Several people who have read this article found it triggering, and this topic may not be appropriate for all readers. Our intent is to shed light on the sensitive topic of sexism against men and male victims of sexual assault. This topic is controversial and often goes overlooked. Here at BetterSexEd, we are committed to opening up the tough topics and discussing them, because we believe brushing them under the rug does no one any good.
Some women – like Belle Knox, the Duke University porn star – say that the patriarchy fears female sexuality. It’s an outdated message that is resonating less and less. Show us a guy – today – that doesn’t enjoy watching a woman express herself sexually, and we’ll show you a gay man. As a society, we may be afraid of female sexuality… But we are equally afraid of male sexuality and teen sexuality; we also pretend senior citizen’s sexuality doesn’t exist. Is the patriarchy really to blame? Or is it just that sexuality is kind of messy and nobody wants to take on the great big grey zone surrounding the traditionally socially acceptable standards?
Sexuality is like the elephant in the room that everyone is walking around, we see it but we don’t talk about it. But it’s getting so big that we can’t ignore it anymore; it is nearly impossible to avoid being bombarded by gossip magazines with an airbrushed woman in a bikini on the cover, advertisements that look like porn or a scene from an erotic novel, and reality shows where nothing is left to the imagination. The underlying message is that we’re not good enough and we’re missing out. Yet all of this exists because we pay attention to it, and more importantly, we buy these things.
The effect is that it leaves us all wanting. And for some, it creates or intensifies feelings of repression. “Why don’t I have these things? Is someone or something holding me back?” Women might say they feel objectified. Others might say it perpetuates rape culture. But a lot of this media is created by women, for women.
A French short film called Oppressed Majority recently came out that reversed men’s and women’s roles. A lot of people were hyped about it; several feminist friends of ours shared it on social media. A guy commented underneath one of the posts that he was adamantly against violence, but men and women are different and he wouldn’t mind being sexually assaulted by several attractive women because he would interpret it as a desirable sexual experience. The film is trying to be funny, but all it does is show how little the director understands men. She insinuates through the laziness and insensitivity of the characters that men don’t care about sexual assault against women, which is odd considering men by and large take on the more dangerous jobs where they would be protectors of women (and indirectly, freedom: 80 percent of the police force is men and 86 percent of the active-duty Army is men). We also found it interesting that the director – who is a woman – chose to portray the men (playing women) as weak and helpless, which made us wonder what she was trying to say about women…
How come no one wants to talk about sexism against guys? Consider this open letter to bearded hipsters by blogger Nicki Daniels. Pretty funny unless you are a bearded hipster. But if a guy wrote a post like that ranting about women having hairy armpits or huge bushes he would be torn to pieces. Why is it that a woman can publicly discuss dumping her boyfriend for not going down on her, talk about how empowering it is to sleep with younger men, or even suggest men should be taxed more, but a man doing those things is ridiculed?
If a man made a movie in the same vein as Oppressed Majority maybe we’d see the flip side of gender hostility, like how men are treated as success objects, hardly ever receive positive physical touch outside sex, and are far less likely to win in custody battles after divorce. Maybe we’d wonder why women have the right to become a soldier and the right to opt out if there were a draft, yet every male has the responsibility to register with the Selective Service within 30 days of his 18th birthday and the responsibility to fight in the event of war (which is as sexist as making all 18 year-old females register for childbearing if the country were to need more children – Nazi Germany tried something like this with the Lebensborn program during WWII). Perhaps we’d learn that a greater percentage of men are raped in prison every year than women are raped in the U.S. When Nikita mentioned this statistic to an older female neighbor of hers who is a feminist and historian; her expression was surprise, but then she said, “Well, that’s a power thing.” Is it? If rape is an extension of the so-called patriarchy and economic power why would black men get arrested for rape 6.5 times more often than whites?
Male rape is largely ignored, downplayed, or made into a joke in everyday life and in the media. The FBI does not even list any statistics about sexual assault where males are the victim; with information so hard to find, you’d think it never happens. Yet it does. While far more women report experiencing rape at some time in their lives, approximately the same amount of women and men report experiencing sexual violence other than rape.
Much of the reported sexual violence against men is from unwanted advances from other males. Perhaps that number would be higher if so many adult males minded being sexually “assaulted” by a woman. We must also consider the fact that, regardless of the sex of the perpetrator, “Men and boys are less likely to report the violence and seek services due to the following challenges: the stigma of being a male victim, the perceived failure to conform to the macho stereotype, the fear of not being believed, the denial of victim status, and the lack of support from society, family members, and friends… boys are less likely to report sexual abuse due to fear, anxiety associated with being perceived as gay, the desire to appear self-reliant, and the will to be independent.”
Unless it is a boy being raped by a man (like the many priest scandals), people seem less inclined – if at all inclined – to speak out against sexual violence against men. It could even be called taboo to do so. Even when male victims speak up, people don’t really know what to do about it. There’s no clear legislation around it. In fact, if an underage male is raped by an adult female, and she gets pregnant, he’ll be held responsible for child support. It appears difficult for people to wrap their heads around a man having an erection and simultaneously being a victim. If he was aroused, he must have wanted it, right?
Wrong, says Andrew Bailey, a young male actor that recently released an intense and heartbreaking account of an experience of a female teacher raping a 13 year-old boy. At the end of the video he says he believes rapes is “hilarious” because he has to see it that way, implying there are no ways for him to process what happened:
If this situation were reversed, society would be much more empathetic and capable of helping a young female student, even though his experience is no less serious.
Bringing up this kind of double-standard is important, because we cannot expect society to be well-equipped to handle the dark side of sexuality if we refuse to acknowledge the complex nature of sexuality or take an honest look at how and more importantly why sexual assault happens. Young guys especially are told that it’s not OK to say no, how to rebuff unwanted sexual advances, or what to do if they are sexually assaulted. Instead, they are socially conditioned to always be ready and willing to sexually perform with any woman that offers. So while many men might identify with the man’s response to Oppressed Majority, many others are left without answers. In addition, denying men as victims downplays other incidences where men are expected to just handle the situation or “take things like a man,” including spousal abuse (verbal and physical), stalking, and harassment.
Could the situation improve? It is helpful to have laws around consent and boundaries, but we need to teach children what real consent and boundaries look like, not just “does it meet these 2 requirements: does this person want to give consent and is this person capable of giving consent?”
Just as we are exploring and raising social awareness around areas where women are repressed, we must also allow men to examine areas where they feel silenced. Women will also need to explore and acknowledge their own biases, double-standards, and reverse sexism towards men. This is not a way to blame women for sexual assault against men, or undermine the significance of the sexual assault that happens to women… it is a way to let both sexes discover paths of communication that can unite the sexes in their commitment to end sexual assault together.
Many men feel restrained by their gender roles, just in different ways than women, and most guys aren’t able to pinpoint the cause of their frustration because they are not raised to examine the roots of their challenges or insecurities. For some guys, under certain conditions, this frustration turns into anger and unfortunately can get to a boiling point where they verbally, physically, or sexually lash out against women. Everyone is responsible for their actions, no doubt, but at the same time we shouldn’t underestimate the power of the system and situation on individual behavior. When we only acknowledge women’s vulnerabilities, telling men they are potential perpetrators and women they are potential victims, we do everyone a disservice and perpetuate imbalance.
Objectification is a prerequisite for rape. One reason why men sexually objectify women is because the majority of the time they are the ones approaching women to ask them out on dates or initiate a sexual experience. A good portion of that time they get rejected, even when they’re in a relationship, and it hurts a lot less if the person they’re getting rejected by can be thought of as an object. Over time this can breed contempt for whoever is not taking initiative; it also reinforces self-doubt in the other party about what they are valued for. As more women begin to take the lead romantically and sexually, they will have a greater appreciation of the process of objectification and rejection, and men will begin to understand the flip side of objectification and rejection that has discontented women for so long. Same thing goes as more women become breadwinners and men spend more time with the kids. It’s these kinds of trends, where men and women really get to see – not just project onto the other – what it’s like for the opposite sex, that will produce the large scale attitude and behavioral shifts we need for everyone to truly be liberated.
We were a little taken aback that Nikita’s neighbor’s initial reaction was dismissive. Instead of saying something like “Wow, that’s terrible, why does that happen?” the conversation ended there. Even asking whether rape might evolve from powerlessness, not power, makes people uncomfortable because it leads to other conversations that are not so black-and-white. But if we did start talking about it, maybe the way we think about these issues would change, and society would start addressing the causes instead of just the symptoms.
Progress is a bumpy road, but the destination cannot be reached if we only pay attention to one side of the equation – otherwise we’ll just be going in circles. If, as women rise, they are not any more empathetic to men’s issues than the men that they felt oppressed by were to their issues, can we call it progress? The only way we can make things better is if we are willing to look at both sides and are proactive about providing support to everyone that needs it.
– Keeley & Nikita
Below are some photos of male survivors of sexual assault from Project Unbreakable: