Thursday, June 29, 2006

Different for Girls

When I was a high-school-aged teenager, I was vacationing at the beach with my family. Though I didn't know this then, I do now, and so I'm not ashamed to say it: At the time, I looked pretty damn hot, especially in a bathing suit. As a result, a swarm of teenage boys from my hotel would hover around me wherever I went. I was clueless, of course. I thought we were all just buddies.

Anyway, all of this is really neither here nor there. It's just a preface to set the scene for the memory I'm about to describe. I remember I was sitting on the patio that housed the hotel pool, me the only girl, surrounded by about seven teenaged boys. It was that time just before it's really sunset, where the sun's still up, but you can feel its heat getting weaker and the tourists have all left the beach for the night to clean up and you know soon that dusk will be there and the boardwalk rides will light up in the distance, luring you there.

But it was not quite that time yet. And so we were lazily waiting on the patio, me and all those boys, our legs hanging over a wall that dropped down to the mostly abandoned beach below, listening to the waves hit the sand.

Not surprisingly, considering my company and their age, the conversation gravitated over to girls vs. guys and how they were different, dating, and broad jokey teenage hints at sexual topics, and what have you. And suddenly, prompted by nothing specific in the conversation, one of the guys sitting closest to me said in this very solicitous, I'm-your-friend-and-I'm-just-trying-to-help-you kind of tone, "You know, Syl, rape is really bad. But I have to say that best advice I can give you if a guy ever attacks you is to not try to fight. Just let it happen and get it over with. Then at least he won't hurt you or kill you."

The boys around him all nodded seriously at this sage advice.

I'm sure I must have looked at him like he was insane, because he then said, "No, really, if I had a sister, I'd tell her the same thing. It could end up so much worse for you if you fought back."

I said, "Oh really? Okay, let's say a man was about to rape you. Would you stay there and just take it and get it over with?"

This prompted many protestations from the boys about how they'd never be in that situation. Not them. No. Still, I pressed the issue. I wanted an answer. Finally, the guy who'd initiated the discussion said, "Are you kidding? I'd do whatever it took not to have a guy rape me. I'd beat the hell out of him."

I said, "What if you ended up hurt or killed?"

He said, "I'd rather end up dead than have a guy stick something in my ass!"

I said, "So for me it's better to be raped, but for you it isn't?"

To which he said, "Come on, Syl, no guy could live with knowing that happened to him. It's totally different for guys. It's way worse for a guy."

And all the boys nodded again.

I know you're all reading that and thinking, "Idiots." And maybe, "They were just too young to know any better."

But you know what? Those teenage boys, they didn't spontaneously come up with that belief; they were getting it from somewhere. And those teenage boys, they're now grown men. And you have to wonder how many of them ever changed their minds. My guess is probably not many. They may have learned not to say it so stupidly, sure. But most of them probably still think rape is far more awful of a prospect for a man than it is for a woman.

You know it's true; because they're far from alone in this belief. You can see it in the way it's discussed in the media. In the reactions you get from people when talking about a male versus a female rape. In the comments about "how hard it must have been" for a man to come out and "admit" he'd been raped.

Admit it. Some of you out there probably still think that yourself. Measure the reaction you have when you hear a man's been raped on the news against your reaction when you hear a woman was raped.

It's time to lay this fallacious logic to rest.

This post and the memory I described above cropped up because I was just reading an excellent post on myths and misconceptions about rape called "Natural Victims" on Pinko Feminist Hellcat. PFH so simply and clearly sums the whole fucked-up logic behind this phenomenon, it's almost breathtaking:
"I have seen in the comments of different blogs and articles, and heard in conversation, that rape and sexual assault is worse for men because they are men. Men aren't supposed to be raped or victimized; being raped and sexually humiliated makes them feel like women..."
And I just want to say, brava. The woman is right.

And I want to stress what a fucking double insult that is to women. Not only does it minimize our own assaults, but it also minimizes us as a gender.

It's worse for men because being assaulted equates them with women. Read: it lowers them, lessens them; makes them less valuable, more the kind of thing that should "stay there and take it" than a full-fledged human being with feelings and worth who doesn't deserve that sort of treatment. A human being who has the right to value himself enough to feel he is worth fighting for.

Now, please don't misunderstand. I am in NO WAY minimizing the horror of a man being assaulted. That is indeed a horrible and reprehensible thing, and my heart and all my empathy (and I do mean empathy, because I've been there), goes out to each and every man who's been raped or assaulted.

But don't anyone tell me any man's assault is worth more consideration and sympathy, or is more horrible than any woman's. We are not lesser human beings, and we don't feel the terrible impact of assault any less than any man.

And don't tell me that social stigmatization of male rape makes it that much harder for the man than it does for a woman. Yes, stigmatization makes it hard for a man to admit to or talk about his rape. But stigmatization for having been raped is not the sole domain of men. Ask any woman who's been raped. Ask her how comfortable and unstigmatized she felt in trying to tell people what happened to her. Ask her how easy it was for her to admit to herself, let alone others, what happened to her.

Female rape is reported more than male rape because there are more female rapes than male rapes. It's not because it's easier for one than the other. Many, many, MANY women do not report their rapes. Ever. Why? Fear of stigmatization.

Just about every rape victim is subjected to the worst kind of behavior not only during their rape, but after. The blaming responses, the faulty assumptions (many described in PFH's post, so I won't go into them here). It doesn't matter if women hear them MORE OFTEN. They're equally as damaging to either gender. As a result, many vicitims choose to stay silent about it. Both male and female. It's for the same reason. The impact is the same.

And please don't tell me male assaults have more impact exactly because percentage-wise they're less common. That doesn't matter. As with a man, when you're one woman, alone, being assaulted, the percentages aren't there. You're a percentage of one. And percentages don't minimize the post-traumatic stress disorder you will personally experience after the assault. Percentages don't hold you and comfort you and make it all better.

The horror of rape is the horror of rape. Period. For any person, of any gender, of any sexual orientation.

Don't tell me to stay still and take it, you fucker. Don't you dare tell me your violation counts more.

9 Comments:

Blogger Darkneuro said...

Brava to you, love. Wild applause and confetti too.

6/29/2006 10:53 PM  
Anonymous Tory said...

They are both equally fucked up but I would tend to agree that it would be a little harder for a man to admit to being raped. Not because women are worthless or anything like that. A man being raped isnt anymore significant than a woman being raped but it does bring up issues that women just dont have to deal with.

Honestly, women know from a young age to be aware of rapist and predators. I cant speak for any other guy but I cant remember my mom telling me to watch out for someone spiking my drink or dont go alone with guys. I wouldnt say women come to terms with it but women surely know that it is a possibility whenever they go out. Which is quite sad.

6/30/2006 4:47 AM  
Blogger Evil Minx said...

I love how you never allow me to read a post on the 'Teria without activating my brain cells.

Unbelievably thought-provoking, well-written and absolutely essential reading... both here and on the Hellcat. Thanks for the head's up, Syl. You're a star.

Kisses
Minxy

6/30/2006 10:06 AM  
Blogger O said...

This reminded me a bit of the discussion in Susan Brownmiller's "Against Our Will". I will never forget reading that book at 16 or so, it absolutely changed my life, I began to see the ways in which rape and the fear of rape structure and limit female existence every single day for every woman, in ways it does not men.

Anyway, yes--we should never forget what the numbers are. Pointing out that some number of men have been raped too is like pointing to male victims of domestic violence--it's not that there arent male victims of these crimes, but the overwhelming majority of the victims are female.
Brownmiller has an interesting side discussion of the peculiar horror of male rape: she points out that much of it is due to its being a forced feminization of a man. It's experienced as being made or turned into a woman, and this condition of being female is experienced as degrading.
She also points to the language employed: the terms used for the male victims of rape in prison are ones which are typically applied to women: "bitch" and so on. I'll have to go dig it out now and reread it!

But i also have to say that I think there are far far more male victims of rape than are reported. I suspect the number in the prison system is extremely high, and a lack of reportage there may well reflect the institution's desire to suppress or hide or discourage reporting.

What angers me about what was said to you is the way in which women are encouraged to be passive, even in circumstances which men believe warrant extreme measures of self-defense for themselves. I dont see this as specific to male rape being perceived differently; i see it as part of a far larger pattern in which women are told to be passive, accepting, acquiescent: in short, "female".

cheers
O

7/01/2006 3:43 PM  
Blogger Amber said...

A man being raped isnt anymore significant than a woman being raped but it does bring up issues that women just dont have to deal with.

Wow, Tory, you seem to know an awful lot about it. Tell me, what might those "issues" be?

7/13/2006 9:08 PM  
Anonymous AW said...

I think that there's also an element of double standards, merely on the teenage boy's part. The feeling that he would rather die or risk death or a severe beating than be raped, but that he thinks that for the girl it's better to survive. Also that as a man he 'has' to fight back, otherwise he's not only 'not a man', 'unable to defend himself', and 'weak', but also possibly condoning it. Whereas he seems to think that a woman doesn't need to prove to herself or others that she can protect herself, that she is 'strong', and assumes no-one would think that she's condoning it by not resisting, because her resistance would not work. Whereas he thinks his might, and either way as a man, he must try.

AW

7/28/2006 10:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What angers me about what was said to you is the way in which women are encouraged to be passive, even in circumstances which men believe warrant extreme measures of self-defense for themselves. I dont see this as specific to male rape being perceived differently; i see it as part of a far larger pattern in which women are told to be passive, accepting, acquiescent: in short, "female".

Not to mention that the less a woman fights back, chances are the less she'll be believed that she was raped. "Did you resist? Did you try to fight back? Oh, you just laid there? Well then, I'm not so sure you were raped."

I think the belief that rape is worse for men also stems from the misconception that rape is just about sex. So it's supposedly worse for [straight] men because sex with a man is disgusting to them (notice how the boy focused on not wanting a dick in his ass). Similarly, lots of people think that rape would be much more traumatic for a virgin than for a woman who has had lots of sex.

7/28/2006 11:58 PM  
Blogger Miss Syl said...

All: Your comments are just so fabulous, thoughtful, and well articulated. It would take me hours to answer every one individually, so I'll just consider this one a group discussion. But in light of acknowledging everyone:

Darkneuro: Thanks, you luscious thing.

Tory: I think it is hard for either gender to understand how hard it would be for the other one. I can assure you it's equally as hard for a woman. It's true that some issues and responses will be similar after the fact, and others will be different, but none of them are easier.

Minx: And you're a galaxy. xo

O: You've blown me away with this response. I'd like to sit down with you over coffee and just talk for a whole night. In short, though, I am right on with everything you're saying. And I'm definitely picking up that Brownmiller book. Thanks for clueing me in. I actually think the publisher I used to work for may have published her...but I can't remember, and I never got a copy of that book.

Amber: Fully understand the response. I do think men and women, based on their gender identities and the societal stereotypes based on them, *might* have both some similar AND some different issues to contend with after a rape. (Not that the differences are any easier or harder for either gender--just different.)

AW: Excellent points. Though, of course, as anonymous says below, if this were his logic, it would of course be faulty, since women are blamed all the time for not fighting back.

Anonymous: Great point regarding the rape as solely sex thing. While I don't agree with the widely-held assertion that rape is not a sexual act, and is solely an act of power/control (I think it is both), I do NOT think it is a sexual act in terms of "normal" sexual function. A man having sex with a woman (implying consent), is never the same as as man raping a woman. They are not the same thing. But I think you're correct that people somehow make that link.

7/29/2006 10:05 PM  
Blogger Norman said...

Very impressive. Wonderful stuff. I hope to come back and spend more time here.

I am a book artist and my site is
ufemisms.com/

I just recently started a site called artasidentity.blogspot.com

I've linked to your site. Hope you have the chance to visit mine.

8/07/2006 3:47 PM  

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