Trigger warning: this column contains graphic and uncomfortable subject matter pertaining to sexual assault and rape.
We need to reframe the way we talk about sexual consent, rape, molestation, and sexual assault so that these conversations include men, those who are transgender and gender fluid, and anyone in between–not just women. Because anyone can be a victim, a perpetrator, or a bystander in the spectrum of sexual assault, and right now, the lines of yes and no have been blurred. So lets examine a few of the myths of sexual assault and talk about how to combat them-and why getting past them is important to making the conversation on consent more inclusive for everyone.
Myth #1: Men are not victims of sexual assault and rape:
One of the larger problems with framing conversations about sexual assault and rape as a women’s issue is that it blatantly overlooks the countless male victims of sexual assault and rape. I have heard arguments that state that because of a man’s anatomy, rape is impossible. To which I say, consent and the shape of your genitals is not correlated because consent is about giving your permission and how/where you have sex has nothing to do with whether or not an act is consensual. I have heard arguments that men are so sexually promiscuous that they obviously always enjoy sex, and therefore cannot be sexually harassed or assaulted. This in general is a harmful narrative about men that diminishes them to nothing but walking talking sex drives, not to mention enforces the gender binary. This type of talk needs some serious re-evaluation.
I have heard arguments that men are statistically so much less likely to be victims of rape that they shouldn’t even be a part of the conversation, to which I point out that men are consistently the victims of sexual assault in prison–and that male victims of sexual assault are often so ashamed of themselves for being raped that they consistently under report these instances. These factors do in many ways level the playing field so much that for incarcerated men, their statistical likelihood to be the victim of sexual abuse is nearly that of women in the general population. And I have also heard that it is impossible for women to rape men, because women are somehow kinder, less violent, and therefore so unlikely to rape that it is a complete anomaly if they do so. To which I say, that treating women as some homogenous group of nurturing innocent parties is as harmful to these conversations as treating all men as monstrous violent parties.
Myth #2 Women cannot be the perpetrators of sexual abuse:
Speaking of portraying people as one homogenous group, the idea that women are not even capable of being perpetrators of sexual abuse is outdated at best, and dangerous at worst. Whether it’s more arguments about the anatomy of women making it impossible for them to rape or the idea that women can always, always, always attract and seduce a man, this is just outright wrong.
Myth #3 Men are responsible for future conversations on consent and rape:
This is a big one. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone with their heart in the right place, identifying rape as the sole responsibility of men to figure out from this point forward. Placing the responsibility of rape on the shoulders of men doesn’t fully communicate the spectrum of people who are victims of sexual abuse, nor does it properly communicate that perpetrators of sexual abuse aren’t always men.
The fact is, victims of sexual abuse are diverse. So are perpetrators. They are men, women, straight, LGBT, gender queer, young, old, disabled, able bodied, upper class, lower class, and all races. And that is only scratching the surface of the many identities of people caught on the spectrum of sexual abuse. And that is why campaigns that identify men as the guilty party don’t tell the complete story of consent.
Myth #4 Mixed messages about consent are not a continuing problem in new, hip media:
Here’s one from 2012 on popular TV show, New Girl, when Cici tells Schmidt, “There’s nothing less sexy than a dude asking if he can kiss you.” Or in the classic case of Robin Thicke’s song Blurred Lines, which did exactly what it said it would in the title, in the worst kind of way, but hey, he knows we want it. Or when wildly successful erotic novel, 50 Shades of Grey, only offers a conversation about consent via a contract, which by the way, is not a legal or moral form of consent. Or on the show, Glee, when Coach Sue Sylvester, drugs, sexually assaults, and blackmails the principal in the episode, “Hell-O.”
Here’s the subtext: men asking for consent are wimps, victims of sexual assault are asking for it, consent is some sort of one and done conversation, and raping men is funny somehow.
Myth #5 Transgender people are sexual predators/asking for it:
Remember that time a few months ago when we were all treated to the collective freak out about transgender people in the bathrooms? Something about them victimizing our precious cisgender family and friends, especially the children. Here’s a fun fact: that’s not a problem. However, the rate that transgender people are attacked is. And part of the reason is that we are often conditioned to see transgender people as sexual predators, or deserving recipients of sexual violence. In fact, 1 in 2 transgender people is likely to become the victim of sexual assault in their lifetime. That’s half of those who identify as transgender, that become victims of sexual abuse. Framing consent as a problem for the men, completely leaves transgender people out of the equation.