Thursday, May 1, 2014

Men as Rape Victims

I came across this article on Slate today. The subject is a new study that shows that men are victims of rape about as often as women. Even when one factors in all of the rape that occurs in prison, apparently a substantial amount is woman-against-man violence.

I will admit, I have not looked at the study itself in great detail, and I perhaps do not have the skill required to evaluate its merits. Furthermore, I have not found any reporting on the study beyond this Slate article. So there is a possibility that it is flawed.

I do think it is important to consider the results seriously, though. Regardless of what the evidence shows, it is important to have an accurate understanding of the circumstances under which rape occurs (if one wishes to stop it).

That said, I am a little concerned about how the results of this study may be used by those who like to claim that feminists make things up and resort to wild exaggerations to maintain their "victim" status.

Let's ask ourselves: do the results of this study, if true, really prove that men have it "just as bad" as women? That patriarchy is a figment of feminists' imaginations?

Well, first of all, your conclusions will depend on how you understand rape. If rape is merely an outgrowth of uncontrollable sexual desires, then the results of this study indicate that a not-insignificant portion of humanity, male and female alike, is so unable to control its sexual appetites that it cannot but help inflicting violence on fellow humans in order to satisfy primal urges.

Some people do hold such a view of humanity and I don't know that there is anything I can do to convince them (on a blog, at least) otherwise. I have written previously, however, in opposition to the idea of an innate, unchangeable "human nature" that is ultimately unaffected by the forces of society and history.

A more sociologically informed view of rape sees it as an instrument of domination, a manifestation of hierarchy, rather than simply a means of obtaining sexual pleasure. From this perspective, what the results of the recent study would mean is that there are forms of subjugation other than those based on male domination of females, which may be carried out, on a micro level, through sexual assault.

The discussion in the Slate article fails to address any social dimensions other than gender. What we don't know is how class, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, and other social realities factor into this. There is, however, evidence that the oppressed among all of these categories are far more likely to be subject to sexual violence. Therefore, it should not be so shocking that men are raped very often too.

But it should also not be overlooked that this study (once again, if true) undermines some of the key arguments of feminism's detractors. Namely:

1. There's not much we can do about rape, because men just can't control their sexual desires
2. There's not much we can do about rape unless women change the way they dress or how they act at parties
3. There are fundamental, biological differences between men and women
 3.a. Men are naturally aggressive
 3.b. Women are naturally passive, helpless

Obviously, women are just as capable of perpetrating acts of violence and men are just as capable of falling victim to them.

It will be interesting to see what information further research provides.

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