Posted by Tejas Subramaniam
Content warning: This article is about sexual assault. It contains frequent references to sexual harassment and sexual assault.
The men’s rights movement claims to campaign against the supposed ‘oppression’ of men and positions itself as an antonym to everything that the feminist movement stands for. Despite this, its deafening silence on the sexual assault of men – especially when juxtaposed against the feminist movement’s support for sexual assault survivors regardless of their gender – seems to indicate that it (the men’s rights movement) is not the movement that challenges structural problems that men face.
If anything, I argue that the feminist movement is the movement that stands for men (along with women and non-binary individuals) who have faced harassment, sexual assault, and rape – making the men’s rights movement wrong not only on issues related to women and non-binary individuals and their oppression, but also on issues related to men. I wish to go even further than this claim. The focus of this writing is to show that the men’s rights movement actively hurts male survivors of sexual assault.
It is an incredibly harmful social standard for us to not believe people who come out as being sexually assaulted because it would only further add to the survivors’ fear of coming out.
I have experienced this personally, as a male survivor. But, on a logical level, I will provide two objective arguments to support this claim.
1. The Men’s Rights Movement Denies The Experiences Of Sexually Assaulted Individuals And Actively Acts Against Them
First, MRA groups are notorious for labelling women who come out as having been sexually assaulted as ‘false accusers’ and not believing them. The men’s rights group A Voice for Men has suggested that rape accusations are frequently a ‘scam’. These male pressure groups in the UK have argued for the anonymity of those accused of rape on the grounds of false accusations. It is an incredibly harmful social standard for us to set when we do not believe people who come out as being sexually assaulted – given that an overwhelming majority of them (90–98%) are telling the truth – because it would only further add to the survivors’ fear of coming out with their stories. Many men’s rights groups in the UK, the US, and India have also suggested that marital rape should be decriminalised, because of the fear of false accusations.
Second, MRA groups take part in actions which actively hurt sexually assaulted individuals – for instance, the National Coalition for Men has outed the identities of women who’ve been sexually assaulted. It is true that these actions have been targeted against sexual assault survivors who are women (and, in many instances, non-binary people). However, they send a message that is truly disconcerting and targeted at sexual assault survivors regardless of their gender – that society shouldn’t believe our claims of sexual assault, that smear campaigns targeted at us are legitimate, that it should be legal to rape someone whom you are married to.
The same principles that these organisations apply to women and non-binary people, in terms of disbelief of accusations and outing their identities, also apply to men who have been sexually assaulted. The message is clear – the interests of the two-percent who are falsely accused matter more than the interests of the victims of the ninety-eight percent who are not.
2. Men’s Rights Activism Rejects The Existence Of A Broader Patriarchy, Dismissing It As An Illusion
Major figures at the helm of the men’s rights movement – such as Milo Yiannopoulos – have suggested that ‘patriarchy’ is an illusion. However, patriarchy not only exists, it is a critical force behind the repression of male survivors of sexual assault.
the interests of the two-percent who are falsely accused matter more than the interests of the victims of the ninety-eight percent who are not.
I argue that patriarchy is a specific social system of gender roles, which (1) relegates women to supposedly ‘feminine’ positions, attempting to deprive them of the ability to rise up the ranks professionally or to pursue sexual gratification, instead pushing a disproportionate burden of emotional and physical labour onto them and objectifying them, (2) pushes men to fit into ‘masculine’ norms, where they are enabled to gain professional and sexual dominance, while being expected to be ‘brave’, ‘dominant’ and ‘aggressive’, cutting off the ability to express themselves emotionally and (3) engages in the erasure of non-binary, genderfluid and non-cisgender individuals. It is true that patriarchy tends to harm women and non-binary individuals significantly more than it harms men, but some men are, nonetheless, victimised by the patriarchy.
There is overwhelming evidence that patriarchy exists. A gender pay gap exists, meaning women make 70 to 90 percent of what men make, on average. Women are 55% of the victims of forced labour and 71% of the victims of human trafficking. 81% of women have experienced sexual harassment. All of this, together, clearly means that there are patriarchal systems of oppression which target women.
However, these patriarchal systems of oppression – which men’s rights movements declare as illusory or non-existent – also oppress male survivors of sexual assault. Masculine gender socialisation means that men are taught that they cannot be ‘vulnerable’ or ‘powerless’ and thus cannot be sexually assaulted. Pop culture displays male sexual assault as something to be mocked. A study by Whatley and Riggio in 1993 found that male survivors are likely to be blamed for what happened to them. In short, patriarchal norms of ‘masculinity’ and ‘aggression’ have spread myths about the existence of male sexual assault that make it hard for male survivors.
Also read: How Patriarchy Hurts Men Too
It is true that one must not homogenise an entire movement. However, a disconcertingly large number of ‘men’s rights organisations’ engage in actions that actively hurt survivors of sexual assault across all genders and sexual orientations, including male survivors of sexual assault.
As a survivor myself, I say this – we need to reckon with the fact that sexual assault survivors, across all genders, ought to be believed and ought not face stigmatisation – and the men’s rights movement has perpetuated the patriarchal oppression of survivors, female, male, or non-binary.
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