“Made to Penetrate”, or men getting raped

As much as I don’t want to write this post, I do feel there is some important information in this article to be shared. The article in question comes from Vocativ and is titled “The Hard Truth About Girl-on-Guy Rape”, by Elizabeth Kulze.

Now, before I go any further I’m going to say, I am not an “MRA” (or “Men’s Rights Activist”), but, I do recognize that gender inequality goes both ways (though I think it’s fair to say that it affects women far more than it affects men even up to this point), and I can understand why some men are upset that there’s all this fuss about “feminism” when hey, guys get screwed too, why is no one trying to help them? (of course this arguably comes from a fundamental mis-understanding of what “feminism” is all about). I have posted several things on this blog about feminism, and I will continue to do so, and I think this is a good fit of pro-male feminism.

Guys, if you’re up to it, I recommend reading “The Macho Paradox – Why some men hurt women and how all men can help”, by Jackson Katz. I’m currently working through it, but it’s really good for perspective and for understanding a complex situation and what is really going on.

Anyways, the article on Vocativ talks about how obviously not only women are raped, but when a male is raped, not only are people far less likely to believe him, but there is a stereotype/stigma that “guys are down for sex anytime, no matter what”, which is definitely not true. The article shares stories from several men who had experiences where they woke up to find a female penetrating them, without warning, and didn’t know what to do.

The next morning Charlie wasn’t sure what to think. Had an underclassman he knew only by name really entered his dorm room and had her way with him as he slept? It all seemed so absurd, like the makings of an awkward wet dream. Except Charlie had zero interest in this girl. He had never spoken to her, kissed her or even tried to catch her eye. He felt neither lucky nor flattered, just extremely perturbed.

“The most traumatic part was the complete assumption of consent,” he tells me nearly two decades later. “I was physically revolted by the experience. It just felt so shockingly wrong.”

The concept of a woman forcing a man into a sex act can seem paradoxical, if not physiologically impossible. The assumption, likely shared by Charlie’s abuser, is that guys are always in the mood and an erection constitutes consent; but there’s a uniquely afflicted class of male victims who would strongly disagree. Lost in a cultural blind spot, they have been left to suffer in silence without resources and often without the empathy of family or friends.

“Made to penetrate” cases are all the more complicated because of a man’s lack of autonomy over his own penis. “It was too late to tell her I wasn’t interested in having sex, because she was already having it with me,” Charlie says. “It was all so unexpected.” Just because a man gets hard doesn’t necessarily mean he’s enjoying it. As with female victims, sexual arousal can be involuntary. Even ejaculation in cases of male rape is often the result of a mechanical biological response—not a sign of hot-blooded desire.

When I was reading this, it mainly served to give me some kind of an idea of how anyone, male or female, can feel, after being sexually violated. I consider myself very lucky that this has never happened to me, though I did have an experience once where a woman I met casually got very aggressive with me and I was not interested in her but didn’t want to just come out and say “I am not attracted to you, leave me alone”. It seemed unnecessarily harsh, and back then I was far more crippled by social anxiety and awkwardness. But I remember how scary and uncomfortable it was to be in that situation and feeling like I just wanted to get away but couldn’t. This does equal actually being raped, but I can at least partially understand the horror of the experience.

The article continues:

Of the 20,100 suspects arrested for forcible rape in 2010, less than 1 percent were female, a victim-perpetrator gender divide that’s all but cemented in public perception. Gender roles may have evolved in the years since Charlie’s ordeal, but our assumptions about who takes advantage of whom remain rigid, despite evidence to the contrary: A recent study of sexual violence found that women by age 18 were almost equally as likely as men to commit sexual abuse (at 48 percent and 52 percent, respectively).

While the victims’ families and friends aren’t always supportive or understanding, the article says many of these men have to turn to online forums for support:

Reddit users, however, were more sympathetic: “Same boat as me brother,” wrote user Kuljika in response to Charlie’s confessional post. “Sleep-rape fistbump.” Forums like the often controversial Men’s Rights subreddit have become a haven for emotionally battered victims (and frustrated men in general). Like group therapy, it’s a place where they can share their stories anonymously and connect with others without feeling vulnerable. “It was really the first step towards healing for me,” says Ben, a 23-year-old male victim I spoke to who posted about his own nocturnal boner-turned-living-nightmare. “It’s good to know there are others out there.”

There are hundreds of threads dedicated to victims of female-on-male sexual abuse, many of which read like locker-room rap sessions, but with a little more empathy and advice: “Try and let go of that shit holding you back, I’m not saying it’s going to be easy,” “Good to hear that someone else has this problem” or “That’s rough. Do feel. Don’t suck it up.” Unfortunately, as with any subreddit, the conversation can get bogged down by extremists and in this case more than a few misogynists. “Some people use their experience as a crutch to hate women,” says Ben. But with few alternative resources, the Reddit community will have to do. “There’s not really another home for guys who want to talk about these things,” Charlie says. Though there are sites like MaleSurvivor.org and 1and6.org, female-on-male sexual abuse is still a marginal topic. [emphasis added]

This part caught my attention. I know there are people on both sides of gender inequality who seem more inclined to hate than to heal. I highlighted part of the above because I think that’s a really important thing to take note of – men need a forum to be heard and taken seriously as well, and if the only place they can go is a place where the vibe isn’t all or mostly about healing, then I would fear some guys would get pulled down into the negativity and get bitter instead of trying to rise above. I’m glad to see one commenter say “do feel, don’t suck it up”. Men need to know they can and should let themselves feel, and should reject the idea of “manning up”.

“It’s not like we’re infinitely powerful and women are Playdough,” says Jake. “Guys get hurt just as much. We’re just not allowed to show it.”

This also seems like a good time to point out the website The Good Men Project, which features stories (by both men and women) who believe that we can all do better to make society better for everyone, and recognizing that being born with a penis doesn’t inherently make you bad or a potential rapist. If you ever meet anyone who tries to claim that all men or all women are evil, crazy, or any other blanket negative thing, I’d say that person has a very negative mindset and you should spend as little time around them as possible.

And here is the part of the article that really knocked my socks off:

Male victims were actually excluded from the legal definition of rape until the Department of Justice updated it in 2012, 85 years after the fact. Even now, it only accounts for those men who were anally or orally raped by males. In other words, an ill-intentioned penis and a vulnerable orifice are imperative to a rape indictment. Similarly, the Oxford English Dictionary maintains that only “a man who commits rape” can be called a rapist. While quibbling over the semantics might seem petty, there are real implications, not only for victims, but also for the way statistics are influenced.

In the CDC’s national survey of sexual violence, for example, “made to penetrate” is not included as a form of rape. If it were, incidents of male rape would rise from 1 in 71 to a staggering 1 in 16 nationally (female rape is just under 1 in 5). The majority of the offenders of male victims would also be female.

The authors of the survey, which is sponsored by the Violence Against Women Act, maintain that being “made to penetrate” is a form of sexual victimization unique to males, and therefore independent of rape. As a consequence, “made to penetrate” cases seem less criminal, and certainly less provocative. In a situation like Charlie’s, the distinction appears to make sense: “Most people think of rape as a violent attempt to hurt another person. I don’t really know what was going through this girl’s head at the time, but I don’t think she was there to traumatize me. I guess she just wanted to have sex with me and assumed that’d be ok.”

Of course, for even the gentlest male sleep-rapist, “I assumed she’d be into it” doesn’t exactly fly in court. Consent reigns supreme, and to pursue a female without it is to invite culpability. In “made to penetrate” cases, the line is often far more ambiguous. Still, there are plenty of female aggressors who don’t leave much to interpretation.

“I didn’t call it rape at the time because it didn’t even occur to me that I could be raped,” says Ben, who agreed to speak with me over Skype. ”All I knew was that what happened to me was not ok. It was a horrifying situation.”

To me, there is definitely a problem that rape enacted on a female and a male are treated unequally by the law. While there is a bit of a difference, the psychological, emotional and to an extent, even the physical damage is the same. This puts men in a really difficult spot as far as seeking help in the wake of it. The macho culture that has been built up around us tells us that men can’t get hurt, when clearly we can. I’m sure almost every guy out there thinks “that could never happen to me”, and then if and when it does, you just shut down because you have no idea how to respond.

The more I’ve read about feminism, the more I see that feminism is trying to break down walls and break stigmas so that both men and women can talk more, more openly, and to each other, about these issues. I’ve attended discussion groups specifically devoted to men and women getting together to see how each other think and feel and see a given issue or topic, and surprisingly we agreed on a lot that really surprised us.

Feminism is trying to break down the patriarchy that keeps trying to indoctrinate men as “Bros”, as big strong problem solving machines rather than as thinking, feeling humans (and feelings don’t make you weak). Women on the other hand are taught to be essentially “trophy wives”, and have to learn how to be “strong” in ways that aren’t only measured by how they look.

So, I encourage you, if any of this resonates with you, to read the article, check out some of the resources linked in this post and talk about it. The best thing we can do is break the silence and take back our freedom to feel.

Care to share your thoughts?