Being a Man: Speaking Out

Originally posted on April 19, 2009

Richard Jeffrey Newman recently wrote a post about the need to speak out about sexual abuse. His comments are pretty insightful, particularly this portion:

I responded in all the predictable ways–thanking [his former student] for her trust, acknowledging the courage it took for her to speak out, and encouraging her to get in touch with someone about her daughter’s situation, though since I was running out the door, I couldn’t take the time to look up crisis hotlines or other phone numbers–and I am hoping to hear back from her, but what her message made me think about was, as I said above, just how important it is for us as a society to talk openly about the reality of sexual abuse. More, though, it made me think about how important it is to talk about that reality not just in contexts where sexual abuse is the topic–i.e., talk shows, conferences, seminars, etc. that are set aside for the specific purpose of addressing sexual abuse–but also, simply, merely, in the contexts of our daily lives, because abuse is always already part of our daily lives. Because you never know who is listening and how important your words might be to them.

The last comment is one of the reasons why I started this blog. It is very easy for abuse victims to assume they are the only ones this happens to. I think this is especially true for boys and men since male sexual abuse is so rarely discussed and when it is, it does not always get framed as rape or abuse. Even in situations where there is more than one child being victimized, it is still easy for some to believe that only they were ones. As a result of both the abusers’ efforts to silence their victims and society’s indifference, countless people may think that they are some sort of anomaly, someone who deserved what happened because no one else is like them. Knowing that others had the same kind of experiences, that you are not the only one, can help. One a man I met years ago once put it as, “Once I saw other men had it done to them I realized it wasn’t my fault.”

Newman’s second to last comment about how sexual abuse affects a person’s daily live is also worth noting. I think that it is more difficult than people like to admit to imagine what other people’s experiences are like. This probably stems from the fact that our imagination is limited to our own experiences. If a person has not gone through hardship, loss, pain, severe trauma, great fear, etc. what do they really have to use as a jumping board into empathizing with those kind of experiences? Likewise, what if a person has gone through something that they (and many others) would consider worse than sexual abuse? Those two things might explain in part the reaction abuse victims, particularly male victims, receive. To that extent, I am not sure how effective it is to share how sexual abuse effects one’s life. There is also the problem of comparison, something I personally find unfair to the person making the comparison.

When I first spoke to people I did not know personally about my experiences, even without sharing any details I would often hear the men (many of them old enough to be my father or grandfather) writing off their own abuse as trivial in comparison. That struck me as grossly unfair since no two people respond the same way to trauma. What they perceived as me being able to handle what happened was and is more of my own general apathy. I have noticed though that sharing one’s daily life with others, particularly other victims, can be just as depressing as it can be uplifting, especially if the person cannot see themselves as being that capable of managing their abuse in the same way.

That is not to say that such experiences should not be shared. To the contrary, I think it is very important to let other victims, particularly male victims, know that they are not alone. However, I do think that sometimes sharing the daily experience might be overwhelming for some.

On a related note, something else Newman mentioned in his post stood out. He mentioned the connection between his abuse and his writing. I have noticed that is quite the trend among abuse victims. Eventually they seek out some creative method of dealing with their experiences. Newman turned to writing (I suppose I did as well, although I am not particularly good at it). Another person I know turned to art (he did the banner at the top of the page). Others turn to music, such as Chester Bennington of Linkin Park.

I am not certain why this happens, although I think something I heard said on the Lord of the Rings extras might explain it. One of the men interviewed noted that Tolkien’s experience in WWI was such that the professor was compelled to write about it. The man said that quite often when someone needs to come to terms with something so profound they cannot do it directly, meaning that cannot simply speak about that experience. Rather, they fictionalize it, often into grand fantasies, in an effort to understand it. I suppose this may be true for abuse survivors. It may be cathartic for some to express their own experiences. However, for others perhaps they can only discuss them indirectly through poetry, writing, art or music. That may also be why those things are so important to so many victims.

7 thoughts on “Being a Man: Speaking Out

  1. TS,

    In this article (link below) the defense attorney for the female offender said :

    Winfield told jurors that if given probation, Cosgrove would not be a risk, and that the boy enjoyed the attentions of an older woman and was not traumatized. “It’s different with boys and girls,” she said. “I don’t believe he’s going to be scarred for life.”

    This is one classic example of a double standard and one reason why so many will not speak up.

  2. That does not surprise me, nor does it surprise me that the attorney tried to portray the boy the as the rapist and her client as the victim. That is another problem male victims of female rapists face.

  3. I have noticed that this attitude of “its different with boys and girls” is not restricted to just sexual abuse cases. I was looking at a new study out this month on DV from a feminist researcher. In it they actually talk about male victims and how the numbers are a debate among researchers.

    It came across to me that they were or are slowly seeing the writing on the wall and what is coming (slowly) in the DV area and so they discussed it and then they “moved the goalposts”. Basically they said that while male and female victims may experience DV, its different with men and women because women feared the men but the men allegedly did not fear the women (paraphrased).

    Rather than just coming out and saying wrong is wrong they slip into the same thing the attorney in that case did. I wonder why it is so hard for some folks to show compassion to people who have been hurt regardless of gender.

  4. I wonder why it is so hard for some folks to show compassion to people who have been hurt regardless of gender.

    It is difficult for those people because they are invested in portraying victimization as something exclusive to a particular group. This is not unique to feminists. It happens with black activists, gay activists, religious groups and other political groups. If they acknowledge the other side’s (usually the “oppressors” side) pain, then it moots their overall position about how an issue actually effects society.

    For feminists to acknowledge that men fear women and can be hurt by women they would have to admit that their view of the world as a systemic “Patriarchy” is wrong. It would also require them to admit that women have just as much capacity and just as much willingness to engage in physical and sexual violence. That is why many feminists will claim that the rate of sexual violence against males cannot possibly be the same as the rate of such violence against women, despite them willingly admitting that males are far less likely to report their abuse. There is too much at stake politically, and so rather than help people who need it, they will engage in essentialism and quibbling.

  5. And, TS, by knowingly continuing that marginalisation they perpetuate the harm done to those victims. Thus,as contributors to harm, they become participants in the abuse.

  6. I completely agree, though one would be hard pressed to find many feminists who would second that opinion. It is much easier to give lip-service and claim that one cares without actually putting forth any effort than it is to admit that one’s views and one’s actions are part of the problem.

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