Washington Post columnist George F. Will evoked Internet scorn this week when he claimed that college women are lying about being “sexually assaulted”—the scare quotes are his—in order to gain the “coveted status that confers privileges” to victims.
What are these coveted privileges that sexual assault victims gain? Besides a brief mention of trigger warnings, he doesn’t go into detail, so one can only assume that the “privilege” gained is being traumatically mocked as “delusional” by Will himself.
In fact, the only privilege that Will’s rape-apologetic comments have served to illuminate is his own male privilege.
Margaret Atwood once summarized male privilege as, “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” In this case, Will is afraid of colleges becoming—and I quote—“victims of progressivism” (emphasis added), and in the process conveniently disregards the other human victims involved. In fact, Will does more than disregard them: He blatantly targets them. (For a more thorough unpacking of male privilege, read “The Male Privilege Checklist“.)
Besides dismissing “trigger warnings”—again, his scare quotes— as evidence of a sense of “entitlement,” Will also calls out a specific victim. After detailing a Swarthmore student’s account of her rape, he then delves deep into victim-blaming, declaring how ludicrous it is that she is considered a victim. In Will’s mind, when sexual consent has been given once, it applies to all future times, even when consent is explicitly denied before a rape. And yet he doesn’t seem to realize why a victim of sexual assault wouldn’t want to come forward and face traumatic ridicule such as that coming from him.
Will even goes so far as to claim that describing women who have experienced rape as “survivors” is a “language of prejudgment.”Ironically, he fails to “note the language of prejudgment” and of male privilege throughout his whole piece, emphasized even further by the scare quotes he placed around “survivor,” “trigger warning” and “sexual assault” itself —a tactic used to place doubt on the existence of the concepts.
As Katie McDonough at Salon wrote, not explicitly addressing male privilege but still commenting on its effects:
It’s not very surprising that George Will does not think that sexual assault on campus is a big deal. It’s also not very surprising that he thinks that definitions of sexual violence are somehow overly broad because they factor-in forms of sexual contact other than penetration. But what is puzzling—about this editorial and the army of nearly identical pieces of rape apologia that find a way into national newspapers with some regularity—is how much one has to ignore in order to argue these points.
The true proof of male privilege isn’t George Will’s illogical rambling, it is the fact that the Washington Post published his unsupported and dangerous thoughts. Will denies all evidence about sexual assault on college campuses, but because he is a man his own opinion is considered authoritative and worthy of an article in a major newspaper. Because he is a man, both Will and his (statistically likely to also be male) editor assumed that sharing his opinion was worth more than the safety of women on college campuses and in the country in general.
The words Will says are influential, and they are a threat to women’s safety—the safety his male privilege prevents him from believing is threatened. Luckily, Twitter is full of powerful women who rose up and shared their stories to take off the blinders of male privilege and expose what a “privilege” it is to be a victim in America.
I hope the hashtag will help highlight the absurdity of George Will’s column and that survivors are struggling in the aftermath of sexual violence. No one wants to be the victim of a violent crime. … It is particularly deplorable that his piece was allowed to be printed considering how many horror stories about the very real, devastating effects of sexual violence have been prominent in the media lately.
Here are some of the moving Tweets, all used with the poster’s permission (trigger warning):
#survivorprivilege of graduating 6 years later than planned bc, yanno, rape. How covetable!
— Wagatwe Wanjuki (@wagatwe) June 9, 2014
#SurvivorPrivilege was being told to go home, be safe & put *my* education on hold — so that my rapist could comfortably conclude his
— Dana Bolger (@danabolger) June 9, 2014
My roommate who’s [sic] boyfriend it was who assaulted me told me that I was a slut who filed a fake police report. #survivorprivilege
— Zerlina Maxwell (@ZerlinaMaxwell) June 9, 2014
#survivorprivilege is giving up custody of my daughter for three months while I was experiencing acute forms of PTSD
— Carrie May Lucas (@CarrieMayLucas) June 9, 2014
#survivorprivilege is getting op-ed after op-ed in your school’s student newspaper revealing unnecessary details of your rape
— ♥Lana del Bae♥ (@browniebabydoll) June 9, 2014
Because of male privilege, many men don’t realize what a woman experiences after a sexual assault, or even believe that the threat of sexual assault exists. However, it undeniably does: Check out these six charts that explain sexual assault on college campuses, or RAINN’s statistics on sexual assault.
This is why rape culture is so prevalent. This is why, two weeks ago, the #YesAllWomen hashtag became necessary to explain to men the daily experience of violence against women. This is why it is so important that #SurvivorPrivilege is trending now on Twitter, because if more men read and listen to these tweets than read Will’s article, perhaps some good can come from bad.
In the end, the only real “privilege” George Will has exposed is his own—and now it’s time to expose it to the world.
Rachel Grate is studying English and Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Scripps College. She writes regularly for PolicyMic, Ms. and MissRepresentation.org, and you can follow her on Twitter @RachelSGrate.