“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.

Don’t Be Victims

“Being born a woman is my awful tragedy. From the moment I was conceived I was doomed to sprout breasts and ovaries rather than penis and scrotum; to have my whole circle of action, thought and feeling rigidly circumscribed by my inescapable feminity. Yes, my consuming desire to mingle with road crews, sailors and soldiers, bar room regulars–to be a part of a scene, anonymous, listening, recording–all is spoiled by the fact that I am a girl, a female always in danger of assault and battery. My consuming interest in men and their lives is often misconstrued as a desire to seduce them, or as an invitation to intimacy. Yet, God, I want to talk to everybody I can as deeply as I can. I want to be able to sleep in an open field, to travel west, to walk freely at night…” – Sylvia Plath

As girls, we’re told that we need to be careful.

As girls, we’re told that we need to cover up. We need to wear shirts that cover our breasts, our shoulders, our bra straps. We need to wear pants or skirts that don’t show too much of our legs. Because if a man should see us in public dressed like that, should he realize that we are concealing actual human forms beneath layers of cloth and should he decide to do something that harms us, then that is our fault because we provoked him. We showed too much of ourselves, we dangled a juicy steak in front of a hungry, brainless, stupid dog. What did we expect would happen?

As girls, we’re told to watch our drinks, to mind ourselves carefully when we go out. Don’t drink too much, the way that men do. Know exactly how much alcohol you can handle at all times, even if you’ve never drank before, or you don’t do it very often. Don’t get sloppy, don’t pass out, don’t let a man slip something into your drink, because if you do, and if you get hurt, then that is our fault. We invited it. Don’t you know that girls aren’t supposed to drink? We may live in a society that glorifies alcohol as the primary way to have fun, a society that states that you are a boring prude if you don’t drink, but it doesn’t matter. As a girl, you should know better than that.

As girls, we’re told to protect ourselves at all times. Don’t go out at night unless you absolutely have to, and if you absolutely have to, there’s no question about it, then at least don’t go alone. Take someone with you, preferably a big, strong, masculine man to protect you, you weak, frail-bodied victim, you. And if you do have to go out and you can’t find anyone to go with you, not even another girl, then at least prepare to be attacked. Carry your keys between your fingers, so that when he comes up behind you, you can spin quick and catch him in the eye, and maybe that’ll give you a head start. Maybe you can escape him then.

As girls, we’re told that the world is a dangerous place, and we cannot go it alone. There are certain spaces where we are not welcome, where simply being a woman in that space can get you raped or beaten or killed. As girls, we’re told that we are Little Red Riding Hood, and we need to be on constant lookout for the Big Bad Wolf, because if he gobbles us up, then it isn’t because he’s a Wolf – of course he’s a Wolf, that’s his nature. No, it’s just because we weren’t looking for him hard enough.

Fuck that.

As a woman, I don’t want to live my life with my body constantly on my mind. I don’t want to have to worry if what I’m doing will get me raped or killed or beaten or kidnapped. As a woman, I want to see every last corner of this earth, whether I’m welcome there or not, and I want to be able to go there without having to remember that I am a woman, and that that puts me at risk. I don’t want to not be a woman, but I want to be seen as a person first. I want my life to matter more than my breasts, my right to my own body to be more important than what I was wearing. If I’m brutally raped or murdered, then I want that to be a tragedy and not a question of whether or not I deserved it. I want to be seen as a victim only after something happens to me, not before.

And I may not see any of this in my lifetime – I may never be able to walk into a seedy bar and order a drink without worrying about someone slipping something into it, or about drinking too much and being taken advantage of. But the way that this starts to change, the way that we can make things better, is not by telling our daughters don’t be victims, but by telling our sons don’t hurt women.

Thirteen Reasons Why Review

As the entire internet has been talking about Thirteen Reasons Why, I found myself curious to watch it, despite my reservations based off the fact that I knew the book existed growing up and never really had an interest in reading it. I had always sort of figured that it would read like a teacher’s lecture about why bullying is bad and suicide is never the answer. And while I still haven’t read the book, so I can’t say if that’s the case for Jay Asher’s work, that is not what I found in the Netflix television show.

The television show discusses in close and sometimes graphic detail issues such as suicide, bullying, rape, depression, and women’s issues, and I have to admit, I really admire the show for the directions that it sometimes chose to take. I should say, right off the bat, that I really enjoyed this show and could not stop watching it – but more on that later. First, I’m going to list off the parts of the show that I really enjoyed, and the reasons why I would recommend it to others.

The show represents bullying in a very mature and realistic way. The kids who bully Hannah (for the most part) are not one-dimensional bullies who are completely irredeemable: they are either incredibly hurt people who are too busy dealing with their own problems to notice the pain they are simultaneously causing, or they are realistically dumb kids who just don’t think that this is something that can hurt someone. And the way that the show represented either end impressed me hugely: I liked that I cared about many of the bullies, but at the same time understood why they deserved the retaliation that they received. They were neither good nor evil people, they were just people. To a certain extent, even the show’s hero, Clay, is depicted as an imperfect person, as Clay contributes to some of the bullying that goes on at school, and it’s hard to say how much of the extent to which he blames the bullies for Hannah’s death is rational. And on the other spectrum, I enjoyed the way in which simple dumb kids were depicted. There are several scenes throughout the show where characters (particularly male characters) give Hannah very back-handed compliments and genuinely don’t understand when she gets offended, and this feels very realistic to me. This is something that people (women in particular) experience all the time is a society run on a limited definition of beauty, and it was nice to see this expressed in a very realistic way and to have it explained why, exactly, this isn’t okay.

And although the show has received some criticism about the fact that, while showing characters with symptoms of depression, mental illness is never explicitly discussed, I didn’t really mind the way it was portrayed. As someone who has suffered from depression in the past (and who has a tendency to go back to depressive thoughts from time to time), I found that the symptoms of depression were clear enough that I knew what they were trying to convey. And, more than that, it really reminded me of how it felt to have depression but to not realize that you do, and to not have your mental illness recognized by people around you – which, admittedly, mostly happened to me when I was a teenager. And the majority of the characters are teenagers. Teenagers who, repeatedly, have their emotions and issues belittled unintentionally by the adults around them, and the show does a very realistic job of portraying this as well.

These facts about the show has earned it a very special place in my heart, and when I was watching it, I found that I could not look away – both because I was so engrossed in what was watching and because, at some points, I just couldn’t look away. It was like stumbling upon a car crash – you just want to keep watching until you find out what the body count is and how gory they died. There are three scenes in particular that I found to be incredibly graphic – two rape scenes and a depiction of suicide. Thus far, I’ve been praising the show for how realistic their depictions have been, but these three scenes are where I wonder if a line needs to be drawn. Upon completing the show, I found myself feeling emotionally drained and very low, and these three scenes in particular are responsible for that. They are just so graphic, so intimate, and as much as I can see the benefit of that, I can also see the harm for a specific audience.

And more on that, the way that the show treated Hannah’s decision to kill herself was sometimes questionable. Clay, the show’s protagonist and the perspective through which we see most things, believes that Hannah was justifiably driven to suicide through the actions of those around her. They let her down, they are responsible – not her. We do see other perspectives from time to time, including a school councilor who assures Clay that Hannah’s suicide wasn’t his fault and a fellow student who claims that everyone deals with pain and that “suicide is for the weak,” but Clay’s perspective is the one that is given the most weight, and it’s a perspective that I don’t agree with. When someone kills themselves, it is natural to feel like you could have done something more to avoid that outcome, but it is not your fault. It is not your fault. It is not your fault. Everyone deals with pain, and everyone deals with it differently. If someone makes the choice to end their life, it is because they are dealing with overwhelming mental illness. And more than that, it is a choice that they made. It is not your fault. And the fact that they keep working under the assumption that Hannah’s suicide was the fault of anyone else but Hannah seems a little bit unfair. Yes, those who bullied and assaulted her should be held accountable, but her choice to take her own life is a separate action.

Despite my problems with the show, however, I have to say that I really loved it in the end. I loved how fleshed out and realistic the characters were, I love that they took on such important issues, and I loved that they were willing to take risks and be dark when they needed to be. I don’t know if I would recommend this show to everyone, just because of how dark and how graphic it is, but if you think that you can handle it, I would definitely say that it’s worth the watch.

Why ‘Innocent Until Proven Guilty’ Doesn’t Work for Sexual Assault Cases

This morning, I was bumming around on the internet, looking for something that might entertain me while I fixed up my usual breakfast, and in my search I came across a vaguely titled video discussing Casey Affleck’s Oscar win, and, curious, I clicked on it.

The video’s argument was that people who condemned Affleck for the allegations of sexual assault against him are ‘morons’ (yes, this word was actually used; repeatedly) because Affleck’s case was settled outside of court, therefore we will never know if he really did it or not and all people in civilized society are innocent until proven guilty.

And on the one hand, yes, I believe in the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ mentality. This mentality helps people who are falsely accused avoid serving unjust sentences, and should be kept in the back of everyone’s mind in most court cases.

Most.

Because there’s a huge, glaring problem when it comes to sexual assault charges. In fact, there are two.

One of them is that the amount of women who falsely accuse rapists are immensely fewer than the amount of women who don’t receive justice after being raped. And this might happen in a multitude of ways: some women just don’t go to the police following a rape, because they internalize it as being their own fault, or because their rapist is someone close to them, or they worry that they won’t be believed, or they think it will only cause more trouble than its worth (and that’s only a few reasons why they wouldn’t). Some women do go to the police, but they aren’t believed, or the police tell them that it’s their own fault for dressing/acting/presenting themselves the way they did, or the police tell them that it’s her word against his and chances are she won’t see justice done. Some women get as far as the courts, and yet they still aren’t able to convince the jury that the rape actually happened, or that it wasn’t somehow her fault and she was actually ‘asking for it,’ and that all she’s trying to do is ruin this poor guy’s (cough cough rapist’s) life. And some girls actually do manage to make it to the police, to the courts, and to a place where they convince the jury to convict, and YET, the rapist’s sentence is incredibly light compared to the crime he committed (for an example of this, just look up Brock Turner).

There are multiple women I know who have been sexually assaulted at some point in their lives, and yet very few of those assaults are actually reported, for one reason or another. It has come to the point where I feel uncomfortable citing the statistic that ‘one in four women in Canada are raped,’ because I know that those are only reported rapes, and my lived experience tells me an entirely different story. And, meanwhile, I don’t know any women who have falsely accused someone of rape – although I’m sure it does happen, just not nearly as frequently as we think.

The problem is that, in cases such as these, the man’s word is always held in a higher place of privilege than the woman’s. The woman is always somehow at fault, somehow asking for it, while the man is always some poor, innocent victim whose life could potentially be ruined by this malicious female who is out to get him. Or, if that’s not the case, then there just isn’t enough evidence to convince the court, which brings me to the second problem with this ‘innocent until proven guilty’ mentality when it comes to sexual assault: it is very difficult to prove, beyond any semblance of doubt, that a rape actually happened.

There are cases where luck is on the victim’s side, and evidence can be found. If she gets to the hospital in time and a rape test is administered, or if there are witnesses, or if the rapist happened to make a recording of the crime, then the woman is more likely to see justice. But what about all those other woman who didn’t have that sort of good luck?

What about the women who didn’t go to the hospital or to the police right away, for one reason or another? Many women don’t, especially if their rapist was someone they knew, like their employer, or a family member, or a close friend, or their boyfriend, or their husband, or even just someone who seemed like a perfectly nice guy right up until the point that he forced himself on her. Or maybe he’s someone with a lot of power, a celebrity or a politician, and the woman knows she won’t be believed because of that, or that if she does go forward, she will face a constant barrage of fans who want to see the best of him and will call her a liar, a slut, a bitch, tell her that she deserves to die for what she did. For being the victim of a violent assault at the hands of someone they idolize. Maybe she doesn’t think she can handle that.

So these women hesitate before going forward, and the physical evidence fades away. Bruises heal. Semen is no longer traceable (maybe he wore a condom to begin with). And when she does reach out to someone, no one can prove anything. It’s her word against his and he’s innocent until proven guilty, so he gets off no problem, free to continue sexually assaulting women and empowered by the knowledge that no one will believe her anyway, while his victim is publicly shamed and accused of being a malicious liar.

So what’s the solution here? Should we operate under a ‘guilty until proven innocent’ mentality when it comes to sexual assault? I don’t know – I don’t think I have all the answers. But I do know that when a woman comes forth and claims that she has been sexually assaulted, I am more inclined to believe her than I am him, because I know that there are far too few people on her side.

A Letter to Donald Trump

Dear Mr. Trump,

I am not one of your people. I am a Canadian woman, who will only be affected by the laws you pass in an indirect, ripple-effect sort of way. But I have to admit, the things that you have done and the words that you have spoken have caught my attention, and they have caused me great concern, and not just for myself. I am talking for my fellow humans. For the innocent men and woman who you have intentionally attacked, and whose harm will be on your hands.

I am talking for the woman who feels like she desperately needs an abortion. I don’t know her reason for feeling that way, and really her reason doesn’t matter. All that matters is that, if she feels like she needs it bad enough, then it won’t matter if you’ve made it impossible for her to get one safely or legally. She’ll listen to the man who tells her that “he knows what he’s doing”. She might even try to do it herself. She’ll put her own health and life at risk if she feels like she needs it bad enough, and the physical and emotional damage that that woman will face will be on your hands.

I am talking for the people of colour who now fear stepping outside their own homes because you have spread your hate so widely, that there are now regular men and woman who think that that’s not only normal, but perfectly acceptable. I am talking for the innocent black man who will be beaten in the streets on his way home from a friend’s house. I am talking for the Muslim girl who will have her hijab torn from her head. I am talking for the Mexican immigrants who will have their worth and legitimacy as American citizens openly questioned by people who forget that they’re human beings too. And all of that will be done because you, as not only a public figure but a man in a position that is supposed to be respected, showed your support for it.

I am talking for the disabled people who watched you mock a reporter with arthrogryposis, and felt that all-too familiar sinking feeling in their gut as they remembered, not for the first time, that the world sees them as different. I am talking for the disabled people that now have to live in an America run by a man who has made it clear that he not only doesn’t understand them, but he laughs at them – mocks them publicly, and then doesn’t apologize for it. I am talking for the disabled people that find themselves surrounded by people who now think that it’s okay to look down on them, because their president did it, so why not them? You, Mr. Trump, are the cause for their further alienation.

And I am talking for the women who are raped or sexually violated, because the wrong man heard you say “grab them by the pussy” and saw that as an invitation. I am talking for the women whose consent doesn’t matter as much as yours does – you gave the go-ahead to touch women in any way that men want, and while not every man will hear that and agree, too many might. I am talking for the women who are frightened to exist within their own bodies because you have made it that much more difficult for them to do so.

Now that you’re officially in office and you’ve begun your promised work, I have to say that I am frightened. I am frightened for all of the people that you are going to hurt – and you are going to hurt people, Mr. Trump. You’ve already proven that simply by going after abortion. There is going to be blood and tears on your hands, and I just hope that you can live with that.

But who am I kidding? You won’t live with that. You’ll deny that you’ve caused any harm, or claim that you were rightful in doing it. After all, the damage that you’re causing is too big for one man to carry on his conscience.