Sometimes, looking at things from a sideways angle is helpful...

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Gender and Rape

Finally, male rape has entered the normative discourse - there are posters at Twickenham for the Six Nations about the fact that "men can be raped too", and people are talking about male victims of rape. Of the three sexual assault crisis centres in London, one of them has a special male only clinic every two weeks, staffed by men, and there are organisations reaching out to male victims of rape.

However, I think the "men can get raped too" campaign is actually, in some ways, damaging. Empowering, but damaging. I found it empowering seeing that other men shared this life-altering experience, hearing from other men that had been through it, all the questions about my masculinity that it brought up, the expectation that I shouldn't talk about it, the expectation that I should, the feeling that it made me somehow "less of a man". For a lot of men, being penetrated isn't part of their typical sex life, and a rape that involves penetration can be seen as very emasculating. For me, it was part of my sex life, but nonetheless, there was the sense of emasculation, that my body had been literally 'invaded'. Being in spaces where these conversations happened has been empowering, seeing posters about male rape has been empowering. However, they're damaging.

Why are they damaging? By making the point that 'men can get raped too' they're reframing rape as a womens' issue, rather than talking about the way in which anyone can be raped. The discourse surrounding rape as a womens' issue is damaging because it plays into the negative stereotypes of women as victims, and the 'men can get raped too' campaign highlights male rape as a separate facet of this issue, when a lot of the masculine response to rape is tied into misogyny. I like to think of myself as a feminist man, but I have a lot of internalised misogyny, and a part of my emotional response to being raped entailed feeling like my 'manhood' had been taken away, like I was less of a man. Seeing posters saying "Real Men Get Raped" tries to remasculinise the idea of being a rape victim, that it doesn't take away from the masculinity of the victim, but in fact contributes to the wider problem of misogyny and rape culture.

In saying "real men get raped" we're reclaiming our masculinity despite being raped, with the sense that being raped took away some essential part of that masculinity. This is very theraputic perhaps, but it implies that masculinity is something that shouldn't be taken and can be taken away by rape, when in fact the emasculated emotional response is because we perceive rape as something that happens to women, being penetrated as something that happens to women, and as a result being raped takes away from our masculinity because to be seen as a woman, even by ourselves, is a loss. We've lost that which makes us a man.

The patriarchy hurts men too, and this is one of the most painful ways, for myself at least. It's telling men that being raped makes us less men and more women, and that we have to reclaim the masculinity of being a rape victim. Instead, we should be looking at the patriarchy as something that supports and upholds rape culture, that could even be said to encourage rape, and the ways in which that can happen, because anyone can be raped, and it shouldn't degender you.

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