There are so many disturbing aspects to the recent outcome of the former Stanford student, Brock Turner’s brutal attack on a young woman. That the rapist received light consequences, considering the vileness of his crime. That the judge seemed more concerned for the rapist’s future than for the survivor’s. That it re-affirmed society’s message to men and boys that they can do what they want to women with few or no consequences.
All of these facts are horrific. And the public outcry reveals I’m not the only one who feels this way. But the public outcry also reveals how deeply entrenched rape culture is in our society. The father-to-father letter that went viral is one example. I was all with this guy until I read that Brock got away with this because of white privilege.
Yes, undoubtedly, the rapist’s race and class played a role in how the judge was able to sympathize with him. And had he been a man of color attacking a woman, particularly a white woman, it is likely he would have faced stronger consequences, though IMO rapists of any race are seldom given consequences truly commensurate with their crimes. But yes, it is highly probable a man of color who was found guilty (though keep in mind, it’s really hard to convict someone of rape) would have received more than six months.
But it’s not just about race. While both men and women can be victims of rape, women are disproportionately affected and men are far more likely to be the perpetrators of sexual assault. If it were an issue of race then white women would be perpetrators as often as white men are but there is no evidence to suggest that this is true. Rather, this is an issue of gender in that rape and the threat of rape are used to terrorize and subdue women, both cisgender and trans women, as well as people whose gender is outside the gender binary. Again this is not to say that men don’t experience rape. But whether or not a woman is ever raped, she lives in constant fear of it whereas (non-incarcerated) men do not fear it so much nor do they plan their daily lives around it. So if it is a privilege, it would be male privilege.
But is it a privilege to get away with raping someone? To me, when I think of male privilege, I think of the fact that men aren’t scrutinized so severely (or at all) based on their looks or sexual history. I think of how (straight, cisgender) men don’t go on dates and tell their friends where they will be and with whom in case, God forbid, their date attacks them.Nor do straight, cisgender men worry about or experience domestic violence at the same rate women do. I think of how when I was in college, my female and friends and I drove past a man going for a jog around 9 pm and one friend said, “male privilege!” The implication being that none of us would feel safe walking, never mind jogging, after 9 pm (maybe even earlier).
Being safe and not being judged on your looks or sex lives – those are things everyone should have but men get to enjoy these rights more than women/people who aren’t straight men (and in terms of safety, I’m speaking about safety from misogynistic violence specifically – I know there are plenty of other oppression-based types of violence men live in fear of).
Back to racial privilege (which this is not but there are many good defs of white privilege so I’m using them) consider definitions of white privilege. Its definitions typically note that it advantages white people over people of color and gives white people more access to things that again everyone should have equal access to; such as quality education, healthcare and safety. Many definitions of white privilege also acknowledge that white people get immunity from some liability or burdens (see def linked to above). To me (and I absolutely could be wrong), this speaks to the freedom white people get from unwarranted searches and pat downs and that drugs that are more commonly associated with white folks (i.e., cocaine) get lighter consequences than drugs like crack, which was typified as a black person’s drug, particularly during the Reagan years and his white supremacist so-called war on drugs. But rape? Is that something anyone should get immunity from? Is it a privilege to rape someone without consequence? So if we (as a society) include rape when we speak of immunity white people get that people of color don’t, should we maybe change that? Not to mention that if this is really privilege to deny the gender factor is to dismiss the very real fear of and experience of rape women of all races live with on a daily basis.
To me, white privileges are largely good things and things that white people should work tirelessly to ensure everyone has equal access to them. Most of the things white people get because of their race are things that no one should be without, such as good healthcare. It is unfair for people of color to be systematically denied rights. And it’s not okay.
But no one has the right to rape someone. To say it is white privilege that lets someone get away with rape implies that this is unfair to people who rape but receive harsher consequences. No. Getting away with rape because you’re a white man or because the system was designed in a way to disadvantage all survivors and all women (and people of color too) doesn’t mean you have privilege. It doesn’t mean you have access to something that other people should have but do not. It means you have supremacy. It means that your needs and getting your way are more important than the victims rights to their own bodies and to safety. And since rape is highly gendered and disproportionately impacts women/non-cisgender folks, the message is that women’s safety is less important than men meeting their so-called needs (aka getting their damn way with women).
I’ve heard men of color say that white privilege means knowing you can rape or beat your wife and get away with it. Not only is this viewpoint male-centric and heteronormative, it implies that it is so unfair to men of color to not be able to get away with assaulting women in the way that white men can and do get away with it. And by no means would I deny that men of color face harsher consequences for violence against women (because compared to white men, they do), but as someone who worked in the DV field for years, I can say plenty of men of color commit violence against women of all races and never face consequences. This is often because their partners are worried for the harsher, race-based consequences they might face should law enforcement become involved. And while women of color are certainly more sensitive and aware of this, white women also hesitate to involve police because of DV/rape, whether their partner is a white male or not.
Now I’m guessing that the father who wrote the viral letter did not intend for his words to come off this way. I’d also imagine that many men of color don’t realize how what they are saying comes off as highly misogynistic. But it doesn’t always matter what you mean. Because sometimes what you didn’t mean to say (but actually did) is more reflective of society’s beliefs and treatments of an oppressed group and unwittingly you perpetuate that oppression in saying such things. In addition, I certainly have some reservations, as a white woman, on calling men of color out on this because of white supremacy and power dynamics that benefit me over people of color of all genders. Still men of color are not immune from male privilege/patriarchy, or more appropriate in this case, male supremacy. And while society (read in this case: white men) has pretended to care about white women’s safety (spolier alert: it doesn’t really) as a means to further oppress men of color, specifically black men, that doesn’t mean men of color can’t and don’t do things that perpetuate the patriarchy and are harmful to all women. Saying you are unprivileged because you can’t get away with rape is one such example.