Julian Assange and ‘The Women’s Issue’

By Leehee Rothschild

Rare are the cases in which an article and the advertisement accompanying it fit together. But in the case of a recent op-ed in The New York Times by Oliver Stone and Michael Moore, “Wikileaks and Free Speech,” the two make a perfect match.

Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, has been wanted by the Swedish authorities since 2010 over allegations in two rape cases. He has been under house arrest in London since December 2010, while an extradition order against him was deliberated in British courts, and ultimately approved by the Supreme Court last May. At the moment, he is taking refugee in the Ecuadorian embassy, where he has been granted political asylum.

In a disappointing but quite typical rape apology column, Stone and Moore come to Assange’s defense. They list all of his achievements, speak about the massive threat to the freedom of speech posed by his potential extradition, detail all his generous offers to be interrogated for his sexual crimes in various locations, and narrate conspiracy theories as fact. They also go as far as explaining that he was not “charged with anything,” but only wanted for interrogation for sexual assault.

What’s missing from the entire column, which was shared extensively by my friends and acquaintances, males from the left, are women and their experiences. Assange’s rape survivors were not mentioned once. Their experiences minimized into “nothing but” sexual assault, through a carefully phrased sentence. Furthermore, Moore and Stone do not even spend a moment considering the implications of overlooking Assange’s sexual violence, on the women of the world in general, and women in the left specifically. Women who see they can expect neither solidarity nor support from their comrades on the left when they call out a man from among their ranks, but instead have to deal with contempt, mistrust, and victim blaming. This is nothing but another layer in the well-worn social mechanisms that silence victims of sexual violence, this time employed by the so-called radical left.

Fortunately enough, though, women were not completely excluded from the article. They are present in a small ad on the side bar, inviting the readers to check out “The Women’s Issue,” of the newspaper.

Newspapers and magazines don’t have a “Men’s Issue” because the newspaper itself is considered a man’s issue – politics and finance, news and sports. In other words –  everything that happens in the public sphere. The Women’s Issues is the place reserved for everything that belongs to the domestic sphere – cooking and clothing, kids and relationships, all those things too far beneath men to be bothered with. Women’s Issues are the magazine’s way of defining the roles of women and, as a result, of men in the world – women get the kitchen and the nearby mall, and men all the rest.

In their article, Stone and Moore reproduce the very same Victorian era dichotomy. When they say that Assange was not charged with anything, they in fact mean that he was not charged with anything that has to do with his anti-imperialist politics. His sexual violence is not, to them, a matter of global interest, but merely a Women’s Issue, better suited to the side bar of their righteous struggle for freedom of speech.

But this dichotomy is false. Assange is both – an anti-imperialist activist who made important contributions to the global left, and as admitted by his lawyer, a man who penetrated two women without their consent – and a suspected rapist. Political persecution certainly plays a great part in the involvement of the United States, but acknowledging this persecution should by no means entail negating the crimes for which Assange is rightfully wanted.

Leehee Rothschild has been active in the Palestinian struggle for over a decade. She currently works with Anarchists Against the Wall and Boycott From Within. She writes about activism and political struggle on her blog, Radically Blonde and other publications.