Why we need to take male rape seriously
PICTURE a scenario in which a 13-year-old is groomed for sex by their teacher.
Not only that, but the rape results in the birth of a child which the victim is forced to support into adulthood.
Sounds pretty horrific, right? During the opening sequence of the 2012 Adam Sandler flick That's My Boy, that's exactly what happens - except the situation is played for laughs, with the victim (who happens to be male) depicted as living every teenage boy's fantasy.
In one scene, after his "relationship" with his abuser is exposed, he receives a standing ovation from his peers as he struts around with his arms raised like a champion fighter. And towards the end, he - spoiler alert - reconnects romantically with the same woman who preyed on him as a middle-schooler.
Though he's much older by this point and therefore able to consent, the implication here is clear: no harm, no foul. Or in other words, rape is okay as long as the victim is male and the perpetrator is a young, attractive woman. (In the film, the central protagonist's abuser is played by Susan Sarandon's daughter, Eva Amurri, and later by Sarandon herself.)
Obviously Adam Sandler alone isn't responsible for rape culture (although his latest cinematic efforts are borderline criminal). In popular culture, from Deliverance to True Blood to Get Him to the Greek, male-on-male and female-on-male rape is often trivialised, rationalised or dismissed entirely thanks to the same tired misconceptions about guys.
Apparently our ravenous male sex drives mean we walk around with perpetual hard-ons. And because we're all roided-up, emotionally desolate frat boys, we couldn't possibly be coerced, threatened or manipulated into sex. Only women and gay men can be sexually assaulted, right?
Wrong. So wrong.
According to the South Eastern Centre against Sexual Assault: "Any man can be sexually assaulted regardless of size, strength, appearance or sexual orientation."
Just as the notion that women who wear revealing clothing are "asking for it" is founded upon the misogynistic trifecta of victim-blaming, slut-shaming and rape culture, the idea that heterosexual men are somehow immunised against sexual assault and its physical, psychological and emotional recoils belongs to the same masculine gender socialisation that says presenting as anything less than a testosterone-guzzling stereotype makes you unmanly.
(That said - and it's worth giving this its own disclaimer - women are undeniably impacted disproportionately by sexual violence and rape culture. A 2010 study by the US-based Centre for Disease Control found that nearly one in five women compared to 1 in 71 men have been raped or sexually assaulted. Those numbers speak for themselves.)
Worse still, this reductive attitude is largely perpetuated by men themselves. Hear me out.
Whenever the media seizes upon a story of a female teacher abusing her male student, most of the contributions from men on social media inevitably consist of rape jokes and crude commentary along the lines of, "Why couldn't this have happened to me in high school?" and the equally cringe-worthy, "It's not rape if he enjoyed it."
Paradoxically, these are often the same men who accuse feminists of perpetuating a double standard about sexual assault. But in reality it's actually feminists who are leading the charge in critiquing toxic masculinity and its flow-on effects, including how social stigma leads to underreporting by male survivors.
Meanwhile, anti-feminists are unwilling to quit their ill-fated attempts at "guy humour" and blokey bonhomie long enough to consider the ways in which their use of language and consumption of popular culture contribute to dangerous cliches.
Ironically, men's rights activists (MRAs) could learn a thing or two from the feminists they so openly despise. But that would assume MRAs actually cared about men's issues as opposed to simply exploiting male sexual assault survivors in a bid to derail women-led conversations. Which is often the case where misogynists are concerned.
In short, we probably all need to take male rape more seriously, but especially men themselves. That's not too much to ask.