Time’s Up on Stigma

Our culture continues to ignore male survivors of sexual violence.

Illustrator: Morgan Wittmers Graves

The catalyst of the #MeToo movement, arguably one of the most important of this generation, was a story published in early October of 2017. The New York Times article detailed the accounts of multiple actresses’ encounters with the now infamous perpetrator of sexual assault and coercion, Harvey Weinstein. Instead of dying out overnight, a national conversation was immediately ignited, with survivors of sexual assault sharing their stories from Hollywood to Capitol Hill. The nation was intrigued by their candor and appalled by their assailants’ actions. In a country as supposedly equal and industrious as ours, sexual violence is thought to be a relic of the past, or something that is committed by criminals featured on the ten o’clock news, but certainly not by our bosses, advisors, and peers.

Since then, the #MeToo movement has only strengthened, expanding from accounts of only the most famous in American society to include those of athletes, local politicians, and workers most prone to harassment, such as waitstaff. Yet with the sudden social emphasis on survivors sharing their stories, it is becoming more and more blatant that there is a group of victims that is still largely being ignored in the #MeToo movement: men.

In the United States, and most of the modern world, gender roles are institutional adages that are learned and practiced from birth. Girls are taught to be docile and polite, lest they cause any ripples, while boys are taught to be commanding and abrasive, with no opportunity to show empathy or vulnerability. These expectations are what cause men to feel entitled, occasionally to the point of violence, to the attention and affection of those they are interested in, while rendering them silent for fear of social repercussion when they are on the receiving end of this violence. On average, one out of every ten victims of sexual violence is male; it is no wonder why they feel they have nowhere to turn in a system that only benefits those who fit the mold.

Yet there have been notable attempts to bring the plight of male victim-survivors into the mainstream. There was an investigation in January from The New York Times that highlighted the sexual assault committed by designers Mario Testino and Bruce Weber upon dozens of male models in the fashion world. Actors such as Terry Crews and Brendan Fraser have come forward to share their encounters with sexual misconduct at the hands of powerful Hollywood executives. Perhaps the most well-known example is when Anthony Rapp called out Kevin Spacey, causing others who have suffered at his hands to speak up, and Spacey to be ousted from House of Cards and shunned from the public sphere. However, public outcry focused more on the disbelief that Spacey was capable of such horrendous deeds than on uplifting the stories of the survivors.

It’s perhaps in the nuances of consent, circumstance, and exploitation where our cold indifference toward male victims is most apparent. In a recent episode of American Idol, Katy Perry decided to give a male contestant his first kiss without warning, leaving the man feeling frustrated and uncomfortable. If the roles were reversed, with a male in the position of power and a woman competing, outrage would be swift and prominent, resulting in an onslaught of tweets and an uptick in donations to Time’s Up, the organization created in the wake of #MeToo to fund legal battles concerning harassment. On the other extreme are the countless stories of young female teachers raping their teenage male students, which often includes bribery on the part of the teachers to silence their victims. The media has played these stories to seem like consensual relationships that the boys have a say in, but rape is rape, and the stories of these vulnerable teens have not received the attention they deserve.

According to RAINN, victims of sexual assault are more likely to abuse hard drugs, feel severely distressed, and have problems maintaining professional, familial, and romantic relationships, issues which only worsen if the victims do not seek out help. If our society continues to discredit the valiant men who are attempting to come forward and share their stories, they will only be reinforcing the harmful gender roles that so many activists and everyday people are trying to dismantle. Men are hurting, and it’s time for #MeToo to truly become intersectional and hear their pleas.