Rape is still a gendered issue.
Increasingly, there is a phenomenon across the internet where a woman will talk openly about their own rapes and how rape affects women. When you scroll down to look at the comments, they will be filled with male commenters pointing out that, “Men get raped too.”
I know a lot of people say to ignore 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 or kind “anythings.” But this specific comment, this “men get raped too” has appeared again and again, across multiple videos, articles, Facebook statuses, and posts. 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 men can be raped. They very much can be. According to Sexual Assault Canada, approximately 20 percent of sex crime victims are men.
But when I saw these comments initially, the fact that they were so brief and placed specifically on discussions of female rape made me think 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 I saw a post that made me change my mind on these commenters’ intentions. This particular post was (again) made by a man and (again) it pointed out that men get raped too. But this one went a little 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.
I have to admit, that is an interesting perspective, but respectfully, I disagree. Although I agree that rape is something that happens to both men and women, it is still a highly gendered issue, and it is still an issue that should be addressed by feminists.
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 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 percent 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 for a plethora of reasons.
Although women face no issue being told 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, and told 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.
Many women don’t even try to come forward because the man who raped her was a friend, a boyfriend, or 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, “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 or the employer or teacher who pursues more than he should. It’s 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. 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 an aggressive, predatory man. It is 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 centers 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 percent of sexual assault victims in Canada are boys under 16, which adds an entirely new layer to the discussion. When children are being raped, they have a hard time reaching out to anyone, or even understanding what’s happening to them, but the mental side-effects last a lifetime.
So returning 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 different experiences for the victims (each of them equally terrible), and 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 or women. At the end of the day, the crime is the same. It is only society and society’s expectations around gender that make the experience different.
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.
Author: Ciara Hall
Image: Max Pixel
Editor: Danielle Beutell