“But this is the way the world has always worked for me”

In his recurring role as White Man Who Doesn’t (Can’t?) Get It, Mike Golic held forth on ESPN’s Mike & Mike the morning after the Texans NFL team nearly unanimously knelt in protest of their owner comparing NFL players to prisoners.

Golic became impassioned about today’s political correctness and gushed that he just didn’t take the “inmates” comment as offensive.

What Golic doesn’t (can’t?) see, of course, is that the NFL is about 70% black professional athletes, and the mass incarceration system of the U.S.—the exact one initially protested by Colin Kaepernick—reflects a disturbing parallel: “Nearly three-quarters of federal inmates, 71.4%, are either of African American or Latino descent. That’s 37.6% and 33.8% respectively. The problem with this is that these two groups collectively only make up 21.3% of the entire population.”

What Golic doesn’t (can’t?) hear is that billionaire owner McNair’s analogy is just a thin veil for “can’t let the slaves run the plantation.”

This is the consequence of white male privilege that blinds and deafens.

During an otherwise casual afternoon, Mary* told a few friends about her experience as a babysitter when she was a few years away from 18. She travelled with a couple for whom she was their regular sitter to watch their child on their vacation.

Mary noted that the husband had been somewhat flirtatious, but she was mostly around the couple together. On this trip, however, Mary experienced her first time being drunk, but the husband’s flirtations in front of his wife while Mary was inebriated sparked a harsh reaction from the wife—while making Mary feel even more vulnerable than usual.

She added that because of the husband’s behavior, she was fired from the babysitting position.

“Huh,” Mary punctuated her story, “sexual assault”—thinking, it seemed, for the first time about the gravity of the incident.

A few years later, Mary found herself with a boyfriend who was physically violent, and she stayed in the relationship for a while after the abuse.

Despite her privileges of race and socioeconomic status, Mary suffered the consequences of being a woman; this story parallels the one by NFL player Michael Bennett, who personifies how race inequity trumps his financial privilege and celebrity.

In response to her experiences, Mary explained: “But this is the way the world has always worked for me. For most women.”

At 18, Joyce Maynard made a decision:

At [J.D.]Salinger’s urging, I left college — left the world, more or less — to be with him. I will state plainly: This was a choice I made, of my own volition, with as much understanding of the world as an 18-year-old may possess.

However, as she detailed in a confessional memoir, that relationship with a celebrity reclusive author 35 years older than her turned abusive:

I name two experiences of damage here — damage, and abuse. Equally painful as what happened when I was 18 is what took place when I was 44 — when, after maintaining silence about my time with Salinger for 25 years, I published a book that told what happened.

As dramatized in Adrienne Rich’s “Rape,” Maynard has experienced the double-abuse of being abused directly by a powerful man and then suffering under the weight of how the world responds to confessing that abuse.

After being vilified for her 1998 memoir, Maynard acknowledges:

Cut to the present. I am 63 years old — the author of 16 books and perhaps a thousand essays. I would like to say things are different now. But 20 years after I published the story of that young experience, my chief identity remains, in the eyes of many, as that of the woman who slept with Salinger 45 years ago.

“But this is the way the world has always worked for me. For most women,” Mary’s matter-of-fact response.

Maynard’s experiences, as well, speak to the opening story:

Many of those same arbiters of culture and political correctness who eviscerated me for telling the story of what happened when I was young, with a man of great power, now express outrage at the years in which Hollywood turned a blind eye to the routine behavior of Harvey Weinstein towards young women in whom he took an interest.

From Maynard’s critics, to Bennett being called a liar by the Las Vegas police department, to Mary losing her babysitting job, to Golic’s bluster about overreacting to the “inmates” comparison—the wider silencing of marginalized and abused people recurs daily at the hands of men, often powerful, often white.

Men who otherwise may appear to be relatively harmless or normal—because, of course, these powerful men have created all the rules about what counts as harm, what is normal, and whose voice matters.

Moment by moment, Arundhati Roy‘s “We know of course there’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard” is played out with men as arbiters.

If race and gender equity are genuinely our goals, men who silence and who refuse to hear must themselves be silent and must begin to listen so that they can take action.

The Texans are not overreacting and Maynard has not overshared—as she details:

Let’s consider that term, and what it implies. In my case, it would appear, “oversharing” refers to telling the truth about what happened to us, refusing adherence to a set of unwritten but longstanding rules suggesting that (for a woman, at least; these charges are seldom leveled at men) there is something not simply unseemly but reprehensible about speaking honestly about one’s sexual history, one’s body, the examination of one’s own imperfect self.

To tell the truth, then, must be afforded women who remain victims to men just as it must be afforded to blacks who remain victims to racial discrimination.

“But our voices matter,” argues Breana Stewart, sharing her own #metoo story that resonates with Mary’s “But this is the way the world has always worked for me. For most women.”

With each #metoo story that seems endless, I am haunted by the “worked for me”—words of survival.

* Name and some details have been changed to honor the privacy of the person, but the story is in essence accurate. The person also gave permission to blog about this and was shown a draft for full consent.