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.
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.