Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Sweden's Rape Laws Infantilise Women? (Regardless of Assange)

I have no idea whether Julian Assange is guilty of rape or not.  If he is guilty, he should be tried (and not in a kangaroo court) and duly punished.  What worries me more is a strange silence on part of journalists about a more bizarre twist in this tale. That twist is about Sweden's distinctly bizarre rape laws and the generally uncritiqued but dangerous corollary of the infantilisation of women by those laws.

The only reason I have noticed Sweden's rape laws is because of the current case against Wikileaks' founder.  The facts are murky but at least this is much is clear: Assange had sex with two different women within a three day period, and behaved in general promiscuously and as a cad.

Frankly, two is less than many rock stars get up to, but then Assange apparently was far more interested in his computer than in the second woman with whom he had sex (her statement).  The rock star comparison is not out of the blue.  Whether we agree with Wikileaks or not, Assange has become a sort of internet, geeky version of a liberal, crusading rock star.  If you think about it, he is the ultimate geek fantasy: a lap-top toting Luke Skywalker singlehandedly battling the Empire. Are we surprised that, unlike the PG rated Hollywood version, this geek not only has a sexual appetite, but also willing candidates lining up?  Hell, even a killer and wife beater gets celebrity status and wild fans these days; remember the Moat saga?  Assange, in contrast, has the added advantage of a liberal international halo to boot!

But neither Assange's sexual escapades nor his rock star status are of particular concern for this blog post. Instead what is more worrying are the epic twists and turns of Sweden's rape laws which appear to be applied at discretion.  Already this case has gone from being upgraded to rape, then downgraded to molestation, changed to rape by surprise, rape because the condom broke, and finally, yesterday's he "used his body weight to hold her down," (which is definitely rape, but strangely brought out only three months in to the legal process).

Of more concern is a rather odd point, not discussed in the ad nauseum articles about rape in the mainstream media: that the Swedish prosecutors themselves have asserted that the consent of the women is not in question.  Over the past week, as a result, my feeble feminine brain has been trying to understand how consensual sex is rape.  Surely the term applies to lack of consent?

Then the accusers' lawyer Claes Bergstrom explained the contradiction of a crime of non-consent committed with consent by declaring: "they (the accusers) are not jurists.”  As one of Assange's lawyers (and therefore to be taken with a grain of salt) pointed out: "How the Swedish authorities propose to prosecute for victims who neither saw themselves as such nor acted as such is easily answered: You’re not a Swedish lawyer so you wouldn’t understand anyway."

The problem here is more worrying than simply of the prosecutor or even the entire Swedish government caving into foreign (presumably US) pressure.  The issue here is of a supposedly developed, socially progressive nation - which can't stop itself from taking on the mantle of moral superiority on all global issues - assuming that a rape victim cannot decide whether she has been raped.

Isn't this precisely the sort of infantilisation that feminism fought against?  Isn't this infantilisation insulting and demeaning to all women, and not only those who have been raped?

As a long time feminist, a sometime volunteer for abused women, and most importantly, a woman myself, I need to say this loud and clear: a woman KNOWS when she is raped.  Taking the power to identify her own rape from a rape victim is the most derogatory act that any state can perpetrate.

There is another under-reported aspect to Sweden's worrisome infantilising of women in context of its rape laws. Assange's lawyer, Michael Caitlin points out that the Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny is also involved in "reforming" Swedish rape laws.

Already, as part of that infantilising women as creatures who obviously need to be protected by their nanny state against men, the Swedish rape law apparently considers consensual (albeit regretful in the morning) sex without condom a "sex crime." Not agreeing to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases - as far as I can make out from press reports - is also a "sex crime."  But apparently, these laws are not strict enough for the Swedes. (An aside: are we surprised they have such a high suicide rate? With little sunlight, cold climate and state regulated strictly conformist sex, what else would they do?)

More seriously, the impending "reform" would apparently "introduce a test of whether the unequal power relations between the parties might void the sincerely expressed consent of one party."  In principle that sounds good, right?

But how will this "unequal power relation" be established?  Is it money? If a man buys me dinner, is he coercing me? Or will a Swedish man, by dint of history, gender, race, all of which position him as "more powerful" be considered a rapist simply for having sex with a non-European woman like me, despite my express consent?  Or will the imbalance be because of age? Shall Sweden prosecute all couples who are not exactly equal in age? What happens to not only men who like younger women, but the newly emergent breed of cougars? 

Perhaps it shall be based on intelligence, with a surgeon accused of rape should she have sex with a carpenter?

Or is it temperament? Will all of us going to Sweden be required to carry insta-psychometric tests to see if each partner is of the same psychological ability?  What if a woman had sex with her partner while the latter is suffering from the horrific man-flu,  would the Swedes believe that she were being coerced by his whinging?

On a more serious note, are these "reforms" actually yet another racist law meant for immigrants but couched in "liberal, protect European culture" vocabulary? 

Back in my riotous days of student protests in the US, we demanded that "government get out of my womb."  But in Sweden, it seems that the government is present in the beds, vaginas and wombs!  All in such a benign big brotherly fashion that even Orwell would have trouble imagining it.

To be absolutely honest, Sweden is welcome to infantilising its women.  This isn't the feminism I fought for, definitely is not the feminism I support, and will not be one I will teach to the young girls of my family.