Bruce Thyer wrote in response to last week's post, "Men are rape victims also!...We should not ignore the problem of men being raped...Anytime a discussion of rape occurs, without at least a mention of male victims...marginalize[s] this serious problem. Silence equal[s] oppression.”
I want to address this statement, and to argue with it.
There is no question that the issues Professor Thyer outlines, of male-on male rape, rampant in prisons (and I would add in certain religious settings as well) and female teachers committing statutory rape of students, are serious ones, certainly worthy of their own blog posts.
But this was not that post. This was a post about the effect of the rape culture at some colleges and universities on the ability of female students to move freely around their own campuses and enjoy life as full human beings.
I bring this up not to question Professor Thyer’s facts or good intentions, or to quibble about which problem is more serious, but because his comment illustrates a phenomenon that occurs regularly in response to communications that address issues affecting lower-status segments of the population, such as women, people of color, or LGBTQ people.
Almost invariably, a member of a more privileged group will protest, "But what about us? You probably don't realize this, but we have important problems!"
Believe me, the lower-status person realizes it. The situations faced by white, straight, cisgendered males are taken seriously in the media, in cocktail conversation, and usually in our families. Privileged classes set the standard for “normal” behavior and presentation, against which others are judged as more or less deviant.
But the person in a position of relative privilege doesn’t have to be as aware of the issues of the less privileged. So lecturing the less-privileged about the problems of the more privileged (I know, it’s hard to see how raped prisoners are “more privileged,” but within that subset, there are still gender, race and other divisions) can come off as patronizing, even with the best of intentions.
If you are wondering whether a comment is (or could be read as) sexist, racist, homophobic, etc., sometimes it’s helpful to play around with the roles—imagining, for example, a large African American man as the butt of a “dumb blonde joke.” If it doesn’t still work with the new cast, it’s probably better to trash it.
So, just for fun, imagine reading a post, on a site for incarcerated males and their friends and families, about the terrible problem of prison rape and its traumatic effects on the victims’ psyches.
Would you immediately think, How disgraceful that they don’t even mention the issue of the effect on women of rape culture on college campuses? Would you write in to reprimand the author for not having done so? Would your reaction on seeing such a comment be enthusiastic agreement, or derisive laughter?
Sometimes silence does not equal oppression. Sometimes it equals talking about something that concerns a different population, in a space dedicated to just that.
*Thanks to Jill for this, as for so much else.