Twice in the first week of June (2014) The Washington Post ran opinion pieces that grossly misrepresented the research on violence against women.
On June 6th George Will wrote an essay in which he argues that rape on college campuses is not only vastly over counted but is also treated as a privilege. A few days later, on June 10th, Brad Wilcox wrote a piece in which he argued that the best strategy for women to avoid interpersonal violence is to get married.
Ok, don't get me started. I'm not even going to get into the weeds about the data that Will and Wilcox employ to make their arguments as plenty of other scholars and journalists have written pieces dissecting these ridiculous arguments by citing the most reliable data produced by scholars and researchers who have spent decades studying violence against women, both rape and intimate partner violence.
I'm going to take a different approach and interrogate the simple fact that both columns illustrate yet another way in which privilege works; the privilege to have one's voice heard and the privilege, indeed the right, to tell the story.
At its most basic level, as a scholar who has studied violence against women for 20 years, I'm struck that neither I nor any of my colleagues who have devoted decades to producing the best research on these issues has ever had the opportunity to tell the story in this way in such a prestigious outlet as The Washington Post. Instead we are relegated to the back pages of online outlets like The Huffington Post and Slate.com. Don't get me wrong, I'm incredibly grateful that my voice can be heard in these outlets, but I'm also painfully aware that millions more people, and especially people (men) with privilege, read The Washington Post than The Huffington Post blog pages.
Plain and simple, The Washington Post allowed people with no credentials, no track record, so to speak, on issues of violence against women to tell the story. Brad Wilcox may be a scholar, but his specialty is marriage not violence against women. Believe me, you can comb hundreds of articles in peer reviewed journals that focus on intimate partner violence and Brad Wilcox will not be found.
So, if The Washington Post wanted to tell the story of intimate partner violence and marriage, partnership, co-habitation, or rape on college campuses, why not seek out one of the dozens of well-respected scholars who has written on this topic?
Why, because a key element of privilege is the power to write the narrative and to write it in a way that reinforces the privileges of those who already have it, in this case white, upper middle class, professional men.
I'm not saying that white, educated men can't know anything about rape or intimate partner violence. I'm not saying that only people who have experienced violence can write the narrative about it. In fact, all fights against oppression desperately need the voices of the privileged who can open the door of opportunity for truth to be spoken.
But, I am saying that privilege comes in many forms. And, sometimes the most insidious and dangerous privilege comes not in the form of wage gaps or glass ceilings or even violence, but in the power of defining the story, of creating the narrative. And, in both of these cases, the narrative is that the problem of violence against women is not only a "women's" problem, but that women have the power to protect themselves; get married Brad Wilcox says, even though we know that nearly 1500 women are murdered each year by their partners and husbands, often when they try to leave, to get "unmarried." If college women want privileges, its simple, Will says, just get raped.
I can only hope that women don't take either of these pieces of advice.
But, what worries me more, is that men with the power to make a difference, college presidents, family law attorneys and judges, law enforcement officers, fathers, boyfriends, husbands and lovers will read these terribly flawed pieces and do the wrong thing rather than the right thing. How many college presidents or athletic directors or college administrators already believe that women who cry rape are simply gold diggers or trying to excuse away a night of too much drinking? How many fathers will say to their daughters who are being stalked by a boyfriend, "oh c'mon, he's a good guy, maybe if you just go out with him he'll stop calling?"
Unfortunately the damage by these pieces may already be done. And, it will take more voices than mine to undo the damage of these narratives that have been written exclusively by these white men with privilege without considering the voices of others nor the impact of their words.
As the old African Proverb goes: "Until Lions write their own history, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter" (Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa)