In short: because these violations are implicitly framed as violations against middle-class white women… and no one else.
To be clear: sexism and misogyny are indeed structural oppressions that all women are vulnerable to in a kyriarchy, particularly poor women of color. In no way am I suggesting that these issues are non-issues or that they are inherently trivial. Women are indeed oppressed in a world where laws and policies are dictated by thoughts, proclivities, and interests that benefit (white) men. Ruling class power is disproportionately power exercised by and for the benefit of white men at the expense of working class and poor women. Rape is indeed one of the most dehumanizing human violations that undeniably positions women and prisoners as most vulnerable. Alas, however, public exhortations about the evils of patriarchy are undeniably meant to be and interpreted as calls to action in defense of white women.
Here’s why this is safe and not at all radical. One of the cornerstone justifications of early white supremacist terror on Black men (e.g. Emmett Till) and black communities was the protection and preservation of white women’s purity. Despite the fiction of this public crisis—that is, Black men violating white women–maintaining the purity and safety of white women is, at least in the context of rhetorically espoused national values, a continued priority of Americanism. Protecting white women is why conservatives and liberals alike came to Megyn Kelly’s defense when she was scolded by DT, and why she was embraced so easily by corporate liberal media giant NBC, and continues to be coddled through her struggling ratings. Despite the fact that Kelly is a Fox News alum who spent years vilifying poor and Black people (Black women included), and that her arrival to NBC meant that Tamron Hall (a Black woman) would be pushed out of her job there, liberals and liberal media embraced Kelly because of her “uncompromising” debate moderation during the 2016 Republican primaries. A black woman’s departure from her work to make room for a white woman is not the kind of thing that inspires any kind of widespread public outrage. Tamron is not who we mean when we talk about mistreated women.
As Harvey Weinstein’s savage attacks on famous white women are laid bare before the public, celebrities and layfolk who have never spoken out about any kind of race issue– despite recent years where young, unarmed Black women have received unusually more (albeit pitifully insufficient) coverage in mainstream news because of the violence and victimization they’ve endured from men and law enforcement—are coming out of the woodworks in droves to quickly vilify the rapist. For instance, Rose McGowan was recently identified as a victim of Weinstein’s and blocked from Twitter for her method of criticizing both him and Ben Affleck. Before her formal accusation of Weinstein, this blocking from Twitter inspired many to come to her defense to speak out against women being silenced. This has now spawned the hashtag #WomenBoycottTwitter. Unfortunately, many of these same people have remained silent themselves or have even participated in silencing when women of color experienced male and state violence. I’m talking about when the little Black girls got beat up by the police at a pool party in Texas, and when Sandra Bland and Rekia Boyd were slain by cops who faced no legal penalty, and when Carmen Ponder was stalked, violated, and imprisoned under false pretenses by a road-raging police chief, and when former officer Daniel Holtzclaw raped and violated thirteen Black women over the course of several years. Many of these folks who see it as their responsibility now to speak out against sexism, misogyny, and rape in defense of Weinstein’s white celebrity victims went without so much as a murmur in these cases where Black women suffered death and abuse.
The Patricia Arquette, Sofia Coppola brigade have demonstrated when we’re talking about violations against women, writ large, we are talking specifically about violations against straight, white, oftentimes well-off women. This group claims that “women” have been standing up for minorities and queer folks and therefore deserve undying protection from these communities or that their stories of oppression deserve unpacking apart from analyses of racism. Black women, other women of color, and queer women do not exist in this equation. The natural expectation that one be protected because of their status as a woman has historically and exclusively been reserved for white women. So when folks deride crimes against women, my first question is always, “Who gets to be acknowledged as a woman?”
It’s easy to stand up in defense of a white victimization as it requires no qualifications or concerns about public backlash. To those who consider themselves to be and desire recognition as defenders of human rights or as advocates for social justice, the safest, most widely accepted, uncontroversial way to do this is by exclusively defending white women. However, society’s antipathy for Black people makes taking a public stance against anti-black racism a much riskier endeavor; and so actors, actresses, and other folks of means with social followings, endorsements, and public personas reserve their justice soapboxes for causes that speak to women’s issues: read as white women’s issues. This is nothing new. This is old. You knew this already.