In all the talk about rape, there's an overlooked irony. It's about our attitudes to the concept of self-ownership.
Consider the position that rape is rape - that there are no meaningful distinctions between "legitimate" or "serious" rape or "bad sexual etiquette" - and that all rape is absolutely wrong. What could be the philosophical basis for such a view?
The obvious candidate is the idea of self-ownership. This says that women own their own bodies and should therefore have control over them. Any unsolicited "insertion" is therefore absolutely wrong because it's a violation of the right of self-ownership.
Now, I'm no expert, but I suspect this idea represents a big strand of feminism - from the publication of Our Bodies Ourselves in 1971 to women's efforts to get birth control, the demand to "stay out of my uterus" and Laurie's affirmation of "agency and self-determination, the right to own our own desire."
And this is where the irony enters. This right to self-ownership is typically associated with classical liberals and libertarians. It was John Locke who said: "Every man has a property in his own person: this no body has any right to but himself." And Robert Nozick's libertarianism has been described as a theory of self-ownership. Such self-ownership is often the basis of the claim that taxation is akin to theft or forced labour.
We'd expect, therefore, that feminists and classical liberals would have common cause. Both, after all, assert a right of self-ownership.
But this is not so. Very many feminists who assert women's rights to self-ownership, I suspect, reject right libertarianism, whilst it is rightists and classical liberals who are often most keen to look for gradations of rape, which rejects women's absolute self-ownership.
This, I suspect, helps explain Cath's disappointment with leftist men who try to excuse rape. Many on the left reject the idea of self-ownership because of its right-libertarian connections. But once you stray from the self-ownership principle, you tend to undermine the absolute prohibition against any unwanted sexual acts.
Now, I don't think feminists are necessarily guilty of inconsistency here. It's perfectly possible to assert some form of right of self-ownership and yet support egalitarian economic policies, as Jerry Cohen and Michael Otsuka have shown.
What I'm not so sure about is the position of those rightists who want to reject the "rape is rape" line. How can you equivocate about a woman's self-ownership of her body when she is confronted by a sexual predator, and yet assert her right of self-ownership when she is confronted by the taxman? It can't be that the right care more about the interests of rich men than about intellectual consistency, can it?
There is, though, one man here who is entirely consistent - George Galloway. His claim that Assange's actions were "not rape" is consistent with his support for dictators, in that both represent a denial of even the weakest rights of individuals' self-ownership. Our admiration for his consistency should, however, be tempered by the fact that he is consistently a twat.