What is the one act which negates that a man is a man but which reaffirms that a woman is a woman? Rape.
A couple days ago, a story hit the front page of CNN, Fox, CBS, NBC, ABC and other news services: There is a serial rapist in Baytown, 30 miles from Houston, and he is targeting and raping men, with least five victims so far. Each of the news reports carry the same slightly odd tone, they report that yes, either 1 in 10 or 1 in 5.5 rapes/sexual assaults are male, the last attack was Nov. 30th, this man seems to be targeting his victims, is more interested in rape than money and....drum roll.....the suspect is a black man targeting white middle class 18-21 year old men.
The topic quickly spread in internet forums and newgroups and the second most common response was how the story validated the hatred of many different groups of which the most common was 1) hatred of gays (usually the story was retitled using the term “sodomite”), 2) the need for guns, guns, guns – that this instance was proof that every American male needs a gun, and that if you, particular as a Texan male, don’t have one, your butt hole is at risk and 3) hatred of blacks (particularly black males), usually with “safety tips” like, “Any man that lives in Texas, is around blacks enough to be raped by one of them, and does not have a state issued Concealed Handgun License, is a fool.” And “Actually, african black males will rape anyone, regardless of gender, race … or species.”
Those were the second most common responses, the first most common was: “This is what? A fake news bullitin? shall we go to snopes? I dont buy it.. no dude can be "raped".. I just dont see how that would be possible.” Yes, the most common response was, total disbelief, later mingled to asserting again and again that “it simply could not happen to a “real man” as the first poster on rotten tomatoes forum states, “The day I'm robbed and raped by a clean-shaven man who stands a mere 5-foot-6-inches, is the day I put a bullet through my brain.”
We have a serial rapist who stalks, studies behavior and safe times, chooses younger victims, has a gun and a knife, forces the victims into their deserted homes, he duct tapes the young men’s hands and blindfolds them. But yet, in such a situation, with a gun at their head or a knife at their throat, no “real man” could be raped. Uh huh. This reaction and the reaction of the media itself highlights this strongly held myth which is tied to cultural male identity; a belief in the inherent right or nature of men sexually to control, objectify, dominate or decide. Any study of history, from bank robberies to concentration camps will show that “real men” when confronted with the choice of possible survival, to probable immediate death at the hands of someone with a gun, will choose the path which may lead to survival. Yet we have this idea that when it comes to sex and objectification, this simply DOES NOT HAPPEN.
Now Texas, where these rapes are occurring, is the second highest state in reported annual rapes. This year, based on previous crime rates, there will be 8,500-9,000 forcible rapes in Texas in 2006; not yet quite 1,000 every month, but getting closer to it. Harris county in Texas, which Baytown is a part, has 1.2 million women, of which, when only counting full penetrative rapes, not attempted rapes or other sexual assaults, over 150,000 women in Harris county have been raped. This is Texas, where 15 years ago, the supreme court ORDERED a task force to develop points based on current behavior of gender bias which needed to be changed. It was published five years later telling judges, lawyers and law enforcement to change thier current behavior in sexual assault cases regarding women: blaming victims for causing the abuse or assault, questioning the credibility of female crime victims in ways that the credibility of male crime victims is not questioned and viewing domestic violence and sexual assault as less serious than other criminal acts. Texas only launched its first public awareness campaign on sexual assault 2 and ½ years ago. Rape, for women, in Texas, is a quietly understood event of which over 1 million texas women have unwilling participated. That isn’t news; and until recently, wasn’t something significant enough to motivate law enforcement to make a public campaign. Indeed, a serial rapist two years earlier in Houston, 30 miles from Baytown, who sexually assaulted seven women by entering their house after their husbands left for work did NOT make national news. Indeed there are several differences between the way the two stories were reported, differences which made the story reported on CNN so interesting; because of the emphasis, ever present, that men being raped was “different” indeed, in many ways “more serious.” And though traditionally the public in treatment of rape survivors are quick to jump on the “blame the victim” bandwagon (including sweeping assumptions about what “real men” would do), for these male victims this does not yet seem to include the standard rape versions of “they were asking for it.” For instance, did the young men dress provocatively? Were they perhaps consciously inciting the lust in other men with their lean, taut, bodies defined by sexually appealing clothes? Were they perhaps to blame in opening the door to a stranger, knowing the vulnerability and position attractive young men are viewed in this society. Had they been sexually active, leading others to believe that they were promiscuous, or “asking for it?”, did the police ask or imply if this was really a “rape” at all, or had their boyfriend had hard sex with them before splitting up and this was some sort of revenge ploy? Why hadn’t they taken a self defense course? Why didn’t they have a whistle? Were they aware of their surroundings at all times? And, like the woman in the Mike Tyson trial, is it likely they will have their raped orifice blown up to 6 foot posters to present in the courtroom as evidence?
The way the case is being treated and reported is that this is something horrible, something entirely special which has happened (though today another 25-30 people will be forcibly raped in Texas) because this person was a black stranger who was targeting and raping men. In a way, it is different, simply because in many states, including Texas: “a grown man could not file rape charges against another man who raped him.” Boys get abused, but MEN don’t get raped (It was only 11 years ago that the first male rapist of another adult male was sent to prison in the UK). This is different from the clear societal viewpoint at work in which women (and often gay men) have an understood niche in society if they are raped, even if that might be that they are, in some ways, born to be raped, or where the value of their sexual violence against them is determined by someone other than themselves (that rape for some types, and some women, isn't really that bad), as the continued forum discussion on this serial rapist brought up the opinion that “the gay/tranny street prostitute type kid/young adult who might not be inclined to fight back because risking their life to avoid anal sex is not simply worth it (just as many female prostitutes submit to rape without fighting and report it later)..." Since, "..Raping a prostitute is like shooting a person about to jump off a bridge.”
The instance of men raping men, while given a greater social significance; an attitude nationally that this is a “serious” crime; also puts the victims in a position in which they are excluded from society. There is simply no place in western culture for the individual male victim of rape to be acknowledged as a fully masculine human being. Yes, the act itself is horrific, but perhaps as much of the horror of the rape is the greater horror that such an event occurring threatens the perceived and enforced “natural order.” It is hard to look at these male victims, not just because of the sympathy, but because, as almost every male commenting needs to verify about themselves with statements about guns or wrestling to freedom or how it is “impossible” that the existance of these male victims of rape attacks their concept and definition of masculinity. The typical worldview, in which a person, always either a woman or a child is objectified and used sexually, but then partially blamed for the act conceived, planned, put into effect and created solely by the rapist is overturned by this Baytown rapist. To the North American view of the world, it simply cannot be accepted as making sense, and that is how it was reported.
There are significant differences between the way the story of the Baytown Serial rapist was reported and the potential serial rapist in West Texas last year, or the serial rapist in Houston two years ago. In most news reports involving females there is little to no desire to hide the identity of the women who have just been raped or sexually assaulted. For example, in the Houston story, while the name of the woman is not given, the block she lives on is, along with the age of her children, the name of her neighbor and a picture of her house. The story tells which hospital she is being taken to for rape testing and includes the block addresses of the previous six female victims of this serial rapist. If the rape isn’t an home invasion (and sometimes if it is), there is usually an ending piece telling women what they SHOULD BE DOING to make sure this doesn’t happen to them like only traveling in pairs, take precautions at night, etc. The overall subtheme is that, rape happens, it will happen, it happened to her, and it could very likely happen to you (and that the need for privacy isn’t really that necessary since, after all, as women, you knew this was a significant possibility).
The story of the serial rapist of men was siginificantly different; while AP and CNN report that 1 in 33 men have been a victim of rape in the US, they also state: “That makes him something of a rarity in the world of crime”. “The story quotes one person saying that it is basically only a matter of time until rape turns into murder while another says it is rare for a serial rapist to become a serial murderer. There are no details on the victims, no ages, no specific locations, no specific methods, and no specific mention on what young men should or even could be doing to protect themselves except the repeated thought; I want him off the streets and locked up like yesterday." The theme of the report is these events “make no sense” (as if giving a statistic which stated that millions of men in the US have been raped but then saying it is a rarity didn’t tip that off). Along with the hope that once this person is locked up, masculinity can go back to the status quo – even if that means tossing all the male rape victims aside, since, with the cloak of silence, it is implied and understood that their life as a “real man” is probably over anyway. That, for me, simply isn't good enough. Any view of gender (and masculinity) which means abandoning the people who are most in need of help: the vulnerable and the victimized; may be one which can make the nationals news, but should be recognized as one which needs to be abandoned.
This is my experience: when men talk about rape of men; it is a joke usually with a reference to prison. Haha! (NOT! Particularly when Texas is the number 1 in the country for reported prison rape but managed to only substantiate and act on less than 3% of those reported cases). When women talk about rape of sexual abuse; be prepared; because the stories you will hear are not jokes in any way; and so horrific to normally be unbelievable...if they weren’t so common. The experiences, though almost too much to hear (raped by a relative from the age of 6, gang raped, held by three men; tortured and repeatedly raped, repeated spousal rape and physical abuse, date rape, etc), give a feeling that if you haven’t been sexually abused or experienced attempted rape then you probably either didn’t date enough guys, didn’t go to enough college parties or weren’t left “in good hands” enough times as a youngster. I am not trying to diminish the pain and simple inhumanity every single act of rape or sexual abuse demonstrate; I am trying to highlight a problem when the way one gender looks at rape is either with disbelief or a joke and when the other has the threat of it, or the effects of it hanging over them constantly. The confustion, need and threat felt in the reports of the Baytown rapist shouldn’t simply be about finding him and getting him locked away so everyone can forget about this “rarity” and return to status quo. Instead how about wondering how it possible we live in a country like the US where several hundred thousand women AND men are raped EVERY year. That is the great challenge to gender issues, and a fact which continues to threaten and confuse me.
10 hours ago