SYNDICATED COLUMN: #MenToo? Even Under Matriarchy, Rape and Sexual Harassment Would Still Be a Big Problem

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Post-Harvey Weinstein, the pitchforks are out — and with good reason. Women and girls have been diminished, objectified, exploited, terrorized, discriminated against, sexually harassed forever. Only fools thought sexism and misogyny at the hands of male oppression had been eliminated, but many people had reason to assume things had improved post-Gloria Steinem in the 1970s, when “male chauvinist pig” became a sit-com meme. Weinstein and Bill O’Reilly et al. demonstrate that, at the apex of the power structure, nothing really changed.

And that’s the point of this column, which I was reluctant to write for fear of being accused of minimizing the righteous anger of the women stepping forward to say enough, no more. Rape culture — the insidious vapor that women wade through every day, whether it’s inappropriate sexist or sexual remarks, gauging whether it’s safe to take their boss up on an offer for drinks that could lead to a promotion, and/or an unwanted sexual advance, or hesitating to tell a wolf-whistling construction worker where he can stick it because he could break her face without breaking a sweat — does not afflict men to any significant extent. Men feel fear walking down a city street at 1 a.m. in a bad neighborhood; women feel it all the time in every neighborhood.

Rape culture only afflicts women. But rape cuts across gender. One out of ten rape victims in the United States is male, according to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network).

This echoes what I was told as a member of a committee when I was a student. Barnard College, where I lived in a dorm, had recently established a rape crisis center with about 10 counselors. Someone brought up a surprising statistic. The campus security office reported that 10% of rape victims at Columbia University were male. (They didn’t say the sex of the attackers.) When I suggested that the crisis center might want to consider hiring one counselor with expertise with male victims, however, the other committee members laughed — all of them except the other guy.

To the extent that society discusses this hidden 10 percent — or, if you believe the 2013 National Crime Victimization Survey by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 38 percent! — the cliché is males raping males. Yet the BJS found that 46 percent of victims reported being raped by a woman.

No one can credibly minimize the devastating impact of sexual assault and harassment on the vast majority of victims, who are women. But, as inadequate as it is, there is awareness, and infrastructure, and sympathy for female rape victims. Can you imagine, as a man, trying to file a report with the police that you’d been sexually assaulted by a woman?

Given male anatomy that requires an erection for penetration, how can a woman rape a man? Well, she can. Really. As with female rape victims, physical arousal in men can be stimulated involuntarily. Don’t forget the effects of drugs, alcohol and psychological manipulation.

What about men’s superior upper body strength? Men are stronger on average. But many individual women are stronger, and some individual men are weaker, than the average. Sometimes there are multiple attackers. It happened to me.

To most guys even, getting jumped by two women sounds like a “Dear Mr. Guccione, I never thought I’d be writing this letter” scenario. But not every dude wants it all the time, no guy wants it from every woman, and sometimes you’re just not feeling it with a woman whom you might find appealing under different circumstances. Every “unwanted sexual advance” is unwanted until and unless it gets accepted; the trouble starts when the advancer refuses to take no for an answer, as happened in my situation, and it escalates when they get angry or vengeful. Like most men, I was socially programmed, Robocop Directive 4-style, never to lay a hand on a woman. I was lucky; I barely managed to escape my attackers, pants dragging on the floor, without hitting anyone.

It was easy to imagine another outcome: succumbing to rape or, worse, being charged with assault for defending myself. This happens to women too, of course — but it’s harder for male victims to mount a credible legal defense.

Similarly, men also fall prey to harassment in the workplace. I have been fired from two jobs, each after I had refused my female boss’ sexual advances. They cited other pretexts, but I’m sure that I would have lasted longer had I put out.

Many of Harvey Weinstein’s victims tell stories of turning up for a meeting hopeful that a connection with a high-powered producer could score them a great role in a cool movie, only to find that the only thing he wanted was sex. For those who got out of his hotel room without him touching them, the experience was degrading and a waste of time.

I get it. One night in the 1980s, the car service that took me home late from my job at a New York bank asked if I’d share a vehicle because heavy rain had made taxi scarce. I was in my early 20s. My taxi companion, a woman in her 40s, informed me that she was a top bank official looking to hire a new officer and invited me to lunch to discuss my career. At lunch, however, she made an indecent proposal: she’d put me on salary to a job I’d never have to show up to as long as I became her live-in boy toy. She didn’t threaten or grab my bits. But she wasted my time and my self-esteem. Was my body all this high-powered executive saw of worth in me?

When I confide this story, reactions range from incredulity — you should have gone for it! — to derision. Sounds hot! Dismissal, men who have been there will tell you, is typical. Former professional bicyclist Joe Papp told me he was “sexually harassed and then assaulted  (groped, kissed against my will) by [an] inebriated female colleague. One other female colleague present. Reported it to ownership next day — they laughed.”

Pundits point to Weinstein and Hollywood’s male-dominated executive suites as central to the propagation of rape culture. “To solve the problem, Hollywood needs new executives and decision-makers: women,” Adam Epstein writes at Qwartz. “Nothing of substance will get done until there are more women bosses in every department, and at every level, of the film business.” Gender equality is great — but it won’t eliminate sexual harassment and assault. According to one study, one-third of American men report being sexually harassed in their workplace during the last year.

As Roxane Gay wrote in The New York Times, “Sexual violence is about power. There is a sexual component, yes, but mostly it’s about someone exerting his or her will over another and deriving pleasure and satisfaction from that exertion.”

You could transform America into a matriarchy. It might be great. But it wouldn’t free us from rape or sexual harassment.

Only a revolution against inequality could do that.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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25 thoughts on “SYNDICATED COLUMN: #MenToo? Even Under Matriarchy, Rape and Sexual Harassment Would Still Be a Big Problem

  1. thanks for writing this, ted. i understand your hesitation. but i’m curious about your conclusion that “only a revolution against inequality [would}…free us from rape or sexual harassment.” it seems like you’re implying that the cause of rape and sexual harassment is “inequality” by which i’m assuming you mean economic inequality. any evidence of this? i’d love to hear your theory.

  2. «You could transform America [read : the US] into a matriarchy. It might be great. But it wouldn’t free us from rape or sexual harassment.

    Only a revolution against inequality could do that..»

    You nailed it, Ted. Not to say that the feminist refusal to accept subjugation under male dominance isn’t significant it – it most certainly is one of the most important social processes to have occurred during the last century or so – but if we want to eliminate or at least better control rape, sexual harassment, and other current horrors, we are going to have to carry out one that I fear will prove still more difficult, i e, the elimination of the drastic inequality between social classes that vitiates our societies….

    John Dalberg’s maxim holds true : «Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely»….

    Henri

  3. I must say this is a very thoughtful column – about a topic with no shortage of triggers.

    Still, raising sexual assaults and blackmail/bribery on men, especially by women, from a male perspective is riddled with traps and therefore perhaps premature as a tactic right now – other than sneaking it in when underscoring that the vast majority of violence is done by men and taking responsibility. As things are, too many male hangers-on will join such appeals really only as a more cultivated form of anti-feminist backlash (“all sexes matter”). Right now such appeals will have to instead come from the side of (female) feminists to be effective – and they will step up increasingly the more recognition of their own grievances they get and thus resources to spare.

    (They may do so in a language of patriarchy-as-internalized-by-women-offenders – which makes quite a lot of sense even though it may not be the ideal terminology to reach some men, or women for that matter, given this somewhat “high-falutin” discourse).

    A person who sincerely advocates matriarchy in the sense of patriarchy-but-under-the-Angela-Merkels-of-the-world may be easy to challenge – but what will that challenge accomplish? Clinging to such hopes they’re clearly insecure to start with – and likely for very good reason such as personal trauma. So expecting them to see the errors of their ways and achieve a more nuanced position – as they’re shouting as loud as they can to even get heard at all – is asking for quite a lot. I think we need to create the conditions for people to feel more secure, in which case they will probably themselves put two and two together with or without our input.

    On the other hand, normative notions of masculinity are squarely in our park, including the absurdity, amply recounted in the column, that real men would (should?) happily hump anything that has a pulse given half a chance (and maybe also things that don’t have a pulse as in the case of former British prime ministers).

    When actual assault is raised of course we need to speak out – already taking this dead serious will preempt the nervous smirks and insipid jokes that are the hallmark of a topic that people can’t handle but intuitively understand to be problematic so simply laugh off in the hope it will go away by itself.

      • I take it you are familiar with the concept of unintended consequences?

        My “favorite” example is from the anti-psychiatry movement from the ~1970s. Essentially it was driven by leftists, including mental health professionals, who were appalled at the asylums of the time where persons diagnosed as mentally ill were warehoused with little prospect of getting out.

        Unfortunately their critique of mental asylums as totalitarian institutions was instrumentalized by the up-and-coming neo-liberals who once they assumed power simply closed down most of these institutions but instead of replacing them with a more humane system of care just threw inmates out into the streets to swell the ranks of the homeless and divert the treatment budget to the prison industrial complex.

        The main point of my post was that, likewise, raising the issue of the (comparatively few but very real) male victims of female power plays – will only play into the hands of the ongoing sexist backlash against feminism. #MenToo is likely going to be instrumentalized against#MeToo in the same way as #AllLivesMatter against #BLM.

        This outcome would do nothing to help male victims, and only makes things harder for women who already bear the brunt of (sexual) violence.

        One strategy to avoid this dynamic is to work closely with (women) feminists and do more to support them so they get enough public space for their message to become more nuanced and inclusive of male victims as well.

        Another strategy is to confront the narrow notions of masculinity (“man up”, don’t be a “girly man”…) that preclude us from taking seriously the notion of men as an object of unwanted sexual attentions by women.

      • @ andreas5 –

        It was exactly the verbosity that made it hard for me to follow your thoughts in the original post.

        Thanks for clarifying.

        🙂

  4. Rape is the most horrific crime one human can commit against another. Even murder is a lesser offense – the victim only hurts for a short period.

    However, I suspect that rape serves an evolutionary purpose. Most animals only mate when the female is in season – somewhere along the line humans gained the ability to decide when to mate. This is a good thing, as you don’t want to make babies during a famine. But it’s a bad thing from an evolutionary perspective – if people don’t mate then babies don’t get made. Evolution doesn’t care whether you’re happy, it only cares that the next generation gets born. Rape makes this possible even if the female is unwilling. Mother Nature is a stone, cold bitch.

    Civilization is only possible if we learn to control our animal natures. Those that cannot do not deserve the benefits of civilization. Rapists do not deserve testicles. (I do not have an answer for female-on-male rape, but castration does tend to slow down the other sort.)

    • I suspect that rape serves an evolutionary purpose

      The evidence is actually pretty clearly against that, at least in modern humans.

      A few years back there was a study on this topic under the title A natural history of rape by Randy Thornhill and Craig Palmer. To even ask that question and treat rape in biological terms created a lot of controversy especially since the authors clearly did not tread with the necessary care given such an explosive topic.

      Unfortunately the controversy of whether this question should have been framed like this in the first place (and there are some good arguments against it) had the effect that few people seem to have realized that the authors essentially failed to find any evidence for this conjecture – i.e. rape as a “strategy” for procreation clearly appears to be extremely ineffective. This raises doubts – if any where needed – that putting this in an evolutionary context will shed any light on the matter.

      Do you have any evidence that state-sanctioned maiming as a deterrent would work (apart from apparently making you feel better)? It would btw have to be performed by non-qualified medics since actual doctors won’t engage in such practices…

      This unhealthy fixation also puts you in some questionable company on the rather extreme right, now I’ve done it and invoked Goodwin’s law 😉

      • “The evidence is actually pretty clearly against that, at least in modern humans.”

        I don’t think humans evolved to be modern humans, I think they evolved to be killer apes who could work together. Sometimes. And we’ve still got a lot of subhuman in us.

        Ducks pair bond but their mating ritual would be called rape by any other species. Some species have no choice in the matter once the hormones kick in.

        I fully admit that I’m no expert in evolutionary reproductive biology; I’m merely speculating. (“Shooting my mouth off”)

        I haven’t read the study so thanks for the reference.

    • @ CrazyH –

      “(I do not have an answer for female-on-male rape, but castration does tend to slow down the other sort.)”
      *
      Surely you are not suggesting that castration will prevent rape, are you?

      I call to your attention the history of an Arkansas incident involving one Wayne Eugene DuMond. DuMond received his second sexual assault conviction from a rape perpetrated in Forrest City, Arkansas in 1984.

      In March 1985, after his arrest but before his trial, DuMond claimed he was attacked in his home by two men and castrated.

      While in prison, DuMond successfully sued the St. Francis County and the local sheriff who publicly displayed DuMond’s severed testicles and later flushed them down the toilet.

      On June 22, 2001, DuMond was arrested and charged with the September 20, 2000, rape and murder of Carol Sue Shields of Parkville. DuMond was convicted in the summer of 2003.

      At the time of his death, charges were being prepared, but had not yet been filed, for the June 21, 2001, rape and murder of Sara Andrasek, who was in the early stages of pregnancy. Andrasek was murdered the day before DuMond’s arrest for the murder of Carol Sue Shields.

      Castration is not a solution.

      • “Castration is not a solution.”

        “Do you have any evidence that state-sanctioned maiming as a deterrent would work (apart from apparently making you feel better)?”

        I hereby publicly admit that if someone raped my mother/wife/daughter I would indeed feel better after castrating them. I submit without proof that the removal of the penis is an effective deterrent against unwanted penile penetration should mere sterilization prove insufficient. I am not now, nor have I ever been a ‘qualified’ medic – in this particular case ‘enthusiastic’ might be a better description.

        Whether I would cede that power to The State is an entirely different question.

  5. @ Ted Rall –

    I damn-near got a hard-on trying to visualize two women sexually assaulting me, even at my advanced age of 74 years!

    Then I recollected how as an office manager in Dallas, I had a secretary who had designs on me. It started innocently enough: “You drive right past my apartment on your way to work; could you stop and give me a ride?”

    Then it advanced to “Let’s go for a drink after work.”

    I saw where this was going and confided in my wife. She told me to tell said secretary that wifey was very jealous and forbade me from that point forward providing a ride to the office.

    It never progressed to the point of actual physical contact. Whether that’s a “win” or a “lose” I’ll never know.

    😀

    • While everybody’s inclinations/kinks are different and there may be natural attractions to experimenting with control and dominance – I’m really confused how you would end up fantasizing about enjoying rape in the context of an article about sexual assault? Isn’t this exactly the reaction Ted was writing about:

      When I confide this story, reactions range from incredulity — you should have gone for it! — to derision. Sounds hot! Dismissal, men who have been there will tell you, is typical.

      I strongly suspect that you have left out the part in your fantasy where they e.g. break your nose to incapacitate you and/or threaten to fire you from a job you need to feed your family, etc. The kind of violence that typically accompanies sexual assault which you clearly – fortunately – have not experienced yourself (but for this reason alone may want to reconsider…).

      What made you feel compelled to frame this in this manner? Is this really our first association with the topic? (Let me add that I considered this quite out of character and understand you may not have meant very much by it – even though that may also be part of the problem… Normative notions of masculinity are pervasive and hard to shake off.)

      • “I’m really confused….”
        *
        That’s the part you got right.

        Hmm, I don’t think I was confused about the issues (though it is all too easy to miscommunicate on comment threads).

        I was confused about why you would make those remarks which I considered out of character.

        Take care 😉

  6. The first step in actually making progress in fighting inequality is letting go of this counter-productive revolution fantasy. But, silly me, I forgot: You’re not interested in actually making progress.

    • Ye-e-esss, it’s counter-productive to vote for progress. Real progressives vote regressively. Step right to move left! War is peace! Freedom is slavery! True liberals follow the rest of the flock while false liberals waste time thinking for themselves.

      Dude, you should simply sign your proxy over to the DNC and save yourself the trouble of voting.

  7. I will never forget Hillary’s cackle after and about Qaddafi’s murder which included anal penetration with a knife.

    A woman who aspires to be an equal to the men high in the patriarchy is liable to develop patriarchal traits herself if she really wants to be accepted as one of the boys.

    See Thomas Berger’s “Regiment of Women” for a fictional account of anal penetration of men by women in power. Not as bad, nor as real as Hillary Unsheathed, though.

    Like crabs in a bucket, getting to the top of the pile involves climbing over others, irrespective of gender; those not close to the top of the pile that is a patriarchal hierarchy will suffer under its oppressive weight.

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