Rape has become an accepted part of our contemporary society. The majority of rape cases are those of women being assaulted by male perpetrators, yet among society’s members, there are a considerable number of male rape victims as well. Society views rape as more of a female-targeted issue; however, traditional gender roles play a key part in these issues, as well as hegemonic heterosexual standards. However, a common theme in all rape cases, of both men and women, is that the victim is blamed more than she or he should be. Why is this so? Why is society so quick to blame the victim, and why do we assume she asked for it? Though the rape of men is a severely understudied issue, current information attributes blame to men victims much in the same way we assume women are to blame in many of the same situations. Since when has rape become just a woman’s issue?
According to a study by Sandy White and Niwako Yamawaki of Brigham Young University (2009), the idea traditional gender roles is among the highest reasons why male rape goes unrecorded. According to their theories, because the act of rape is an assertion of power, for a man to be raped by another man would suggest that the victim is less masculine (White and Yamawaki 2009:1117). Because society dictates that a man be not only strong and aggressive, the idea that another man can violate a male victim would suggest that the assaulted male is closer in gender to a woman because women are expected to be more passive in character. If a man is sexually over-powered by another male, do we assume that he asked for it?
Fred Pelka’s text, “Raped: A Male Survivor Breaks His Silence” (1995) includes an astounding statistic that one out of every twelve rape survivors is male (1995:578), and one out of every eleven boys and young men will experience sexual abuse before their eighteenth birthday (1995:579). Comparatively, the U.S. Department of Justice reports that a woman is raped every six minutes (White and Yamawaki 2009:1116). There is no question that women are raped more than men, as evidence by these statistics, but it would be unfair to assume that the trauma that occurs post-assault does not include the same reactions: depression, anxiety, and hostility (White and Yamawaki 2009:1117). The difference between women and men after being raped is that men experience the loss of gender identity.
The common assumption among male rape victims is that there was a homosexual tendency involved. Alternatively, when a male assailant rapes a female, there is very little, if any, question of either gender identity or sexual orientation. Because male-male sexual acts are assumed homosexual in nature, outsiders have less patience with the idea that men can be taken advantage of. The heterosexual hegemonic traits of a traditional man suggest that he should be physically built to be the aggressor in any situation, and as Goffman states in his 1968 definition of the “ideal” man, if any man fails to meet these qualifications, he is unworthy, incomplete, and inferior (Smith 2009). The underlying message here is that if a man “allows” another male to sexually over-power him, he must be homosexual, and therefore want to engage in a homosexual act. An example of this issue can be found in the movie Pulp Fiction (1:46:14-1:47:10), in which the characters Marsellus Wallace and Butch Coolidge are bound and gagged, and Wallace ends up being raped. Neither characters are gay, in fact they are depicted as a “man’s man;” both are physically intimidating and aggressive. The key component in this scenario is that Wallace, though he has just been raped, does not question his sexual orientation, and he continues to adhere to hegemonic masculine traits.
This idea is, however, and obviously, extremely wrong to assume. Society places this idea into our minds because we exist in an extremely homophobic society, and the idea that a man can rape another man doesn’t fit among our ideas of the perfect sexual encounter. Although there are a considerable amount of homosexual rapists, White and Yamawaki (2009) report the findings of a 1998 study by Hodge and Canter that state of the fifty male rape victims and perpetrators, 53% of them were heterosexual. Pelka references two myths among our society; first, that “men simply don’t get raped, at least not outside prison,” and “all men who are raped or rape other men are gay… a product of our culture’s homophobia, and our ignorance of the realities of sexual violence” (Pelka 1995:579). To clarify, Pelka, a victim of rape, is heterosexual, and his assailant was a complete stranger. This fact alone proves that male rape victims do not ask for it, just as female rape victims don’t, and that a male rape victim isn’t homosexual.
Although it should be noted that not all male rape victims are targets of other men, there is a significant amount of male rape victims that have been assaulted by women. This, of course, adds to the degradation of gender role traditions since men are supposed to overcome women, not the other way around. “Heterosexual males raped by women may begin to wonder if they are gay because they did not want to have sex, and heterosexual males raped by men may wonder if they sent out a homosexual ‘vibe’ that caused the perpetrator to rape them” (White and Yamawaki 2009:1117).
One difference between men and women, in relation to rape, is that men do not have to worry about where they go, when they leave their home, or who they need to bring with them in order to feel safe. For women, all these factors have to be considered. In the episode “Stewie Loves Lois” from Family Guy, Peter visits the doctor for a routine check-up, including a prostate exam. Peter feels safe at the doctor’s office, as many non-cartoons do, trusting in the doctor to do what’s right without thinking about what could go wrong. In this particular scenario, Peter mistakes the prostate exam as rape, and as the clip shows, exaggerates what really happened. Though this clip is meant to be funny, it parallels the idea that men, as well as women, are often taken advantage of those they trust, and in many situations, being taken advantage of leads to rape.
In these situations, who’s to blame? One issue that women have had to deal with, and male rape victims tend to see more clearly, is that the victim is usually blamed first. Again, it’s the she asked for it mentality. In rape investigations, one of the first questions asked is “Did you know your assailant?” This question, as White and Yamawaki suggest is less important in male rape cases than female rape cases, since it’s usually not considered at all when dealing with a male rape victim (2009:1118). In both male and female rape cases, “The rape is minimized, and the victim is blamed more with the acquaintance-, date-, or married-rape scenarios than with the stranger-rape scenario” (White and Yamawaki 2009:1118). But why do we minimize rape at all? No matter the relationship the victim has with their attacker?
Timothy Beneke states in “Men on Rape,” (1982) “The threat of rape is an assault upon the meaning of the world; it alters the feel of the human existence” (Beneke 1982:537). It alters the way men feel about themselves, it causes them to question their accountability of their roles in their attack, just as women have to recount what happened to them to make sure they never mixed signals. The white elephant in the room is that rape victims, because they are blamed by society, blame themselves. Rape causes shame in the victim, most times causing them to leave their rapes unreported. Gayle Rubin (1984) does not include rape in her deviant characteristics; however, she includes homosexuality among the deviant traits (1984:102). Because we see homosexual encounters as “bad,” it’s no wonder men like Pelka are told to “pull up [your] pants ‘and forget it ever happened’” (Pelka 1995:579).
The idea that rape is a woman’s issue is a product of male privilege. As Peggy McIntosh discusses in “White Privilege and Male Privilege,” (1988) until men relinquish their statuses automatically privileged, rape, among a vast amount of other issues, will always be a woman’s problem. Until we realized that male rape happens outside of the prison system, society will never fully accept it as a severe issue among men. It does happen, victims shouldn’t be blamed for being overpowered, and we still need to accept that. Even if a woman wears a short skirt, or one man is smaller in size than other, does not mean the human race can force one another to engage in sexual encounters. Male rape is an issue we need to continue to study, and speak out about. Rape is a burden both men and women need to share, if not because we know someone who’s been raped, but because one day, we might.