How sexual violence hurts men too

INDIA LOPEZ
Last updated 15:57 30/04/2012
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WE'RE IN THIS TOGETHER: Violence towards women isn't just a "women's issue".

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OPINION: Last weekend, being the fun-loving girlfriend that I am, I decided to treat my boyfriend to a date night. 

What better way to keep the magic alive, I thought, than to enjoy a bit of feminist theatre courtesy of the Wellington Rape Crisis Centre?

A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant and a Prayer is a collection of performances in the same format as the ever-popular Vagina Monologues, with each monologue tackling the subject of sexual violence from a different perspective.

I sat in the audience feeling exactly how I expected to feel: emotional, angry, thoughtful and reflective.

As a woman, rape - the threat of it, the avoidance of it, the definition of it, the ways in which society normalises and enables it - is something I've been forced to think about my whole life.

At the same time, I felt a bit guilty for dragging my boyfriend along. After all, these were women's issues. Was he rolling his eyes in the dark beside me or covertly checking his watch?

As the lights came up, I turned to him nervously. "Wow," he said, shaking his head. As we talked about it on the way home, I realised in amazement that he had been more moved by the play than I was.

The monologue that really got to him was "Rescue", an autobiographical essay by Mark Matousek, which describes growing up with a mother and sisters who had all been victims of rape. Matousek talks about the self-hatred he felt: "If men were rapists, then so was I".

This was something new - a man talking about the the way sexual violence towards women had coloured his world view.

I was used to hearing women's perspectives and feeling righteously angry; the monologues reinforced what I already knew. But my boyfriend had never heard his gender's dilemma put into words before.

Seeing the impact it had on him, it dawned on me that rape doesn't just hurt the victims - it hurts all of us.

In a society where women are consistently objectified and demeaned by men, where being "manly" is almost synonymous with being chauvinistic, what happens to the good guys?

Robin Williams once said: "God gave men both a penis and a brain, but unfortunately not enough blood supply to run both at the same time."

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I must have heard that joke - or at least that sentiment - a hundred times. It's generally accepted in our society that men are driven by sex, at the expense of everything else. If you're not a walking erection, popular culture tells us, you're a pussy.

It was hard to know how to act around women, my boyfriend said, when it seemed the only options were being sexually aggressive or being completely asexual.

Well, I for one refuse to sell men short like that. I know they tend to turn into bumbling idiots around people they're attracted to (don't we all?), but I believe God gave them enough blood to operate a penis and a conscience at the same time.

It seems, however, that a lot of people would disagree with me. Just look at the rhetoric around rape: "He couldn't control himself" or "she was asking for it".

In prison, child abusers are considered the lowest of low. The father of the 16-year-old who viciously raped a five-year-old girl at a Turangi campground last year said he feared his son would "just disappear" in jail.

But as soon as a woman turns 16, it seems she's fair game. Some gangs actually require aspiring members to carry out a rape, as a kind of hazing ritual.

And I wouldn't be surprised if many men, on hearing one of their friends had forced themselves on an unwilling date, would dismiss it as a "misunderstanding" or a "moment of weakness".

My boyfriend told me he hated hearing other men making sexist jokes and remarks, but it was so commonplace that making a big deal out of it would be pointless, not to mention social suicide.

So he, and others like kim, keep quiet. They laugh along, but inside they're feeling just a little bit more confused about what it really means to be a man.

For me, this was a huge wake-up call.

It had always annoyed me when people dismissed feminists as man-haters. I thought it was cowardly - just an excuse for people who were too apathetic or embarrassed to stand up for women's rights.

But now I started to think: were they right? I'd never hated men per se (just the bad ones), but I certainly hadn't had any sympathy for them. I thought they had it relatively easy. Turns out I was wrong.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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