‘The privilege, indeed the right, to tell the story’

Who gets to tell the story? Whose voice gets to be heard?

In the Huffington Post, Angela J. Hattery, a professor of gender studies at George Mason University, writes about the columns by George Will and Brad Wilcox about women, sex, and rape in the Washington Post:


I’m going to take a different approach and interrogate the simple fact that both columns illustrate yet another way in which privilege works; the privilege to have one’s voice heard and the privilege, indeed the right, to tell the story.


At its most basic level, as a scholar who has studied violence against women for 20 years, I’m struck that neither I nor any of my colleagues who have devoted decades to producing the best research on these issues has ever had the opportunity to tell the story in this way in such a prestigious outlet as The Washington Post. Instead we are relegated to the back pages of online outlets like The Huffington Post and Slate.com. Don’t get me wrong, I’m incredibly grateful that my voice can be heard in these outlets, but I’m also painfully aware that millions more people, and especially people (men) with privilege, read The Washington Post than The Huffington Post blog pages…


Why, because a key element of privilege is the power to write the narrative and to write it in a way that reinforces the privileges of those who already have it, in this case white, upper middle class, professional men.


I write a blog about gender and children’s media. I started my blog because as soon as I had one daughter, and then two more, I was shocked and disgusted by how gendered their world was. Every day, being a mother, I continue to be amazed that this kind of gender segregation and stereotyping exists in a world created for children. I continue to be amazed that progressive and educated parents, in San Francisco no less, seem to be almost oblivious to the sexism focused on their children.

Today, I was at a house with a game room for kids. In the room were several arcade games from the 80s. I snapped some photos of all of the females I found on the games:

Simpson’s pinball:


More Simpsons pinball:


Ms. Pacman


Donkey Kong:


What is the story that is getting told here? Again and again and again?

Children learn through images, text, experience, and repetition. Brains get wired up when we’re little and those paths get harder and harder to change. Just one example: the other day my husband told my children that America’s diversity is a consequence of so many people settling here. My  children freaked out that he said “consequence” because, to my children, “consequence” is a negative word, it’s basically used like “punishment.” My husband and I talked about my kids’ reaction and decided that they were right, “consequence” is a negative word. “Outcome” is a more neutral word. But the point is that our language is charged, images are charged, and narratives are charged. The very best hope we can offer kids is diversity of stories, not repeating these same images and words over and over and over. It limits us, and it limits a new generation.

When and how are we going to untangle our reality from those who have been telling the story for so many thousands of years?

George Will has no authority to write about rape in the Washington Post. That he does, that this is “normal” and accepted in 2014 speaks to how terribly backwards we are in America when it comes to women and equality.



9 thoughts on “‘The privilege, indeed the right, to tell the story’

  1. What, may I ask, gives you the right to decide what George Will can and cannot write about? Male or not, privileged or not, he has the same right to express his opinions as you and Angela Hattery do. If you disagree with what he wrote, that’s perfectly fine- you do have the right to do that. But you don’t get to decide what men can and cannot discuss simply because you’re a woman. Get over yourself.

    • Hi Allen,

      I wrote: “George Will has no authority to write about rape in the Washington Post.” I did not say he does not have the right! This is a free country, people can write about what they want to write about. He does not have the authority, he is not an expert on rape or violence against women. He is given authority status because he is an old, white male writing for a respected publication. Furthermore, did you read the link?

      “I’m not saying that white, educated men can’t know anything about rape or intimate partner violence. I’m not saying that only people who have experienced violence can write the narrative about it. In fact, all fights against oppression desperately need the voices of the privileged who can open the door of opportunity for truth to be spoken.

      But, I am saying that privilege comes in many forms. And, sometimes the most insidious and dangerous privilege comes not in the form of wage gaps or glass ceilings or even violence, but in the power of defining the story, of creating the narrative.”

      You seem like you’re trying to be easily and stupidly offended by simplifying the point the writer and I are making into meaninglessness.


      • Are you referring to the quote in the title that mentions “right?” If you read the post, the quote refers to the privilege:

        “I’m going to take a different approach and interrogate the simple fact that both columns illustrate yet another way in which privilege works; the privilege to have one’s voice heard and the privilege, indeed the right, to tell the story.”

        George Will HAS the right to tell the narrative about rape, while others do not have it.


      • Will never claimed to be an expert on violence against women, nor did the Post ask him to write as one, but that’s irrelevant. You do not have to be an expert on something to offer an opinion on it. The word “authority” is defined by Oxford’s dictionary as “the power OR RIGHT to give orders, express views, and/or enforce obedience. So yes, you were inferring that Will did not have the right to publish his piece. Learn what words mean before you throw them around Ms. Margot, it’ll make you look less foolish.

        What Will write was an opinion piece in the opinion section of the Post. Make whatever arguments you want about Will’s privilege as an elderly white man, but do not act like he and the Post committed some kind of grevious offense against women.

        • And please don’t claim that he had merely the power to write what he did and not the right. Anyone with access to a pen and paper or computers has the power to write things.

  2. Yea that George Will piece really was a punch in the gut, not so much because it came from George Will who is one of the crankiest, old, curmudgeons in a party swimming in curmudgeons but that he was allowed to say that rape victims have privileged status on campus and made it sound as if women are competing for this revered rape victim status. The fact that such a giant of the sort of old guard journalism lets someone speak such abominable lies and acts like its a legitimate point is appalling. it is depressing to see such nonsense when I thought we were headed toward some enlightened views after the President of the United States stated not two months ago that this is an issue that needs addressing. Who owns the Washington Post now? I can’t remember who bought it recently but whoever did clearly has sympathy for rapists and is looking to defend them in any way possible.

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