An article in The Atlantic exposes the reality of male survivors who’ve been assaulted by females, including Don Draper, the main character in the show Mad Men.
That’s what one of my friends said to me as we sat at a picnic table at a barbecue with a bunch of other parents. I looked at her curiously and asked why she was worried less about her son than her daughter. She explained that when she was growing up, one of her friend’s dads had abused his daughter, and also some of her friends during sleepovers. She’s still traumatized from the stories she heard.
That’s when I became the downer of the party, as I am sometimes wont to do, as a writer in the field of sex and gender.
“Did you know that 1 in 6 boys are sexual abused by the time they reach adulthood?”
The table went quiet. Another dad, one of the sweetest guys I know, said, “Wait a minute. Is that statistic for real?”
Relying upon what I’ve learned from Chris Anderson of Male Survivor and the guys at 1in6.org and other male survivor groups, I explained that somehow we’ve come to believe that sexual abuse and rape only happens to girls—or that sexual abuse that does happen to boys is extremely rare.
But it’s not rare.
1in6 is an organization whose mission it is the support survivors of unwanted sexual contact in their childhood. And as they explain, that statistic is probably low.
We looked around the party. Coincidentally, there were exactly 6 men in attendance, and many more little boys—our children—running around and playing.
The dad went on to explain, “I’m going to sound like an idiot here, but since I only have boys, I honestly thought that just wasn’t something I had to worry about.” He was shaken, I could tell.
I felt bad introducing such a heavy topic, but after that people started opening up about men and boys they know who have been sexually abused. It’s not exactly ideal barbecue conversation, but I truly believe that the more we bring subjects like these into the light, the healthier our society becomes. If one of the men in that group had indeed been abused, he may not realize he’s in such good company. If one of our boys, God forbid, were ever assaulted, perhaps we would be more equipped to handle it—to realize there are resources and that boys who are survivors are not alone.
A few weeks ago, writer and professor Abigail Rine wrote about the reveal that Don Draper, the main character from the hit AMC series Mad Men, had been raped as an adolescent by a prostitute in the brothel where he lived with his pregnant stepmother after they’d become destitute.
Ms. Rine didn’t mince words. It didn’t matter how sexy that prostitute was. It didn’t matter that the prostitute believed she knew what Don wanted and needed (sex). It didn’t matter that Don was a boy. It was rape because Don said no and was clearly scared. Not to mention that he was a minor (Though in the 1930s that may not have been a crime as it is today.)
Rine revisited this subject in more depth today on The Atlantic, where she wrote an entire article, Don Draper Was Raped, about the importance of this scene in bringing the sexual assault of boys and men to the surface. Particularly the assault of boys by women and older girls. Rine explains how Dick’s assault unfolded (for those of you who don’t follow the show, Dick Whitman is Don Draper’s real name):
Throughout most of the episode, Aimee serves as a surrogate mother for Dick; she lets him recuperate in her bed and offers him rest, comforting words, spoonfuls of warm broth. However, in their penultimate scene together, Aimee’s maternal kindness turns oddly predatory. She approaches her bed where Dick is lying weakly, fever newly broken, and asks, “Don’t you want to know what all the fuss is about? “No,” Dick replies forcefully, averting his eyes and hugging the blankets tightly against his chest as she reaches under the covers to touch him. “Stop it,” he says, clearly uncomfortable, even afraid. But Aimee doesn’t stop.
Rine then takes to task many writers who summarized Don/Dick’s assault as consensual—or simply of the loss of his virginity. She challenges folks to consider how we would interpret the scene had Dick been an adolescent girl:
The most unsettling account I read was Paul MacInnes’ recap for The Guardian, which somehow concludes that Dick not only consents to Aimee’s advances, but actively desires them: “Aimee knew what young Dick really wanted and was prepared to do what was necessary to give it to him.”
Let’s pause for a moment and imagine a parallel scene between, say, a slightly older Sally Draper and an adult man. He tries to seduce her. “No,” she says, when he begins to touch her, “Stop it.” He ignores her; she lapses into silence; he has sex with her. Now let’s picture the feminist outcry if a writer for a mainstream publication were to describe this as not only consensual, but as Sally getting what she “really wanted.”
An outcry to that statement would be appropriate, and it is appropriate here. This boy was raped.
In talking with friends about this scene, most agree he was raped but many also say, “It just seems like that’s every guy’s dream.”
That thinking—that all guys are turned on all the time, that all guys want sex all the time, that guys are undiscerning about their sexual partners, is incredibly dangerous. I wrote about this last year, explaining the case of a young man I know who was raped by a girl named Maria whom he was interested in. I talked to Maria about the situation a few years after it happened, when she was in a state of profound remorse over what happened.
She was 16 when it happened and had been fed a story her entire life about how all guys want is sex, and how guys will screw anything that walks. She also had a profound problem with insecurity and only later did she realize that her main sense of validation came from being sexually desired.
Maria simply couldn’t conceive of a guy saying “no” and meaning it. Not a guy like Rob, at least, a guy whom she knew had hooked up with, and even had sex with, a few girls from our school. She also thought it would make him like her more if she were sexually dominant, like Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, whose no-panties leg-crossing scene was considered the sexiest thing ever in the 1990s—when in reality, it is disturbing and intrusive.
One reason the myth of men always wanting “it” is so pervasive is because we’ve never really had a model for male survivors of assault by women—we’ve barely had models of male survivors of assault by men. That’s why we’ve been so grateful to writers like James Landrith and Levi Greenacres, who have shared their stories with The Good Men Project community in the past. A year ago, Mike D’Amora bravely wrote about his terrifying and frantic rape at the hands of a violent female perpetrator on Thought Catalogue. Survivor stories—true ones and fictionalized ones in media such as Mad Men—help us to understand the realities of sexual assault against boys and men.
Don Draper (née Dick Whitman) survived the assault, but we see severe damage in his adult life. He didn’t have support. He grew up to be incredibly self-destructive and destructive to those around him as an alcoholic and sex addict, as I wrote about a few weeks ago. Obviously not all survivors face these challenges, but some do. A prostitute, even a sexy one, violating you sexually is going to have some long-term effects and thank God some mainstream media is finally recognizing that rape is never sexy. Not when it’s against a woman, and not when it’s against a boy or a man. And despite what we’ve seen in TV and movies, like the Adam Sandler flick “That’s My Boy“, statutory rape is not funny.
Yes, I agree with Abigail Rine. Don Draper was raped, just as too many other boys have been in this country. And it’s time we started talking about it.
What do you think? Do stories like Don Draper’s help raise awareness about male survivors of sexual assault?
How do you think we can we better support male survivors in our society?