Real Men Get Raped

Trigger warning for discussion of rape. Hat tip to Titab and Elizabeth for pointing me to the story.

Survivors UK, an organization working with male survivors of rape, has begun an advertising campaign to raise awareness of male survivors of rape and to fight the stigma that male rape survivors face. Apparently it’s been quite well-promoted too: Elizabeth reports seeing it multiple times on the same escalator on the London Underground.

Picture below the cut.

[Football on the grass: real men get raped, and talking about it takes real strength.]

On one hand, I definitely support the message. Real men (that being everyone who identifies as a man) are raped, just like real members of any other gender are raped. The poster succinctly fights against two major sources of rape culture against men: people who believe that men cannot be raped, and people who believe that men who are raped are weak or unmanly.

But I’m still torn. First of all, “get raped” is problematic terminology, because it places the burden of being raped on the survivor, instead of on the attacked. “Are raped” is preferable. However, given that “get raped” is the vernacular, it’s important to make the poster as accessible as possible, and not everyone has kept up with the Social Justice Offensive Language of the Month Club, I’m inclined not to be pissed off.

More serious is the use of “real man.” The phrase “real man” implies that there are some men who are fake. The phrase has an absolutely shitty homophobic, transphobic, and femmephobic history: queer, trans, or feminine men are far more likely to be declared not real men than their heterosexual, cis, masculine counterparts. However, even ignoring intersectionality, “real man” is a deeply worrisome phrase, because almost every time it’s used is gender-policing.

Real men like football. Real men don’t cry. Real men eat steak. Real men like casual sex. Real men are successful. Real men can fight. Real men don’t complain when they’re hurt. Real men are chivalrous to women. Real men never watch soap operas or read romance novels. Real men are never abused or raped.

Is it really a victory to change the last one and not everything else?

The picture even reinforces the idea, with its imagery of the rugby ball: real men, who like rugby, are raped, not just those silly pseudo-men that you thought rape survivors were! Did you know you can like sports and still be raped? It’s true!

Even worse, the “real men” imagery devalues some survivors: men who are, for whatever reason, not considered “real” are still raped and, in some situations (such as prison), be disproportionately likely to experience rape. By saying that “real men get raped,” they’re de facto erasing and presenting as less important the rape of every man who doesn’t conform totally to gender norms.

And then there’s “talking about it takes real strength.” What about the men who don’t feel strong when talking about their rapes? What about the men who feel broken and weak? Their experiences are just as valid as any other survivor’s. It seems like it’s unintentionally reinforcing the idea that rape survivors, especially men, have to be strong, and that if you cry a lot, have PTSD, can’t get out of bed sometimes, get flashbacks, can’t have sex, or experience any other of a wide variety of normal reactions to rape, you are failing as a rape survivor.

Still, advertising is very rarely nuanced: you have to have a simple message that people remember. Perhaps people will view “talking about it takes real strength” as saying that, whether or not a survivor feels strong, he is being strong by talking about his rape. That seems supportive and empowering. And certainly the idea that real men get raped– that rape is something that can affect anyone, not just queer men or femme men or weak men– is an important one. Not only will it encourage more gender-conforming men to acknowledge their rapes, but it will help get rid of some of the stigma that if you’re a rape survivor you must be unmasculine. I mean, the ideal would be to get rid of the stigma associated with being unmasculine, but don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.


About ozyfrantz

Ozy Frantz is a student at a well-respected Hippie College in the United States. Zie bases most of zir life decisions on Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, and identifies more closely with Pinkie Pie than is probably necessary. Ozy can be contacted at or on Twitter as @ozyfrantz. Writing is presently Ozy's primary means of support, so to tip the blogger, click here.


  1. Been staring at that picture for five minutes trying to figure out what that thing is.
    Is it a puffy bag of stovetop popcorn? A football with a nail in it? A half-deflated balloon? wth is it?!

  2. “Men Are Raped” Simple. The more simple the words the easier the message becomes. It doesn’t matter what type of man you are. Men Are Raped. All types.

  3. dancinbojangles says:

    @Geo: First of all, regarding meat: I disagree, have you ever heard people talk about mechanically separated chicken? Not to draw parallels between non-“real” men and chicken nuggets, just saying meat might not be the best example.

    Secondly, while I understand your concerns about alienation, that argument would seem to preclude targeting anyone specifically. Certainly, the message could be put forth that men are raped without using the real man trope, but this ad is aimed at this one group, and meant to affect them deeply. Not to make too tortured an analogy: a shotgun may have a more inclusive field of fire, but a rifle is more effective for shooting something specific and distant. I see this ad as a rifle-shot to the very narrow idea that being a “real man” is dependent on not having been raped, or as you say having fought back or behaved in a certain way.

    No matter how good something is, it will of necessity do some harm. Antibiotics lead to eventual resistance, caloric surplus leads to increased rates of obesity and related diseases. Similarly, it seems to me that ending this idea will of necessity require addressing it in a way that might offend or even traumatize some people. The end goal is surely not to say that one’s experience of being raped is only valid if one is a “real man,” but to say that ALL men are real men.

  4. Danieldwilliam says:

    The wording might not be perfect but I think you have to talk to people where they are, using the language they use rather from where you would like them be using the language you woudl prefef them to use. Certainly at the start of a conversation.

    In this case I think accessibility is probably more useful than strictly appropriate language.

  5. John1923 says:

    This campaign is huge progress.

    Maybe it is not perfect… but is is a dramatic improvement.

    Also Real Man is a phrase that is reclaimed all over the place, real men cry, gay men are real men, ect…

  6. dancinbojangles says:

    @chrislittlesun: hrm, true enough…

  7. “I agree, simply adding “too” would have made it a better in a lot of ways, especially addressing complaints of inclusiveness, and it never crossed my mind to do so. Odd how simple solutions can evade us, isn’t it?”

    But, as I see it, one of the strengths of the advert is that it mimics and subverts what we hear about “real men” (“Real men like football. Real men don’t cry. Real men eat steak. Real men like casual sex” etc). “Real men get raped too” is a) not as snappy and memorable, nor as shocking (having “raped” as the last word puts the emphasis on it), and b) doesn’t mirror the typical “real men” statements, and to me seems to be supporting the existance of “real men” more than the original statement.

  8. dancinbojangles says:

    @PetroniusArbiter: I agree, simply adding “too” would have made it a better in a lot of ways, especially addressing complaints of inclusiveness, and it never crossed my mind to do so. Odd how simple solutions can evade us, isn’t it?

    @Jesus_Marley: I get what you’re saying, but that’s a lot of meaning to cram into a single sentence. Still though, I disagree that to highlight a certain course of action as “strong” is tantamount to calling another course not strong. Only the most petulant of teenagers would think that way when it comes to any other topic, and I think it does survivors a disservice to assume they can’t see that two different courses as both being strong.

  9. I think the important thing to remember is that in an ad like that they have a very very tiny space to compress information into, and in order for that ad to be considered a “success” it needs to be quite tightly targeted too.

    That means that while it would be preferable to have the ad dispense with “real men” as a concept, I don’t know that that’s realistic. After all, they’re specifically targeting men who self-identify as “real” and therefore tend to buy into that myth. Hitting the same message while having to spend a bunch of time unpacking “male reality or otherwise” as a thing that could be disputed would seriously complicate their message and arguably compromise their ability to hit their target market.

    Getting rid of “real man” as an idea (or at least fundamentally retooling it in a more positive direction) is something that needs to happen, I just think it’s outside the ambit of that particular ad, is all.

  10. PetroniusArbiter says:

    Well, just about everything i wanted to say was already said by someone already, so I’ll just mention that as far as I’m concerned the add is effective in what it’s trying to do and it’s a step in the right direction. I don’t see “get raped” as semantically problematic, and as far as “real men”, even though the phrase can have bad connotations, in this particular case it feels more like they are intentionally deconstructing it on at least 2 levels – both as a sarcastic jab at the way “real man” is being used in the mainstream culture (works for people who are already aware of the issue), and as an educational blurb for people who would otherwise consider being raped to be “unmanly” in any shape or form.
    In interests of clarity, the only thing i might have changed would be to make the first phrase “real men get raped too”.

  11. jesus_marley says:

    Yeah that’s one of my idiosyncrasies. I tend to use man and male interchangeably depending on how they roll off the tongue. “Mens rape is real” works just as well. I was just throwing out an idea. As for the second line, I didn’t want to say “talk about it AND be strong, since I wasn’t trying to convey the message that that is the only way to be strong was to talk. People find their strength in their own ways. Some talk, some don’t. I was really trying to convey a double meaning that encouraged victims to speak out, but to also increase general discussion of the topic and to drag it kicking and screaming from under the rug into public awareness. As long as people can deny mens rape exists, nothing will ever be done to stop it.

  12. dancinbojangles says:

    @Jesus_Marley: I feel like telling someone both to be strong and to talk about it, rather than suggesting that doing so is a good thing, would run afoul of the points Ozy makes regarding PTSD etc. to a greater degree. I like the “talking about it takes strength,” because it suggests that the act is a strong one, that facing that humiliation and trauma is a brave action regardless of how it may feel or be portrayed.

    Secondly, I dislike using the word “male” when what’s meant is “man.” a male can be of any species, but we’re not talking about male dogs or guinea pigs getting raped. We’re talking about men. Why not call them that?

  13. Okay I get the distinct impression that we’re all collectively saying “good, could be a helluva lot better.”

  14. Ozy,

    I understand why you’d think of the “real” as offensive. But for me, the “real” had a different notion here, to me it’s saying that this is a problem you can’t avoid *even by following the prescriptions of gender policing* and being as “real” a man as you can following the manual. And once you’re at that point in the thought process, the mental quotation marks around “real” almost seem to add themselves.

  15. I think it important here to listen to the words of a male rape survivor – who wrote me – upset by the “Real Men” Campaign. His works speak for himself:

    Also, I see what you say about the whole “Real Men” agenda but it is important to understand that form a male survivors perspective, the whole idea of “Real” needs to be thrown out the word as it is offensive and degrading. Several examples is that there has been some campaigns that try to bring support to male survivors in which it was said that “Real Men Speak Out” and that to me was offensive because it states that the men who DO speak out are “Real Men” whereas the men who have not been able to speak out are NOT “Real Men.” This puts another blow to a males perspective of their own masculinity and adds to the cultural negative stigmas and taboos of male survivors. Another thing is, “Real Men Don’t Hit Women” and to me it should be that Men should not hit women regardless or people should not hit people. Lastly, I am hoping to start a national campaign in regards to a campaign in UK that is making its way to the US that I find highly oppressive to male survivors. See link below to read more about it.

    The whole thing of them saying, “Real Men Get Raped” is wrong on so many levels and not the way it should be. There are male survivors already struggling with their own masculinity and how they see themselves as a man. When someone uses the word “Real Men” it only oppresses those more who are still trying to find themselves as a male survivor. They may not view themselves as being a “real man” especially someone like myself who was an adult at the time of the rape in which people constantly ask me why didn’t I fight the guys off. A “real man” would have put up a fight and not let it happen whereas it is hard for a young boy to put up a fight to an adult male so they are forgiven. So when people such as this campaign use things like “Real Men” a male survivor may feel like they don’t belong or at the most “fit in” because they don’t see themselves as a “real man.” It is all too confusing and something that I am highly against. There are many out in the field that agree with me on this and have constantly applauded me for trying to address this issue and change the perception. Think of this in a totally different light, would we say, “this is ‘real’ meat”? Probably not because we tend to think that it is either meat or it is not. Not sure if that is a good example but was trying to find a different way to explain the whole idea beyond the word “real.”

  16. (picture of a large group of men (12 or so), various ages, ethnicities and social demographics. Both masculine and feminine men)

    That would be a weaker ad, in my opinion. But then, that’s from an American viewpoint. Is anti-PC culture strong in Europe like it is in the States?

  17. In agreement with dancingbojangles. Also “real men are raped” has this weird connotation of this homogenous mass of all men everywhere continuously existing in a state of having been raped already. I mean, use it in a sentence with any other group and you get the same results: “teenagers are frustrating” vs “teenagers get frustrating”; “people get into accidents” vs “people are in accidents”. Grammatically speaking, “get” is more correct: it implies possibility. “Are” needs elaboration in order to avoid being a blanket statement about the current state of the subject.

  18. One point of fact.

    As I understand it, the ad was timed to coincide with the 6 Nations rugby tournament, and the ad space mostly booked for public transport going to and from Twickenham.

    So the whole campaign was very specifically targetting tens of thousands of rugby fans.

    I take the point about some of the wording – I hate the “real men” myth in any context, but overall I still think it is a great campaign and long overdue.

  19. @Ozymandias; Complains about awkward phrasing whilst running a blog entitled “No, Seriously, What About Teh Menz”. Which i’ve long complained about as trivialising the pursuit of active discussion of male problems.

    I however do agree that the phrasing of the ad is awkward as heck and i’m at a loss to figure out how the imagery does anything to aid the cause. But at least it raises awareness and gets the message out there.

    Ideal? No. But then few things are. Lets chalk it up as ‘a step in the right direction’.

  20. jesus_marley says:

    I agree that this is indeed a step in the right direction. While I feel that it is a bit clumsy, it does get the message out. Personally, I would have preferred to see something more along the lines of the following:

    (picture of a large group of men (12 or so), various ages, ethnicities and social demographics. Both masculine and feminine men)

    Male rape is real.
    Talk about it. Be strong.

  21. I agree with BlackHumor, this campaign is aimed to macho men who believe that only men they see as unmanly can be raped. Many of these macho men are rugby supporters, hence the pin in a rugby ball.

  22. My main problem is what Jared has said, although I would phrase it slightly differently – it looks to me like it’s implying that men can only be raped by penetration, not in any other way (envelopment for example). I think it does imply the rapist is in possession of a ‘nail’ but I think more problematic is the implication that the victim is something to be penetrated. That said, it *is* a powerful image. I’m with Mori, too – that’s a good advert. I see a fair few of both of these campaigns around England, and it’s definitely a start.

  23. This ad is definitely very visible in London at the moment. I certainly agree that the message is a bit problematic in some ways. The target audience of the ad is male rape survivors, and although they will all have very different experiences of dealing with rape, if some of them find it uncomfortable and feel it diminishes their experiences then the ad has in a way failed, even if some people find it a positive reminder that they are not alone and can get help from SurvivorsUK. Male rape is diminished enough in our society without making it worse. I do also feel that the ad will make people who are not male rape survivors a little more aware of the issue, though it would be disappointing if the ad made some people care about for the first time because REAL men get raped, not just those girly sissy men. However I can’t help but feel it’s at least a step in the right direction.

    I personally prefer this ad: which is for the UK free counseling helpline Samaritans and is also extremely visible on the London Underground at the moment. I feel like its use of a sport considered one of the most masculine of all, boxing, draws attention to the fact that a show of masculine emotional strength is expected from men in our society, just like the boxer has to show his physical masculine strength to succeed in the ring. It could no doubt be criticised too but I personally feel it is a good advert and by making the tagline from the point of view of the person in the photo, it acknowledges that people’s experiences are different.

  24. The Kings Raven says:

    Put me down as disagreeing with the article. Same reasons as dancinbojangles.

  25. I’ve seen it around the tube. Good message, but again like much advertising doesn’t really cover the whole problem. But nonetheless, it’s a step in the right direction

  26. I also pretty much disagree with most of the points in this article. I was just about to comment saying “does noone else see that this ad is a subversion of the concept of “real man”?” when I read Emily’s comment. As I read it. it’s using the phrase “real man” as a play on people’s expectations, people are so used to hearing “Real men like football. Real men don’t cry. Real men eat steak. Real men like casual sex. Real men are successful…” etc, that the phrase “real men get raped” sets up the expectation of one of these kinds of statements, then takes a turn into new territory and makes people stop and think. And as for “real men, who like rugby, are raped, not just those silly pseudo-men that you thought rape survivors were! Did you know you can like sports and still be raped? It’s true!”, well, that is actually a message that needs to be got across to a lot of people. Many people have the idea that only gay or effeminate men get raped, and have a concept of “real men”, and this ad is attempting to undermine that.

    I also thought the idea that saying “talking about it takes real strength” is somehow erasing the experiance of people who don’t feel strong when they talk about their rape to be completley rediculous. Whether you feel it or not, speaking out about your rape in a culture that may not even believe it’s possible is a strong thing to do.

    At the end of the day, the point of an ad like this is to get people to think and to talk. to strike people with something unexpected that jolts them into considering something in a new way. I think it does this really well.

  27. dancinbojangles says:

    Personally, I think you’re being too hard on the advertisement in a way which is common in the social justice community. You can’t provide every caveat in a ten-word advertisement blurb, and trying to do so would make the message less powerful.

    Re: Get Raped: I think this is a silly quibble. You get shot, you get run over by a car, you get assaulted, you get cut, stabbed, poked, hit, etc. Why is rape different? Saying “I was run over by a car” is functionally equivalent to saying that you “got run over.” Since when does “got” imply fault on the part of the recipient? Certainly someone might be offended by this phrasing, but surely it’s just as easy to get offended by “are raped.” It could imply that it just happened, and was not the fault of the attacker.

    Re: Real Men: First of all, it is unequivocally a victory to remove that last part. Of all the things you listed, “real men don’t get raped” is the worst. Beyond that, the ad is clearly playing on that stereotype, turning it on its head in the fashion of other word/phrase reclamation efforts. Many surely feel their rape makes them NOT “real men,” so saying that one can be both a “real man” and a rape survivor is an unequivocally positive message! The goal is obviously to raise awareness that a specific potential group can in fact be raped, and encourage those in that group to speak up/get help about their rapes, not to make an inclusive list of all the people who can be raped. If failing to mention people not in that group is erasing those people, then surely the ad is also erasing women by not mentioning that they, too, can be raped. I find it difficult to believe that someone who intended to get help would decide not to do so because this ad is not about their situation. I hate the real man thing with a passion, but can find no fault with its use here.

    Re: Talking about it: Once again, it is impossible to make every caveat, and attempting to do so would render the ad a boring, pedantic block of text. The message is, as you say later, that simply the act of talking about it IS a strong act. Indeed, the act of “getting help” is often seen as a weakness, as was discussed at length in a previous article. I struggle with it immensely, and think that having the idea out there that it’s not only OK to get help but in fact an act of bravery is a good thing.

    Unfortunately, I find myself in the rare position of disagreeing with almost everything in this article. Your final paragraph sums up my thoughts on the campaign in full, and honestly “don’t let perfect be the enemy of good” sums up my disagreements! In fact, I’d liken this set of criticisms to claiming that it’s futile to help at-risk students because we need comprehensive education reform, or that we shouldn’t work to provide low-cost health services to the poor, because we need healthcare reform. This ad is highlighting a group, attempting to reach them specifically. One might as well complain that an ad for poison ivy remedy doesn’t include other causes and solutions for itchy skin!

  28. As I read it, the use of “Real Men” is not reinforcing the idea that some men are fake. Yes, if you say “Real mean eat steak”, you are claiming that all real men eat steak (and if you don’t, you’re a fake). But in this context, they are clearly not claiming that *all* real men get raped. To me, this reads as a very successful subversion of the usual conotations of “Real Men” claims.

  29. @Ozy:

    Real men like football. Real men don’t cry. Real men eat steak. Real men like casual sex. Real men are successful. Real men can fight. Real men don’t complain when they’re hurt. Real men are chivalrous to women. Real men never watch soap operas or read romance novels. Real men are never abused or raped.

    Is it really a victory to change the last one and not everything else?

    I think you’re absolutely spot on with this.

    That said, I actually find myself feeling rather charitable towards the ad, for the following reason:
    1). The target audience for this advertisement is, methinks, self-styled “real men:” “Yes, it CAN happen to you. If it does, it doesn’t mean you’re NOT a “real man.””
    2). As a phrase, it works on several levels. In addition to the obvious (“it can happen to you, and that doesn’t mean you’re not a real man”), it also suggests that male rape is a legitimate phenomenon: by saying, “real men get raped,” you are also essentially saying that men who are raped are not somehow unreal; that male rape victims do, in fact, exist, and are therefore real.
    3). Though it addresses a symptom rather than a cause, this ad IS helpful in facilitating further discourse on the subject. It can be considered, perhaps, to be a prelude to further discussion of more complex issues.

    Yes, the phrase “real man” itself is problematic, and by rights, should be robbed of its inegalitarian implications through social pressure and discourse. But ads like these might be part of that process.

  30. The image is very powerful, unfortunatly it quite strongly implies that the rape that they are referring to is rape by other men. So, once again men raped my women go unnoticed and unsupported. Still, it is progress, and while men raped by women may not directly benefit by this advert, increased acknowledgement than men ~can~ be raped should only benefit them.

  31. BlackHumor says:

    It seems to be aimed to those men who don’t think it’s “manly” to report a rape, which is to say pretty much all of them. So I’m not terribly bothered by it, apart from what Stacy mentioned above.

  32. I’d definitely prefer a “Real men are raped” phrasing; “Real men get raped” has an implication, however subtle, that you aren’t a real man unless you get raped, since the phrase “Real men do x” generally has that connotation.
    The image of the nail in the rugby ball is powerful though. Wow.

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