Intersectionality in Feminism:
The “Right” Victim
By Anna Ortega
In current news, the focus seems to be on Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s sexual assault allegations. The topic is very controversial in the media, with several questions and thoughts circulating about the FBI investigation resulting from these claims and whether he will be admitted to the Supreme Court committee after all. One side argues that Judge Kavanaugh’s alleged victims are lying or that he should not be blamed for something he may have done many years ago; the other side believes the survivors and argues that he should not be appointed to the Supreme Court committee. Throughout the whole ordeal sit the women who have accused the man in question, with a specific spotlight on Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s shoulders. Regarding the situation, however, there is a very important point about the situation that must be discussed thanks to a recent club meeting I attended.
I go to the University of Missouri, and in my attempts to become more involved on campus, I’ve been attending many different club meetings to get a feel of what they are about and what kind of topics they discuss. Among these student organizations was STARS, or Stronger Together Against Relationship and Sexual Violence, a club mainly oriented on educating other students about sexual violence and promoting its prevention on campus. The presentation given in specific was about intersectionality, which refers to the complex way that the effects of different kinds of discrimination –such as racism, sexism, or classism– overlap or intersect in the experiences of marginalized people. The group brought up several varying discussion questions, but an interesting one that I believe really sheds a light on this Kavanaugh situation and brings into account other factors is the following: if Dr. Ford had been a working class woman of color, would the situation have brought the same uproar from the public?
Although this definitely feels like a heavy question to consider, the thoughts it provokes are valid; would everyone care as much if she wasn’t an affluent white female professor? A main concern in the feminist community as of late is the idea of white feminism, which is a type of feminism that centers itself on issues concerning mainly white women, basically alienating and marginalizing the problems of women of color, non-straight women, or trans women. Before Dr. Ford came forward with this story, there were and still are several cases of sexual violence happening in immigrant detention centers all across the country. The exact number of complaints from 2010-2017 have been 1,224, and yet only 43 cases are being investigated; through all these 7 years, however, there seemed to be no outcry from the feminist community, or much of the public, for that matter. Additionally, these cases are not only overlooked most of the time, but detainees who are brave enough to speak out are pressured not to due to the possibility of added immigration charges against them.
Statistically, although 80% of reported cases of sexual assault are by white women, women of color are at greater risk of being assaulted than white women. Native American women are the highest at risk, having a probability that 1 in 3 women will be raped or sexually harassed in their lifetime. Additionally, about 60% of black girls have faced sexual abuse by age 18, 7.9% of Latinx women will be raped by a partner; and 29.9% of Asian women have faced sexual violence from a partner. Unfortunately, these women who experience sexual violence are usually hesitant to report it, mostly due to cultural views on sexual assault; minority communities tend to exhibit more victim-blaming behavior and adhere to rape culture norms than white communities. However, another factor that tends to come into play is the idea of being the “right” victim.
Dr. Ford is a fairly wealthy white woman, respected by her peers and community; therefore, her allegations against Kavanaugh are taken seriously by the public. Why would she lie about it? This tends not to be the case with women of color who come forward with their stories. According to Devonae Robinson, a student researcher at New York University focusing on ethnic differences in sexual assault victims’ experiences, white Americans tend to believe that minority women are usually more sexually promiscuous and accepting of sexual advances due to the cultural norms of their respective communities; therefore, by upholding these stereotypes, cases of sexual assault or abuse by minority women are largely ignored or looked over. All of this perpetuates the idea of there being a “right” kind of victim.
So what does this have to do with intersectionality, right? Well, the same passion and rage that is being used towards Judge Kavanaugh can and should be used towards other pressing issues in the community regarding feminism and sexual assault in the United States. That is not to dim the seriousness or test the validity of Dr. Ford’s story or say that it should not be focused on, but to bring attention to other stories that may not be getting the same attention. Women being abused in ICE detention centers should be fought for with the same fervor, as well as, to take it one step further, women who are victims of racially-motivated violence or any of the various Trans women who have died in violent attacks over the years. Feminism cannot truly be effective
As Malala Yousafzai states, “we cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.”