A few weeks ago, Daran mentioned a thread on a feminist blog pertaining to male victims of sexual violence. Having viewed the thread, I voiced my concerns about its intent and the safety of non-feminist male victims posting their experiences in such a hostile environment. While I had no inclination to believe those concerns would be taken seriously (demonstrated here and here), I did hold out a little hope for the possibility that such a thread would not devolve into a feminist analysis of male survivors that BeenThere feared.
But such is luck because that is precisely what happened.
Feminism, more than any other socio-cultural/political form of analysis, articulates the different positions boys/men and girls/women occupy vis-a-vis sexual violence. When a girl or woman is raped, the rape enacts, confirms, affirms her status in a male dominant society as a sexual object; it makes explicit that part of the social script for what it means to be a woman that says a woman exists to be used sexually by men. On the other hand, when a boy or man is raped, the rape interrupts his status as a sexual subject; it turns him into something he is not supposed to be in a male dominant culture. Part of talking about men’s experience of sexual abuse on its own terms, it seems to me, has to include the taking apart of this aspect of the experience; and I do not see how we can talk about this without coming to the conclusion that male sexual subjectivity in a male dominant culture is built on the denial of precisely the vulnerability that abusers exploit. This conclusion, carried to its logical political and socio-cultural ends, is a quintessentially feminist insight.
Part of the problem is that under feminism males cannot address issues of their vulnerability on their terms. Feminism has already defined the term and the conclusions that must be reached. And since the male experience is considered subjective (implying that feminism is objective), i.e. it is only the male’s internal interpretation of his experience, not that what he has experienced occurs externally on a greater social level, it can be treated as an example of the “patriarchy hurting men too” and readily dismissed.
From a non-feminist perspective, however, the issue of male vulnerability has not been defined. There still exists the potential to understand how society, as affected by both genders, supports and often enforces the denial of male vulnerability. One can then see the various aspects of this denial, from society’s expectation of the “strong man” to feminism’s denial of how women benefit from society’s demands on males, from a wider, more objective position.
At the same time, however, feminism names the structures—political, socioeconomic, cultural and even psychological—that normalize the kind of power hierarchy that leads to the sexual abuse and exploitation of both boys/men and women/girls. Broadly speaking, feminism gathers these structures under the label patriarchy or male dominance. Curiousgyrl gets at this point in a comment where she points out that “men systematically rape male children and other men [because of the] way that male dominance works; there [are] not only benefits for exercising male dominance but consequences for refusing or being unable to do so.” I realize that her formulation very neatly elides the fact that there are also female abusers. What I will say about female abusers for now is this: the boys/men they abuse are also suffering the consequences “of refusing or being unable” to exercise male dominance. In other words, even if female abusers do not neatly fit the feminist paradigm of the dominant and abusive male, boys and men who have been abused by women still suffer their abuse within a male dominant context, and it is feminism that first named that context for what it is. Still, the phenomenon that curiousgyrl points out is a structural one; it does not get at male survivors’ interior experience, and it is that experience I am hoping this post will motivate people to discuss.
Speaking as a male survivor, this is a most unhelpful analysis. It not only dismisses male experiences as ultimately inconsequential, but it also reinforces the societal norm that should a male fail to prevent the assault he was complicit in it. Feminism fails to acknowledge female abusers or hold them accountable for their actions. Instead feminism holds to the paradigm that these women’s actions are the result of a male-dominated society. This shifts responsibility back onto men, allowing women to maintain their victim status while stripping males of any potential victim status. The abuse the males suffer is a “consequence for refusing or being unable to [exercise their male dominance over women].” All this culminates in the position that whatever happened resulted from the actions or inactions of the man or boy assaulted. He now bears the responsibility for his abuse, and his failure to acknowledge his responsibility is evidence of his male dominance.
If I read you correctly–though I am expanding on your use of the term “rights”–what you are saying is that feminism rejects the idea that the ways in which women and girls define their experiences ought not to be circumscribed by what makes men uncomfortable or feel left out. By implication, this means that it is not the job of feminism to help men come to terms with feeling left out, etc. This is essentially what I meant in point one, when I said that women, not men, are the subjects of feminist discourse and that men ought not, therefore, to expect to be put on an equal footing with women within feminist discourse–because a feminist analysis/focus on women’s experience will, by definition, leave men on the margins at one point or another, and will absolutely render men as the objects of analysis. More to the point, for a man/men to insist that the way to deal with that marginalization is for his/our experience to be made central, or co-central with women’s experience, within feminism is precisely for him/us to try to circumscribe what women can say because he has been made uncomfortable.
Speaking as a male survivor, this is not something I have asked for nor wanted. Feminism, by its definition and application, excludes male experiences. From a logical standpoint there is no reason to ask or demand inclusion as the subject of feminism’s concern is not society as a whole but women. Nothing is gained by shifting the focus of a political group that it inherently unconcerned with and has demonstrated an unwillingness to acknowledge the experiences of other groups. From a practical standpoint there is no reason to ask or demand inclusion as there is no benefit in doing so. Feminism gains nothing from male experience as its goal is to improve the status of women and acknowledging the male experience runs counter to feminist theories.
Also, the misrepresentation here is that males wish to be included in feminist discussions as opposed to discussions about sexual violence. This is a common mistake since the majority of those discussions occur in feminist spaces. One should not conflate the two. The desire is to be included in the general discussion. This is further conflated by deliberate attempts of feminists to undermine male-focused discussions. So on the one hand males cannot speak openly in feminist because it is considered an attack on female survivors, and on the other males are not allowed to speak openly outside of feminist spaces because feminists would then not control the discussion.
It is important that male survivors be allowed to present their experiences on their terms. One view should not trump another nor should anyone be prevented from expressing the totality of his experience, if he so wishes, because parts of it run contrary to accepted positions. This is perhaps the main reason why feminism is ill-equipped to address the needs and concerns of male survivors. It supports male silence and disregards the affects that silence has, specifically how it undermines the healing process when one is forced to ignore negative aspects of one’s experience.
Again, if any non-feminist male survivors wish to discuss their experiences without feminist analysis, you are welcome to do so here. If any survivors need help and support, please check the Male Abuse Resources.
Note: I am posting this on my blog out of respect for the blog owner’s moderation policies and because non-feminist views are inconsistent with the tone of the original thread.
EDIT: I added Richard’s whole quotes and a link to the third quote.