As a sexual assault survivor, I want other white women survivors to understand that rape culture and racism are a package deal.
Like many, I woke up the day after the U.S. election with a sense of dread, grief, and disbelief pounding in my aching head. I felt a kind of wordless devastation, knowing that in a million ways, so many people were going to suffer badly, and that some wouldn’t survive this.
Also rattling around in my body was low-key panic. I’m a survivor of sexual violence and of everyday rape culture. Trump brags about doing to women what men have done to me, with impunity. The way he swaggers and boasts reminds me of the guys who enjoyed the look of fear they’d see on my face when they followed me home at night; he reminds me of the ones who gloated about how easily they knew they could get away with hurting me.
Everything about Trump makes me short of breath, afraid, filled with gut-churning revulsion. I want to block out his face and voice, but even when I ask the cab driver to turn off the news, I can still see and hear him, the smug grin of this creepy excuse for a human being.
And then came the anger when I saw the data on who voted for him. As many have pointed out, it was, overwhelmingly, white people who put Trump in office — and not just white men, but white women, too. (About 53% of white women, across lines of class and region, voted for Trump; 94% of black women and 68% of Latina women voted for Hillary Clinton.)
Trump brags about doing to women what men have done to me, with impunity.
As white folks wake up to the reality that racism is more widespread and virulent than many previously understood, it’s time for us to listen to what folks of color, Indigenous people, Muslims, and migrants are saying about what they need next in terms of immediate support and defense of their lives.
I also want to talk to other white women, especially white women survivors, about the stake we have in ending racism. Specifically, I want white women survivors to understand that rape culture and racism are a package deal. And we must attack both, together.
The list of women and girls who have reported that Trump has sexually assaulted or harassed them is as long as my arm: a 13-year-old girl, his first wife, beauty pageant contestants, a journalist, pretty much any woman who gets within his grabbing reach (even if later he denies it by claiming they were too ugly to sexually assault. What a prince).
It’s Not Rural Voters Who Put Trump In Office — It’s White People
It’s difficult to talk about the people who really delivered the election to Trump.
Maybe you avoided reading the grim details or maybe, like me, you were compulsively drawn to the stories of his attacks on women and girls. In any case, while some of this was under-reported, all of these facts about his predatory behavior toward women were known or easily knowable to voters.
And yet, many white women not only voted for Trump, but actively defended him. Here are some of the ways that white women Trump supporters reacted to descriptions about his sexual assaults:
“If women grabbed men like that, it wouldn’t be a big deal. But if men do that to women, they blow it out of proportion. It might be true, but it might not. . . ”
“We have become so wussified. Pretty soon, saying hello to someone is going to be considered harassment.”
“I heard that he said something about groping women, and I’m thinking, Okay, №1, I think that’d be great. I like getting groped! I’m heterosexual. I’m a woman, and when a guy gropes me, I get groping on them!”
Is this how these white women likely feel when they think a man of color is sitting too close to them on the subway? Are they excited about the possible opportunity they might have to “get groping on him”? Do they think they shouldn’t be “wusses” about it as long as he doesn’t kill anyone?
No — there are a few exceptions, but for the most part, white women hand out “the groping pass” to white men exclusively. Meanwhile, Obama had to have an immaculately respectable sexual history to become the first black president of the U.S. No five children by three wives for him, and no grabbing any woman by anything, ever.
Try to imagine a world where a black man could have been accused of sexual assault by over 12 women (including one 13-year-old girl) and still make a successful run at the presidency. You can’t imagine that, because we are not living in that world.
The message white America has sent is chillingly clear: “Yes, you can be a racist and repeatedly accused of sexual abuse, and still be president of America.” The only condition? You also have to be white.
On the surface, it doesn’t make much sense that white women would rally around any man who’s been so widely accused of sexual assault. After all, even if a white woman hasn’t directly experienced sexual or physical violence, we all live in a world where we know we could be victimized in that way. Moreover, we know that if we are sexually assaulted, we’ll likely be the ones blamed for it.
But there’s a powerful force at play here, and it’s something women of color have been calling out for centuries: White women often choose to ally themselves with white men first, and women, including women of color/Indigenous women, second (or never).
Why? To some extent, the problem is white women’s systemic internalization of the patriarchy, which enables our willingness to accept the idea that we are inferior to even the most mediocre (or in this case, colossally incompetent and violent) white man.
There also seems to be belief in a sort of “trickle-down theory of white privilege.” Writing for Black Girl Dangerous, Zoe Salmudi put it this way:
“White women voted for Trump because he can ultimately empower white women in a way that Clinton cannot and could never. Despite having proximity to structural power as a former state senator and Secretary of State, Clinton is only conditionally rewarded by white cisheteropatriarchy because she is a woman. Her whiteness affords her a great deal of value, but her womanhood ultimately makes her disposable. Thus, she does not have the social power to ‘make white womanhood great again.’ Donald Trump does, though. He is the male gatekeeper standing between white women’s access to power within white supremacy.”
In other words, many white women are willing to accept a second-class status to white men so long as they are promised uncontested racial privilege.
And so, white women will listen to racist white men’s rapey music and watch their rapey movies and TV shows (see: Game of Thrones, every film by adored director John Hughes, Fifty Shades of Grey, The Notebook, etc.); they will adore and protect white men accused of domestic violence or sexual assault (“she’s just after his money,” “boys will be boys”); and they will promote white men’s ideas and ultimately hand them power.
So long as the men are white.
And in doing so, we become active participants in perpetuating rape culture.
Many white women are willing to accept a second-class status to white men so long as they are promised uncontested racial privilege.
None of this, of course, is new. As writer Kelly Pflug-Back recently asked on Facebook, “Did white women on slave plantations ever join cause with black women and rise up against their husbands who had full legal and social license to rape them both?” The answer: Not that we know of.
White women are not responsible for creating rape culture — but we do have the power to either perpetuate or resist it. I want to end sexual violence, and I understand that if we are ever going to create real safety and freedom from it, white women are going to have to en-masse divest from our loyalty to white supremacy and join anti-racist movements. Women of color and Indigenous women are substantially more likely to be survivors of sexual violence, and have hundreds of years of wisdom on how to fight and dismantle it. Imagine the kind of world we would be living in if white women allied with all women and actually demanded full accountability from white men?
At the same time, we must also help white women understand how their racism is bolstering rape culture. Because, after all, rape culture hurts all women . . . including those who just helped elect a misogynist accused of repeated sexual abuse as president.