Women and girls exist in a society in which white heterosexual male privilege (WHMP) is the zeitgeist. One of the entitlements of WHMP is ownership of women and children’s bodies and, therefore, virtually from the beginning of life, males have the right to engage in sexual assault and predation of women and children with little fear of retribution. By their votes to support two credibly accused white male predators, now President Donald Trump and former Alabama Judge Roy Moore, the majority of white women voters endorsed the doctrine that girls and women exist for men’s gratification—no matter how immoral.
Under male ownership, the bodies of women and children have been savaged. National statistics estimate that about one in five girls and women, and one in seventy-one boys and men will be raped during their lifetimes.1 Over 90% of rape victims are women and over 80% are juveniles or emerging adults between the ages of twelve and thirty-four years old. Moreover, between 25% and 85% of women report being sexually harassed in the workplace.2 Sexual violence contributes to mental health and social consequences for the abused including suicide attempts, depression, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, prostitution, and incarceration.
During the last Presidential election, the majority of white women voted for the candidate who confessed to grabbing women’s genitals at will in an Access Hollywood tape and leering at naked teenage women at the Miss Universe pageant in a Howard Stern interview. 3 Nevertheless, the majority of white women chose to play “mean girls” with the Democratic Presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, as the focus. Mean girls is the process of disparaging and bullying that girls and women engage in when they believe that another girl or woman has more power—usually derived from a powerful boy or man—than they have and they are jealous. “Slut shaming” is the male equivalent whereby the reputations of girls and women are sullied if they resist sexual advances or threaten a powerful male’s masculinity by seeking their own power. The majority of white women voters justified their vote for a confessed voyeur and assaulter of women as a vote against a woman they disliked for trivial or concocted mean-girl or slut-shaming reasons.
Sexual assault may be physical as when the now President bragged about violating women or it can be psychological as when the powerful assaulter threatens to sue accusers, or to take away family, careers, or some token of material privilege. One symptom of sexual abuse is distorted sexual knowledge and sexually inappropriate behaviors that victims learn from their abusers. Another symptom is that the abused often protects her abuser by making excuses for (usually) him, such as explaining the violence as a normal developmental stage of manhood.
For their part, sexual abusers warn their victims not to tell because no one will believe them anyway. Sexual abusers blame their victims with excuses such as she was promiscuous, she or he loved it, or I was educating her or him. Sexual abusers do not blame themselves for their violence, even when their victims are brave enough to come forth.4 People who do not demand consequences for sexual violence when they become aware of it are encouraging the offender and silencing the offended.
Although it is unlikely that the majority of white women voters are physical abuse survivors themselves, it is likely that they know someone who is—perhaps their own mother, child, sister, or friends. Moreover, the questionable public sexual behavior of the coalition of white majority women voters simulated the symptoms of survivors of sexual abuse, both physical and psychological. Justifying the behavior of confessed or creditably accused victimizers of girls and women is psychological abuse. By their words in defense of violence against women, the majority of white women voters reveal that the women and men in their lives successfully socialized them to believe that they and other women exist for the sexual gratification of men regardless of how such gratification debases them as women.
When the white women Trump voters proudly wore tee shirts inviting Presidential candidate Donald Trump to grab their genitals, they informed the viewing public that their bodies were available for violation by any potentially powerful white man. When the majority of white women and men condoned Trump’s aggressions against up to sixteen accusing women as merely common locker room talk, they sided with the abuser and advised society that they had given up on the possibility that some boys grow up to become men of good character in public and in private. The President’s spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, does not blame Donald Trump for his transgressions. She considers his election victory evidence of voters’ belief in his innocence without acknowledging that she was one of the majority of white women voters who looked past his violence against women, currently defends his behaviors, and thereby continues to collude with him.
In the state of Alabama’s election of a Senator to the Congress of the United States, the majority of white women in the state had an opportunity to stand up against sexual violence against girls and women. It was a test of conscience that they failed. Two women of up to nine women had credibly accused the Republican candidate, twice-impeached Judge Roy Moore, of criminal sexual acts involving them as teenagers when he was in his thirties. The governor of Alabama, Republican Kay Ivey, stated that she believed the accusers—one of whom was a minor at the time. Yet she intended to vote for Moore to secure the political dominance of the predominantly white male Republican power structure in Washington.5 To her, possibly obtaining another Supreme Court justice in the future was much more important than protecting the women and children of Alabama for whom she is a role model. Following her lead, according to Washington Post polls, 63% of white women voters in Alabama chose the accused sexual predator candidate.
A myth about women is developing as women around the country begin to rebel against sexual harassment in the workplace by powerful men in entertainment, news, politics, and business. The basic tenet of the myth is that when women are in charge, society will no longer tolerate sexual violence against women and children. Yet unless the mythmakers are depending on black women, they will face major disappointment. By their self-debasement and collusion with child abusers and sexual predators, the majority of white women voters illustrate that they are not capable of curing society’s sexual violence epidemic against women and children because they are colluders in the violence themselves.
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Janet E. Helms is Augustus Long Professor and Founding Director of the Institute for the Study and Promotion of Race and Culture at Boston College. She is the author of “A Race Is a Nice Thing to Have: A Guide to Being a White Person or Understanding the White Persons in Your Life.”