Category Archives: rape

Rape Culture: A Comparison

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While discussing issues surrounding sexuality and gender I encounter a great many conversations affirming the idea that we live in a rape culture, a society that excuses, normalizes, or even condones particularly male perpetrated sexual violence toward women and girls. Considering today’s third wave intersectional feminism, which declares itself diverse and inclusive of people of all colours, shapes, sexual orientations, and a wide variety of gender identities, I find it interesting that I still keep encountering this simplistic, exclusionary, unilateral understanding of violence and violence acceptance: it is women who are raped, men who do the raping, and this specific gendered practice which society does not take seriously enough.

As a female survivor of male assault and an anti-violence activist, I’m more than familiar with the public and private responses to any experience like mine: an automatic outpouring of empathy for the female survivor and pitchfork-wielding anger directed toward that person’s male attacker. I’ve seen this time and again with little variance, no matter where I go, no matter my audience, to the extent that I would be genuinely shocked if I stumbled upon anyone who blamed me or dismissed my account of those events.

This, of course, is good news, but I have struggled in vain to find that same compassion and understanding for my many acquaintances and loved ones who have suffered the same or worse, but are male or whose assailants were female, who I am regularly told don’t exist, don’t matter, or are unfortunate but not part of the “real” or “larger” problem we need to address (never mind the way I’m dismissed when I tell of my experiences at the hands of other women). If you’ve read my blog before, you know that my thesis on the subject of rape culture is that it is victims outside this male-on-female model, including LGBT individuals, but especially male victims of any kind, who are widely swept under the rug, neglected, blamed, and mistreated when they are raped. To illustrate my point perhaps more succinctly than I have in the past, here is a simple pop culture comparison.

 

In 2012 multiple Steubenville high school football players took egregious advantage of a female peer while she was passed out drunk at a party. There were members of the district staff who were aware of the incident but kept quiet, and some even attempted to cover it up. When the story broke, the American people were quite justifiably in a blind rage about this, calling for the heads of the rapists, coaches, and district. Two boys and a staff member were convicted and sentenced. Many other staff were forced to resign and charged, and these events even allowed other cases to be uncovered and addressed within the same district, which appeared to have covered up other assaults, as well as cases of child abuse.

This story is frequently held up as an example of rape culture, despite the outrage expressed by pretty much everyone at the events, despite the fact that most of those involved have been held criminally responsible in accordance with due process, and those who weren’t have lost their jobs, status, and reputation. In this culture where it is supposedly normal and acceptable to rape women, rapists were tried and convicted along with those who enabled them, and everyone’s reputation was smeared across the country in a sensational news story among echoing cries for castration and death.

In 2015 Brock Turner took advantage of a female peer while she was passed out drunk. The two men who discovered and helped her were hailed as the heroes they are. The rapist plead guilty, was convicted, and was sentenced, though his sentence was abnormally light, offensively lenient. When the story broke, the American people were, again very justifiably, foaming-at-the-mouth angry. They called for the heads of the rapist and the judge who sentenced him. When Turner was released from prison there was another wave of outrage as the public was reminded of him and his callous crime, solidifying his name in history as synonymous with a host of ugly and well deserved pejoratives.

Like the previous case, this story is considered a quintessential example of rape culture, despite the outrage it sparked in every corner of the country. It has been widely used to argue that rapists get off easy due to a lack of public interest in punishing them, even though there are currently over 15,000 people incarcerated in federal prisons for sex crimes, even though the average sentence for convicted rapists is about 10 years, not the three months young Brock got away with serving. Turner’s fate is in no way typical for his crime, even less a consequence of his gender, especially when you consider how much more leniently female rapists are treated under the law. It’s overwhelmingly apparent that it was the wealth and influence of Turner’s family that got him off easy, not his sex. And yet this case is iconic in the conversation surrounding the theory of rape culture, used to promote the idea that the American people are okay with women getting raped and don’t care if rapists are punished.

However, in stark contrast to these news reports, a year prior to the events of People v. Turner actress and comedian Amy Schumer gave a speech at the Gloria Awards and Gala. She detailed a story from her college days in which she, sober as a judge, took advantage of a male peer who was so drunk that he couldn’t stay conscious. The line “Is it still considered head if the guy falls asleep every three seconds?” stands out in my mind. And this wasn’t an apologetic admission of guilt, either. This speech was an empowerment story, a brag about how she used a mentally and physically incapacitated person to regain her confidence in her body and her sexuality.

And this time, there were no torches, no pitchforks, no public outcry at all. There was no court case, and no judge held accountable by the people to give a proper and deserved sentence. In fact, there was applause. Social media was ablaze with an outpouring of love and appreciation for Schumer, and she was hailed across liberal news outlets as courageous, empowering, and feminist. She was praised for this speech on Huffpost, Gawker, Bustle, Vulture, and the Washington Post, to name just a few.

Amy Schumer committed exactly the same crime that earned the likes of Brock Turner national vitriolic outrage, and yet the few journalists who tried to point out that her actions even constituted rape were largely ignored or dismissed. There’s even an article entitled “No, Amy Schumer did not give a speech celebrating how she raped a guy,” in which the author blames Schumer’s victim on the grounds that he drunkenly initiated some acts (conspicuously ignoring the fact that Schumer painstakingly described him as being so wasted that he was not himself, had little motor function to speak of, and that he repeatedly lost consciousness during the encounter), and even suggested not-so-subtly that he was the one taking advantage of her due to her dissatisfaction with the experience in the moment.

If either of the women in the above criminal cases had initiated their encounter before passing out, would that have made the men involved not rapists? Would those men have become her victims, rather than the other way around, had they reported feeling uncertain, disappointed, or disgusted by her drunkenness while they raped her? Is there any conceivable excuse by which their actions would not still have been universally and emphatically condemned? Is there any conceivable order of events in which Brock Turner or Ma’lik Richmond would have been praised for penetrating a drunk, unconscious woman?  Imagine feminist pundits and journalists, members of a movement whose platform is largely centered around its opposition to sexual violence, hailing those men for their courage had they told their stories on a stage with the goal of empowering men.

No. The difference is clear: Amy Schumer, a woman, is celebrated for raping a man, while men who are caught committing such acts against women are met with conviction, prison time, and the uncensored hatred of every American who reads the news.

So tell me, which gender’s rapists are widely condoned, excused, or swept under the rug? Who is most often told they are asking for it? Who is blamed for their victimization? Who is ignored, laughed at, or disbelieved? If any national news story is to be held up as an example of rape culture, it is the story of Amy Schumer’s speech, in which she brags publicly and unabashedly in front of cameras about raping a young man, and is met with congratulations, in which anyone who objects to her actions is dismissed as hyperbolic or confused, in which the national conversation about rape and the way it’s addressed continues to exclude female perpetrators and male victims because they are generally believed to not exist or not to merit discussion. This is what rape culture looks like.

Don’t misunderstand me. I have no doubt that there are cases in which women are mistreated by the criminal justice system while attempting to report victimization. I’m sure that there are places where women have been disbelieved or told they shouldn’t have been drinking, however patently condemned this practice is by the overwhelming majority of our society. My argument that this sort of treatment is not considered acceptable and is not ubiquitous should not be taken as an ethical statement excusing it. Officials who actually do behave this way should be exposed and punished.

But everyone is aware that women can be, and sometimes are, the victims of sexual assault. Law enforcement and social workers are trained to anticipate female victims of male assailants, and to believe and assist the woman accordingly. Everyone is horrified when male rapists appear in the news, especially when they fail to be properly punished. (Of course, if more women were aware of this, rather than buying into the narrative that they will be disbelieved and blamed by the public and the criminal justice system alike, more women would probably be willing to report.)

But further, male rapists do appear in the news, earning those news stations hoards of outraged viewers. They don’t get laughed off as unusual or silly. Unlike men, women are not assumed to always want sex; their gender and sexuality are not treated as indicators of blanket consent. Men and boys are taught to be respectful and that one of the worst things they can do is take advantage of a woman, while girls get no such lesson. Unlike men, women who say no are not called homophobic slurs or considered less of a woman. Male perpetrators are not celebrated or represented as a comedy trope. Women aren’t laughed at when they try to report, nor are they told there’s no such thing as a female rape victim or that they ought to be happy they got laid. No one hi-fives them or calls them lucky. Female victims are immediately met with compassion when they reveal themselves as such to any audience; they don’t have to seek out small online communities within a fringe human rights movement to find someone, anyone, who is willing to give them empathy and understanding for their suffering.

The majority of the neglected, ignored, and blamed rape victims are male. If you’re going to discuss rape culture, you wouldn’t just be remiss, you’d be neglecting the bulk of the problem if you didn’t address the way we respond to male victims and female rapists.

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Filed under antifeminism, discrimination, equality, feminism, men's rights, rape, rape culture, sexual assault

On the Reporting Problem

I’d like to take a moment to unpack an analysis I’ve read (and repeatedly cited) as it relates to some of the other sexual assault data I’m familiar with. This analysis, written by Loree Cook-Daniels of the national anti-violence organization Forge, cites an array of studies looking into the phenomenon of male victimization and female perpetration, and why these events are rarely reported to the authorities, result in conviction, or make it to published statistics or general knowledge.  Any statistic I cite in the following article that is not otherwise linked can be found in the above linked analysis.

My regular readers are by now familiar with my complaints about the pervasive and serious problem of sexual assault not being taken seriously outside the Duluth model paradigms of patriarchal violence (i.e. any victim who is not a victim of male-on-female assault).  This is true both in the general public, as I am regularly told in gender theory debates, often in plain language, that non-Duluth victims do not exist, don’t matter, or aren’t the real/larger problem (even after I disclose that I am one of them), and also institutionally.

On the social level, there is a chasm of difference between the way we teach males and females about consent, and the paradigms surrounding how we treat each.  Boys are taught to obtain consent, and girls are taught that it’s okay to withhold it.  Men are taught not to rape, and women are taught how to defend themselves against it.  Rape is viewed as something men do to women, men are viewed as always wanting sex (and thus impossible to violate), and therefore any unwelcome advance made by a woman, especially toward a man, is trivialized or completely dismissed.  I myself have repeatedly and publicly witnessed the difference between how people react to male and female perpetrated sexual assault, and male and female victims.  Women are not taught to respect consent, and many women don’t, with very little social or legal consequence.

On the institutional level, major research organizations widely regarded as credible will depict only female victims of male violence in the summaries of their findings, or skew definitions so that it appears that these are the vast majority of cases.  I have talked at length about the CDC with respect to this problem, by they are by far not the only offenders.  Even the FBI and other federal justice organizations define rape in such a way that excludes most male victims of female assault.  Even in their recently updated definition, only forcible penetration, not the forcing of the victim to penetrate the perpetrator, is considered rape.

Mary Koss of the CDC defends her differentiation of male-on-female rape from the separate female-on-male category termed “made to penetrate” in a 2007 paper with the following horrifically sexist rape apolgia:

“We acknowledge the inappropriateness of female verbal coercion and the legitimacy of male perceptions that they have had unwanted sex.  Although men may sometimes sexually penetrate women when ambivalent about their own desires, these acts fail to meet legal definitions of rape that are based on the penetration of the body of the victim.”

The legal definition she cites is troubling enough, but according to Koss, men do not fail to consent.  They merely perceive that they have had unwanted sex.  They are simply ambivalent about their own desires.  I’ll remind you that this was published in a publicly accessible academic paper written by one of the most prominent members of a major federal health organization.

But the problem doesn’t stop there.  The justice system is hideously biased against any victims outside the Duluth model.  I personally know men and women outside that paradigm who have been turned away or even laughed at by police when trying to report, and I’ve often read and cited studies confirming the prevalence of this problem.

One study in Canada showed that 86% of victims of female aggressors were not believed when they attempted to report.  The analysis also reports that, controlling for probable cause, a male adolescent is 46.5 times (not percent, times) more likely to be arrested and charged than a comparable female suspect.  This is largely because, when the victim is taken seriously by the officer to whom he reports victimization, judges will routinely dismiss cases in which the perpetrator is female, either on the grounds that women don’t rape, or the (unfortunately realistic) assumption that no jury will convict a woman.

These problems lead, predictably, to an abysmally low reporting rate for non-Duluth model victims.  Why report when you know you won’t be taken seriously any step of the way, when you might have to endure mockery at the hands of the people whose job it is to help you?  Never mind the fear of social stigma, and the fact that most non-Duluth victims don’t even conceptualize what happened to them as sexual assault, since they’ve been taught their whole lives that rape is something men do to women.

Another study of male victims found that, of those who had therapists, only 3% had told their therapists that they had been assaulted.  If you can’t even tell your therapist, you’re not going to tell a cop, and you’re certainly not going to tell a stranger conducting a CDC phone survey.

So let’s go back to the numbers I always cite.  The most recent publicly accessible iterations of the NISVS show gender parity in both victimization and perpetration.  This means that about as many men as women reported victimization in the past year.  Most respondents reported victimization by the opposite sex, but the study even accounts for some same-sex assault.

So here’s what doesn’t add up.  We already know that there is a massive reporting problem in sexual assault cases, but especially and extremely so with respect to male victims and female perpetrators.  And yet CDC research shows respondents of both sexes reporting equal amounts of victimization (along with other studies showing surprisingly high proportions of male victims).  If only a tiny percent of male victims even feel comfortable disclosing victimization to their therapists, what percentage do you suppose we’re looking at in published survey data?

Similarly, if some of the prevalence statistics with which we’re all familiar come from police reports and conviction rates, but many male victims can’t even convince an officer to take a report, and most judges and juries won’t convict a female perpetrator, than those statistics will only reflect the degree to which a non-Duluth victim can seek justice or assistance, not the rate at which they are victimized.

I suspect that there are way, way more non-Duluth victims out there who are keeping their trauma a secret.  In fact, I am starting to suspect something very contrary to the popular narrative.

When you consider the difference between the way we teach men and women about assault and consent, the lack of social or legal consequences for female perpetrators, the variety of stigmas against non-Duluth victims, the biases in research and criminal justice, and the resultant lack of willingness for male victims to come forward, it seems increasingly probable that women sexually assault men more often, perhaps significantly more often, than men sexually assault women.

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Filed under activism, criminal justice, equality, men's health, men's rights, rape, sexual assault

A Brief Rant on Due Process

Over the course of the past few years there have been a great deal of sexual assault cases that were highlighted in the news and social media, from a veritable parade of celebrity accusations to the recent Stanford case.  In light of these cases, I’ve seen an awful lot of advocacy for changing policy to make conviction easier for those accused of sex crimes.  So I’d like to address that suggestion.

This is the Innocence Project, which aids in and documents the DNA exonerations of the falsely convicted. There are 342 false convictions you can read about, which have been documented and detailed on their website and can be filtered for various criteria, such as the type of crime, the reason for false conviction, the race of the defendant, and so on.

Of those 342 false convictions, 267 were from sexual assault cases, almost 80% of their cases. That’s 267 people who were locked away for years of their lives (many of them for decades) for sex crimes that they did not commit. 267 innocent people who were stripped of their jobs, esteem, freedom, and in many cases most of their lives.

And bear in mind, these 267 people are just the wrongfully convicted who have been exonerated by DNA evidence.  The most common cause of false conviction is a misidentification of the perpetrator by a witness, which has been shown in many studies to occur up to a quarter of the time when witnesses are asked to identify someone from a lineup.  Now consider that in order for an innocent convict to be exonerated due to DNA evidence, the true perpetrator’s DNA must have been present at the time of the crime and investigation, collected, and still be intact and accessible after the wrongful conviction in order to be compared with the DNA of the wrongful convict.  According to one survey of American prosecutors, only 41% had policies at their offices for the collection and preservation of DNA evidence.  Only 33% had policies for retaining that evidence after conviction.  Now consider that a majority of respondents reported that half or fewer of their cases made use of DNA evidence at all (including sexual assault, the most common type of case to use DNA).  The short list of exonerated convicts at the Innocence Project are the lucky few, undoubtedly the tip of the iceberg.  Imagine how many more aren’t so lucky, who are rotting away in jail for crimes they didn’t commit, praying for the long-shot that someone will find evidence to clear their names.

None of this is to say, by the way, that the complainants lied in all these cases. In fact, I’m not sure any of these people were put away due to explicit perjury (though knowingly false accusations do, of course, happen). Eyewitness misidentification (which constitutes about 70% of those 267 cases) is a very common but honest mistake. Nobody’s memory is perfect, especially after a traumatic event.  Other reasons for false conviction include wrongfully obtained confessions and errors in the forensic science. There are plenty of things that can go wrong in the court process. People are fallible. Mistakes are made.

So the argument to maintain or strengthen due process is not an argument that people who report rape are lying. It’s an argument that the courts are fallible, that witnesses don’t have photographic memories, that sometimes the system fails us, and sometimes the presumption of innocence is all we have to stand between an innocent man and conviction.

And by the way, the data of this project flies in the face of the idea that we live in a culture that’s okay with rape of women, sweeps it under the rug, or isn’t upset enough about it. This is a list of people whose very existence defies the narrative that we don’t try hard enough to put men away for rape. We care so much about making sure rapists get their dues that we’re putting away, at the very least, hundreds of innocent people to that end.  And remember that those falsely accused make up almost 80% of our exonerated numbers.  Which is to say, by a landslide, we are finding more innocent people incarcerated for rape than for any other violent crime.  And now we as a society are entertaining the idea of continuing to erode the right of the accused to due process and the presumption of innocence.  So stop telling me the criminal justice system doesn’t have enough sympathy for (female) rape victims.

I get that there is an under-reporting problem.  I get that some people run into bureaucratic issues or are mistreated by the criminal justice system.  I get that sexual assault is a difficult crime to prove due to the nature of the evidence, and often that means the attacker goes free.  And these are all legitimate problems that merit serious attention and real solutions.  But we must work toward solutions that don’t come at the expense of the innocent.  Rape victims will not be served by non-rapists going to jail.  That doesn’t help anyone.  We need to find solutions that better shed light on the truth of cases, rather than those which merely lower the threshold for conviction.  The last time we lowered that threshold and started taking accusers at their word without affording the accused his due process, a lot of men of the same colour started hanging from trees.  “Listen and believe” just doesn’t cut it.

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Filed under criminal justice, men's rights, rape, sexual assault

On Gender and Consent

This time around I’m going to do something I don’t normally do: I’m going to do some speculation using my own personal anecdotal observations (albeit with contributions from my knowledge base). For a while now I’ve been mulling over my thoughts on what makes different people violate consent, what causes someone to commit an act that can be interpreted as sexual harassment or assault, and these ideas have bounced around my head and off enough friends who would sit still long enough that they have coalesced into a meaningful argument. I’m going to cite a lot of personal experiences and observations, with just a few studies to back them up, because I have no idea if my hypotheses have been researched at all, but the particulars of these experiences resonate well enough with my understanding of gender and widely held gender-based assumptions that I feel confident sharing my ideas as possible fact.

We all know the assumed paradigm: Men violate, harass, and rape women because they think of women as objects for their sexual consumption, or because they are graceless, thoughtless fools who need to be taught not to engage in such behaviour because they have no idea that rape is bad. Men are assumed to be either the sole or primary offenders, women the sole or primary victims, and there’s usually something about a culture that condones or enables this sort of mistreatment, framed within an overall devaluation of women and women’s well being (rape culture). Not always, but sometimes this comes within the framework of the Duluth model’s original supporting theory: that men do this as a microcosmic reflection of men’s widespread subjugation of women, keeping them in their lower hierarchical place with fear and intimidation, due either to a pervasive cultural force or an evil inherent in masculinity. This set of assumptions usually leads to the recommendation that we must teach men not to rape, teach women it’s okay to say no, and this often manifests itself in workplace sexual harassment workshops and pre-prom assemblies in high schools. We have awareness campaigns and legal initiatives based on this model.

Of course, I could spend this entire article just telling you everything wrong with that paradigm (starting with the little known fact that sexual violence is neither the critical man-on-woman epidemic it’s made out to be nor a gendered phenomenon at all, completely debunking the notion of rape culture as it’s understood), but I’ve already done that, and if you’re reading this, you may already have come to those conclusions on your own. I’m far more interested, at this moment, in examining the differences between what causes men and women to violate consent. Off the top of my trauma-addled head, I can think of 3 men who have committed such violations toward me, and 6 women, so I feel uniquely equipped to analyze the differences (I suppose one might call that a silver lining). I will outline those experiences, the differences I perceive between them, and my speculations on the causes of those differences. If I don’t make it clear, all names have been changed.

BOB

When I was in middle school, I learned that a boy in my class had a crush on me. We’ll call him Bob. Bob was a special ed student, extremely developmentally delayed, to the extent that he struggled to communicate verbally. He and I attended the same dance, where he awkwardly approached me and, rather than asking, put his arms around my shoulders and just started dancing during a slow-dance song. I decided I didn’t want to dance with him, and it was too loud to try to tell him this verbally. When I tried to pull away to go somewhere else, either he stumbled or pushed me, but whichever it was we both ended up tumbling to the floor. Bob fell on top of me, and perhaps in his limited social understanding he saw the sudden compromising position as an opportunity, because he started reaching up my skirt. I was taking martial arts classes at the time, but opted not to physically defend myself because I was afraid I’d get in trouble due to his disability, so I instead managed to push him away and squirm out of his reach.

Not only was I told by parents, teachers, and sensei alike that I had been mistaken to fear retribution, but in subsequent days I had many people ask me why I didn’t beat him senseless (a question that was no doubt influenced by the fact that I was bigger, stronger, and significantly more coordinated than him). This was a little before the era of school psychologists handing out therapy sessions for so much as sneezing, but predictably, the overall reaction was one of concern for my well being, and as I understand it, Bob was disciplined in whatever way was determined appropriate according to school policy and his IEP.

JOE

Many years later, the first friend I made in college was a young man who had been in a car accident that had caused him some significant injuries. We’ll call him Joe. He had hit his head hard enough that his eyes were permanently dilated, which was clear to any observer. He had metal plates in his back and his head, and he had suffered brain damage. To a certain extent, that brain damage was apparent in his behaviour. He had retained certain learned behaviours, but was tremendously socially awkward, and utterly missed most social cues or expectations. He was studying nursing, possessed the requisite fascination with human anatomy, and would occasionally make creepy remarks about other people’s bodies in a way that can only be compared to what a serial killer in a prime time drama might say of his potential future victims. I remember him once commenting off-handedly that my skin was exceptionally soft, but that he wasn’t attracted to women with dark body hair. He was a very physical person, often touching people as he talked to them, and he would occasionally touch butts or breasts because, as he claimed, he didn’t understand the difference between that and touching an arm. His bafflement seemed to all my faculties completely genuine.

I want to clarify: This behaviour was more fascinating to me than it was upsetting, and I in no way felt dehumanized, harmed, or violated.  I, of course, tried to explain to him why his actions were not socially acceptable, but this was mostly for the benefit of others he may come interact with.  Not all unwanted contact is traumatic, and many of the stories below were unwanted but not traumatic.  I give the above details as an example because he didn’t ask, and no body language or social cues would have indicated that it was appropriate to touch me that way.  It was, technically, a sort of consent violation.

On the other hand, the following experience was somewhat upsetting to me, if only because it made me realize that something much worse would have been possible.  One night, while watching a movie, Joe was giving me a back massage. He was probably twice my size, sitting on me and rubbing my back. He suddenly changed positions until he was laying flat on top of me, put his hands down on either side of my head, and sucked on the side of my neck until it left a hickey. My startled and adamant protest gave him little to no immediate pause, nor did my attempt to wiggle out of his grasp, but in a sort of delayed reaction he expressed a sincere confusion to my protest, and I remember him asking me why I was upset and what he’d done wrong. Needless to say, I stopped talking to him after that , and a friend of mine threatened him the next time he came by my dorm. I have no idea what my friend said but I never saw Joe again. For good measure, another friend ensured his departure from my life by pretending to be a defensive lover and added to the piling threats. Still after he had surely disappeared for good, my friends were practically lining up to find and hang him, and any time I brought him up over the course of the next year or two, it elicited a sudden and visceral anger from anyone who cared about me.

ED

The third, of course, was my ex, to whose crimes I’ve already alluded in this blog. I haven’t given him a name yet, so for now, I will call him Ed. I feel it important to point out that Ed had a clear inability to process empathy, and this was apparent in many discussions with him and in the way he treated anyone with whom he interacted, causing most to feel a general unease around him. He spectacularly failed to understand social conventions, including the way people wanted to be treated, from bodily autonomy to the desire not to be verbally abused. He insisted that sexual partners had the right to touch each other as they wish (and that I was welcome to do the same), and that what normal people called verbal debasement was merely honesty and respectful criticism when it came from him. The questions he asked and comments he made left no doubt that he did not understand why anyone didn’t want to be treated this way, such that it was bizarre and confusing to talk to him about such topics. After many conversations that went this way, it became painfully apparent that Ed’s assertions were genuine misunderstanding and social dysfunction, not intentional gaslighting.

When I call him a sociopath, I am not speaking as a bitter ex with baggage. I am speaking as a casual student of psychology. I suspect that he truly was afflicted by some form of sociopathy, and I knew that he had already been psychologically evaluated in the past for a number of disorders. In any case, his symptoms and deficits were consistent with the substantial and violent childhood abuse I knew him to have suffered. So it will come as no surprise even to those readers new to my blog that he was responsible for all manner of abuse toward me, from physical attacks, to verbal and psychological abuse, to sexual coercion, to flat-out molestation and forcible rape.

I think it bears mentioning that the above anecdotes have all been shared with other people, and the response I get is overwhelmingly the same: shock, horror, and unwavering empathy. I get hugs, offers of “whatever you need,” and all manner of kindness. The offenders are decried as monsters, and the events as tragic. Nobody shrugs any of it off, and countless have offered to find and hurt these men on my behalf. I’ve never been asked what I was wearing and my well known promiscuity was never brought into the discussion, no matter what social circle or corner of the internet I was reporting it to, what part of small-town or city America I was in, or the religious and political alignments of the listeners (of which, I assure you, there was a substantial array). Everyone ardently condemns these men, with torches and pitchforks held aloft among echoing cries for their heads, and that’s important, because not only does it directly contradict feminist claims of how people react when a woman is raped, it’s also not at all true of reactions to the women I’m about to describe.

THE BOY IN THE HALLWAY

Before I discuss my own experiences with women, I’ll start off with an example that didn’t happen to me, but that I witnessed when I was younger. When I was in high school, waiting in the halls between the last class of the day and some extracurricular, I observed a group of girls engaging in what would have been called sexual harassment if they had been male, and what would almost certainly be described as sexual assault today. They were crowded around a boy in our class, and upon closer observation, were breathing and moaning in his ear, apparently to try to elicit some kind of sexual response out of him to embarrass him. Some of them were watching the crotch of his pants expectantly. Some of them were touching him. One even licked his ear. They were all giggling uncontrollably, and he was visibly uncomfortable, a vivid red spreading from his cheeks to the rest of his face and neck. Before the end, some of the girls sat on him, and others went so far as to grope him.

At the time I remember thinking it was funny. It hadn’t even occurred to me that this was harassment, because I had never bothered to conceptualize sexual harassment as something that a female could do to a male (or something that a female could do at all). But if a crowd of boys had done this to a girl, I’m sure I would have been running to intervene or report them, as would any remotely socially conscious onlooker. Looking back as an adult, even before I worked my way into the men’s rights world, I’ve often found myself wondering what the hell possessed these girls to behave the way they did, and why none of us thought there was anything wrong with it (except the poor boy, who looked helpless and humiliated). Whatever the reason, this type of behaviour may be more common among young women than any of us assumes: in a recent CDC study, 1 in 5 surveyed females who had perpetrated sexual misconduct admitted to committing group sexual assault, compared to 1 in 39 males, and later on I’ll offer my own speculation on why this might be. 

I also have ideas about why this boy sat and endured in silence something that made him clearly uncomfortable. Males are assumed to give blanket consent by virtue of their maleness. Sex is viewed as something that males pursue incessantly and females endure for the sake of romance and reproduction, a trope portrayed in every sitcom under the sun. Colloquially, we say, “she opened her legs for him,” “she let him fuck her.” Sex is something women let men do, but don’t necessarily enjoy or pursue, something men want and women, if they deign to, allow out of love or resignation, something men do to women. Men are the consent violators, women the consent violatees. Under this assumption, men always want it, so how could one possibly deny consent? He had an erection, so how could he claim that he didn’t want it? As if a woman’s biological arousal could ever stand up as evidence against her.

Thanks to these horribly one-sided and sexist assumptions, men who admit to having suffered a consent violation receive one of two responses: either the listener tells him he should be elated that he got sexual attention, or his sexual orientation (and thus his masculinity) is called into question. “Awesome! I wish it had happened to me!” or “You didn’t like a pile of girls groping you? What are you, a faggot?” I know a sobering amount of men who have kept quiet about sexual assault and harassment for these reasons, and more who have received exactly these responses (and worse, including police officers who laughed and refused to take a report), and I can only imagine that some variant on this response is what the boy in that hallway feared.

LISA AND JOAN

To return to the position of a female on the receiving end, my own nasty experiences with women have been in many ways similar to this boy’s anecdote. A friend of a friend, whom I will call Lisa, is known for being handsy, especially when she drinks. At more than one social event, including private parties and very public bars, Lisa has been found unabashedly groping other women’s breasts and pinching their nipples (yes, seriously). At one party, she even started removing other people’s clothing to fondle them, much to the dismay of many. None of this, if any clarification was needed, was with regard to any kind of consent. I personally have asked her many times to stop. She would usually remind me that she is not attracted to women, as if one’s sexual orientation has any bearing on whether or not an unwanted touch is acceptable.

On the most recent iteration of this conversation, I explained to her, in the hopes of being afforded some basic human compassion, that what she was doing was sexual assault, and further that I have PTSD and am likely to have a very bad time when she does this. She casually replied that she might not remember that, and that I would probably need to remind her. She believed she needed reminding not to commit an act of sexual violation that might cause me to dissociate in public. I clarified that any reminder that I needed to give would come in the form of a fist to the face. It hasn’t happened again, but she and many of the people around me were shocked, and by the looks on their faces, they seemed to believe I was overreacting. Now Lisa sometimes makes jokes about consent when we cross paths, the same way adolescents mock what they are told in their DARE lessons. I should mention that Lisa often espouses feminist views, including the condemnation of men who make unwanted advances on women, but she never seemed to make the connection that what she was doing would have been universally unacceptable if she had been male.

The second girl I want to mention, called Joan for our purposes, is also a friend of a friend. She and I don’t know each other well, but she’s very physically affectionate. She greets others with hugs and kisses. She kissed me without asking, and because I said the kiss didn’t bother me, she grabbed my breasts. I told her that this crossed a line, but it took a couple repetitions throughout the evening before it sunk in at all. She needed to be reminded a few more times over the course of the next couple meetings, and now I generally avoid her. In my absence, close friends of mine have had the “consent matters” discussion with her on my behalf, and it hasn’t been a problem since.

PAIGE

The third is a friend of mine, and at the risk of calling this person out, I do think she represents an important point for my argument. We’ll call her Paige. Paige is an avid feminist who often speaks about the importance of consent and the evils of objectification, and she is very open about her sexuality. She has been known, not terribly unlike Lisa, to enthusiastically touch people at will. Even in sexual situations, she hasn’t always respected a polite “please don’t do that,” and I have known people who have decided not to sleep with her a second time because of this. And when I’ve asked her not to touch me in certain ways (everything from casual groping to nipple pinching to feeling me up under the table in a very public bar), she has responded with answers like “oh, you like it.” She tended to find surprised, pained, and even angry reactions funny.

Generally speaking, she did a lot of things that would earn a man a good ass kicking (or arrest), and her excuses matched the sort of things men are believed to say under rape culture. The difference is that, far from being a selfish frat boy caricature, Paige is a normally kind and compassionate person, so I just don’t think she understood that I was being completely serious. It took a couple dissociative episodes and a few very pointed conversations with myself and others before Paige stopped. She now politely and overtly asks permission before touching people in any way that might be questionable. To my knowledge, she is also careful to respect whatever answer she is given. Perhaps all she needed was to be shown that she wasn’t practicing what she preaches.

THE CLUB BITCHES

The next two women I dub Club Bitches #1 and 2, so-called because I don’t know them, and my encounters with each of them occurred in a club. The first waltzed in with a male partner in tow, spotting me hanging on a female partner of mine who was (this time quite consensually) getting a bit handsy. Club Bitch #1 approached me, and without saying two words to me, looked me up and down like prey in the jungle, felt my breasts like one feels fruit at the supermarket, and gave her partner a look that unequivocally asked, “This one, or maybe a different one?” (He seemed not to opine, and was generally unresponsive to her prompt.) She then lost immediate interest in me and walked away without a word. As I often tell it, I was so taken aback that I didn’t even punch her. I’ve never been treated that way by a man. I’ve never been looked at that way by a man. I don’t use this term lightly, but that lady objectified me, in a way that men simply don’t. She looked at me like a potential toy, and then dismissed my very being when she decided she didn’t want to play with me. Friends and acquaintances who were with me that night reacted minimally. If they so much as asked me if I was okay, I don’t recall it. At most I was met with a general attitude of, “well, that was inappropriate.”

Club Bitch #2 was met at a gay bar, twice. On our first meeting she was one of the few women in the club at the time, blind drunk, and she was dancing on a raised platform near me. She bent down to seize me by the hair and started making out with me, several times throughout the night, whether I liked it or not. I was, of course, more than a little intoxicated myself (it was New Year’s Eve), so I didn’t have much strength of will to protest. But it was abrupt, aggressive, and rather uncomfortable. I think my friends thought I was okay with it, but over time I did my best to work my way across the crowded dance floor and away from her, which required some doing (the dancing masses were shoulder to shoulder and I had to pry my hair out of her grasp to even start moving). It says enough about the woman and the experience that I recognized her the second time I went to that bar, when she was standing behind me in the bathroom line. Once again three very thin sheets to the wind, she wrapped her arms around me, groped my chest, and sloppily kissed my neck. I asked her to stop. It persisted. I stepped forward and asked more firmly. Again she ignored me and moved forward to return to her position around my torso. So the third time I pushed her nearly to the ground and told her that I’d beat her ass if she touched me again. She wandered off. The other women in the line determinedly avoided eye contact and pretended not to have seen anything.

My friends were underwhelmed by my story when I returned from the bathroom (again, and you’ll see that this is a theme, many of those same friends are vehement feminists who often speak on the subject of consent within the context of ideas like rape culture). I was shaken and angry, and I knew I would have received more than “huh, what a jerk” if the woman had been a man. I knew this because I’ve seen exactly what happens when men do the same thing.

MARGE

Of course, I’ve saved the best for last. Marge is my ex-girlfriend, the college lover who was married to Ed (for my new readers: it was a polyamorous arrangement, open and consensual). Marge was, when she so chose, every bit as malicious as Ed, but in very different ways. She could be passive aggressive and manipulative, spiteful and dismissive. When I got upset or angry about anything she did, she thought it was cute or funny. I remember her once cooing, “Awww, she’s so cute when she’s mad! Look how red her cheeks are!” in the midst of an argument that I took seriously. In a good mood, Marge thought of me as a walking sex toy. In a bad mood, she resented me for sharing her husband (even though she outwardly professed that she approved of and enjoyed the arrangement). You might see where this is going: she was just as dismissive of my desires and concerns in the bedroom as she was in conversation, and while this is not something I terribly like to discuss, the example that stands out most in my mind went something like this. I remember being tied to the bed. She had an array of household items splayed out in front of her, and ran to grab others when inspiration struck. She did whatever she wanted to me with those items. Some of the things she did were deliberately painful. Some were sexual. Most were both. I remember begging, and I remember her laughing like a cartoon supervillain.

Marge wasn’t brain damaged or sociopathic. She was quite functional, and very empathetic when she wanted to be. She didn’t treat Ed like she treated me. In fact, she didn’t always treat me poorly either. She could be kind, loving, and respectful. While we were together, she wrote a blog on polyamory, which I re-read for the first time in many years while in the process of writing this article. Her writing was clearly from the perspective of a woman with a reasonable degree of emotional intelligence. She talked at length about the complicated emotional and social interactions in a polyamorous relationship. She described her attempts to respect everyone and accommodate our feelings, and I remember that being true. I remember her comforting me when I was upset and helping talk me through my struggles. It’s strange and disorienting to read the kind and conscientious thoughts of someone while also remembering that person violently assaulting you.

No, Marge wasn’t a sociopath who couldn’t understand what I felt when she hurt me. She tortured me because she wanted to, and because she could. It was calculated malice. And while the close friends who know about this are quick to offer sympathy and kindness, forum discussions and conversations with strangers, in which I engage regularly as part of my activism, usually go a bit differently. When I tell some people that I was raped by a male and a female partner, I often get responses like “wow, what an asshole, I’m glad you escaped him.” It’s as if they don’t even process the part about the woman, or that part just doesn’t resonate as meaningful. After all, rape is a thing that men do, not women.

GENDER AND CONSENT VIOLATION

I’ve been making a point throughout the telling of these anecdotes to illustrate the jarring differences in reactions of others to my experiences with men and with women. There’s a distinct divide: when men make unwelcome advances they are universally condemned and often threatened, but when women make the same types of unwelcome advances, the event is treated as an impropriety at most, and often dismissed entirely as no big deal, even by people who are outspoken about sexual violations. Keep this in mind, because I’m going to keep returning to this point, but what I also want to draw attention to is the distinct difference between the potential motivations of the men in these encounters and the women by examining their mentalities.

I’ve had these types of experiences with three men: one severely cognitively disabled, another suffering brain damage, and a third with an unspecified but clearly present psychological disorder. As I describe them, I don’t mean for the descriptions of these conditions to in any way absolve the men of their actions. They are no less responsible and no less deplorable, but I find this difference interesting. The women who have violated conventions of consent (at least, the ones I knew personally), have seemed otherwise disturbingly normal. To my knowledge none of them possesses any psychological or cognitive diagnoses, and many advocate the importance of consent in other contexts. The men who have hurt me have been mentally ill. The women have been deliberately malicious, objectifying, or simply oblivious to the inappropriateness of their actions.

Ironically, the women in my experiences neatly fit the prevailing feminist narrative of why men rape: because they were cruel, because they viewed me as a sexual object, or because they needed to be taught not to violate others. The women who have assaulted me have been precisely the types of problematic that our dominant narrative paints men, and the men have been abnormal, anomalous, and cognitively unable to understand why their actions were undesirable.

If you’ll indulge me to extrapolate from my small sample, could my experiences be representative of the types of men and women who commit sex crimes? Is it possible that there is a trend of men who hurt others in this way being mentally ill, and women better fitting the Duluth model profile of the man indoctrinated into rape culture?

EDUCATION AND PARADIGMS

Based on this hypothesis, let’s speculate on why this difference might exist. The clearest answer is the way we teach our young people about consent and respect. We drill into young boys’ heads the importance of respecting women until it becomes a core value. Even in conservative, gender-role-ridden subcultures, the concept of respecting women is an oft repeated virtue: Ladies first. Boys are not to hit girls. An insult to your mother is fighting words. Even the allegedly misogynistic trolls who insult each other in the bowels of the internet will consider a threat to rape a family member to be among the very worst. Fathers chase off any boy who so much as makes an advance toward their daughters. Any sexual impropriety toward women is unacceptable anywhere in our culture. And today more than ever (especially in more progressive parts of the country), we are careful to raise our boys with a solid understanding of the importance of asking before doing anything remotely sexual to a woman. At many high schools this message is formalized when boys are specifically gathered for an assembly before dances and taught the importance of respecting consent (while the girls are gathered elsewhere and spoken to about their right to say no). We quite literally teach our boys not to rape. It could very well be that we’re already doing such a good job of ingraining the importance of not raping women into our young boys’ minds that the only boys (or the majority of boys) who grow up to do it are in some way mentally ill, pathologically unable to apply this lesson without medical intervention. In order to think it’s acceptable to hurt a woman in this way, in order to miss the unambiguous messages on the subject coming at him from every direction, a man almost needs to have something medically wrong with him.

But our girls get no such lesson. We are taught in the more progressive circles that it’s okay to say no, but never that it’s important to obtain a “yes.” You may have noticed that many of the women in my anecdotes held a sort of cognitive dissonance about consent. They would profess its importance with respect to actions taken by men toward women, but then they’d turn around and touch others in whatever way they pleased. It seemed to be a gaping blind spot in their understanding of respect. They needed to be taught not to behave that way, but when they were, when I or someone else sat them down and explained that it was a problem for us, the behaviour stopped. Many of these women aren’t bad people inherently, and they aren’t mentally ill. They had just never considered that what they were doing was no different than the male-on-female harassment and assault that they publicly decry.

Impressively, I discovered this article from the Huffington Post, a site that often promotes the types of feminism that I contradict regularly. I was surprised to read this self reflection written by a feminist woman who had realized that her actions toward her boyfriend may constitute sexual misconduct, and changed her behaviour to match what she would expect of any man toward her. Clearly respect for consent is something that needs to be learned, or arrived at through deliberate reflection, and this includes women. In this individual woman’s case, her partner specifically admitted to her that he had agreed to sex because he felt guilty, prompting her to re-evaluate the way she approached sex and consent. I imagine most women would benefit from a conversation like this.

In addition to the uneven moral education that the genders receive on such topics, I think an important contributing factor is that network of assumptions with which I introduced this article, a point also alluded to in Weiss’s article linked in the previous paragraph. When we are taught to conceptualize sexual violation as something that men do to women, it engenders such blind spots. And more than that, it engenders an attitude of dismissiveness when the reverse occurs. Nobody thinks of women as capable of committing sex crimes, and it’s widely understood among intellectual communities like mine that this allows women to more or less get away with them (especially toward men, because of the blanket consent they are assumed to give). This analysis of the erasure of female perpetrators and male victims describes the many ways in which the legal system lets women off the hook simply due to socially pervasive assumptions that we just don’t commit these types of crimes. For example, a male juvenile is 46.5 times more likely than a female to be arrested and charged with a sex crime regardless of probable cause, and many cases of female-on-male sexual assault are simply thrown out because female defendants are not taken seriously as potential abusers or because of the belief that the public would never suffer women to be maligned by prosecution.

The actions of Lisa, Joan, Paige, and the two Club Bitches happened in highly populated public areas, with many onlookers, and as I’ve repeated many times now, they received no reprimand, little disagreement, and almost no intervention on my behalf. Friends at the events have more or less shrugged them off. The people who have stuck up for me in such scenarios (including Paige, to her credit) have done so with the knowledge of my trauma disorder, people who sought specifically to protect me from potential symptoms and episodes (as though I am uniquely entitled to not be sexually harassed due to my diagnosis, and not simply that all people have such an entitlement by virtue of being human), and in general, people to whom I’ve spoken at length about sexual violence as a female perpetrated phenomenon. They were people who had learned to conceptualize such acts as potentially female acts. Similarly, I would guess that Marge never conceived of the possibility that I might report her attacks even to a civilian audience, if she had bothered to consider at all that her actions constituted rape.

As I mentioned above, this problem is only compounded when the recipient of such actions is male, since men are not perceived as potential victims of sexual violence (outside, perhaps, the context of prisons). Under the rape culture and resultant Duluth model paradigms, we assume that perpetrators of sex crimes are male, due to the belief that men are naturally sexually aggressive, afflicted by a perpetual state of sexual arousal combined with a certain degree of poor impulse control, always willing to be touched and always interested in sex, and thus can not possibly fail to consent. I can only imagine how many women like those in my anecdotes have forced themselves upon men assumed to be perpetually willing, like the boy who was harassed in the hallway.

WOMEN, AFFECTION, AND CULTURAL NORMS

Indeed, it is apparent in their speech and behaviour that women never get the lesson on what touching is and isn’t acceptable, and it allows for a great deal of casual and unaddressed violation. Some research suggests that lesbian women experience sexual assault by other women at a higher rate than heterosexual women are assaulted by men (a reported 30% of lesbians vs. the oft-repeated 20% statistic for women as a whole).  But what would cause women to want to commit these violations in the first place? In Marge’s case, it was a lack of consideration for my humanity and a focus on her own pleasure, with a healthy dose of spite, along with the first Club Bitch who seemed to only think of her own interests. But for the others, it seemed to be a mere extension of all the other ways friends show physical affection.

Joan didn’t just hug and kiss on the cheek. She did those things, but she also kissed on the mouth, and she groped people. Paige has stated that her actions were motivated by an understanding of her own preferences, and the unexamined assumption that everyone likes what she likes. She was trying to show affection the way that she likes to receive it. I can’t take credit for this idea, which was contributed recently by a woman I know, but female friendship and affection is shown through physical touching. Women touch each other when they talk. We hold hands. We sit on each other. We hug and kiss. We are physically affectionate, far more so than men, as a very well accepted cultural norm. Even many of these casual and innocuous signs of friendship would probably be unwelcome by most women when received by men (especially unfamiliar men), because of the contextual heterosexual implications of affectionate touching between sexes. So it’s not a great leap to contextualize touching between women (especially heterosexual women) as different from that between men and women.

Could it be that culturally, to some extent, women develop closeness by touching each other in ways that men are not permitted to do? I’ve been in many social circles in many towns in which women greet each other with kisses to the mouth and breast touching. The “bean dip,” a quick scooping motion to another person’s nipple, has been a common practice in groups of women with whom I’ve been friends, especially heterosexual women (usually with an attitude of “we’re all girls here,” as if to differentiate the act from one between people who might be sexually attracted to one another). It’s not hard to imagine women who practice these conventions, which are rarely coupled with asking permission (sometimes much to the surprise of the recipient), having trouble drawing the line between a friendly greeting accepted in their circles and sexual harassment. And that line would conceivably blur even further when interacting with men, due to the infrequency with which men’s ability to give or deny consent is considered. Such practices could be a strong contributor to the casual nature with which women feel comfortable touching others in ways that may not be acceptable. Without permission, they are in direct contradiction with the feminist, humanitarian, egalitarian, and sex-positive messages of respect that progressive movements seek to convey concerning sexuality and consent.

SOLVING THE PROBLEM

I don’t mean to condemn demonstrations of friendly affection that are accepted and welcome by individuals who know each other, let alone willing and agreed upon sexual interactions, but I do think that we would do well to implement better education and awareness of the importance of obtaining consent. If my experiences are indeed representative of a trend among women (or even if they aren’t), then the solution is obvious: we need to stop conceptualizing sex crimes through the Duluth model. They are not simply the actions of heterosexual men who want to dominate, subjugate, and objectify women, not merely the result of not teaching men well enough not to rape. Women also commit these violations, and men suffer them, and they occur within both same-sex and opposite-sex interactions.

We need to stop painting men as aggressively sexual beings who perpetually want to get laid, and women as begrudging non-sexual beings or default sexual victims. We need to start conceptualizing men as people who can say no, and women as people who often want and pursue sex. Our advocacy and prevention should reflect a gender neutral understanding of sexuality and sex crimes. My experiences and research strongly suggest that this type of respect is indeed a learned behaviour, so we should stop only teaching boys to respect consent and girls that it’s okay to say no. We should stop teaching only boys to respect women, to never hit a girl, to be courteous and honourable. These are all lessons from which every single person can benefit. We should teach everyone to respect consent and one another, everyone to be nonviolent and honourable whenever possible, and everyone that it’s okay to say no (and also that’s it’s okay to say yes). We need to fight the trend of brushing off men who report sex crimes by calling them lucky, asking if they’re gay, or disbelieving them. We already take violence by men against women seriously, but we should do our best to create a culture that takes sexual assault seriously no matter the gender of the perpetrator or the victim, that understands that everyone can give and deny consent, and that respects everyone’s bodily autonomy and agency.

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Filed under men's rights, rape, sexism, sexual assault

If I Were a Boy

My experiences have been unequivocally fucked up.  When people I know hear or read my story, they look at me differently. They call me brave. They call me strong. They tell me they can’t imagine what it must have been like, and sometimes they can’t imagine how I can move forward as I am. But let me tell you something, as awful as it was, and it really was, I wake up every morning and thank my lucky stars I went through it as a woman, because every single step of my personal nightmare would have been worse if I were a man.

Let me explain.

Let’s rewind the story. If you haven’t read it, I’ll link it here. Go back to day one, when I was 20 years old, discovering I wasn’t straight or monogamous by nature, and the backlash I faced as a result. I had a few people look at me weird for going out with a girl. I had family members tell me it was wrong. But nobody shouted “faggot” as I walked by or questioned my womanhood. Nobody vandalized my property or jumped me.  Even the fundamentalist megaphone preacher that my girlfriend and I attempted to provoke for laughs more or less ignored us.

If I were a boy, consider how much more flack I would have taken just for deviating from heterosexuality. Nobody would have cheered me for my bravery, called me sexy, or lauded my progress for gender equality (all of which were responses I got as a queer woman who had just come out). But there’s a very good chance I would have felt unsafe, as many men have told me they do when someone calls into question their sexual orientation. In a 2004 FBI report on hate crimes, 61% of reported sexual orientation based attacks targeted gay men, with only 14% toward gay women. A feminist friend of mine once told me that it’s easier to be a gay man than a lesbian, because at least they have male privilege. I’m not sure what she meant by that, but if male privilege entails quadrupling my chances of getting my ass kicked for liking what I like, I think I’ll take my female oppression, thank you.

When I was abandoned by my family for daring to be queer, I looked into ways to pay for school. FAFSA was out of the question: my parents made too much and I was too young to file separately. At the time there weren’t a whole lot of resources from LGBT organizations that would help me, but there were a host of scholarships and programs available to me (four times the amount available to men) as a student fortunate enough to have a pair of ovaries. If I were a boy, I’d have had no such luck.

As for the poly aspect, before my ex was abusive or even mean, he was just another guy. The automatic assumptions placed on him for his decision to engage in polyamory were very different from what my then girlfriend and I experienced. He was viewed as a predator, a greedy scumbag, and a misogynist. He was threatened and insulted, even by people who knew me well (and thus should have known I was dating that way because I wanted to). Never mind that she and I made just as conscious of decisions to enter into that relationship as he did. She and I were told that what we were doing was wrong, and occasionally that we’d been brainwashed or coerced. But we were never threatened with physical harm. My father never told her he might have her killed, but he certainly threatened to kill my then boyfriend (enough times and with enough persistence that we wound up calling the police). If I were a boy, again, my safety would have been far more at risk for the same decisions.

Now let’s consider the abuse. For four years, he and I were in a fairly traditional (from an outside perspective) heterosexual relationship. Let’s explore what that might have looked like had our genders been reversed. He left bruises on me that I concealed with clothing and makeup. I left marks on him, too, often bruises and bite and scratch marks, in the process of defending myself. Imagine if I were a boy. My ex would have been lauded for landing that punch to my eye, regardless of the fact that it came first, if our roles were reversed. He would have been a feminist, standing up for women everywhere. People would pump their fists and say “you go, girl!” Even Jezebel was so bold as to condone and cheer women who do to men what my ex did to me.

I would have been condemned for breaking my partner’s nose, because nobody would have believed it was in self defense. If they did, I would have been asked why I didn’t restrain my partner, or leave the house, or try to talk things through. I would have been asked why I felt the need to hit the person, even though I exhausted all those options long before it got that far. I would have been called a misogynist and an abuser, with zero regard for the fact that I was the one being abused. I would have been asked what I did to prompt the person to hit me in the first place. Did I cheat on her? Did I say something blatantly offensive? Surely I must have done something to deserve it. I know this because I know men this has happened to, and when I talk about these issues, these are the questions I am asked on their behalf, as though cheating or insulting are valid reasons for resorting to physical violence (you wouldn’t condone hitting a woman for those things).

The time we went to the police station after arguing over whether or not his behaviour was illegal, both of us looking visibly distressed from the argument, my hand wrapped in ice (which I had bruised on some concrete in a struggle on the back porch), the reaction was obviously gendered. They knew nothing about our circumstances, but they asked me, and not him, if I was okay. They asked me, not him, if he had hurt me. I’d like you to imagine for a moment what might have happened if an upset looking hetero couple walked into a police station, and the man were the one whose hand was wrapped in ice. What might they have assumed about how he came to injure it? What was he striking? Was it the wall? The table? Was it her? If I were a boy, I wouldn’t have been asked if I were okay or if she had hit me, but I may have been asked the reverse.

The officers separated us. They asked me for my side of the story. They asked if I wanted him thrown in the drunk tank, if I intended to press charges, if I needed help finding a shelter. They looked surprised (understandably) when I said no. I never said I made good choices back then. He was not asked questions like that. If I were a boy, I would have been the assumed aggressor, regardless of what had actually happened, and the services available to me as a girl would not have applied. Indeed, if I had asked for those services as a male, to have a female partner arrested or charged, or for help getting to a shelter, as many of my male acquaintances have, I would most likely have been laughed at. I know men who have had officers laugh in their faces for the same things that granted me immediate empathy and kindness, and I have known men who sought out shelters and were denied entry on the basis of their gender. If I were a boy, I would have been mocked, silenced, and possibly arrested for what I went through.

To give you a more striking example, when asked what prompted her to start speaking out for men’s rights, activist Karen Straughan describes a number of instances of female-on-male domestic violence she was aware of when she was younger, including a friend of hers who was violently abused by his partner (about 5 minutes into this interview). At one point, this man was shoved to the ground and cuffed, covered in his own blood, until he managed to communicate to the cops that his girlfriend had a knife and the kids were still inside. If I were a boy, I could have been forced to eat the pavement outside my apartment, put in handcuffs for the offense of being beaten in my living room.

Now let’s consider the sexual violence. Even I don’t particularly like to talk about this, but again, I count myself incredibly lucky that I experienced it as a woman, and not as a man. My ex used to grope me all the time, most days, despite loud and sometimes even violent protest, and he would argue that because we were a couple, he had the right to touch me however and whenever he wanted. Because of this, as well as his aggression and volatility, I usually gave in to sex when he asked. I was terrified of what might happen if I said no, so I had an awful lot of horrible, desperately unwanted sex that usually ended in me crying in the shower. I used my period as a shield, often letting him believe it started days before and ended days after it actually did, praying that he wouldn’t push me to do things anyway. I thank what gods may be that he wasn’t into period sex.

First off, obviously, if I were a boy, the option of claiming to be on my period would not been available to me. Coercive sex and nonconsensual groping might have come any day of the month. My one power play would have been gone. But that’s minuscule compared to what else I might have dealt with.

As a woman, I have the benefit of being believed. Most people don’t even think it’s possible to rape a man, especially if the aggressor is a woman. If I (female me) had tried to involve the legal system in my sexual assaults, I would have had a good chance of pursuing justice. Not just because I was in the right, but because I am a woman and he is a man. I know many men who have been raped and molested, by men or by women. None of them have been able to pursue justice. No questioning of suspects, no arrest, no trial. Sometimes they won’t even make a police report. I have been told soberly by men I care about, “he shouldn’t bother going to the cops; they won’t do anything.”

And then there are the men I know, and many like them, who have endured sexual violence only to have the very paradigm their abuse defies turned against them. I know multiple men who have been told “have sex with me, or I’ll tell everyone you raped me,” a threat that only works because of our cultural assumptions on violence.  I know others who have been assaulted or abused by women who then spread such a rumour throughout their communities, causing my friends to be unsafe in their towns. If I were a boy, I could have been repeatedly assaulted as I was, only to be threatened or beaten by my neighbours for the belief that I was the one doing the assaulting. After all, if I were a boy, who would believe me?

As a woman who has been through this, I can expect immediate empathy from everyone who knows, and culture at large. For my benefit and the benefit of others like me (regardless of my opinion on the subject), jokes about violence against women are considered unacceptable. Trigger warnings are put on everything. Men are warned not to make overt sexual advances toward women, for fear of triggering some potential past trauma. Legislation is proposed and passed to make things easier for women like me and harder for men like my ex. Multi-million dollar organizations exist to help me and to advocate for me. Nobody seems to care about the roughly half of survivors who are not women, whom these efforts ignore, do not help, and often harm.

If I were a boy, I could expect to be told I’m not a real man, or that I must be gay because I didn’t enjoy it. “Some lady forced herself on you? Dude, hi-five!” Or I would be condemned for mocking the suffering of women, of “real” rape or DV victims, by daring to disclose what happened to me. I could expect to turn on the TV and see my trauma portrayed as a comedy trope on shows like Glee, Buffy, and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (which had the date-rape of a male protagonist as its punchline in the very first episode), where people are expected to laugh themselves silly at the idea of a man being touched or made to have sex without his consent. If I were a boy, my four years of hell for which I suffer a very real psychological disorder would be comedy bait, and I might be called a pussy or a homo for not wanting to watch it.

Because I am a woman, I have the culture on my side. The paradigm is on my side. Organizations and advocacy efforts are on my side. The law is on my side. An entire nation with its torches and pitchforks are on my side, ready to decry anyone who even sounds like they are okay with what happened to me. I get hugs, words of comfort, and unblinking, unquestioning empathy for what I went through. Men have none of these things. If I were a man, I’d face invisibility, shame, rampant victim blaming, and a complete lack of resources to pull myself out of the hell hole I was in or seek legal redress. This is not okay.

When people tell me these things happened to me because I’m a woman, I scoff. When I’m told I’m disadvantaged to be a woman, I laugh. When I try to bring these issues to the attention of others, even in casual discussion, I am often told that male victims don’t matter, or that there aren’t enough of them to worry about, or even that men who suffer these things should be grateful for the perspective it gives them on women’s issues and suffering. Those arguments make me physically sick. Do not tell a woman who has been through hell on earth that the only reason you empathize or care about her suffering is the accident of nature that gave her a vagina. Do not tell someone whose loved ones have experienced horrors that their suffering doesn’t matter.

If you have gone through anything like what I went through, even for a day, you have my love and my support, and I fight for you. I don’t care if you’re a man or a woman, or anything else. Nobody should have to experience that. And nobody should have to experience mockery, victim blaming, and invisibility on top of it. Basic human empathy and love should not be gendered, and neither should advocacy, support systems, legislation, criminal investigation, government programs, or availability of shelters. We are all human, and we all deserve safety, respect, and dignity.

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Filed under domestic violence, men's rights, rape, sexual assault