I’ll be the first to admit I’m very uncomfortable connecting dots on sensitive subjects — such as on gender related privilege and race — especially when I haven’t seen anyone else connecting dots in the same way I’m connecting dots. And yet, I’ve noticed two articles on natal women being ejected from women’s restrooms, and then further ejected from the business establishments in which the women’s restrooms were located — and I noticed when reading the articles that the women were both African-American.
So let me back up a little bit on what I’m getting at. In broad society, there is the concept of privilege, which is defined as…
A special advantage, immunity, permission, right, or benefit granted to or enjoyed by an individual, class, or caste.
And with that, most folk who’ve studied feminism at even a cursory level are familiar with the concept of male privilege, and it’s related concept of white male privilege. Per Peggy McIntosh, having privilege — and being the victim of privilege’s oppression — are often entwined.
…After I realized, through faculty development work in Women’s Studies, the extent to which men work from a base of unacknowledged privilege, I understood that much of their oppressiveness was unconscious. Then I remembered the frequent charges from women of color that white women whom they encounter are oppressive. I began to understand why we are justly seen as oppressive, even when we don’t see ourselves that way. At the very least, obliviousness of one’s privileged state can make a person or group irritating to be with. I began to count the ways in which I enjoy unearned skin privilege and have been conditioned into oblivion about its existence, unable to see that it put me “ahead” in any way, or put my people ahead, overrewarding us an yet also paradoxically damaging us, or that it could or should be changed.
Well, one of the few areas where I, as a male-to-female (M2F) transsexual, and my friend Travis, who is a female-to-male (F2M) transsexual, have noticed real female privilege is in not being perceived as a predator…a perpetrator. I addressed the concept briefly in the piece When It Comes To Transgender People & Civil Rights, It Really Is Always About The Bathroom, and concluded…
In our society, it seems to me that we tend to perceive most men as potential perpetrators. Transgender women, far more often than not, aren’t perpetrators…they aren’t predators of other women or of children. But, because transgender women are perceived as men by conservative Christians and others, transgender women are perceived as perpetrators…predators. This is especially true in the public restroom.
…Which public restroom transgender people who don’t have “passing privilege” should be legally allowed to use usually comes down to this: Is a visibly transgender woman automatically assumed to be a man, and therefore a potential perpetrator in the women’s public restroom? If one considers the transgender woman to be a woman, then public restroom usage by transgender people is considered in terms of a transgender woman’s safety, or in terms of discrimination. If one considers a transgender woman really to be a man — a potential perpetrator — then restroom usage becomes an safety issue for the natal women who use the women’s restroom.
As we’ve seen in the cases of Tanya White and Khadijah Farmer, this isn’t just a transgender bathroom issue — if a female dresses outside of societal gender norms, then they are also are suspected of being predators of women and girls.
And, when I look at Khadijah Farmer and Tanya White, I can’t help but notice both of them are African-American women with “less than feminine” appearance. I think what happened to these two tells us something about our societal expectations regarding those who are perceived to be both black and male — or even black and lesbian if one’s “lesbian presentation” is perceived by others to be too dyke-y or too butch. What my gut level instinct tells me is that people who are assumed to be African-American men, or African-American crossdressed men, are more likely to be seen as “more suspect” bathroom predators of women and girls in the women’s restroom than people who are assumed to be white men, or white crossdressed men.
Basically, it appears Khadijah Farmer and Tanya White lost their female privilege by dressing too masculinely, and because they also appeared to be African-American, they also appeared to be the kind of black men (or black, crossdressing men) that are out-of-control evil strangers — strangers who randomly attack their white, female victims.
[After the fold: Are we also unknowingly talking about perceived sexual orientation/heterosexual privilege, race/white male privilege — black male predators and rape/white women’s fear of crime when we talk about public accommodation laws and the public restroom?]My gut level guess does seem to work in parallel with the Esther I. Madriz’s postulation in her Gender and Society article Images of Criminals and Victims: A Study on Women’s Fear and Social Control:
Annotation: Focus groups and detailed interviews with a total of 140 New York women of different ages, races, and socioeconomic backgrounds were used to collect information about women’s fear of crime.
Abstract: The major argument of the research was that women’s fear of crime is intensified by stereotypical images of criminals and victims. The author conducted 18 focus groups and 30 interviews in New York City and surrounding suburban areas between fall 1994 and summer 1995. Questions were used as a flexible discussion guide. The participants were selected based on availability and convenience and the use of a revised process of snowballing. Results revealed that the participants’ images of criminals and victims were not uniform; nevertheless, some common themes emerged from the participants’ narratives. The dominant representations of criminals among all women were those of poor minority men who were out-of-control evil strangers who randomly attack their victims. These women’s images of victims were predominantly those of white middle-class women who are innocent, submissive, and unable to protect themselves. Findings suggested that these dehumanized images of criminals restrict public empathy toward offenders, explain why domestic crimes are not considered serious crimes, oversimplify and distort the reality of crime, and control women’s lives in varying ways.
So when we, as bloggers, blog and website commenters, LGBT community members, conservative Christians, and civil rights activists talk about public accommodation that includes gender identity and expression, are we also unknowingly talking about perceived sexual orientation/heterosexual privilege, race/white male privilege–black male predators, and stranger rape/white women’s fear of crime?
I think we are. I think different kinds of privilege, with all the associated baggage and consequences, are intersecting in the women’s public restroom.
What do you think?
* Sociology Of Rape: Reading Assignment: JSTOR and Web URL’s
* White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack
* The Male Privilege Checklist
* White Privilege Shapes The U.S.
* More thoughts on why system of white privilege is wrong
* The Non-Trans Privilege Checklist
* Heterosexual Privilege
* Daily Effects Of Straight Privilege
* I’m Going To Colorado In August With PHB; I’m Going To Make Use Of Public Accommodations
* If Dr. Dobson Were King, We’d All Be Wearing Depends
* When It Comes To Transgender People & Civil Rights, It Really Is Always About The Bathroom
* The Non-Trans Woman Thrown Out Of A NY Women’s Restroom Sues
* Outing #2: When You Endanger A Child For The Sensationalism Of It
* Latest Attacks Of Teh HomoSEXual Agenda’s Transgenderededs’s Bullet Points
* Apparently, Transgender People Are Many Bad Things
* The TVC & CWA Dump On Dana Beyer; Amy Contrada Warns Of The Transgender Apocalypse