What About the Men? Why Our Gender System Sucks for Men, Too
Continued from previous page
Then there’s rape. When was the last time you heard men mentioned as rape or molestation victims in any public discussion of such issues? Despite the fact that 1 in 6 men are subject to unwanted sexual activity before the age of 18, despite the fact that 1 in 4 rape survivors in America is male, far too many people still believe a man cannot be raped, especially by a woman: the myth that an erection is consent, instead of a biological function, remains strong. The Centers for Disease Control’s own statistics draw a line between “rape” and “being forced to penetrate someone.” Not to be rude to the CDC, but we have a word for sex that someone is forced to have against their will. It’s called rape.
Even in cases of boys as young as 13 who are raped by teachers or other authority figures, many people congratulate them or call them lucky. Try to imagine anyone saying that to a 13-year-old girl who was molested by her teacher, and you begin to see how deep the gender gulf is here. In fact, some male rape survivors never acknowledge, even to themselves, that what they endured was rape. Rape of men is endemic within the prison system, which is not treated as a human rights outrage, but as an appropriate subject for jokes. Some even speak glowingly of prison rape as the real deterrent to criminal activity. It’s amazing how many people are downright enthusiastic about their government running rape camps, so long as the victims are male.
The ideal of toughness also impacts male survivors of abuse. Many people believe that men cannot be abused, because they’re “stronger,” or that if a man is abused it’s proof that he’s a wimp or a weakling; many believe that men who were raped are responsible for and enjoyed their rapes. Many of the guides to recognizing abuse are gendered with a female survivor and a male perpetrator, rendering abuse of men invisible. Many shelters do not provide services to male survivors (although some female-only shelters will put male survivors up in hotels).
Most men will never end up in prison, a majority will never be raped or abused, but the same societal expectations that allow us to laugh off the rape and abuse of men give rise to a thousand smaller micro-aggressions, all the little ways in which men are made to feel horrible in a gendered way. It sounds strange to say that the same system tells men that they are grotesque and laughable for being masculine, and simultaneously pathetic and laughable for not being masculine enough, but bizarrely, that is the case.
Of course, a few men do manage to perform hegemonic masculinity quite well and even avoid most of the negative consequences of masculinity. They avoid the treacherous edges, they navigate the contradictions as best they can, they do everything they’re supposed to to stay inside the box. And what’s the prize? They get to live the rest of their lives inside a box, unable to make even the slightest move lest they fall out of it. These, we are told, are the winners.
The problem of gendered, sexist expectations of men is enormous, and deeply ingrained into the culture. How are we to even begin dismantling such profoundly entrenched and damaging ideas? By using the same skills and tools that have worked before.
In many feminist spaces, most particularly on the Internet, it is difficult to establish a decent dialogue about women’s issues without various men intruding, insisting that circumcision rates in the U.S. must be addressed instead of the issue of female genital mutilation in Africa, insisting that male rape victims must be discussed instead of female rape victims. These persistent conversation-derailers have succeeded in making a bad name for themselves, and given rise to the “what about teh menz?” trope as a boilerplate dismissal of these tired distractions from the addressing of women’s issues that is the raison d’être of most feminist communities.