Rare, Not Mythological: How Rape Culture Hurts Men
Posted by Samaria
December 4, 2014
Trigger warning for discussion of rape/sexual violence and rape culture.
There are four truths about rape that seem to escape or get ignored by the collective conscious:
- Rape is real.
- Rape is not sex.
- There is no such thing as an “actual” (or a “true” or a “real” or a “legitimate”) rape.
- Anyone of any gender can rape anyone else of any gender.
Yes, the overwhelming majority of people sexually assaulted are women. Yes, most people know their rapist, either because they are a friend, an acquaintance, or a relative. Yes, most rapes are “non-violent” in the sense that a weapon is not used by the rapist against the person they are attacking. Yes, rape is considerably under-reported. However, none of these facts invalidate rapes that are committed against men and masculine-identified people, committed by a stranger, use physical violence against the victim, and/or are reported.
Was the sexual violence committed against Shia LaBeouf atypical? By the aforementioned accounts, it certainly was: a woman he did not know whipped and raped him while he participated in a live art installation. The response to this rape, though, has been disturbingly typical, ironically all the more so because it was both atypical by statistical standards and almost completely typical of the rape victim stereotype.
Once Shia admitted his rape, the commentary fell into its usual patterns. Piers Morgan told Shia to “grow up, you silly man” and to stop “[demeaning] real rape victims” for “cheap PR.” People hiding behind screen names and Twitter handles expressed jealousy about receiving “free sex” from random women. A quick search on Tumblr reveals dozens of posts that ask why Shia “have taken his paper bag off his head and pushed her away?” or that “it’s not rape if he’s a kinky motherf*****,” claiming that raping him was impossible since he was aroused, or that they “don’t put it past [Shia] to lie about this kind of stuff” because “the guy’s a creep.”
Rape culture is not simply about how patriarchy, misogyny, and purity culture contribute to and maintain toxic ideas about female sexuality, female sexual expression, and sexual violence against women and feminine-identified persons. The very same ideas that place the blame on how women dress, how we behave, what we do and when we do it, and the nature of our sexual histories also affect how men are treated by their rapists and by greater society if that rape is made public information.
If the narrative surrounding male sexuality is that of aggression – if men are socialized as and therefore expected to be sexually adventurous and have high libidos, and are raised to expect that their sexual advances are welcome to the point of entitlement, then it necessarily follows that a man who rejects sex and expresses that sex is unwanted is not a “real” man. That is what patriarchy does: prescribe gender roles and subsequently a strict set of gender and sexual expressions not only to women, but also to men. Misogyny works against men, too, because to behave in a way that is gendered as feminine is to be emasculated. Shia is not the “ideal” rape victim in many ways, for all that the actual story fits into the mass-marketed idea of what rape is and how it happens, and so it’s especially easy, beyond his maleness, to pick apart his story and call him a liar.
Shia deserves to be believed. Shia deserves, just like rape victims and survivors who identify as a woman or femme, a culture that protects him and helps him in his healing process. He does not deserve to be victim-blamed for someone else’s crime. It does not matter that Shia is weird; it does not matter that he is a man and “should” be strong enough to fend off attackers; it also does not matter that the percentage of male rape victims is low; it does not matter that he’s famous and reporting his rape exponentially increases his Google Alert mentions. Rape culture is a problem of the lack of comprehensive sex education and institutional violence and systemic misogyny and acceptability of sexual assault in our entertainment, not Shia’s.