By Lyka Peng, G11
TW: Sexual violence, explicit language/content
What else is there to debate about? It’s almost as if everyone should care about sexual violence.
(via Business Insider, 2017)
Ever since the rise of the #MeToo movement, there seemed to be a spiralling polarisation circling topics such as street harassment, sexual assault, abuse, and more. On a general consensus – despite an outnumbered few – obviously do agree that sexual violence should be condemed.
Such experiences often leave an extremely negative mark on the survivors, both physically and mentally. Many result in feeling a sense of vulnerability and heightened fear or distrust in people. Developing a mental illness, such as PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and depression are also common after effects of sexual assault. (Joyful Heart Foundation)
Though sexual violence is an issue that applies to all genders, it is often primarily raised or talked about as a women’s issue. Respectfully so, this seems like a reasonable argument due to a significantly higher number of women experiencing it. According to UN Women, an estimation of about 736 million women in the world – almost one in three – encounter intimate partner violence and/or non-partner sexual violence at least once in their lifetime, with 30% being women 15 and older.
Nonetheless, the question still stands: is it, or has it ever truly been an exclusively women’s issue?
The problem is more relevant to men than most might possibly think, yet it is almost never talked about. The patriarchal nature of contemporary society creates a variety of different factors that make it very difficult to do so, creating a cycle that eventually leads to the normalisation of tolerating sexual violence.
According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual violence survey, 90% of the perpretators reported by women are men. Additionally, the results have also showcased that when male victims of sexual assault, 93% reported that their abuser was a man. What does that exactly say about our culture? Even when the statistics are incredibly overwhelming, why do we accept it as it is, instead of taking action and holding those accountable for their actions?
The patriarchy enforces this idea of men being the more dominant gender. Therefore, men fall into the pressure of being the epitome of a macho man – sex driven, challenging, angry, prone to violence (Deccan Herald). Anything that strays from those characteristics are seen as weak, or even seen as too feminine – as if gender is the only factor that contributes to one’s physical and emotional strength. This is also known as ‘toxic masculinity,’ where men are forced or feel the need to appeal to what is seen as traditional man.
Therefore, rape and sexual violence becomes an expected norm for men – that they are susceptible to assaulting others. Sometimes, it becomes encouraged behaviour, as it asserts command and power. Many argue all the time that it is only in a man’s nature to be violent towards women they want to get with.
And this is not to say that it only begins when they reach adulthood. This mentality would have been instilled into their minds from an even younger age. Taking accountability and reflecting on their actions might not even come that easy. One example of this would be the encouragement or ignorance of sexual violence within male companionships.
“Bros before hoes.”
Frankly, we are all too familiar with this phrase.
This reinforces the idea that even though a male friend was able to victimise another person, their other friends would have their back and keep it a secret, as a ‘preservation of friendship.’ How rational would that line of thinking be – how is it that a friendship that is built on disrespect weighs more than breaking the law and invading someone’s personal boundaries and their body?
On the other hand, when men are victims of sexual violence is something that is not spoken about enough. Even among men themselves, there is a deafening silence surrounding this topic. According to the Centers Disease for Control and Prevention, 1 in 10 men in the US expereience some form of sexual violence. Again, this taps back into the idea of toxic masculinity – as if surviving a traumatic event is seen as something weak.
‘Victim blaming’ is defined as questioning one’s actions after harassment or assault about their experience, and what they could have done to prevent the situation from happening (Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton). Though the term itself had only been more accustomed due to a increased understanding of rape culture, this type of behaviour is unsuprisingly normalised in modern society.
The argument that women are automatically the cause of their harassment had always been a recurring theme, dating far into the past and additionally rooted in a variety of different cultures due to traditional gender norms. For many female survivors of sexual violence, statements such as ‘She were asking for it’ or dubious questions like ‘What was she wearing on that day?’ are extremely common occurrences.
With men, it often takes the form of suppressing the victim’s voices – gaslighting, suggesting that they were looking for it. Especially when the perpetrator is a woman, people are often quick to statements such as “But you’re a man, you’re supposed to be enjoying it” or questions like “Was it good?” Some people simply just can’t wrap their heads around the idea that rape is rape, regardless of gender.
Additionally, there are people who genuinely believe that men can’t ever be sexually assaulted due to the stereotype of being dominating, strong, emotionless, and sex driven figures. Some other myths include that only gay men are assaulted or that only gay men assault each other – which both statements, are not only harmful to the victims, but also homophobic as well (University of Tenessee Knoxville). Therefore, men tend to resort to silence, unable to speak out about their assault in fear of the backlash.
Rape culture and sexual violence had always been a sensitive and difficult topic to discuss, with so many other external and systematic factors that contribute to it – that can’t be simply summarised into a couple hundred words. Though it might be a long winded and complicated path, redefining masculinity and dismantling those far fetched – nonetheless toxic ideals might be a good place to start.
Learn and listen to survivors. Have a zero tolerance policy – no more advocating for people who don’t deserve it. Practice intersectionality. Understand that reaching out for help is always an option. Rape is rape. Let’s call it as it is.
Being a man is also first and foremost, being simply human.
Cover illustration courtesy of Lyka Peng, G11