Equal before the Law

I’m currently too busy making my Wikileaks Stories game to write a detailed post about my problems with feminism as an academic, political and philosophical movement. This is a very complicated topic to write about, primarily because people of all sorts are apt to translate “I am opposed to feminism” to “I am opposed to women’s rights” or “I hate women” or “Finally someone who agrees with my bigoted macho bullshit.” I believe, as strongly as I believe in anything in the world, that people of all genders and sexualities are equal in every way possible; I also believe that our society does not reflect that, and that steps must be taken to ensure that it does.

Identity politics, however, are nothing but counter-productive. In many cases, they are sexist themselves; from assertions that we need more female politicians “because they are more sensitive/sensible/intuitive” and similar essentialist bullshit to linguistic monstrosities like “mansplain,” identity politics serve only to reinforce artifical categorizations and to perpetuate the myth that society is cleanly divided according to one principle, i.e. Men versus Women (or Men versus Women and Gay Men).

(So rarely does it occur to anyone that gender-based stereotyping is perpetuated by both genders and oppresses both genders. Try being a boy who doesn’t like cars or football or the military.)

Identity politics, though often arising from a genuine desire to point out and correct injustice, end up destroying critical thought. Opinions and arguments are dismissed simply due to arbitrary characteristics of the person holding them, with no consideration of the facts. The Polanski case was a prime example; anyone who disagreed with Polanski’s treatment was painted as a rape apologist, even though that was not even remotely what the disagreement was about. No-one said that Polanski had not committed a crime; but the fact that the legal treatment of Polanski had turned into a crime itself – something that the victim herself agreed with! – was apparently not relevant. All that mattered was that Polanski was a man, and he must pay for the Crimes Of All Men, even if it went against the wishes of his victim, against the law, against every basic principle of justice. It was all about cultural revenge.

And now we have the Julian Assange case, which is even more absurd. A case that was dropped within one day by Sweden’s chief prosecutor and reinstated only with the intervention of a right-wing politician, and with perfect timing at that. A case in which the current prosecutor still has not charged Assange with anything, and in which the authorities are claiming Assange should be extradited without any evidence needing to be presented. Assange who, by the way, stayed in Sweden for several weeks after the accusations first popped up, agreed to cooperate, and only left Sweden after asking for official permission to do so.

No-one is denying that rape is a serious crime or that most rape victims never get legal justice. But we’re still talking about legal justice, right? Expressing outrage at the legal situation Assange is faced with is not rape denialism, it is a belief in the basics of legal justice and fairness. Let’s not even consider the conspiracy elements, the CIA connections, all that stuff. Even on the most elemental legal basis, the entire case is a joke. It’s a joke not because someone claims to have been raped, but because in this specific case all evidence points to the contrary, and there is no evidence that would back up a charge of rape. Nothing. Nada. Zip.

Specificity matters. You can’t treat any case as generic – this is not “Women accusing Man of Rape,” but a specific situation with specific details, and it’s on the basis of those that the law must proceed.

But some people would prefer that an example be made of Julian Assange, whether he is guilty or not, because that will supposedly somehow help women worldwide. And anyone who disagrees, anyone who sees the political machinations behind the accusations, anyone who even simply disagrees with the legal basis of what’s happening, is a rape apologists. Campaigns have been started against people like Michael Moore and Keith Olbermann because they have not jumped on the lynching bandwagon. Suddenly they are no longer true progressives and must be harrassed in the most childish ways possible; anyone who disagrees with the new Deciders is a filthy woman-hating rapist. Reason goes out the window. Equality before the law no longer matters; all that matters is the new tribalism, us-versus-them with a new paintjob.

And yeah, a man is writing this. So what? If you truly believe “man” signifies something more than anatomy, then you are as bigoted a fool as those who believe that “woman” is a category people can easily be grouped into. My grandparents on one side were Germans; they weren’t Nazis, but my grandfather fought for the wrong side in World War 2. But on the other side, my grandparents were Greek resistance fighters. My Greek grandfather was tortured. My Greek grandmother is Pontian, from the Black Sea, and her family was driven out of their home like so many others during an act of genocide. With my thick eyebrows, my beard, my long hair, I regularly get sneered at here in Germany. I’ve experienced a lot of racism, both here and in Greece. I got bullied for years for liking the wrong things (books instead of cars, movies instead of football), crying too easily, not wanting to do what everyone expected of me (cut my hair short and go play soldier). I’m not gay, but I’m not homophobic. I am an agnostic, but I’m married.

Categorize me, please. Sum me up in your convenient little categories. Am I am Privileged White Male Chauvinist? Do I hate women, like All Those Of My Kind?

Or maybe we’re all just people, citizens of supposedly democratic states, and maybe we should be treated on the basis of facts and evidence. Innocent until proven guilty, whether male of female, straight or gay or transexual, white or brown or red or yellow or green or black or rainbow-coloured; and equal before the law.

Edited to add: I should have distinguished more clearly between the two things I was talking about: my problems with the theory of feminism as a whole (a topic for another time), and the fanatic feminists who are attacking Assange. There are good and sensible and progressive people out there who identify as feminists who have spoken lucidly and clearly, and I don’t want to lump them in with the crazies. I still disagree with their overall approach, but that is a different issue and should be treated as such.

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7 Comments

  1. “Try Being a boy who does not like football or cars or the military.”
    Oh I tried, and I wasn’t so bad. It would’ve been nice without all the suffering and exclusion, but overall it turned out pretty well.

    I wouldn’t say I’m opposed to feminism, but I understand the point. I still don’t know what to think of the project of establishing the legal concept of femicide, here in Argentina.

    Identity politics tend to symbolically separate what they say they want to join. On the other hand, it’s impossible to match two different things by treating them equally. It’s like trying to match two strings of different lengths by cutting an inch each.

    But I really don’t know, I’ll have to think it more carefully.

  2. I think the problem with attacking feminism is that it isn’t one thing. The kind of reflexive identity politics you identify is basically non-sensical for all the reasons you identify, but I think the prevalence of that kind of feminism is getting beaten up in the media beyond it’s actual popularity because of the media’s pre-existing bias to reporting anti-WikiLeaks news.

    I don’t have the statistical information to prove this, but my anecdotal experience would suggest that far more, if not a majority of people who consider themselves feminists, have supported Assange on all the same grounds you and I do. I have a friend who runs a feminist reading group, who has helped organise the snap rallies in defence of WikiLeaks and Assange here, and whose opinion of the allegations was “what they’re doing is trivialising people who actually get raped.”

  3. As I said, I don’t have the time now to go into a detailed analysis of my problems with feminists. There’s certainly a lot of good people who identify as feminists, and they’re not all like the fanatics described here – but I still have problems with the basic approach. (Granted, there are some people whose definition of feminism avoids all my problems, but those definitions then tend to make me question the point of calling oneself “feminist.”)

  4. Ezra

     /  December 23, 2010

    Some people see this Assange case as a battle between “he’s accused of rape, so he’s guilty” and “try him fairly, like anybody else”.

    Other people see this Assange case as a battle between “he did good work, so he’s innocent” and “try him fairly, like anybody else”.

    There are more than two options here. It can be both wrong to assume his guilt and wrong to assume his innocence.

  5. I hope I’m not too late to the party! Jonas, you said, “Granted, there are some people whose definition of feminism avoids all my problems, but those definitions then tend to make me question the point of calling oneself ‘feminist.'”

    I’m curious as to what definitions of “feminist” cause you to question “the point of calling oneself ‘feminist.'” How liberal a definition do you tolerate? 🙂

    I myself have recently taken on more a label as a “humanist” than a “feminist” specifically–my interests include broader gender and sexuality issues, as well as racial and cultural (although I’m limited by my American standpoint and knowledge). I find that the idea of humanism fits better with a less-divisive move towards equality–instead of seeing Man vs. Woman and Gay Man, as you mentioned, the focus comes down to people and the more useful individual traits that cause societal strife. There’s still labeling in there, though.

  6. I hope I’m not too late to the party!

    Not at all!

    I’m curious as to what definitions of “feminist” cause you to question “the point of calling oneself ‘feminist.’”

    I’ve read a number of feminist writers whose definition of feminism has expanded to include everything from “minority rights” to general human rights to socio-economic rights. At that point I have to start wondering whether the only reason they still call themselves feminists is because they’re women – which seems like a terribly sexist notion to me, implying as it does that women should be “feminists,” black women should be “black feminists,” gay black women should be “queer black feminists,” Native Americans should be “Native Rights Activists” etc. This is both a horrible case of self-limitation/categorization, and makes it that much harder to come together and fight for real change.

    How liberal a definition do you tolerate? 🙂

    Ohoo, nasty! *g*
    Seriously though, since I believe in free speech, I tolerate any definition people want, but they ought to tolerate my objections to it (without calling me a White Imperialist Man).

    There’s still labeling in there, though.

    But “humanist” (a term I also tend to use) implies only certain values, not a preoccupation with one segment of humanity.

  7. “At that point I have to start wondering whether the only reason they still call themselves feminists is because they’re women – which seems like a terribly sexist notion to me”.

    I get what you mean, and I have trouble with this, too. Not every woman needs to adopt the label of “feminist” to be an activist in whatever they what to be. Not every activist who is black needs to have “black” in their activist-label, etc. It’s–if not sexist (which I buy it is, mostly)–then certainly a disappointingly heavily-gendered or heavily-raced stance.

    I’m really baffled when I run into related hypocrisy. I hear a scary number of everyday black feminists (not authors; just colleagues and acquaintances) very snidely (and behind white people’s backs) sneer that white feminism isn’t valid, that white women have it easy now, and their problems are solved.

    Mmm, tasty solidarity. Way to win.

    It no more makes you a White Imperialist Man to analyze and call bullshit than it makes me a White-Acting Traitor (etc.) to call racist racially-labeled feminists on their bullshit. (Oh, the trouble some folks have with male feminists… Gah.)