rapist to your event has made this woman feel that she is not part of the 99%.
And I'm not the only one.