Naomi Wolf: this is what a feminist does NOT look like

Naomi Wolf wants Julian Assange’s rape accusers named in the press, because it will, she claims, help women. This is the most self-serving piece of bull I’ve come across in I don’t know how long.

The convention of shielding rape accusers is a relic of the Victorian era, when rape and other sex crimes were being codified in what descended to us as modern law. Rape was seen as “the fate worse than death”, rendering women – supposed to be virgins until marriage – “damaged goods”. The practice of not naming rape victims took hold for this reason.

This is so not even true. First of all, she’s conflating rape shielding laws with the courtesy of not naming rape accusers, at least until after the trial, if the press feels like it. Rape shield laws are what stops defense attorneys from probing into the victim’s sex life to suggest that she’s really just a trashy whore, in which case juries often refuse to convict, even though they understand a crime was committed.

Both rape shield laws and the no-naming convention are recent developments in women’s rights and have absolutely nothing to do with the Victorian era stuff she’s blithering on about. She should already know all this because I know it and I’m way less educated and ten years younger, and I know all this just from being alive and having access to the media. But if she didn’t – if somehow being a feminist for all those years didn’t clue her in on this stuff – a simple trip to Wikipedia would have. She goes on and on about Victorian stuff for a while – really, just on and on and on – then argues:

Not only is this convention condescending, but it makes rape prosecutions more difficult.

Does it. Does it really.

In the US military, for instance, the shielding of accusers’ identities allows officials to evade responsibility for transparent reporting of assaults – and thus not to prosecute sex crimes systematically. The same is true with universities. My alma mater, Yale, used anonymity to sweep incidents under the carpet for two decades. Charges made anonymously are not taken as seriously as charges brought in public.

Say what? The accuser’s name does actually go into any records of what happened. Press anonymity, which is all we’re talking about here, doesn’t affect that. She seems to be suggesting that when the cops come to Yale to speak to the accused, Yale says, “We can’t tell you who he is” and the cops go “Oh, okay, have a nice day” and leave. (What really sweeps rape accusations under the carpet? When girls and women aren’t told: don’t start with your campus. If you’re raped, go to the police. Only the police are allowed to handle actual crimes. The campus dudes can help you break into your car if you locked your keys inside – maybe.)

As Feministe suggests, she really is just trolling at this point. I wouldn’t let this woman’s comments through here at Hathor if she said anything like what she’s saying in this article. But it gets worse:

It is only when victims have waived their anonymity – a difficult, often painful thing to do – that institutions change. It was Anita Hill’s decision in 1991 not to make anonymous accusations against Clarence Thomas, now a US supreme court justice, that spurred a wave of enforcement of equal opportunity law.

This is incredible. She’s trying to sidestep the fact that Anita Hill waiving the anonymity she never had* did not keep Clarence Thomas off the US Supreme Court with the allegation that Thomas getting away with sexual harassment led to a wave of equal opportunity laws, so, big victory! Even if that was true, which it’s not, Thomas is in a position to decide cases based on those laws, and help chip away at their very substance. Some victory.

(*Sexual discrimination victims do not enjoy the anonymity of the no-naming convention, so this is misleading at best, and more likely an attempt to deceive and confuse.)

The convention of anonymity, conversely, lets rape myths flourish. When accusers are identified, it becomes clear that rape can happen to anyone. Stereotypes about how “real” rape victims look and act fall away, and myths about false reporting of rape relative to other crimes can be challenged.

I guess she thinks there was no stereotyping in the MANY MANY YEARS during which they so totally did name the accusers whenever they felt like it? Oh, I can’t go on.

Forget about “reclaiming” words like bitch and slut, feminists. You’ll need to reclaim “feminism” from parasites like Wolf first.


  1. says

    Holy crap. Nothing good comes out of loosing the names of victims to the public. If someone really wanted, couldn’t they access the public records of the trial?

    What’s next, child rape victims made to out themselves after abuse is discovered? Leaving them ripe for ridicule by their peers and ostracizing by the community as everyone rallies around the “respectable” parent who raped them?

  2. Casey says

    I guess fucks like Naomi Wolf are a part of the reason people prefaces feminist statements with the phrase “I’m not a feminist, but…”

    I cringe and die a little inside knowing that she’s probably got a bigger readership than you.

  3. says

    No, Ms Wolf, the Victorian attitudes we continue to harbor are what made rape shield and anonymity laws laws necessary, Victorian attitudes we should throw away long before we even think about undoing shield laws. And sadly I doubt that kind of social change will happen within my lifetime. My mother and grandmother have been fighting for it throughout theirs.

    To me, “feminist” means someone who fights for equality for all women and the dismantling of a system that devalues our contributions, mandates our actions based on arbitrary gender roles, devalues qualities associated with feminine gender roles, and forces us to live in fear. To her, “feminist” is just something she calls herself to keep everyone from realizing what a self-hating misogynist she is.

    I gotta pretend people like her don’t really think this way, otherwise there is just no way of dealing with it.

  4. says

    Naomi Wolf was one of the first feminists I read, both Misconceptions and Promiscuities.

    I don’t always agree with most of what she writes, but I’m not sure that it’s necessary to agree with everything someone writes. I think it’s important that she (and others) are writing about gender relations/perceptions, misogyny, sexism, etc.

    Just because she may have an ill-informed, misguided opinion, shouldn’t throw out or seemingly discount her entire body of work. I sometimes have uninformed opinions, even wrong opinions – and I appreciate when people point those out to me.

    So should we throw out someone’s body of work, declaring them to be “non-feminist” because of a disagreement over one issue? While this may be an important issue, and a significant disagreement – I’m not sure that’s fair. I disagree that Ms. Wolf is not a feminist.

    • says

      When that issue is big, hell yes. I’m aware Wolf has written some good stuff, and yes, people are often both good and bad in their deeds. But she is engaging in an intimidation tactic against (alleged) rape survivors. That’s beyond “disagreement.” That’s pretty much an act of intellectual war against the very goals of feminism.

      • Shaun says

        I’m so glad I learned my feminism from the internet (and Hathor!) rather than the literary feminists of the 70s. I’m sure some are great but it seems like such a mixed bag.

        • says

          Naomi Wolf wasn’t part of the 70s movement – she was part of Third Wave in the 90s, as were the Clinton “trashy whore!” apologists. Naomi Wolf is in fact suggesting we dismantle what the Second Wave (60s-70s) feminists worked so hard to get for women.

          The Second Wave had its failures, for sure (left a lot of women behind, whoops), but only a very privileged Third Waver would suggest “Let’s remove the very things that have made it somewhat possible to convict 1 or 2 rapists a decade”, which is right up there in absurdism with another TW contribution: “no, see, blow jobs really DO empower women.”

          Some people think there’s been a sneaky Republican infiltration of the TW feminist movement, and I don’t doubt that, since it would certainly have been the smart strategic move for Republicans. But I think people forget that just being a really privileged person can create the same effect.

          Also, if you’re at all interested in reading anything, Susan Faludi falls in between the two movements – 80s, 90s and still going – and she is fucking awesome. “Backlash” is pure history now – we’ve moved so far beyond it, but if you want to know what the 80s were like for women, that’s the book to read. “Stiffed” is about how patriarchal bullshit hurts men and feminism actually offers solutions for them as well as for women (this was the first time I heard someone other than my mom suggest that, so I adore that book). “Terror Dream” is about how in the post-911 world, people used fear to promote the idea that a return to 1950s “when men were men” culture would protect us from ever getting hit by terrorists again.

          • Charles RB says

            A guy I know once said that the reason the 1950s are held up as a peaceful, dull time in America when Everything Was Right is because everyone saying that was a child in the 50s and doesn’t remember what the decade was really like, or have only got experience through 1950s TV shows (which only show white middle class families).

            • says

              the 1950s are held up as a peaceful, dull time in America when Everything Was Right is because everyone saying that was a child in the 50s and doesn’t remember what the decade was really like

              I think there may also be an element of denial, because a number of Boomers who were born in the late 40s or early 50s have told me the 50s was very scary. The Communists were going to blow us all to hell, so kids had to watch filmstrips about the best way to hide under desks and so on. They had nightmares about this stuff. But maybe some kids have a natural defense mechanism where they just ignore what they can’t handle?

          • Attackfish says

            My dad, who was an abuse victim during the 50s relishes taking down nostalgia of the era with a special passion, with great emphasis on race, class, ablism (especially mental health issues, cuz his mom had paranoid personality disorder, and his brother has an unidentified form of psychosis), and gender. My grandmother likes to tell people that kids in the 50s died in accidents all the time and parents now are not as overprotective as people think, and my grandmother’s siblings have stories about how everything bad going on was kept secret and festered, but it looked good to everyone outside the family.

          • Charles RB says

            “it looked good to everyone outside the family.”

            I particularly “liked” learning that the reason so few teenaged girls were young mothers back in The Day is because they, ahem, had new baby brothers instead (if they were lucky).

          • Attackfish says

            My grandmother wasn’t lucky. Instead, she was shotgun married to my grandfather, called the Jewish whore by the whole town, and when he was cut off from his family and she from hers, raised three children with very little money and a husband she didn’t love. He was very handsome, she was very pretty, but she was a moderately well off intellectual with control issues, and he was a farm boy who didn’t see any value in her knowledge or talents, and had no interest in being controlled. They got divorced as soon as it was legal in PA, and they’re both much happier for it.

            And then there were the homes for unwed mothers where the women and girls were coerced into giving up their children. Not a happy time.

          • Shaun says

            Lots of women left behind was mostly what I was thinking about. As ludicrous as it is that, for example, NOW referred to lesbians as “the lavender menace” (wtf?) I can imagine how frustrating a movement that claims to represent you but is so oblivious to your needs and hostile to you as a person would be. The more I learn about the 50s or even the 60s the more necessary Second Wave seems to be, but that doesn’t stop me from thinking of Second Wave as archaic in the same way Ripley is kind of an archaic archetype for women. It was great for the 60s but that doesn’t mean we need to go BACK to it now.

            tl;dr Feminism is such a huge umbrella with lots of different women over time that it’s hard to know what you’re going to get, and I’m kind of more comfortable in the now where I can go to spaces and know I’m seeing more than a white, upper-class, heterosexual cis woman perspective presented. But I’ll look up Susan Faludi the next time I go after books. I’ve also heard good things about bell hooks (despite her puzzling lack of capitals).

  5. I. Scott says

    Curious, I stuck “rape-shield law in UK” into google, and found some guardian articles about actual attempts to put it into place. In 1999 it was pushed through by the government, but the (all-male) Law Lords essentially overturned it in 2001. Victorian indeed! The Law Lords ARE Victorian however…or were (it’s a “supreme court” since 2009). Also there is a woman now, so there is some hope.

    • Casey says

      IDK a lot of the time when marginalized persons are in a position of power, they don’t really seem to do much in helping the oppressed.

  6. Elee says

    “The practice of not naming rape victims took hold …” I would say the practice of not naming rape perpetrators was the real problem in Victorian era, not the other way around, however true or untrue the statement is.

    • says

      What is this comment in reference to? I deleted one of your earlier ones because it was irrelevant, talking about how you think the rape allegations have “turned a lot of feminists off” to Assange and people aren’t taking into account that he hasn’t been proven guilty. If you think that has anything to do with what we’re talking about here, you’ve missed the entire point. Let me sum it up for you:

      Wolf is suggesting we intimidate rape victims into silence by releasing their names to the press when they dare to press charges. Wolf is doing this because she thinks Assange is innocent. That does not excuse her behavior, because hell knows how many rapists will get by with it if women feel even LESS inclined to report rape than they already do.

      Feminists pulled this same shit when Bill Clinton was accused of various forms of sexual misconduct, including assault. He was a liberal who supported women’s rights, and therefore couldn’t be guilty, and therefore LYING WHORES! The feminists were as disgraceful as anybody else in that situation. As with Assange, I don’t have any idea if Clinton actually did any of what he was accused of, but I do know: the silencing tactic ensured he didn’t have to answer for any of it. It got swept neatly under a rug, and he was impeached and tried for lying, and that weekend after he was acquitted, SNL did a sketch where an actor playing Clinton stepped outside for a press conference, waited a moment for the crowd to settle down, then said, “I. Am. Bulletproof.” and walked off the stage.

      It was hilarious, but painful. Of course he was bulletproof. Feminists had just proved that even THEY were happy to turn on alleged victims when it was one of their precious men being accused. Just like everybody else. And everybody thinks Rush Limbaugh hurt the feminist cause. Nope – they did it themselves, and they’re at it again.

      And I’d forgotten this, but Naomi Wolf worked for Clinton. I can’t remember if she engaged in this attack-all-accusers-and-protect-our-man tactic with Clinton that she’s serving up for Assange, or if she just let other alleged “feminists” do it. I recall the then-president of NOW in an interview saying that these claims against Clinton needed to be investigated, not swept under the rug, because if he was guilty of ANY of the things he’d been accused of, he wasn’t fit to be president. Other than her, every alleged feminist was rushing to his defense at the expense of all those women – including very credible women whom the Republicans rejected because their claims didn’t fit the neocon agenda.

      Whether Clinton was guilty or Assange is guilty does not matter if the very people who are supposed to be fighting for women’s rights are going to silence all accusers before they get their day in court, does it?

  7. Charles RB says

    “Stereotypes about how “real” rape victims look and act fall away”

    Which is interesting, because earlier Wolf wrote an article saying how the Assange focus is a big insult to “real” rape victims and implied the alleged victims couldn’t possibly be “real” victims.

      • Maria says

        Word. What, like 1/6 of American women and 1/33 American men are survivors of sexual assault? We see/are/know survivors of sexual assault every goddamn day.

        She’s making my head hurt.

        • says

          Maria, I believe those numbers are strictly for rape – adults penetrated in particular ways. If you add in sexual assault, the numbers get higher. By the time you add in sexual assault against children, the numbers are something like 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 10 boys.

          And that’s not including sexual molestation of children, which includes non-assault acts of interference with a child’s sexual development for the purposes of an adult’s gratification.

          Basically, people who’ve experienced sexual assault are all over the place. You work with them. You live near them. You’re related to them. If you still somehow think that all sex assault victims fit some stereotype or another, naming these people is not going to change your thinking.

  8. Dani says

    Wow. This just…makes my head want to explode so I don’t have to think about Wolf’s twisted way of interpreting things. So, maybe she thinks that defense lawyers should be able to dive into the rape victim’s sexual history to see if she “deserved it” or not.

    And “It’s only when victims have waived their anonymity…that institutions change”? I thought it was when women were seen as complete human beings and rape was seen as the horrible crime that it is. Silly me…

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