Joan Smith: Cablegate's misogyny leaked in full

Thursday 09 December 2010 01:00 GMT

If the Swedish crime writer Stieg Larsson were still alive, he might already be at work on a new bestseller, The Man Who Slept With A Feminist. The f-word has been used repeatedly about the accusers of Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, who is on remand in custody in the UK while he fights extradition to Sweden.

According to some of Assange's supporters, the plot goes like this: our hero goes to Sweden to talk about his campaign for freedom of information, has the misfortune to be targeted by a couple of groupies and ends up facing trumped-up charges of sexual assault. Behind these charges are shadowy figures at the Pentagon, who want revenge on Assange for leaking US secrets.

Now we get to the really cunning bit: who would have imagined that these neo-imperialists would select a Scandinavian women's rights campaigner as the instrument of their vengeance? While cooler heads might think that any man who sleeps with a Swedish woman in the 21st century is likely to find himself in bed with a feminist, the Daily Mail quite understands how Assange might have got confused. One of his accusers is both "an attractive blonde" and "a well-known radical feminist". That's tame stuff for the crawling misogynists of the blogosphere, who have characterised her as a "twisted, man-hating bitch".

I doubt whether many of the celebrities queuing up to declare that the WikiLeaks boss has been framed would wish to associate themselves with such verbal vitriol, but they remind me of the luvvies who rushed to defend Roman Polanski after his arrest in Switzerland. This was the occasion on which that celebrated moral philosopher, Whoopi Goldberg, introduced us to the concept of "rape-rape" which is apparently so much worse than the single-noun version (so bad they named it twice?).

In the present case, four charges have been filed against Assange and it would be premature to make judgements before they have been tested in court. He says he had consensual sex with the two women but it isn't unusual for such cases to turn on questions of consent, while the timing may reflect nothing more than a disagreement among prosecutors.

It has been suggested that the Swedish extradition warrant is a nefarious move designed to allow the Americans to put in their own request as soon Assange arrives in Stockholm, but Britain has its own extradition treaty with the US – and has been widely criticised for granting American courts too much power.

Nor is it the case that Assange would be returning to a radical feminist paradise where he wouldn't get a fair trial. The Swedish government's record on prosecuting cases of rape and sexual assault has been roundly criticised by Amnesty International; a 2008 report says Sweden has shown "a continuous and strong increase in the number of reported rapes in recent decades, whereas the number of prosecutions and convictions has remained fairly static". The number of reported rapes in Sweden has quadrupled over the past 20 years, and the UN special rapporteur on violence against women has pointed out that impressive achievements in gender equality "seem to have halted at the doorsteps of private homes". Indeed, this contradiction was one of the motivations behind Larsson's Millennium trilogy, the first volume of which was called Men Who Hate Women in the original Swedish.

It is perfectly possible to regard Assange as a hero while still believing that he is answerable to the law like everyone else; personally, I was hugely amused when this doughty campaigner for full disclosure tried to give his address to the court as "PO Box 4080". But I'm sorry to say some of his supporters seem so entranced by conspiracy theories that they've dusted down every misogynist trope about Swedish feminists, gender equality and rape. Stieg Larsson, your country needs you now.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in