Originally posted on December 9, 2011
Imagine that a person fondles a little girl. This person befriends her, earns her trust, and abuses it by sticking their hand up her shorts. We would find that disgusting and horrific. We would want that person locked away. We would want the girl to get all the help she needs.
Now imagine that person rapes a little boy. This person tricks the boys into believing they are a social worker, gets the boy to let them into his home, and rapes him at knifepoint. Would we find that disgusting and horrific? Would we want that person locked away? Would we want the boy to get all the help needs?
We would claim we do, but would we really just compare who has it worse?
When Lisa Hickey responded to my article about women’s sexual violence against boys, she wrote:
What saddens me is why it has to be about the numbers and why it has to be about gender. Sexual violence is violence, with sex used as a weapon. If it happens to boys or men, and those men are traumatized, that’s a problem. If it happens to boys or men and they can’t talk about it, that’s a problem. If it happens to boys and men and no one believes them, that’s a problem. Period. The one thing I will NOT to is stop allowing a conversation about this topic.
Lisa, the reason these discussions come down to numbers and gender is because, to put it bluntly, some feminists do not want to talk about male victims. I would love for it to be something else, but it is not. It is simply that a particular group of feminists frame sexual violence as something men do to women, and anything that suggests that worldview is wrong simply cannot in their eyes be true. Worse, they take any high rate of violence against males as an attack on female victims, as if abusing males means fewer females are abused.
This often plays out as “who has it worse.” We see it in feminist spaces online and offline, in support services, and even in some research. What matters to the people who play this game is not the frequency of abuse but pushing and protecting a political agenda. Yes, there are real people involved, real men and boys who they treat like garbage, but that does not matter to those people because acknowledging male victims undermines their political agenda. The best way to stop anyone bring up male victims is by silencing them, and an easy way to do that is by playing the “who has it worse” game.
It is rather simple: take two similar events that happened to two different groups of people and pick one that you think is worse. Do not worry about objectivity because the point is not to be fair, but to shut the other side up. Let us try.
Who has it worse:
- A geeky boy who gets bullied or a gay boy who gets bullied?
- The uncool girl no one talks to or the popular girl everyone hits on?
- The black man who cannot find work or the white woman who cannot get a promotion?
- The rape victim whose rapist walks free or the falsely accused who spends years in prison?
- The man who gets hung up on when he calls a rape center or the woman the police believe lied about rape?
Several years ago I spoke with a man who said that he felt bad for how he reacted to “a little fondling” compared to the “courage” I showed given my experiences. That was the first time anyone compared their abuse to mine, and it shocked me because I never thought of things that way. I always thought about the impact the acts had on people, not the acts themselves. No one knows how people will cope with pain, and it is silly and arrogant to think there is some metric we can use to measure the “right” response.
I told the man that it did not matter what looked worse because all abuse is wrong. However, I do not think he believed me. It seemed that for him being fondled just did not compare to being raped, even though he clearly suffered from the same fear of people hurting him that I did.
Yet this man hinted at a broader point. When people say “Who has it worse” they really mean “Who has it better.” More specifically, they mean that who has it “better” should not talk about their problems because their problems do not matter compared to some other group’s problems. For example, when Hugo Schwyzer dropped his “9 of every 10 rape victims were female in 2003” line what he really meant was “Men and boys don’t get raped and it’s not that big of a deal if a few do, so stop talking about it.” That is an evil, callous thing to say to an abuse victim, which is why it was phrased as “women have it worse.”
The odd thing about the “who has it worse” argument is that it is so subjective. If we only based our decision on the acts themselves then anally raping a boy is worse than fondling a girl. Yet that is not how sexual violence works. It is not just the physical violation, but also the emotional violation. In that regard, neither act is worse than the other because both acts can severely traumatize a person.
Now I would never suggest that boys and men are as harmed by rape as women and girls. No, I will unapologeticly state that we are just as harmed by rape as women, and I do not care how many feminists that angers. No one is arguing that feminists should agree. They are more than welcome to pretend, like Schwyzer, that male victims are like unicorns, elves, and Santa Claus.
However, I am suggesting that we look at what is actually being compared and ask what that gets us. How does it benefit us to play the numbers game when everyone admits that one group rarely ever reports their abuse? Who does it help to “remind” male victims every time they talk about their experiences that there are only five of them in the whole world and all the “real” rape victims are female? Does it really make anyone’s argument stronger by implying that men and boys’ pain matters less because of their sex?
The short-term result is that it changes the topic back to female victims. The long-term result is that prevents any honest discussion because people are more worried about protecting their political views than dealing with sexual violence against males seriously. Perhaps the worst result is that it teaches male victims to be careful who they talk to about their experiences. In other words, it silences them and it does so in worst way by pretending to want to listen to them only to shut them down when they speak.
Perhaps rather than asking “who has it worse” we should ask “why does it matter.” If the concern is really for all victims, then it should not matter if millions men and boys are victims of rape or just one is. That it does matter shows why this kind of abuse continues.