Sunday, November 17, 2013

Feminism and male rape

Last night I made the worst decision ever about what to read right before bed: an article in the Guardian entitled The rape of men, on the practice of male-on-male rape as a weapon of war in Uganda. I think you should read it. I think everyone should read it, for many reasons. Unfortunately my attention was then taken by the discussion in the comments, which mostly revolves around the topic of how the suffering of these male victims of rape is not taken seriously, and they are not given the attention and help that they need, because feminism.

Yes, really.

Apparently this is feminism's fault because feminists insist on seeing men-- all men-- as the enemy, the perpetrators while women are the victims. The notion of men as victims, even of other men, conflicts with that, so feminists pretend that men don't get raped, or that it's okay when they do.

Note: I have never seen a feminist say anything like this.

What I have seen is feminists speaking about rapists as male as a default,  because most rapists by far are male. I have also seen feminists speaking of rape victims as female as a default, which is a lot more problematic. It's one thing to give most or all of your attention to one kind of rape victim; it's quite another to speak as if no other kind exists.

Most feminists I know do not view men as the enemy; they view rigid enforcement of gender roles as the enemy. And rigid enforcement of gender roles is why the Ugandan men in this article have been made to suffer well beyond and after their actual rapes, by the utter lack of understanding, sympathy, and support they have been given:
Today, despite his hospital treatment, Jean Paul still bleeds when he walks. Like many victims, the wounds are such that he's supposed to restrict his diet to soft foods such as bananas, which are expensive, and Jean Paul can only afford maize and millet. His brother keeps asking what's wrong with him. "I don't want to tell him," says Jean Paul. "I fear he will say: 'Now, my brother is not a man.'"   
It is for this reason that both perpetrator and victim enter a conspiracy of silence and why male survivors often find, once their story is discovered, that they lose the support and comfort of those around them. In the patriarchal societies found in many developing countries, gender roles are strictly defined. 
"In Africa no man is allowed to be vulnerable," says RLP's gender officer Salome Atim. "You have to be masculine, strong. You should never break down or cry. A man must be a leader and provide for the whole family. When he fails to reach that set standard, society perceives that there is something wrong." 
Often, she says, wives who discover their husbands have been raped decide to leave them. "They ask me: 'So now how am I going to live with him? As what? Is this still a husband? Is it a wife?' They ask, 'If he can be raped, who is protecting me?' There's one family I have been working closely with in which the husband has been raped twice. When his wife discovered this, she went home, packed her belongings, picked up their child and left. Of course that brought down this man's heart."
A gender role is an expectation on the part of your society that you will behave, appear, exist in a certain way because of your gender, which is the category you have been assigned because of your biological sex. People who reject gender roles partially or completely resist the idea that these societal job descriptions are binding. People who enforce gender roles insist that they are, and reject anyone who appears to violate them, deliberately or accidentally.

Such people may be viewed with anything from confusion to suspicion to patronizing sympathy to outright hate. Why? Because they didn't conform to an expectation. An expectation which may range from stereotypical to arbitrary, and yet all over the world is enforced via cultural norms and traditions, mandated by religious dogma, and codified in law.

That's not why these men were raped, but it's why they suffer in silence and continued fear.

It's why people joke about prison rape rather than gasping in horror at the thought of it.

It's at the root of homo- and transphobia, misogyny, and misandry. These are all forms of hatred and fear stemming from unfair to grossly inaccurate essentialist assumptions about what men and women are, and are supposed to be.

And it doesn't have to be this way. That is what bothers me most of all. We don't have to be this stupid and needlessly cruel. But clearly, whatever else you can say about it, gender essentialism certainly is popular.

We-- feminists, opponents of gender-based bigotry of all stripes-- want that to stop. Right? Don't we?

If're not on my side. And I sure as hell am not on yours.

1 comment:

  1. I agree 100% we need to speak up for men too when we speak out about rape, as much shame as women feel, I imagine it's probably even worse for me.


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