Why Men Need to Discuss Gendered Violence

Women’s issues have been discussed much more prominently in our society lately.

We recently saw the #metoo movement take place, followed by the #timesup movement. Celebrities have been showing their support for these issues, while many other celebrities have been discussing their own issues surrounding sexual assault, sexual harassment, rape culture, and the wage gap.

And that’s all great; we should be talking about this. But there is another side to all this that we should be talking about as well.

For the most part, this discussion has been focusing on the women’s side of the matter (or, at the very least, the victims of sexual abuse and harassment). And though we’ve outed a few of the perpetrators and punished them (minimally), we haven’t really been discussing the perpetrators all that much.

And, on the one hand, I get it; women need to know that they aren’t alone. We as a society need to understand that these issues are prevalent, that they still exist, that there are battles that need to be fought. We need to know that we aren’t alone.

And at the same time, we need to stop this from happening ever again. And giving women a voice and the confidence to speak up when it does happen is a beautiful thing that should not be underestimated, but that won’t stop it from happening in the first place. And if we are ever going to reach a place of equality, we need to stop this from happening in the first place.

And how are we going to do that?

Well, to begin, we are going to have to talk about who the perpetrators in these issues are.

Sexual assault and harassment is typically discussed as a gendered issue, although there are some who have taken offence to that. After all, despite this pervasive myth in our society that men cannot be raped, it does happen, and it happens more frequently than you might think. Approximately 3% of American men will be the victim of either an attempted or a completed rape at some point in their life, and when men are raped, they face very different problems from female rape survivors.

But that doesn’t take away from the fact that this remains a gendered issue.

Although men are raped, women are eleven times more likely to be the victims of sexual offences than men are. Women make up 92% of victims of police-reported sexual offences, and when they are assaulted, they are more like to sustain injuries than men are (25% of women compared to 15% of men).

And, more important to what we’re discussing, 99% of the perpetrators are men.

And, I know, I know, half of my readership just tuned out. Nobody likes to feel accused of something that they feel that they are innocent of. I am not trying to say that all men are rapists. But I don’t think that we can ignore the fact that the vast majority of rapists are men. I think that this is something that we should discuss if we are going to get to the root of why this issue exists in our society.

And I’m not the only one who has suggested this before.

Scholar Jackson Katz, for example, has gone forward and said that gender-related violence should not be treated as a women’s issue, but rather, as an issue that involves us all, in one way or another. “Calling gender violence a women’s issue is part of the problem,” argues Katz. “It gives a lot of men an excuse not to pay attention.”

In other words, if we discuss sexual harassment, sexual assault, or any type of gender-related violence as a women’s issue, then it gives men an excuse for ignore their part in all of it. And men have a part in this.

But why are the majority of rapists men? Why are there not more female rapists? What can this possibly mean?

Are men just naturally more predatory than women? Is a man’s natural state to be a rapist?

Well, no. I don’t believe this, and neither does Jackson Katz.

Katz argues that the reason why men become violent toward women – the reason why men objectify women, overly sexualize women, catcall women, and so on and so forth – is because we live in a society that normalizes all of this.

We live in a society that encourages men toward violence to prove their masculinity. We live in a society where many of our most iconic male fictional characters solve their problems by punching people and forcing things to go their way through brute strength. We live in a society where romantic comedies argue that when a woman says “no”, what she really means is, “keep harassing me until I change my mind”. We live in a society where men are not allowed to be emotional, or talk about their feelings, or come forward when they’re dealing with aggression or mental health issues, meaning that there are many men who do not know how to deal with their emotions or the emotions of others in a healthy manner.

And when all of this is normalized to us and we are not encouraged to think critically about it, then we just accept it. And not only do we accept it; we enforce it.

And if we are going to end this issues – truly end them, not just talk about them and raise awareness about them – then men are going to need to get involved. Men are going to have to look at their own role in this issue, and ask themselves whether or not they have ever harassed or assaulted a woman (or a man). Men are going to have to challenge their ideas of violence and assertiveness being connected to masculinity, as well as this idea that having emotions is natural weakness. Men are going to have to be an active agent in this discussion, and work alongside of feminists, preferably as feminists themselves, in order to end this problem.

And there are men who have discussed this already. I mention Jackson Katz in this article for many reasons, one of them being that he is considered the founder of the ‘bystander approach’ to ending gendered violence – which essentially means that, if you see it happening or suspect that it might be happening, then it is your responsibility to speak up. If you do not, then you are communicating the message that this is normal, and you allow the problem to continue.

Right now, we have many women who are speaking out – many survivors, but too few bystanders. That needs to change.

But if you want to help that change, then one resource that I can point you toward is called the White Ribbon Campaign – a group of men and boys who, according to their website, “pledge to never commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women and girls.” They seek to spread awareness, create discussion, and create a more compassionate vision of masculinity.

It is wonderful that we are talking about these issues in our society, but I want to take this opportunity to invite more discussion. More specifically, I invite men to become part of this discussion, because we need men to be on board with this. We need men to commit to becoming part of the solution, to thinking critically about these matters. We need men to help us in this issue – because as much as women are amazing and fully capable, we cannot change the world single-handedly when we make up only 50% of it.

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Me Too: Our Own Role in Upholding Rape Culture

We should live in a world where survivors of sexual assault and sexual harassment feel comfortable coming forward, whether they are male or female.

We should live in a world where women (and, in some cases, men) can write “me too” on social media, and everyone behind their computers reads that and doesn’t judge them for that, but rather realizes that this is a huge societal issue that needs to stop.

And we should also live in a world where this doesn’t stop there.

I do believe that the “me too” campaign was, in fact, a good idea, because I think that there are many people out there (and men in particular) who don’t seem to fully grasp just how much of an issue this is for women or femme people.

In the past, I have told men about my experiences being catcalled, to which they responded by saying, “what! Why didn’t you call the police?” Because, what am I going to do? Call the police every time that happens? And, besides, it’s not like the police are going to be able to do anything; there are no laws against harassing a woman on the street.

In the past, I have had female friends cancel plans because they happened to take place in a sketchy area, where rapes were often reported, and my male friends responded by saying, “I don’t know what they’re so upset about! It would have been a good time, if they weren’t so sensitive.”

And I think we have all heard about that guy, the one who gets mad at a girl who won’t go home with him even though they just met, and rationalizes his anger by saying, “what? Does she think all men are rapists?”

No. Nobody thinks all men are rapists. But the thing is, women are taught to fear all men as potential rapists, at least until they get to know them well enough to let that fear subside. And I don’t really think that’s something that the average man tends to understand. In fact, almost worse, when certain men do start to see this in women, they don’t see it as a societal problem, but as a problem with the woman herself. She‘s too sensitive, she’s being judgemental.

He forgets that, if she were raped, then people would ask her why she didn’t take measures to prevent it; clearly, she must have secretly wanted it if she was in that place, with that man, wearing that outfit.

The thing about the “me too” campaign is that it’s all well and good to be aware that there’s a problem, but most women are aware, because we live it everyday. We know what it’s like to leave the house and need to walk with headphones in so that nobody mistakes us for wanting to chat, adopting our resting bitch face and staring straight ahead so that we get left alone. Women know what it’s like to tense up when a man walks too close behind us, to have a plan for what we’ll do if he tries to grope us.

For the most part, women know that there is a problem. And while there are some men out there who are also aware, who will be there for their female friends if another man crosses the line, there do need to be more men out there doing something about it.

And I don’t just mean being there for your female friend who got a little too drunk and is now being eyed by several creeps in the bar – although, don’t get me wrong, you should definitely do that too.

I’m talking about thinking back to every time that we might have been told “I don’t know” and interpreted that to mean, “yes”.

I’m talking about thinking back to that time when we touched or kissed someone that didn’t want to be touched or kissed, all in the name of “going for it”.

I’m talking about thinking back to that time when the one we were pursuing said, in no uncertain terms, “no”, and we figured that all we had to do was keep trying, keep making gestures, keep making them feel guilty and uncertain, because sooner or later, we’d win them over.

And I’m not necessarily trying to make anyone feel bad about themselves if they have engaged in this behaviour; all that I am trying to say is that rape culture is part of our culture, and there are many who aren’t even aware of it. Maybe we thought that we were being romantic at the time, because society has given us this narrative that this behaviour is romantic. But it is behaviour that we need to question. Because if the “me too” campaign has taught us anything, it is that this behaviour is common and it is harmful.

And if this behaviour is going to stop, then we all need to question it. Every single one of us.

Women cannot end the issue of sexual assault and harassment alone.

So let’s not allow the “me too” campaign to end with survivors sharing their stories and that’s it. Let’s actually open up this discussion. Let’s take a close look at what rape culture is, because the amount of people who have experienced sexual assault and harassment proves that this is not only being done by a few outlier creeps who nobody knows or speaks to by choice; this is a massive, societal problem. This is the result of a society that excuses and normalizes rape. That says that it’s perfectly romantic if we never give up on the person who has turned us down already, because they have to say yes eventually. That says that women who are flirtatious, or wearing a certain outfit, or going to a certain place, have already given their consent to whatever the other party wants. That says that men cannot be sexually assaulted, because they clearly want sex all the time.

And as uncomfortable as it might be to look at ourselves and our own behaviour, it is something that we need to do right now. Because we cannot control whether other people change or not, but we do have control over our own change. And if the “me too” campaign succeeds in little more than making a few people critically question their own role in upholding rape culture, then it will be worth it.

“Men Get Raped Too”: Why Rape is Still a Gendered Issue

Increasingly, there is this phenomena across the internet where a woman will talk openly about rape, and about how rape affects women, and when you scroll down to look at the comments, they will be filled with male commenters pointing out that “men get raped too”.

Now, I know that a lot of people say that you should ignore the comments on anything on the internet. The comments are a free-for-all where anyone can say anything, and sometimes they aren’t always intelligent anythings. But this specific comment, this “men get raped too” has appeared again and again, across multiple videos, articles, Facebook statuses or posts, and so the more often I see it, the more often I find myself wondering why so many men feel the need to place it so frequently on posts about female rape.

I’ll admit, the first few times I saw this comment, I rolled my eyes a little bit – not because I don’t believe that men can be raped. They very much can be. According to SexAssault.ca, approximately 20% of sex crime victims are men (more on this in a little bit). But when I saw these comments initially, the fact that they were very brief and placed specifically on discussions of female rape made me think that these commenters didn’t really care about male rape victims at all – they were just trying to derail the argument of the woman who initially posted. The way I saw it, it was their way of saying, “yes, women get raped, but men get raped too, so shut up and stop complaining about it”.

It was only recently that I saw a posting that made me change my mind on these commenter’s intentions. This particular post was, again, made by a man, and again, it pointed out that men get raped too, but it went a little bit more into detail about it. What this man was trying to argue was that men get raped too, and therefore rape isn’t a gendered issue – it’s a universal issue. It isn’t a topic for feminism, it has nothing to do with women’s issues.

And I have to admit, that is an interesting perspective – but, respectfully, I disagree. Although I will agree that rape is something that happens to both men and women, it is still a very gendered issue, and it is still an issue that should be addressed by feminists.

Now, why do I say that? What about rape is gendered if it is something that happens to both men and women? Well, the thing about rape is that it is something that people experience differently depending on gender.

Let’s start with the way that women experience rape. Women are raped more frequently than men are. In my home country, Canada, 80% of sexual assault victims are women, and one in four women will report being raped in their lifetime. That, however, is only the reported rapes, and the majority of rape victims will not report being raped, for a plethora of reasons. Although women face no issue being told that it is possible for them to be raped, they are still doubted when they come forward, and often times for very gendered reasons. Women who go to the police face a barrage of invasive questions, designed to make the crime seem as though it were her fault. What were you wearing? Were you drunk? Are you sure you didn’t lead him on at all? Because, you know, if you dangle a juicy steak before a dog, what else is he going to do but bite? And you, as a woman, are less of a human being and more of a juicy steak, a hunk of meat to be taken advantage of and fulfill a man’s pleasures. Women who have gone forward in an attempt to report a rape have described the experience as being a second violation. She is forced to relive her experience again and again. She is doubted, villainized, told that she has no chance of winning her case because it’s her word against his and a man’s voice will always be trusted before hers. And many women don’t even try to come forward, because the man who raped her was a friend, a boyfriend, a husband, someone who she trusted and doesn’t want to hurt, or someone who she knows will be trusted before she will. Who will ever believe that a boyfriend raped his girlfriend, after all? She must have consented and just changed her mind later. Or maybe she just doesn’t want to bother, to go through the whole terrible violation of seeking justice when she knows she won’t win anyway.

Female rape victims continue to be classified by the misogynist worldview of the virgin or the whore. If you were raped and you were wearing revealing clothes, or you flirted with him first, or you were promiscuous before even meeting your rapist, then you’re a whore and you were clearly asking for it. If you were raped and you were a virginal nun who never so much as touched a drop of alcohol or saw a party, then it’s a terrible tragedy and how could those boys do such a thing? Even women who haven’t been raped are classified in this way. Party girls who go out every weekend are told to “look out” or they might get raped, as though rape is the inevitable punishment for wearing a skimpy dress and drinking alcohol, whereas girls who stay in every weekend and read are praised by their fathers, who say that “something like that would never happen to them”, despite the fact that they are still at risk, simply by being a woman in a society that excuses the aggressor. Just because they don’t go out to party, that doesn’t protect them from the boyfriend who feels entitled, the employer or teacher who pursues more than he should, just because they are women and their aggressors are men.

Now, what about male rape victims? Men report being raped much less frequently than women do, but when men are raped, they too will rarely report it, but for very different reasons. Many men live under the illusion that men cannot be raped, simply because they’re… well, men. They’re big and strong. They can fight off any woman who expects more from him than he’s willing to give. And more than that, as a man, he wants sex constantly. If a pretty girl is asking him for sex, then of course he consented. He’s a man. Many male rape victims aren’t even aware that they have been raped because of this myth. But some male rape victims are aware, and yet they still don’t report, and often times, the reason for that is that they feel as though rape is a threat to their masculinity. They are supposed to be big, tough men, so why couldn’t they fight off their aggressor? Are they lesser men because of it? After all, the typical image that we as a society have of rape victims is a frail, small woman being attacked by a aggressive, predatory man; it is very difficult for men to accept themselves in the role of that frail, feminine victim (not that being a victim is at all a feminine thing to be, I am merely discussing society’s perspective). And if they were raped by another man, internalized homophobia might also play a role in their refusal to come forward.

When men do come forward, however, they face just as difficult a time as women do, but for different reasons. Women are doubted because they must have somehow been at fault; men are doubted because it simply couldn’t have happened. Men can’t be raped, not the way that women can be, or so they are told. There have even been cases of men turning to rape crisis centres and being turned away because they are doubted. Even the community that has dedicated itself to helping them refuse to do anything.

And to return to statistics, 15% of sexual assault victims in Canada are boys under sixteen, which adds an entirely new layer to the discussion. When children are being raped, they have a very hard time reaching out to anyone, or even understanding what’s happening to them, but the mental side effects will last a lifetime.

So to return to the commenters on the internet, I will agree that, yes, men can be raped too – that is most certainly a fact, and I agree wholeheartedly. But that being said, rape is still a gendered issue. The reasons that we as a society have for doubting victims when they come forward are extremely gendered, and the ways that we respond to them are gendered as well. Men are doubted because of our society’s understanding of what a man should be, and women are doubted because of our society’s understanding of what a woman should be. This results in very different experiences for the victims (each of them equally terrible), and very different reasons for why the crime is committed. But when I say that rape is a gendered issue, I am not saying that rape is an issue of men vs. women. At the end of the day, the crime is the same; it is only society and society’s expectations around gender that makes the experience different. And it is the goal of feminism to create a society where these expectations around gender are no longer relied on so heavily – for both men and women. My hope is that we as a society can someday reach a point where male and female victims are not treated differently, if they are raped at all; they are equally believed and they equally receive justice and support from their community. But the thing is, we simply are not there yet, and in order to get there, we must continue to discuss and dismantle the gendered issues around rape.