Gender Roles: Men, Women, And Rape

This week on campus, a number of movements picketed and soapboxed to prevent sexual assault. And don’t get me wrong; that’s a very good thing. Rape and sexual assault are some of the more heinous and damaging crimes that human beings can enact upon one another. My problem is not with groups determined to prevent these crimes, but with the nature of these groups.

Take the main organization on campus, for example: CHAMPS.

CHAMPS is a division of the CARE office here on campus, and it stands for “Challenging All Men to Prevent Sexism.” Now, ignoring the fact that that’s an imperfect acronym, I have another beef with the naming of the program: Men. Hang on, let me check a dictionary really quick: n., prejudice or discrimination based on sex. That’s weird … it doesn’t say anything about how sexism is a sin relegated only to the proportion of our population possessing penises.

And then there’s the White Ribbon Campaign, which CHAMPS makes a point to associate itself with.

A glance at the White Ribbon Campaign’s website reveals some dynamic logos and the words: “What Does It Mean to Be A Man Today? It’s Time For A New Vision of the Perfect Man.” The White Ribbon Campaign further promises to educate men about how they can further prevent gender-based violence, a trait seemingly limited to their barbaric sex.

That’s my main problem here. Last I checked, our society was striving for an egalitarian approach, not a sexist one. The vision was that men and women are equal, and must be treated equally … so then why does no one care about men?

Oh, I know what you’re thinking, reading that line. Privilege comes to mind, I’m sure; a word you’d love to scream at me. What does a man know about sexism? When are men ever mistreated? How can a woman rape a man?

That last question is oh-so-poignant. Last week, images of a young man holding Sharpie’d posters (in the vein of “I need feminism because”) explained the dangers of viewing rape as a gendered crime. When he explains that he was raped, people simply ask: “How can a woman rape a man?” When he saw his rapist out on the street, he simply broke down, as can be expected, and his then-fiancee’s only response was: “Why don’t you man up?” Man up? Same sort of sexism as calling someone a “pussy” for being in touch with their feelings, isn’t it?

A woman gets a man drunk, then sleeps with him. Rape?

How about this: A man gets a woman drunk, then sleeps with her? Beginning to see the double standard?

Let’s put it in a pop culture perspective. During the AMA’s this previous week, 18-year-old Justin Bieber was practically molested on stage by the 40-year-old Jenna McCarthy, who groped, kissed and wouldn’t let him go, despite furious wriggling on the Canadian pop star’s part. Afterwards, Bieber struggled away and somewhat jokingly claimed, “I feel violated.” McCarthy was flirtatious, but unapologetic. When Bieber tried to explain his displeasure, fellow stars and starlets claimed to be envious of his position, and even joked about his sexual preference. Right. Because you’d have to be gay to not allow unwarranted, public sexual advances, right? But to really get a grasp on this situation, just picture a gender reversal: a washed-up man in his forties, groping a nubile young 18-year-old girl on stage. Think society would be up in arms? Think you’d be?

But back to the problem of rape, and it is a big problem, for many reasons.

One being its definition: until this past January, the federal definition of rape was “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will.” Not only does this discount female-to-male rape, and other forms of sexual assault, but it also totally discounts the thousands of men who are raped in prison each year, who are still wholly ignored in rape statistics today.

Additionally, another issue with the criminal justice system’s treatment of rape deals with a lack of anonymity, and, quite frankly, a stance of guilty until proven innocent.

A victim of sexual assault should never be afraid to go to the authorities, but that attitude gives rise to a slew of new problems. A man can have consensual sex with a woman, and if the woman so desires, she could quite easily accuse him of rape and have him arrested. Even when the man proves himself innocent, the case was made public, and he may still be labeled a sex offender.

I suppose the real issue here is gender roles, on both sides. An absurd amount of sexism in society has made it so men must be tough, because men are privileged. Men are naturally sexist brutes, and all of them have the potential to rape. That’s why they have the distinct privilege of being drafted into the military, whereas women are not. And the same sexism victimizes women, indoctrinating them into buying into myths like Schrödinger’s Rapist (assume every man is a potential rapist).

Consider the very nature of feminism’s monopoly on equality, that implies oh-so-ironically that men, or anyone who does not ally themselves with feminism, is not an egalitarian.

But feminism, as much as it claims to be, is not a band-aid for the world’s problems. Feminism does not truly assist with trans issues, or men’s issues, or race issues. In a way, it only furthers the divide between men and women by pitting them against each other.

There shouldn’t be a Men’s Rights Movement, nor should there be a feminism, because women and men should be treated equally, in every respect, from the draft to child custody battles (women almost always win) to rape.

Everyone, progressive men and women both, desire equality and egalitarianism.

Ryan Cady is a third year psychology and English double major. He can be reached at rcady@uci.edu.