Tag Archives: women

Post the Seventy Eighth or On Racism and Rape Culture

Last Friday, a white gay man grabbed my ass. I was so startled that I just glared at him and walked away. Later that evening, I run into him again and he whistles at me. I very clearly state that I do not want him to touch my ass and instead of respecting my desire, he laughs and grabs my ass anyway.

This triggered all sorts of memories of past sexual trauma and I felt panicky and depressed the rest of the weekend. More than that, though, I was struck by the blatant disregard for my boundaries and my body. This white gay man thought my desire to not be touched so ridiculous that he laughed. He felt so entitled to my body that he did not care what my wishes were. My right to self-autonomy meant less than nothing to him.

But it gets worse.

I posted on my Facebook about what happened and I specifically named the whiteness of my assailant. And while I had many of my friends write messages of support, I had several white “friends” interrogate me as to what “race had to do with it”. They varied from “race has nothing to do with it” to “why are you so racist?” “quit playing the race card” to “any Latina that I know would have slapped him” to “if you don’t like white people, leave America”.

This is the additional way that rape culture manifests for people of color. On top of street harassment and victim blaming, which tells people that they are responsible for being sexually assaulted and puts the onus of proving their assailant’s guilt on the victim. On top of rape jokes and the sexualization of rape in the media, women of color are silenced when they name the whiteness of their attackers. They are interrogated as to why they were victimized by a white man. They are accused of being racist for exposing the way white supremacy attempts to own brown bodies. And even at the same time that it denies that race exists, it thrusts racial caricatures on to the victim.

If I had written gay man, instead of white gay man, everyone who read that status would have assumed that he was white. This is because white is the “natural setting” for any human and anything different is automatically other. In order for one to know that someone is talking about a Black man, one needs to say Black man.

But when I name my assailants whiteness, when I interrupt the assumption that people are naturally white, it is suddenly I, the victim of sexual violence, who is in the wrong. The conversation, which should be focused on what kind of support I need, instead focuses on their demands for me to educate them on the role of whiteness in sexual harassment.

And this is rape culture at its finest because it compels me to give more of myself, of my experience, to my oppressors. Under the guise of debate, it claims a right to my victimization as theirs. The racialized nature of rape culture also allowed them to completely ignore my pain/needs as a survivor of harassment and place priority on their hurt feelings; despite the fact that this was never about them. It also allows them to ignore the systemic and historical factors that play into the sexual assault of brown women by white men.

The reason for this is because rape culture is really all about ownership. It is about arbitrating who owns whom and who has power of whom. In this case, rape culture lays claim not only onto women and gender non-conforming bodies but also any bodies that are not white. Further, rape cultures seeks to erase itself and does this by masking itself behind the Purity Myth.

In class, we saw the movie the Purity Myth that, among other things, talked about how Western society’s obsession with “virginity”. What was particularly interesting to me was how this myth of virginity promulgates rape culture. This is because the standard that Purity demands is impossible to attain or attainable by very, very few women. For one to be Pure, one must at the same time be sexy but not sexual, white, thin, cisgender, able bodied and neurotypical. Purity demands that you divorce yourself from many things that make you a living creature. And at the root of this is patriarchal control of desire.

This reinforces rape culture because when women inevitably fall, and it is inevitable, it creates a feedback loop that proves that women “deserve” to be sexually assaulted because they are not Pure which than reinforces the myth.

But a person of color can never be Pure, because Purity is predicated on whiteness, so that means that women of color always deserve to be raped. Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than in Lorena Garcia’s article, “Now Why Do You Want To Know About That?”. In it, she details the experiences of several young Latina women when they received sex education in public school. More often than not, the sex educators assumed that young Latinas were already experienced in sexual matters. They assumed that their partners weren’t going to use protection and thus didn’t need to learn about it. They were also not encouraged to ask questions because that was perceived as being “too interested” in sex.

The underlying assumption here is that Latinas are hypersexual and thus always sexually available. Their bodies are public property and consent need not be given for any sort of sexual interaction. Young brown bodies are further commodified by their representation in the mainstream media, which is controlled by white men.

And it is this, which forms the foundation that justifies the rape of Latinas (and other women of color), which is in turn supported by rape culture.

All systems of power and oppression are interdependent and nowhere is this clearer than in white supremacy and heteropatriarchy. These two bedfellows must be challenged simultaneously if any lasting change is going to be effected. I will continue to name whiteness when it must be named. I will continue to expose the ways in which white supremacy tries to disguise itself. I will continue to challenge whiteness, especially if it makes white people uncomfortable, because my survival and the survival of my people is bound up in the eradication of white supremacy. I will continue to interrogate whiteness even if it scares me.

      I refuse to be a victim any longer.

Advertisements

Post the Fifty-Eighth or My Body is NOT Public Property

Before my transition, when I was presenting as male, I could walk down the street or take the train late at night relatively free of fear. No one turned their heads as I walked pass or undressed me with their eyes. No one made unwanted or unreciprocated advances. No one followed me home. Unless they were homophobic and read me as gay, I usually walked through the world free of the fear of harassment.

Now, 3+ years years into my transition, I am almost always read as a woman. I have a lot of passing privilege and a lot of pretty girl privilege. And I’m certainly not complaining about that. I love the way I look, the way I present myself today and I know that it is only because of my relative class privilege that I was able to transition early and have access to the health insurance necessary to transition safely and effectively. Not to mention the fact that my family didn’t disown me or kick me out of my home, which is a HUGE blessing. I don’t know where I would be today if that weren’t the case. I have been very, very, lucky.

What I am complaining about, and what frustrates me to no end, is the fact that now that I am read as a woman, I’m getting harassed nearly everyday! I can’t tell you how many times someone has assaulted me with their eyes or made unwanted advances all with the unspoken assumption that I MUST reciprocate, validate and want that attention. I cannot enumerate for you all the occasions in which some cis, straight, man (both white and brown) has harassed me in public. Obviously, some are worse then others (I’ve only been followed home once but being stared down happens almost everyday) but they all contribute my general sense of dis-ease and wariness when I’m out and about. What, then, is the under lying cause of this?

It is because brown women’s bodies are considered public property.

The reason for this is because we exist in a racist, sexist and cissexist society that places ownership on, and strips agency from, anything that is not white, male, cisgender, straight, able-bodied etc. From the exotification of Black and Brown women in the media (you know, the Foxy Brown Lady who constantly oozes sex and wants to sleep with EVERY white guy) to the majority of sex workers being Black and Brown, it’s clear that our bodies are free-game to whomever wants a grab.

If you are a brown transwoman, then you are doubly fetishized not only as “exotic” but also as “freaky” or “strange” or that you are not truly a woman, so that the man that you have to sleep with will get “best of both worlds”. On top of that, if a white person is dating a brown woman then  he has “jungle fever” and will eventually leave her for a civilized, marriable white woman.

And we must never forget the long, brutal, history of white slaveowners raping their black slaves. The long brutal history of white conquistadors abducting and raping Native women. All of them thinking that this was the right and proper order in “God’s” world because brown people are inferior and white people must manifest destiny.

This is not a thing of the past, either. This system that is alive and well today strips us of our agency and appropriates our sexuality as it’s own. In the minds of most white men, especially in a subconscious level if they haven’t interrogated their own privilege, our sexual agency and freedom of choice is in their hands and they call the shots. And to deny them results in retaliation and physical/sexual assault. This all might have gone underground but it still manifests in subtle, insidious ways.

And while the sex-positivity movement and the sex worker rights movement has done a lot to challenge this and articulate the need for consent, most of these primarily white movements have failed to incorporate the effect of white supremacy into their power analysis. Many women of color can’t find power in the world slut, for example, because of what racism as wrought on their bodies. Claiming the identity of slut will put us in greater danger because we are sluts by default and our sexualities are not our own. Much of the sex worker activism is done by white, hotel- or home-based sex workers who are, in many ways, free of harassment and are able to take only the clients that they want. Little is done to reach out to poor, street-based sex workers of color, both transgender and cisgender, or to represent and advocate for their needs and concerns.

How, then, do we interrupt, interrogate, and begin to dismantle this system of power? The first thing is to shed light on to this unspoken problem. We start by talking about it, with each other. We share our stories with one another for solidarity and healing. We share our stories so that we know that we are not alone and we can begin to organize. And by organizing, we can start to manifest a world in which EVERYONE can walk through this world free from harassment.

I would invite all of my brown sisters of any gender to share their stories in the comments, if they so choose. I would also encourage everyone to watch the video below and visit Meet Us On The Street to find out how to get involved in International Anti-Street Harassment Week.