Dec 212010

Have you heard the one about Keith Olbermann and Michael Moore talking disparagingly about the Assange rape allegations and the subsequent outcry about their remarks?  No?  Before we go any further, take a minute and catch up with the goings on in my open letter to Keith and also see Feministing’s roundup and my roundup of the issue in general before the famous conversation here.

So now that you are more or less up to speed, quick recap–Olbermann strutted out of the Twitterverse the other day saying he felt that the criticism of his remarks was an attack. The he returned because according to him, the “frenzied spectacle” had stopped and issued  this statement,

Rape has touched my family, directly and savagely, and if anybody thinks I have addressed it without full sensitivity, then that assessment is the one that counts, and I apologize. But these accusations that I “revealed” an accuser’s identity by retweeting Bianca Jagger’s link, or that I ‘shamed’ an accuser by asking a question about the prosecution of a man governments are trying to bury, or that I do not ‘understand’ charges that have yet to be presented in their final form, reflect exactly the kind of rushing to judgment of which I’m accused, and merit the same kind of apology I have just given.

He followed up with this statement saying that the protests were worse than the anti-feminism he was accused of (although that really isn’t what he was accused of), it was, wait for it, new phrase–“anti-personism”. And finally there was this gem (and who knows what statement Olbermann is making with the photo),

That’s why I took my time out & why I replied as I did. Feminism has no greater male supporter in tv news than me.

So personism trumps feminism, never mind that such a statement indicates a deep misunderstanding of what feminism is about.  And Keith I hate to break it to you but feminism doesn’t have any great male supporters on television.  Are you better than some?  For sure, but dude, look at your guest lineup–they are mostly white and male and until that changes, do not even pretend to be a champion of feminism.


I think it is that last quote about being the greatest feminist supporting guy on tv that really is the most disheartening because the idea that he is such a great supporter is bunk and that he thinks  he is amounts to pretty standard liberal male delusion.  Yes there are some great guys out there who truly do support feminism.  But there are a lot more who think they do that actually don’t.  And like a whole lot of other feminists, I am worn out by that, pissed about it, and just plain sad about it.  It takes an enormous amount of time from other more important work when we have to call out and address faux feminist men.  Sometimes they are well intentioned, sometimes not so much, but it doesn’t take all that much unpackaging to get to why they so persistently don’t get it.  It’s called male privilege.  And Olbermann has a bad case of it.

So I’m just going to close with this point–support women-positive media.  Mainstream media isn’t going to provide it to you. There are far too examples of women-positive media to list here, many are found in our blogroll on the right side of the page.  It is out there and we need to foster and encourage and yes monetarily support these voices.  Otherwise we’ll be stuck listening to Keith Olbermann’s feminism.


If Olbermann hasn’t blocked me on Twitter already, this should probably do it.  Which is unfortunate, because I do value his voice, he has much to say that is important to hear, but on this he is very wrong.  So I dare you Keith, don’t block me and send me a Tweet and tell me you read this.

 December 21, 2010  Posted by on December 21, 2010 1 Response »
Dec 192010

As the year draws to an end, like many of you, I am spending time with friends and loved ones, cooking, giving gifts and feeling very grateful.  I will have little time for blogging the next few weeks, but before we close out the year, I want to express my deep gratitude to all of you who read this blog. Thank you for reading, for caring and for all that you do, it is your strength and wisdom and love that keeps me going and I deeply appreciate knowing that you are there.–Lucinda

 December 19, 2010  Posted by on December 19, 2010 1 Response »
Dec 162010

Never mind that for the most part I am a huge fan, at the moment I am just the teensiest bit annoyed with Michael Moore for having this to say about the Assange rape charges,

For those of you who think it’s wrong to support Julian Assange because of the sexual assault allegations he’s being held for, all I ask is that you not be naive about how the government works when it decides to go after its prey. Please — never, ever believe the “official story.” And regardless of Assange’s guilt or innocence (see the strange nature of the allegations here), this man has the right to have bail posted and to defend himself.

Yes, I agree, the charges do seem strange,  and I do support Assange’s work (we’ll get to that in a few paragraphs) and of course he should have the right to defend himself. But treating the charges dismissively because Assange’s work is for the greater good isn’t okay because men,  powerful dudes included, do have a wee bit of a history of using their penises in inappropriate ways while their accusers get trashed (1), even by so-called progressives who all too often are dismissive and trivializing of the charges (2).

As feminist author and attorney Jill Filipovic puts it,

just because the vigor with which Assange was pursued was clearly politically motivated doesn’t mean that the accusations against Assange are totally incredible, or that it’s unjust that he will have to face them.

And Feministing’s Jessica Valenti points to the absurdity of the way the case is being deliberately described,

The truth?  There’s nothing in Swedish law about “sex by surprise” or broken condoms.  (Here’s the penal code, see for yourself.)  And despite reports to the contrary, Assange’s accusers have always said that this was not consensual sex.

For more thoughts on this, see Footnote 2 below.

Troubling as the dismissiveness of rape charges for the greater good line of reasoning is, Grit TV’s Laura Flanders makes this additional and very salient point that regardless of the integrity of the rape charges, since when did rape charges become such an almighty Interpol priority, not that it wouldn’t be a good idea if they did, but the answer of course is when they are politically expedient, and certainly not out of sudden concern for the welfare of the alleged victims:

let’s be clear, he should face the charges. But since when is Interpol [the investigative arm of the International Criminal Court at The Hague] so vigilant about violence against women? If women’s security is suddenly Interpol’s priority — that’s big news!Tell it to hundreds of women in US jails and immigration detention centers — who charge that they can’t get justice against accused rapists — or women in the US military (two of out three of whom allege they’ve experienced assault.) In Haiti hundreds of unprosecuted cases of rape in refugee camps could use some of Interpol’s attention…

…It seems we only care about women’s bodies when there’s a political point to be proved.

And there we get to another point of great dis-ease; it serves a lot of powerful agendas to prosecute Assange for rape, but for the overwhelming majority of rapes, that is not the case. As Meredith Tax points out, never mind Interpol, even the International Criminal Court which is supposed to prosecute rape cases is doing a piss poor job of it.

At the crux of it, women’s human rights are routinely and systemically ignored unless it serves the political agenda of patriarchy to shine a light on the pandemic abuse of women. We only trot out women’s rights when they are convenient. The examples are endless.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently made a surprise appearance at the TED Women conference.  She told the audience that if you give women equal rights, the whole nation will be more stable and secure.  Indeed.  Maybe we could try that in the United States?  Passing an Equal Rights Amendment, ratifying CEDAW,  and insisting on equal pay would be a good place to start.  Imagine if we took that approach to security instead of waging endless wars against other countries.

And what about the rights of women in Afghanistan that we are allegedly defending? As MADRE’s Diana Duarte says so succinctly,

It is not only valid but also necessary to reject the conflation of support for Afghan women’s rights with support for the war.  This conflation has obstructed our view of what alternatives may exist.  It has blocked us from recognizing that perpetual war clamps down on the space that women have to build solutions for their future.

And then there is the U.S. military which is being sued for access to rape records in an effort to determine the extent to which the military has addressed the appalling rates of sexual assault and lack of prosecution thereof in the ranks,

“Much of the information about the extent and cost of the (military sexual trauma) problem, along with the government’s reluctance to prosecute offenders and treat victims, is not in the public sphere,” the lawsuit states. “The public has a compelling interest in knowing this information, given the potential enormity of the problem, the emotional and financial cost that it imposes on military service members and the increasing number of women serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

It goes on and on–in New York, rape crimes have been deliberately covered up,

until exposed through a series of recordings as well as an FBI report, New York City police officers had been covering up sex crimes with the full knowledge and even the direction of their superiors. In fact, it seems likely it’s still happening.

So those rapes should be covered up, but the charges against Assange are the stuff of Interpol charges? Just a bit of a double standard.


I have been thinking a great deal about the juxtaposition of the issue of Assange’s exposure of government and corporate secrets while being accused of a crime that all too often is also shrouded in secrecy.  In the end, the common thread is power, which so often depends on secrecy at the expense of truth, be it in the personal or political realm.

Many intelligent and thoughtful people, while acknowledging that much of what has been exposed thus far is quite troubling, are concerned that Wikileaks endangers the secrecy necessary to function in the corporate and political world. (3) That however makes the assumption that keeping those systems functioning as they are is a good idea, and that is what we need to re-examine because for the most part, if there wasn’t something offensive if not illegal about what is being kept secret, those in power would not be so concerned about keeping those secrets.  And in the end, wouldn’t we be better served by those in power acting honorably in a way that would pass the test of transparency?

And so we  need to ask ourselves, just what is it that the powers that be are afraid will be exposed and subsequently lost by these revelations.  And the answer is one word, Patriarchy, and this is why:  In the process of leaking documents, Wikileaks and Assange have gifted the power and commodity of secrecy.

In an essay by Israeli writer Erella Shadmi, Trapped By Patriarchy in the anthology Women and the Gift Economy we get an understanding of why gifting secrets that are needed to maintain power is so terrifying to patriarchal structure in both the public and private realm.  While she refers to Muslim and Israeli societies, her analysis is universal to patriarchy.

Muslim tradition puts revenge and honour up on the private and public agenda of every believer. And Israeli modern culture is dominated by the Culture of the Freiher. Freiher is a vulgarism meaning “sucker.” The culture of freiher defies a person that is ready to give way, to be used, to forgive. Such a person is viewed as one that does not care for his honour or power. For example: you are a freiher if you yield to other drivers. And especially, you are a freiher if you talk with “terrorists,” if you let your wife dominate you. In a culture of the freiher you do not take responsibility for your mistakes, you do not share your ideas lest they be stolen, you are never weak lest you are exploited. So you learn to manipulate, to lie, to exploit people, to hide your feelings.

Wikileaks has dared to question the culture of freiher and the very structure of patriarchy in a way that we must defend and from which we cannot go back. Yet that very act also demands that we respect and fully address the personal charges against Assange, no matter how badly brought they have been, while at the same time not allowing them to be used as an excuse to undermine the defense and imperative of freeing ill-conceived secrets.


In an effort to keep the body of this essay at a manageable size, I have pulled a lot of important material into the footnotes because it is crucial to the full understanding of the issues addressed above.

(1) In this case, this has been done in particularly frightening ways. The Washington Examiner reports,

Posting their addresses and phone numbers isn’t intended to encourage vigilantism, but to send a bigger message to women like Ardin and Wilen – if you lie about being raped, this is what will happen to you. Your anonymity will be compromised, your life will be laid bare for all to see, and your name will be destroyed. No rape shield law or journalistic ethic can protect you. You will suffer as the man whose name you vindictively dragged through the mud has suffered.

I want women to see that their choices have consequences. If enough false rape accusers have their identities and personal data exposed to the jeering Internet hordes, others will think twice before they accuse men of heinous crimes for petty and selfish reasons.

(2) A few non-negotiable facts that we should get straight from the get-go in this conversation:  Rape and sexual assault are the most under-reported and prosecuted crimes in the world. Yes, a few rape charges are false, most aren’t. And yes some rapes are committed by women and some of the victims are men, but mostly it is men that commit these crimes and women who are the victims.  And to be clear–the basis of these claims comes from the U.S. Department of Justice, the World Health Organization, etc.

Jaclyn Friedman, executive director of Women, Action & the Media and  editor of  Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape, suggests that statements like Moore’s and other progressives amount to just one  more incident of what she aptly calls a Rape Apology Day,

Keith Olbermann used scare quotes around the word rape as though the charges themselves (which are that Assange held one woman down against her will, and in a separate incident raped another while she was sleeping) were silly, and everyone from Glenn Beck to Naomi Wolf rushed to belittle the accusers, along the way employing every victim-blaming, rape-denying, slut-shaming trope ever invented, from “they’re just lashing out because they got their feelings hurt” (that’s both Beck and purported feminist Wolf, paraphrased) to my personal non-favorite, popular blogger Robert Stacy McCain’s suggestion that women who consent to any kind of sex are sluts who deserve whatever happens: “You buy the ticket, you take the ride.”…

…As soon as a rape accusation makes it into the news cycle (most often because the accused is famous), it’s instantly held up against our collective subconscious idea about what Real Rape (or, as Whoopi Goldberg odiously called it, “rape-rape”) looks like. Here’s a quick primer on that ideal: The rapist is a scary stranger, with a weapon, even better if he’s a poor man of color. The victim is a young, white, conventionally pretty, sober, innocent virgin. Also, there are witnesses and/or incontrovertible physical evidence, and the victim goes running to the authorities as soon as the assault is over.But let’s face it, actual rapes almost never match up to this ideal. Most rape victims know their attacker (estimates range from 75 percent to 89 percent), most rapists use alcohol or drugs to facilitate the assault (More than 80 percent, according to researcher David Lisak), not weapons, and most of the famous men whose accusers receive media attention aren’t poor men of color. But once the accusation hits the news cycle, whatever pundit gets there first uses the non-ideal details of the alleged assault to argue that surely, we shouldn’t take this seriously, and other pundits nod their head in agreement.

And investigative journalist Lindsay Beyerstein adds,

It is curious that charges against Assange were brought, dropped almost immediately, and later reinstated. The fact that authorities were so quick to charge Assange based on uncorroborated testimony should raise questions about whether prosecutors are treating him differently from your run-of-the-mill alleged sex criminal. However, it’s pure rape culture apology to argue that so-called “he said/she said” cases should be automatically dismissed in favor of the alleged rapist.

We can agree that the legal response to what Assange allegedly did reeks of politically-motivated prosecution without passing judgment on the merits of the allegations against him.

(3) Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW)’s Anne L. Weismann also makes the peculiar argument that Wikileaks endangers freedom of information by not working within the system,

At first blush, WikiLeaks’ disclosure of hundreds of thousands of State Department cables seems like a win for transparency and accountability in government. After all, these documents offer a never before seen window into U.S. diplomacy. But upon closer inspection, WikiLeaks’ document dump illustrates the perils of going outside the system, and is likely to result in less transparency in the long run.

For those of us in the transparency business, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) offers a useful tool to pierce government secrecy. Designed to let the public know what its government is up to, the FOIA mandates disclosure upon request, subject to nine limited exemptions. Those exemptions represent a congressional balancing of governmental interests, such as national security and investigative needs, against the public’s need to know. For agencies that stray off course, the FOIA provides judicial review, allowing courts to view requested documents in camera to determine if they were properly withheld. While the FOIA is far from perfect, it provides the public with a useful tool for scrutinizing government actions and policies balanced by oversight and procedural safeguards.

Also worth noting, Deanna Zandt has some excellent  commentary on the issue of internet rights and access,

When we face issues of free speech on the Net, we’re confronted with a severe reality in the harshest moments: we consider this here to be public space, but in reality it’s owned and operated by private companies. There is currently no set of accepted standards that say we have a set of rights online.

This is a crucial issue and with Net Neutrality in grave peril as I write this, if nothing else, we should seriously be thinking about the issue of how we access the internet and as PayPal, Amazon, Mastercard, etc. have proven, how easily that can be cut off.

Finally, I want to point to this weird example of the oft ignored sexism of the left. CommonDreams, in its  ongoing coverage of Wikileaks, ran this illustration without comment, the use of “Gentlemen” in the graphic apparently was not considered remarkable.  It should have been.

–Lucinda Marshall

 December 16, 2010  Posted by on December 16, 2010 3 Responses »
Dec 072010

As some of you know, I am a huge fan of needlework with a message–I’ve dabbled in quilting and needlepoint, but had never thought of crochet as something that would be usable as a message bearer.  I stand corrected.

The Smithsonian Museum of Natural History has an amazing show called the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef:  Art, Science, Community, part of a project begun in 2005 by Margaret and Christine Wertheim.  It features the work of over 800 participants and

combines the mathematics of hyperbolic geometry with the delicateness of this traditionally women’s handicraft. The Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef is a traveling exhibition that not only displays these artworks, but also incorporates an ever-growing social project—teaching others around the world how to crochet hyperbolically and make their own reefs.  By working through this process and viewing the art, one can see the correlation between the crocheted reefs and living corals, such as the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.  The fragility of the coral reefs is echoed by their crocheted counterparts.

The show runs through April 24th and is truly a treat for the eyes and the soul.  Here are a few of the pictures that I took, I’ll post more to the Feminist Peace Network Facebook page as well.

 December 7, 2010  Posted by on December 7, 2010 Comments Off on Ecochet
Dec 012010

In 2004, I interviewed Yanar Mohammed, founder of the Organizaton for Women’s Freedom in Iraq about the impact of the U.S. invasion of Iraq on women’s lives.  According to IRIN, the concerns that Mohammed voiced in that interview and that I have written about many times since, have unfortunately been born out,

The improved political representation of women in Iraq is in sharp contrast to their broader disempowerment, as highlighted by the persistence of domestic violence and early marriage, according to a new report by the UN Inter-Agency Information and Analysis Unit…

…Women may hold 25 percent of seats in the Iraqi parliament, but one in five in the 15-49 age group has suffered physical violence at the hands of her husband. Anecdotal evidence alleges that “many women are being kidnapped and sold into prostitution”, and female genital mutilation is still common in the north, the report notes…

…Women’s participation in the labour force has fallen sharply since 2003. Before the invasion, 40 percent of public sector workers were women…

…The collapse of public social services has also limited access to education, health and jobs, while a high level of insecurity has pushed women out of public life and into the seclusion of their homes, and an ineffective judicial system has created an atmosphere of impunity…

…The conservative attitudes of public sector officials has been reinforced by a government that supports keeping women at home…

…“In 2006, the Iraqi Interior Ministry issued a series of notices warning women not to leave their homes alone and echoing the directives of religious leaders who urge men to prevent women family members from holding jobs,” the report noted.

“Thus, the violence carried out by militias in the streets is backed up by more respectable political leaders, who support the call for a women-free public sphere.”

Escalating poverty has pushed Iraqi families into prioritizing schooling for boys, stifling future opportunities for women.

“For every 100 boys enrolled in primary schools in Iraq, there are just under 89 girls,” the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said in a report released in September 2010. School enrollment figures for girls have been progressively declining, while drop-out rates have gone up in every academic year…

…Factors pushing girls out of schooling included “security risks, attitudes to girls and education, the state of the nation’s schools, what is taught and how it is taught, the skills and attitudes of teachers, family poverty,” UNICEF said…
Of the 139,000 registered Iraqi persons of concern in Syria, 28 percent fall under female-headed households, the UNHCR Protection Officer in Syria, Aseer Al-Madaien, told IRIN in an email interview.

Many do not have work permits, which compounds the difficulties female-headed households face in neighbouring countries, where they struggle to make a living, “especially paying the rent”, while still “coping with family, social and community pressure”, Al-Madaien commented.

Their vulnerability can lead to exploitation. “There is trafficking happening among the Iraqi refugees, [but] the scope and modality is not known to us,” said Al-Madaien.

 December 1, 2010  Posted by on December 1, 2010 Comments Off on The Deterioration Of Women’s Human Rights In Post-Invasion Iraq