Naomi Wolf: Liberty, Interrupted

Late last year, when WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was accused of rape by two women, noted feminist and one-time anti-sexual-violence advocate Naomi Wolf brazenly denied the accusations, outraging feminists everywhere. As the story broke, I was just picking up Wolf’s 2008 book, Give Me Liberty: A Handbook for American Revolutionaries. What I discovered was, in fact, deeply revealing of Wolf’s priorities. Spoiler alert: Feminism is not at the top of that list.

Give Me Liberty was inspired by Wolf’s personal confrontation with the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence. What she found in reading the democratic tomes, and what she implores her readers to find for themselves, is a radical series of documents demanding (not encouraging, demanding) a state of unending citizen uprising. That brings Wolf’s fierce defense of Assange, whose organization operates on the principle that ordinary people should be privy to everything their elected officials are up to, into sharp focus.

The book is a manifesto on the reclamation of democracy. An entire chapter of this book is called “We Must Speak.” In it, readers are instructed to “protest and assemble” when a “desire for liberty burns in you as it did for the founders.” But when two women spoke out, alleging sexual assault by Assange, Wolf took to The Huffington Post, writing that the women’s claims were a front for “personal injured feelings.” Later, she declared that Interpol’s hunt for Assange was an “insult [to] rape victims worldwide,” calling Interpol the world’s “dating police.” Despite her feminist roots, Wolf proved that her thirst for democracy is incompatible with her ostensible dedication to women’s rights.

The last third of Give Me Liberty is truly meant to be a handbook for American revolutionaries, with Wolf reminding American citizens of the many political tools at our disposal, such as leading a protest, running for office, speaking out or starting a non-profit. But last December Wolf openly disputed two women’s attempts to wield those tools. The question we’re left with, then, is can we, the people, accept that?




  1. Amen. I couldn’t agree more. The thing that really disturbed me about Wolf’s stance, and basically the whole debate surrounding the accusations against Assange is that it was, and still is, entirely simplistic in its approach, to the point of being infantile. People are capable of being contradictory; it’s entirely possible for Assange to believe in one form of democracy, yet commit an act of rape. Let’s remind ourselves that gender equality and women’s rights have always taken a back seat to larger claims to democracy. In what simplistic and childish logic does it make sense to attack women who claim to have been raped while arguing for transparency, democracy, liberty and equality?

  2. Jessica says:

    While I appreciate the argument, I think this post is not complex enough to discuss the topic. Oversimplifying Wolf’s position about Assange was the problem with the original debate it created. To go from “Wolf said something bad about the accusers” to “Wolf does not value feminism” is a big leap. Is there perhaps any other evidence that would show Wolf does not value feminism in the book?

  3. Rachel W says:

    There is no doubt in my mind that, based on the evidence revealed, Julian Assange is in fact a rapist. I am also not in doubt that, as Wolf pointed out, Sweden and America are not after Assange because he is a rapist, but rather because he is embarrassing powerful governments. Those two pieces are not mutually exclusive; they can both be simultaneously true.

    The ‘joking’ letter that you linked to was rather early on, and she made many much better arguments about the inherent problems in the treatment of this situation. She should be ashamed for having published such a ridiculous ‘article’ without having all the facts. Even when she did have all the facts, I still had issues with some of her arguments, though she posed important questions.

    In the multiple articles that I read by Wolf about this issue (though I did not read all of them), she does not deny that these women were violated. She elucidates how Sweden separates different types of rape in terms of legal language though they rarely prosecute assault cases. She believed that based on the appalling record of both America and Sweden, that these two nations were looking for ANY excuse to get him and settled on these accusations.

    I am wholeheartedly behind Ms. Magazine’s conflation of all sexual assaults under the banner word ‘rape.’ Thusly, Assange believing it was acceptable to stick his penis into a sleeping woman without her consent is ABSOLUTELY and without a doubt, rape. As was refusing to put on a condom and sticking it in anyway after she withdrew consent.

    While I am not wholly defending Naomi Wolf, I feel it necessary to point out that this article lacks enough of her actual arguments surrounding this case to defend the argument posed in this article.

  4. I’ve never understood Wolf’s appeal — I thought _Backlash_ was obvious, boring, and repetitive. There were other, better writers saying the same thing who got little or no attention at that time. Like Michael Moore, she takes an idea and beats your over the head with it until you say, “enough already, I get it.” Sounds like the latest book is more of the same drivel. Not buying it.

  5. Why am I always the voice of decent?

    It’s extremely obvious that these accusations were perused with the vehemence that they were for political reasons alone. Regardless of innocence or guilt this is clearly true.

    Certainly rape is one of the most horrific crimes imaginable. But, if the justice system can be used to silence individuals who challenge the government in any way at all then it can be used to silence feminists who challenge the government also.

    Charlie Sheen kept his position and status for years after numerous incidents of violence toward women. He is one of many examples. The prosecution and humiliation of Assnage was motivated by politics completely unrelated to women’s rights.

    Without freedom of speech and other civil liberties there is no more feminist movement. Why is Wolf the only major feminist figure sensitive to this?

    How can the majority of feminist consider someone, anyone, being silenced for political reasons a victory?

    I think that our support of this has been extremely foolish.

    Hopefully, it won’t become a pattern or have far reaching repercussions.

    • SunlessNick says:

      “Because he’s a great champion of free speech” is a political reason too, and burying the case for his sake, or the sake of that reason is silencing the two women whom I do believe he raped. Why is that case of silencing for politcal reasons more acceptable?

    • This is rather disturbing to me. You are walking a fine line in regard to the repercussions you speak of. It is not obvious to me that these charges are false and were merely levied at Assange for political reasons. While you excoriate the use of the justice system to silence individuals who challenge the government you pay no mind to the silencing of women who are abused by men who are considered culturally and politically important. It goes both ways.

      I would hope that there could be a nuanced treatment of the charges against Assange but as usual the left is all too quick to throw women under the bus for other issues. Why is it so difficult to acknowledge that while the work a man does may be important, it is just as important to seek redress when it comes to his violence and abuse towards women?

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