#MooreandMe: Still Waiting at the Foot of the Tower

Much has been written (and likely will be written) about #MooreandMe, the still-ongoing tweet-in convened in response to dismissive comments made last week by progressive icon Michael Moore (both on his site and via an appearance on Countdown with Keith Olbermann, which subsequently drew the bombastic MSNBC anchor into the fray) about rape allegations against Wikileaks founder (and socio-political rock star) Julian Assange. While the hashtag briefly attracted some reflexive ideological opponents to both Moore and Assange (most prominently, Mary Katherine Ham), the majority of participants keeping the tag alive appear to be progressive feminists/feminist allies who feel that both Moore (and Olbermann) have shown wanton disregard for the safety of rape survivors, and that both support for increased transparency in government and solidarity with rape survivors are not mutually exclusive stances.

This sentiment is far from universal on the mainstream feminist left, however. A schism was apparent during the at-times contentious debate that took place on Democracy Now between Naomi Wolf (who apparently has replaced her opportunistic contrarian support for all things Teabagger with opportunistic contrarian support for all things Wikileaks, cynically leveraging what’s left of her feminist credibility to try and protect Assange’s self-exposed flank with eventehfeminazi cover) and WAM! head-honcho and anti-rape advocate Jaclyn Friedman. Friedman, along with Tiger Beatdown’s Sady Doyle (who has tirelessly spent the past 5 days attempting to garner a response from Moore via the 140), created the #MooreandMe hashtag, referring to Moore’s first film, Roger & Me (in which the lefty documentarian chronicled his quixotic campaign to arrange a sit-down meeting with the then-CEO of General Motors to discuss the closing of manufacturing plants in Moore’s hometown).

Friedman, herself a rape survivor, seemed taken aback at times by the legalistic view towards sexual assault that was adopted by Wolf, who repeatedly cited her 23 years of experience counseling rape survivors to determinine what does and doesn’t equal ‘consent’ (enthusiastic or otherwise):

Wolf: Again and again and again, Assange did what Jaclyn, and everyone who cares about rape, and I, say you should do. He consulted with the women. … He stopped when women said ‘let’s talk about the condom,’ he discussed it, they reached an agreement, and they went ahead. He didn’t have sex with that woman when she was asleep. I agree that you need to be awake and conscious and not drunk to consent. We agree about that.

Friedman: He did have sex — that’s the allegation –

Wolf: Can you just bear with me?

Friedman: He started when she was asleep. That is the allegation.

Wolf: Well, you know — he started to have sex with her when she was asleep. Correct.

Friedman: And that’s rape.

Wolfe: She was half asleep. Then she woke up. Then they discussed how they would have sex, under what conditions, which is to me negotiating consent … they had a negotiation in which they both agreed not to use a condom, and then he went ahead and they made love.

Of course, it would help if Wolf would have been, y’know, completely upfront and honest about the allegations, instead of snidely repeating what is slowly becoming the Loose Change counternarrative of the pro-Wikileaks True Believer left (shorter: CIA-affiliated misandarists conspired with The Powers That Be to discredit our snowy-pated hero — as per some Holocaust denier, at least). Instead, Wolf continually and condescendingly insinuated that anyone who didn’t wrap themselves in industrial-grade tinfoil (ie, Friedman) was being “unserious” about the case (apparently offering an argument in good faith is a frivolous conceit).

Angus Johnson of Student Activism highlights and challenges the fast and loose nature of Wolf’s relationship with the facts re: specific allegations against Assange:

Let’s start by looking at the Guardian’s discussion of this incident — which is, again, the one that Wolf herself is relying on:

She had awoken to find him having sex with her, she said, but when she asked whether he was wearing a condom he said no. “According to her statement, she said: ‘You better not have HIV’ and he answered: ‘Of course not,’ ” but “she couldn’t be bothered to tell him one more time because she had been going on about the condom all night. She had never had unprotected sex before.”

So she’s asleep. Not “half asleep.” Asleep. She wakes up. He’s fucking her. He’s inside her. And what’s the “discussion” that follows? Is it initiated by him? No. Is it conducted on neutral terms? No.

It’s her asking him, while he’s fucking her, whether he’s complying with her previous explicit, non-negotiable demand that he use a condom.

And him saying he isn’t.

And continuing to fuck her.

And her giving up and letting him.

That’s the “discussion.” That’s the “negotiation.” That’s the prelude to their “making love.”

This isn’t a situation in which two people collectively negotiate the terms of consensual sex. This is a situation in which one person wants to do something, the person he’s with says no, and he waits until she’s asleep and does it anyway. Without asking. Without even telling her he’s done it until she asks him. And without stopping, once she’s awake and grilling him, to see whether what he’s doing is okay.

That’s not negotiation. That’s not discussion. That’s not ambiguous. That’s rape.

Kate Harding, responding to previous similar statements made by Wolf, is also seriously underwhelmed with Wolf’s victim-blaming-via-Authoriteh tactic:

[A]s someone who’s worked extensively with rape survivors, Naomi Wolf should damn well know better than to smear alleged victims long before all the facts are in, perpetuate a flat-out lie about the seriousness of the charges, and generally act like a cheerleader for rape culture, under the guise of someone concerned about “real” victims. Which we all know these women are not, duh, because Assange has already been tried and found not OH WAIT.

Here’s the thing: the guilt or innocence of Julian Assange, the background of his accusers, the legitimacy (or lack thereof) of the Wikileaks project, the burgeoning encroachment of the surveillance-saturated national security state — ultimately, none of this is germane to the debate. What matters is that a rape investigation involving a public figure has — yet again — been met with an inquisition in which — yet again — rape accusers find their identities spread across the internet, their sexual history questioned, their motivations analyzed under an electron microscope. In essence, when a celebrity (and, make no doubt about it, Assange’s Q ratings are through the roof) faces rape accusations, the accusers are the ones who are initially placed on trial in the court of public opinion — and that kind of mass speculation can ultimately effect both the outcome of a particular case and how future incidents involving victims of sexual violence unfold.

Ashley at SAFERCampus puts the allegations against Assange in context:

Psychologist David Lisak has been profiling rapists for years, and his work very clearly shows that the accusations in the Assange case are not “strange.” They’re in line with the way sexual violence usually happens. That is, it is usually committed by someone the victim knows, and it is usually committed by someone the victim did have some sexual interest in. These perpetrators play on the victims trust and perception that they are “good guys,” which in concert with a common tendency for self-blame, an expectation of official apathy, and a fear of community retaliation, often makes victims unwilling to pursue criminal charges.

Victims are not wrong to expect such things. In fact, here are the names of some other high-profile men who have been accused of violence against women:

William Kennedy Smith
Kobe Bryant
Ben Roethlisberger
Roman Polanski
R. Kelly
Isaac Brock
Mike Tyson
Charlie Sheen
Mel Gibson
Chris Brown

In every case, I have heard apologetics and denial. In every case, the majority of people I’ve spoken to have believed that the alleged victim was lying. In every case, the alleged victims were harassed and threatened. In every case, the alleged rapist/batterer continued in a successful public career. That’s because people have a hard time believing that someone who seems nice, or who does work they like, could be capable of violence. And because people have a perception that women are less trustworthy than men.

I believe in openness and transparency in government. I believe that many, many rapes have occurred in Iraq and Afghanistan that we could have prevented if we had more of the transparency that WikiLeaks promotes. Widespread rape is what happens when you have a war. As an anti-violence activist and a believer in democracy, I like WikiLeaks.

But, as someone who has spent a lot of hours listening to survivors talk about their experiences of sexual violence, I also know that “good guys” who do good work can do horrific things to other people. We can support WikiLeaks as a project without supporting the culture of disbelief and victim-blaming that currently exists when it comes to sexual violence.

My ambivalence towards Assange and his role in the increasing prominence of Wikileaks as a non-state political actor is on record. But even if I wasn’t conflicted about the direction his radical, purportedly people-powered attempt to dismantle top-down organizational opacity has taken, it would not (nor should not) make any difference. I unquestioningly stand with survivors of sexual violence, regardless of who the perpetrator is. And if standing in solidarity with them makes me a usefully-idiotic agent of ‘neoliberalism’ (a hi-fuckin’-larious charge lobbed at me by serial self-Googler Will Sh*tt*rly and future remainder bin mainstay Douglas Lain, two nominally far-left SF/F writers who apparently hold no little simpering, simplistic contempt for ‘identity politics’ [sic] and oh-so bourgeois (EEK!) anti-racism, seemingly extricated directly from betwixt Marx’s buttcrack ) well, pass on over the Council on Foreign Relations membership app.

Damn right I’ll fill out the motherfucker. In triplicate.

Despite Keith Olbermann’s typically self-important post-GBCW martyr-posing, #MooreandMe is not a spectacular “anti-personist” frenzy of angry feminazis out for blood. Rather, as Boingboing.com’s Xeni Jardin noted on Twitter, the movement serves as both a “litmus test” on how we view sexual violence and an opportunity for further discussion about rape and rape culture. So many people — men and women, straight, gay, cis, trans — are now thinking, dialoguing, debating, listening as rape survivors share their stories.

Some, like Jardin, have taken the initiative and offered online infrastructure for survivors to post their experiences as part of the still-evolving You’re Not Alone project, inspired by Dan Savage’s It Gets Better anti-bullying viral video campaign. Numerous individuals have been inspired by Moore’s conspicuous silence to speak out with their wallets, with Doyle encouraging supporters to make donations to inclusive rape crisis centres and advocacy organizations in response. And if even one single rape survivor chooses to come forward because she (or he) has been galvanized by the outpouring of unconditional support in response to the latest inquisitional celebrity-assault clusterfuck then #MooreandMe has served its purpose.

Make no mistake: unless Moore finally decides to unplug his ears and acknowledge the uppity rabble outside, this online mobilization will not end anytime soon, as Doyle has outlined in no uncertain terms:

I am standing out here until Michael Moore comes down. I don’t care if I’m the only one doing it — though I hope you join me — I don’t care how long it takes, I don’t care what they do to me, I don’t care what they say to me, I don’t care what they say about me, I don’t care if I’m in danger, I don’t care if you don’t like it, I don’t care who it pisses off, I don’t care if it pisses my friends or my mother off, #MooreandMe is not going away until Michael Moore responds to us directly and with a full apology and with support for anti-rape organizations, it is not going away as long as I have breath in me. If you close my Twitter account, I’ll post from a friend’s, if you shut down my website I’ll do guest posts at another feminist website, if you ruin my career and make it impossible for me to pay my bills I’ll couch surf, I’ll sleep at the house of a friend that has Internet and do it from there, if you set fire to my computer or shut off my Internet I’ll go to an Internet cafe and I will keep going. How long did Michael Moore stand outside of Roger’s office? A couple hours, maybe? A day? It’s been four days now. That shit is unconscionable. It is unacceptable. And it can go on for as long as he wants it to go on, because we’re not stopping. We’re not backing down. We’re not disappearing. Because they scared and bullied and threatened and shamed and lied to and lied about and disappeared all of those women, all of those women who were scared enough to go away or too scared to report in the first place, they all went away, and somebody has to not go away. We have to not go away. Engage in #MooreandMe to the extent that you can, the extent that you are capable of while still feeling safe and healthy, but me? I’m taking “safety” and “health” off the table, as personal requirements, right now. No matter what they do to me, no matter how long Michael Moore ignores me, I am still going to be here outside the tower. At this point, if you want to fucking stop me from demanding that apology, you will have to get a gun and literally shoot me down. And if I survive that, I’m Tweeting from the hospital.

Come on down and join the discussion, Michael. There’s still an open seat at the table with your name on it. We’ll be here, waiting.

As long as it takes.

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