One of the things I enjoy about being involved with The Good Men Project is that I can be a feminist and no one thinks it’s a conflict of interest. It’s something that worried me at first.
So many people seem to think feminism is a dirty word and that it automatically means I think women are superior to men or that I hate men. For me, patriarchy is an institution and smashing it—which I definitely want to do—does not include punishing men or erecting a matriarchy.
For me, feminism is the search for equality, which means, among other things, that it is unacceptable for men to shoot down feminists when we are talking about a problem that affects women. What some feminists miss, however, is that it is equally unacceptable for women to shout down men when they are talking about a problem that affects men, even when, and maybe especially when, it’s the same problem.
The Good Men Project has a writers’ group for contributors. It’s a place we can come together and discuss what we’re writing and thinking about and get thoughts and ideas of other authors. Recently, I posted an article in that group titled “The Hidden Epidemic of Men Who Are Raped by Women.” According to the data in this article, 2/3 of men who are sexually assaulted report women as the perpetrator.
A few days later, I received a message from a close friend of mine from high school, let’s call him Joe–not his real name. He opened with “that wasn’t a very easy article to read” and I knew I was about to have my first real conversation with a man about his being sexually assaulted by a woman.
I say real conversation here because I’ve talked to men about sexual assault before, but never in any seriousness. The stereotypes that men are always up for sex, that “you can’t rape the willing,” and that rape is defined by violence and forceful penetration are exceedingly pervasive. In truth, I don’t recall ever having a conversation about male rape, but if I did, I’m sure I dismissed it as silliness, given those stereotypes which I reluctantly admit I shamefully believed.
So, I asked Joe if he was a victim of male rape and he said “I’m not sure if I qualify.” He then related to me how, while in college, he had once returned to his dorm room in a drunken stupor, stripped down to his skivvies, and climbed into bed to sleep it off. A woman he attended school with him and found him attractive followed him and found his door unlocked. Finding him lying in bed nearly naked, she proceeded to crawl into bed with him, climb on top of him, and have unprotected sex with him, despite him being “really blurry” and unable to “move very well.”
So I asked him, “If I told you this same story, would you tell me I was sexually assaulted?” He said he probably would.
And really, who wouldn’t?If I told the female version of this same story to the police, it’s conceivable my assailant would be arrested and charged with rape. This is an area where women have a privilege men don’t share. When a woman says she has been raped by a man, she is more likely to be believed than a man saying he was raped by a woman. When one considers how often women are not believed, this is a sad state of affairs for men indeed.
And yet, my friend struggles with the thought that he was raped. “I’m not sure if I qualify.”
There are many parallels in the aftermath of male and female rape. Joe said he thought it was his fault. He knows he had an erection as well as an orgasm. Men don’t control their erections; they result from sexual stimulation, be that physical or mental. These are physiologic responses and do not indicate voluntary participation in the sexual act. This is the same gaslighting women well know. “Well, she was wet…” A woman can be wet and still say no. A man can be erect and still say no. “No” still means no.
He thought no one would believe him because of his “reputation back then.” This is the same slut-shaming that women endure. Having sex with someone, even several someones, doesn’t mean you want to have sex with everyone. We are free to offer our sexual selves to—or withhold from—whomever we choose.
I told him to stop making excuses for this woman; she took advantage of him. We don’t like to think of humans as capable of horrible things, but sometimes we are. We don’t like to think of ourselves as victims, but sometimes we are.
In the end, I think I validated his experience by saying all the things that I would want someone to say to me in the same situation. That I believe him. That it was not his fault. That I am honored that he trusted me enough to talk to me about it. That it’s reasonable and understandable that it still bothers him.
David Shaw is a clinical social worker and a fellow GMP contributor. In response to my post of the article, David said, “Pro-feminism does suggest that an article like the above only exists because feminists thought rape was something important to talk about instead of ignore.”
Rape is a problem that affects men, too. Feminists have a responsibility to decry the female victimization of men as vociferously and as consistently as we do the male victimization of women. We have a unique opportunity to advance the conversation about sexual assault and rape perpetrated against men. We have practice speaking of our own sexual assaults and speaking out about the sexual assaults of others. We can help men talk about it. We can validate them when they talk about it. We can recognize the difference between men dismissing our issues and men describing their own. We can make ourselves a safe space for these uncomfortable, important discussions.
Otherwise, our feminism is not really about equality at all.
Warning: There will be triggers for some viewers but, if you watch, please watch the whole thing before passing judgment.
Photo credit: Flickr/Lloyd Morgan