One of the interesting changes in discussing male victimization is the increasingly common feminist advocate for male victims. It is a curious thing to watch as these women suddenly become aware of the sexual violence men and boys experience. This awareness is indeed sudden, because despite the data showing a high rate of male victimization for years, these women, usually feminists, have just stumbled upon it.
What follows is typically an article or blog post detailing how the particular person now realizes how “serious” the situation is for men and boys. Those are not scare-quotes, by the way. As one will see below, usually the person does not actually think the situation is genuinely serious, nor do they have any real compassion or concern for male victims. The men and boys to whom they speak are merely tools to present the person’s narrative, which is either an attack on masculinity or a blatant attempt to control the conversation about male victimization.
Perhaps the most perplexing element is that in order to do this, the person usually recounts a man or boy’s actual experience, one which undermines to the dismissive argument to person with then proceed to make. For example, author Peggy Orenstein decided to interview a number young men for an article on The Cut. The article is part of the “How to Raise a Boy” series, which is bizarre on many levels considering the topic is sexually abuse against boys.
Orenstein interviewed a young man named Dylan who was raped by a woman will he was drunk. Orenstein used that account to go into a broader discussion about her conversations with boys over the years:
I’ve spent the last seven years interviewing high-school and college students about sex and emotional intimacy — the last year-and-a-half talking exclusively to boys. Of course, we discussed sexual violation. I’d assumed, at least for heterosexual boys, that we’d talk about what they thought it meant to get consent from a girl, how they’d define assault. What surprised me was how often the boys brought up their own experience of unwanted sex: encounters in which girls did not respect “no” or, as with Dylan, took advantage of them when they were drunk.
This is not that surprising if one bothers to speak with boys. One will find that these experiences are quite common. Indeed, if one listens to the conversations boys have among themselves, they share these experiences all the time, although they couch them in comedy. They tell them as jokes to protect themselves from the potential backlash and against any potential disbelief.
This does not address any of the underlying feelings the boys have, however, so they are left to deal with them on their own unless one of the other boys or someone else reacts negatively to the revelation. Even then, boys are more likely to write off the experience than admit they were harmed by it.
Ironically, Orenstein shows us why. She goes on to state:
I want to be clear: Girls bear the brunt — both physically and psychologically — of sexual harassment, assault, and rape, but they’re not its exclusive targets.
Why would you make that statement? What is the purpose of stating this if not to imply that what boys experiences physically and psychologically harms them less than girls?
How would one gauge such harm? Certainly one can gauge physical damage, but what of the psychological damage? How do you know without speaking with, let alone examining, boys that their psychological damage is less than that of girls?
This sort of comment undermines Orenstein’s point by suggesting she does not take sexual violence against boys that seriously. That is odd considering her immediate follow-up to her dismissive comment was this:
Middle- and high-school-aged boys report being the victims of dating violence, including physical abuse, at rates similar to girls. In a 2015 study, 43 percent of high-school and college boys said they’d been the victim of some form of sexual coercion — verbal, physical, substance-related — and 95 percent said the aggressors were girls. And large-scale surveys of college students — including the 21,000 who participated in the Online College Social Life Survey and the 9,616 involved in Columbia University’s Sexual Health Initiative to Foster Transformation — have found that roughly one in eight men have experienced something that meets the criteria for sexual assault; in over 80 percent of those cases, one study found, the perpetrators were female.
How can one cite such numbers and then state “girls bear the brunt — both physically and psychologically — of sexual harassment, assault, and rape?” The very numbers Orenstein cited of her own accord proof this argument wrong.
This is the issue male victims face. Even people who claim to want to help male victims are willing to dismiss men and boys’ experiences despite the evidence proving that assertion wrong.
Orenstein went on to state:
Even so, my first instinct was to dismiss boys’ accounts. They’re bigger than girls, stronger. How hard could it be for them to get up and walk away? Why not drink less? Were they really describing “assault” or just “bad sex?” Then I realized how I’d react if someone lobbed those same questions at a girl. Was it truly so different?
No, there is no difference aside from the one we place on the experiences. We ignore the myriad circumstances that might prevent a boy from getting up and walking away, from potential intoxication to a threat of violence or even a threat of a false accusation of rape. We ignore that boys are no more or less responsible for their drinking habits than girls. We ignore that boys can be victims of assault and not just experience bad sex.
Part of this false notion comes from traditional social norms and part comes from the feminist narrative that ironically mirrors Orenstein’s so-called fear:
Maybe my deeper fear was that surfacing boys’ stories would distract from the #MeToo progress of girls and women.
This is a very common reaction from those associated with any advocacy for female victims. They often feel that acknowledging male victims will “distract” from females’ experiences, as if those experiences are more important or more worthy of consideration. In most cases, the only instance in which these people will consider male victims’ experiences is if they feel they are countering:
[…] the notion that all boys are sexually insatiable, incapable of refusal, regret, or injury reinforces the most retrograde idea of masculinity.
There is no concern for the boys and men who are violated. The concern is only female victims, as Orenstein explains:
What’s more, if a boy is supposed to deny his own violation, how can he feel compassion for — or even recognize — a girl’s?
What a shallow, callous approach to a very real and serious problem. We should help male victims because then boys will feel compassion for girls?
Again, this attitude is quite common among those advocating for female victims, and since those are typically the people controlling the conversation about sexual violence, their attitude often becomes the norm for any advocacy for victims of sexual violence.
Orenstein goes on to cite a tiny survey of 80 students conducted by a post-doctoral student who found:
The women reported a broader range of incidents, from catcalls to forcible rape, and their accounts, unlike the men’s, were shot through with either actual or perceived threats of violence. Perhaps because of that, the men expressed less distress: They often minimized or laughed about what happened. “They’d say, ‘Maybe at some point there will be a case of a man coming forward, but I’m not going to be the one to make a big deal about it,’” Ford said. “Really, though, that was cover for the masculinity issue. What happened to them might be ‘rapey,’ but because a woman did it to a guy, it’s like, ‘Hey, you got laid.’”
Let us pause to consider something this post-doctoral student and Orenstein appeared to miss: perhaps the men did receive actual or perceived threats of violence, but did not report it because the assailant was female and they did not want to mocked.
This is yet another oversight that appears whenever advocates for female victims, feminists in particular, decide to “study” male victims. Instead of following through the data they received logically, and drawing conclusions that fit within the framework of what they found, the advocates and feminists twist the data to fit their narrative. It is not that men are afraid of how people will respond to their experiences, but that men have “masculinity issues.”
Yes, they do. These issues are caused by a society that will openly mock and dismiss them should they express feeling victimized by women. This attitude is then reinforced by advocates for female victims and feminists, who frame any sexual violation committed by women as unlikely, not traumatic, and ultimately not worth addressing unless doing so would prevent violence against women.
Oddly enough, when one sets aside the feminist doctrine and actually listens to men and boys, one finds:
Nearly 20 percent of the men Ford interviewed, like Dylan, said they’d been too incapacitated to refuse — some saying they’d been too drunk to walk. Most of the rest succumbed to something subtler: a voice in their heads that said, providing that a girl was neither too drunk nor too unattractive, guys should always be “down to fuck.” Refusing her advances would be awkward, unmanly, gay. Some even feared being rude. “They thought saying no to a blow job would hurt a girl’s feelings,” Ford said. “It seemed easier to just go along with it to end things.” That’s remarkably similar logic to girls who go down on guys without wanting to, especially during a hookup. They, too, were exquisitely tuned to gender expectations — the potential to be called a bitch or a prude — and worried about being “impolite.” They, too, would rather feel abused than risk humiliating or disappointing a partner. In either scenario, however, girls’ physical gratification was not a factor.
That it never occurred to Orenstein that men might feel a social expectation to go along with sex they do not want to have is baffling. Our society is built around men “accepting responsibility” and doing things they do not want to do because that is their “job as a man.” Why would this apply to every other aspect of men’s lives, from work to relationships, except for sex?
The irony of these kinds of articles is not only that the authors tend to reveal that they their “concern” for male victims is tepid at best, but also that males experience far more sexual violence than anyone assumed, and often the same way that females experience such violence.
Orenstein ends with this:
I ask Dylan one last question: What would’ve happened if the genders were swapped, if she’d been drunk and he’d been the sober aggressor. He laughed, without amusement. “Yeah, I’d be expelled. I’d be in jail right now. Because it was textbook, right? I was basically unconscious, I didn’t want to do it. There was no consent.”
That shows the remarkable difference in social responses to these acts. No one expects this girl to be expelled, let alone arrested or charged with a crime. She could record the act, display it on social media, and face little repercussion. Indeed, the victim could be a minor, not merely a teenager but someone under 10-years-old, and there is a very real possibility she would face no consequence aside from the video being pulled. She likely would not face public condemnation, unless she were a celebrity people wanted to take shots at.
There is no harm in people changing their minds about sexual violence against males, however, one needs to actually change one’s mind, not double down on the inaccurate views or peddle ridiculous nonsense like “girls bear the brunt — both physically and psychologically — of sexual harassment, assault, and rape.”
If you are willing to make such as statement in an article supposedly about highlighting the reality of sexual violence against boys, then you are doing more harm than good.