Sunday, January 29, 2012

Posted by: Anna Gedal

The Dominant Forced into Submission: Why Male Rape is Worse than Female Rape According to the New York Times

I was sipping my morning coffee when my friend sent me this link to a post on Radfem Hub.  It was about a recent article in the New York Times in which an entire two pages were devoted to the topic of male rape.  That is not to say that the issues of male rape does not deserve our attention, but the implications of the article were extremely disturbing on the part of the New York Times, and more deeply, a sad reflection of our patriarchal society in general. 
In the past, I’ve been disappointed by the NYT’s attempts to cover women’s issues, often feeling offended or upset after reading them.  More alarmingly, but perhaps not unexpectedly, I’ve found that several of their female journalists who cover women’s issues hold thinly veiled contempt for women and feminism.  Yet last week’s article, “As Victims, Men Struggle for Rape Awareness,” seemed miles beyond offensive studies that declared women who wear make-up will be more successful or how sweatshops in the third world contribute to female empowerment. I clicked on the link at the Radfem Hub and was redirected to the New York Times site.
First we see a well-dressed man standing fearlessly against a ferocious natural backdrop.  He looks at us with slight suspicion; his dominance is unmistakable.  He is in no way portrayed as a victim; his “masculinity” has been restored. 
Let’s start with the article’s title, as I find it in and of itself problematic, “As Victims, Men Struggle For Rape Awareness.”  Does this not imply that women do not struggle for awareness?  Does this not ignore the victim-blaming, rape culture within which we live?  The article explains the brutal assault that Keith Smith endured as a child.  After being raped, he promptly returned home and told his father and brother who did not question his accusation.  He was not blamed for the crime perpetrated against him.  The article does not mentioned what Smith was wearing nor does it discuss his sexual history.  He was the victim. Period.  Smith was raped by a stranger who ultimately was caught.  Before he could stand trial, he was shot and killed for his crime.  Retribution was served. The pictures and the title speak for themselves.  They beg the question: how could a strong man, a masculine figure be raped?
The article goes on to spew statistics about male rape and how it remains under-reported and how the resources for victims are limited because we expect women, not men to be raped.  Most frighteningly the article implies that Smith’s experience as a man was more damaging to him and his “masculinity” than it would have been for a woman.  In fact, the author, Roni Rabin, declares that rape for men transcends your run-of-the-mill effects.  Men suffer as female victims suffer, “But men also face a challenge to their sense of masculinity. Many feel they should have done more to fight off their attackers. Since they may believe that men are never raped, they may feel isolated and reluctant to confide in anyone. Male rape victims may become confused about their sexual orientation or, if gay and raped by a man, blame their sexual orientation for the rape.” As opposed to female victims, whose femininity is enforced by sexual assault?  Being naturally submissive, being socialized to be submissive, women are thus the natural victims of rape?  In our patriarchal world when the dominant are forced into submission, when the “masculine” are forced to take on a “feminine” role, does this constitute a more profound crime?
It is disturbing to me that an extremely credible, self-declared liberal news outlet can report stories in this manner and do so frequently without facing criticism.  This article suggests that as natural perpetrators, men, when victimized lose their sense of self. What does this say about our culture, about the way we understand gender and sexuality? Women endure sexual assault more readily than men.  The sexual crimes perpetrated against them more often than not go unreported and unpunished.  The society in which we live has plenty of mechanisms in place to blame them, and to excuse the perpetrators of their crimes.  This article is founded upon the premise that women are naturally victims and men are naturally victimizers. When this balance is thrown off, men, not women suffer.

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