Following a week of celebrating International Women’s Day, a counter-blow to the feminist movement seemed inevitable. After all, one day in a year is apparently enough to satiate the thirst of gender inequality around the world. And the age-old question has reared its ugly head conveniently at a time supposedly celebrating women’s freedom. What’s more important: free speech or hate speech?
Well, that certainly was the case when French economist, politician, and alleged sexual predator Dominique Strauss-Kahn was asked to speak at the Cambridge Union this week. Mr Strauss-Kahn, who resigned as head of the IMF in May last year after being charged with attempted rape, gave a private speech about global economics to hundreds of student members of the Cambridge Union Society.
And though the charges were dropped by prosecutors in New York, Cambridge students challenged DSK, asking whether Mr Strauss-Kahn could “explain” the bruising to Miss Diallo found “the day after you met her.” And more so, the fact that the only voices subdued were not the ones of the politician, but the women protesting outside. It raises the question; who exactly is everyone protecting? It certainly isn’t the approximate 85,000 women being raped every year, but rather those who have a reputation to defend.
As Feminist Cambridge Action reiterated in their recent blog post, women at the demonstration started speaking out to a crowd of 200 people that they had been raped. And like a domino effect, many women began telling their own stories of rape. Yet, these were not the stories that we heard about in the mainstream news. Instead, we hear of the three people arrested, accused of ‘criminal damage’ and the fact that the union said Mr Strauss-Kahn had a right to “free speech”.
But it only highlights that governmental bodies, unions and society prioritises free speech over gender hatred. Rape claims against Wikileaks editor-in-chief, Julian Assange were shrugged off almost instantly as some sort of conspiracy theory and by the very same people who contend to be left-wing liberals.
Police documents exposed in the Guardian revealed that according to the allegation of one of the women, Miss A had told a friend that “Not only had it been the world’s worst screw, it had also been violent,” highlighting the very definition of rape. But as per usual for rape cases in the UK, the allegation was twisted into a “cry-rape” story, in accordance to different political motives.
“Assange’s supporters point out that, despite [Miss A’s] complaints against him, Miss A held a party for him on that evening and continued to allow him to stay in her flat.” Well, tell that to hundreds of women who have equally been blamed for being raped, and subsequently been paraded around as “asking for it.”
The issue has quickly become part of a web of debates between the left and right-wing media, and Assange was hailed as the new face of socialism, as seen through his invitation to various events such as the Occupy movement.
And it’s not only people involved in politics that get this treatment. Hollywood rallied behind director Roman Polanski, despite Polanski unspeakably raping a 13-year old girl in the late 1970s. Actress Whoopi Goldberg said on US chatshow, The View that: “I know it wasn’t rape-rape. It was something else but I don’t believe it was rape-rape. He went to jail and when they let him out he was like, ‘You know what, this guy’s going to give me a hundred years in jail. I’m not staying.’ So that’s why he left.”
This new coined phrase of “rape-rape” apparently excuses the act, because the director has been acclaimed as an ‘artist.’ So what else can people indicted of rape be? Footballers, actors, priests…
The list depressingly goes on when it comes to finding excuses to defend those accused of rape and sexual assault. Hence, DSK’s invitation to the union only epitomises what has already been enforced in people’s minds. When it suits, women’s pleas of ending violence against women and children are celebrated. However, on any other day, it’s the ‘free speech’ of a celebrated individual that trumps over gender inequality and women’s defence.