Sociologist Michael Kimmel equates having privilege to running with wind at your back in that it enables you to move forward effortlessly without ever realizing it is there. Only when facing the wind, or lacking privilege, does the force of this oppressive wind become apparent. Coming from an economically impoverished inner city, ideas of privilege, particularly male privilege, were foreign to me. I was too consumed with the ways that I was economically oppressed to consider the ways in which I was privileged.
Then I went off to college at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pa. The small town lacked the drug and gang activity I had gown accustomed to in my hometown. During my first semester at Seton Hill University, I learned of different types of privilege. While I was not privileged in my economic class, I was privileged in my gender. As a male, I didn’t have to face legislation concerning my body or receive a lesser wage for the exact same work as my male counterparts. Male privilege was undisputable, but, while I understood the reality of this privilege, I still hadn’t personally experienced the scope of how my male privilege enabled me to move forward effortlessly with the wind at my back.
Then one night last winter, my best friend asked me to walk her back to her room. We lived in separate dorms across campus from one another. She never had to ask me to accompany her before then because I always did so without question. I liked going for walks and we'd talk more on the way back to her room.
However, on that particular night, it was freezing out. I didn't feel like walking the whole way there and back, so I told her no. She expressed concern over walking alone and I told her she was overreacting. After all, Greensburg was so much safer than the place I came from. I would go off on walks for hours without ever having to look over my shoulder. This was a safe place.
My friend explained that she wasn't worried about getting robbed; she was more concerned about the possibility of being raped. Men walked around all the time at night on campus and she would feel better if she weren’t walking alone.
In that moment, I realized the extent of my male privilege. I never had to worry about getting sexually assaulted. I often feared being robbed or killed, but Greensburg was such a nice place compared to my hometown that those worries had since passed. Whether in a crime riddled inner city or a small college town, she always had to be aware of her surrounding because anyone could be a perpetrator.
I was running with the wind at my back, never having to look over my shoulder to realize the privilege that my gender gave me. Because I was a male, I didn't have to worry if a passerby could possibly violate me. That is not to say that men are not also victims of sexual assault, but men make up less than ten percent of all adult sexual assault victims, meaning that over ninety percent of sexual assault victims are women. Furthermore, I, unlike my best friend, was never warned that the way I dressed or acted could somehow provoke perpetrators of sexual assault. Instead, I was told “boys will be boys.”
The fact that young women are warned of potentially being violated while young men are excused of responsibility because of their gender only further reveals a deeper issue in our culture. Parents tell their daughters not get drunk and wear revealing clothing because it might somehow provoke a perpetrator, but they tell their sons “boys will be boys.” Instead of treating
the source of sexual assault, the perpetrator (who are overwhelmingly male), we blame the victim. We ignore the source of the problem.
That night, I walked my friend back to her dorm, and on my way back to my room, I acknowledged the privilege I had to walk on my college campus without fearing sexual assault. I faced the wind of privilege that is the product of a culture that ignores the acts of perpetrators and blames victims. The rape culture in America breeds gender inequality that I benefit from every time I walk outside my dorm room without ever considering the fact that one in four women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime.
Corey Niles is a student at Seton Hill University, majoring in creative writing.
Please note that the views expressed by guest bloggers represent their own personal views, and not necessarily those of Blackburn Center.