By Apsara Senaratne
Since the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the subsequent #MeToo and Time’s up movements, many women have stepped forward and shared their own experiences with sexual assault and harassment. Likewise, powerful men have been called upon to confess to their involvement in instances of sexual harassment, most often as the abusers.
However, society would do well to remember that men are also often targets of sexual violence. The progress we’ve made in the past few months is remarkable, but we must continue this conversation and extend it towards all who have experienced harassment, including men.
The 2013 National Crime Victimization Survey found that among 40,000 households, 19 out of every 50 men had been sexually assaulted in their lifetime. Less than 10% of these men reported such cases, and even fewer sought therapy.
These findings shouldn’t come as a surprise in a society that tends to turn a blind eye towards the emotional and mental health of men.
Young boys are often told to “man up,” or to “just deal with it” in the face of emotional distress. These are the results of toxic masculinity, the attitude that tells males that they cannot cry, cannot show fear, cannot be vulnerable or sensitive. It also helps to characterize violence as a viable alternative, and discourages men from expressing emotions that do not fit the traditional standard of masculinity.
A new meta-analysis published in the Journal of Counseling Psychology showed that adherence to stereotypically masculine behaviours such as emotional control, self-reliance, and violence were closely associated with mental health issues such as stress, depression, and, most frequently, difficulty forming and maintaining relationships.
These men, who made up over half of the study’s participants, were far less likely to seek professional and emotional help than women, and even less likely to seek help for the emotional aftereffects of sexual abuse.
Additionally, according to a clinical study by Tracy Simpson and William R. Miller, men with sexual harassment histories were more apt to participate in substance abuse as adults, which could lead to damaged relationships with friends, family, and spouses.
Few men participate in conversations about sexual assault, and when they do, it is often as passive supporters, not as victims. Some argue that opening the discussion regarding the harassment of men would distract from the hardships faced by women, and that society’s systematic privileging of men disqualifies them from conversations about sexual assault.
However, male victims can face more intense shaming and ridicule than their female counterparts—not only because of the vulnerability associated with victimhood, but also because of their gender. It’s easier for society to acknowledge female victims because of the underlying assumption that they are inherently weak. But when male victims step forward, it’s pathetic and embarrassing.
However, harassment and misogyny are much more extensive topics. Male harassment does not discount this discussion.
Anthony Rapp, the first of a list of fifteen men to accuse Kevin Spacey of sexual misconduct, should not be silenced. All male victims, who make up 38% of all occurrences of rape, should not be silenced.
It is true that men cannot fully understand all of the difficulties faced by women in such a misogynistic society – it is true that it is primarily women who are often consistently oppressed and harassed by sexual predators such as Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump.
However, men, too, suffer due to the byproducts of our misogynistic society. While the fact that women are now receiving more social support and acknowledgment in discussions of sexual violence is a sign of improvement, we still have a ways to go before we treat male sexual assault cases with the same gravity.
Male victims of sexual violence are silenced far more than female victims. If men are encouraged to speak in a manner that truly reflects their emotions, we can have a genuine conversation with understanding on both sides.