There are a lot of pieces to identity that afford one privilege in our society.
Being raped is not one of them.
Earlier this week Washington Post columnist George Will wrote an article discussing the “privilege” that comes with being a survivor of college campus rape and sexual harassment.
As Jessica Valenti has pointed out he even chose to put words like “sexual assault” in quotes, suggesting it is not real.
An article by Kate McDonough reminds us that you literally have to ignore massive amounts information to argue any of what he argues in that article.
But to me a big aspect missing from his argument is his lack of recognition for his OWN privilege.
For someone to be throwing around the word privilege when talking about women who have survived sexual violence perhaps he should take minute or two to understand the word.
Admittedly four years ago I had never thought twice what privilege meant and how it effected my life. But freshman year in Intro to Sociology I read Peggy McIntosh’s, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” and it blew my mind.
Her list of privileges afforded to White people simply because they are White was incredible. I could identify with so many, “I can go home from most meetings of organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, out-of-place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance, or feared”. Or “I can choose blemish cover of bandages in ‘flesh’ color and have them more or less match my skin”.
Having read his piece I have to assume George has not had much self-reflection on what his Whiteness does.
Or how about being male. According to Michael Kimmel and Michael Kaufman in their book The Guys Guide to Feminism, privileges you take for granted are invisible. For example, George probably does not worry about any of these excerpts from The Guys Guide to Feminism. For example,
“Being alone at night, or walking alone in a park, or leaving their drink unattended at a bar”
Or how about
“Men usually don’t feel their spouse will cause them physical harm”
I have a sneaking suspicion that good ol George did not take a minute to think about what being a male means to adding to this conversation? Did he think about how his presence as a man in this argument shapes how he will be received? Nope. Probably not.
Now I do not know the intricate details of George Will’s life. Maybe the troubles that have plagued him have led him to this dark moment in his life. A moment where he felt the need to undermine the population of women and girls plagued by the constant threat, memory and reality of sexual harassment and rape.
In the words of McIntosh, “most talk by whites about equal opportunity seems to me now to be about equal opportunity to try to get into a position of dominance WHILE DENYING THAT SYSTEMS OF DOMINANCE EXIST” (emphasis mine).
George is making a choice to ignore systems of dominance that allow college rape to continue.
I am not trying to sound like the privilege genius because trust me I am not. I screw up all the time, forgetting my place as a White person in a conversation, forgetting to acknowledge all the reasons I am in the position of my life that I am in.
I am effected by privilege in other ways as well by being a woman. Getting told to stop being a bitch when the guy next to me in class said the same thing without receiving any backlash, clutching my keys in my hand as I briskly walk to my car at night.
Actively trying to understand this is all I ask of George. Hopefully this moment leads him to a place of better understanding. A place where he will stop putting quotation marks around the words “sexual assault” as if it does not exist.
So here is where the thank you comes in.
I want to take a minute to thank George Will.
Thank you George for reminding me why the work of advocates is crucial.
Thank you George for reminding me how powerful social media activism is, as you sparked a #survivorprivilege movement on Twitter.
Thank you George for reminding me the of the brave people who risk their lives to get through another day.
Thank you George for reminding me that no matter how far we come we still have people like you relying on your “traditional” (notice the air quotes George) values and understandings to justify your own position of privilege and ignorance.
And finally, thank you George for reminding ME to thank the amazing people who have to constantly push back against people like you in order for women, girls and all people to feel safe.
Kaufman, Michael, 1951 and Michael S. Kimmel. 2011. The Guy’s Guide to Feminism.Berkeley, Calif: Seal Press.
McIntosh, Peggy,. 1988. White Privilege and Male Privilege : A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences through Work in Women’s Studies.Wellesley, MA: Wellesley College, Center for Research on Women.