It’s easy to forget about victims who never come forward, shadowy figures who only passively receive our collective sympathy when we happen to remember. This sympathy, unfortunately, often does not translate into productive engagement with these communities. Recently, we at Yale have forgotten an important constituency: the male victims of sexual assault and harassment.
It is an easy group to forget. Health workers and counselors frequently cite dismayingly high underreporting of sexual assault among men, a phenomenon that complements the disturbing lack of Yale dialogue on the subject of male victims.
In the wake of the DKE incident, and given the wave of purple ribbons in support of Intimate Partner Violence Awareness Week, we Elis need to move forward into the future as a community that embraces all potential victims of sexual assault and harassment. I in no way mean to divert attention away from our campus and national discussions of feminism and sexism; I do mean, however, to review some of the assumptions that underlie our understanding of recent events.
After the incident, the Yale Women’s Center reacted, and the brothers apologized to that institution. The response by the administration, on- and off-campus publications, and a number of student organizations clearly demonstrates the belief that DKE’s chant offended women and that the agency and rights of women are at stake. Women have interests critical to the discussion — and we must not stop reflecting on the pressures they face — but men also play a part that has not been publicly considered.
Yes, “I f–k dead women” is a clearly gendered statement. But “no means yes, yes means anal” ought to resonate with all of us.
At this point in the conversation, we all know how the chant applies to women. But perhaps the connection to men is not always obvious.
These stories are often hushed, hidden behind closed doors, not revealed over brunch. Some Yalies might not yet be familiar with these narratives. Suffice it to say that on this campus there are men pressured beyond their sexual boundaries; men forced to question whether they wanted that sort of sexual contact; fastidious condom users suddenly forced into unprotected, unprompted intercourse. These men rarely come forward, reluctant to share with a community that signals it might not take their concerns seriously, or might stigmatize their sexual behavior.
Someone could protest that the penetrating partner cannot be raped because that act requires arousal, or that homosexual men have only the option of anal sex. First, the reflexive reactions of the body do not constitute consent. In response to the second claim, I am going to state the obvious: “Yes” to a particular act does not mean consent to others. There are gradations for men and women of all orientations.
So why hasn’t the campus dialogue addressed male victims? Is it because our society assumes that all men want to take every encounter as far ’round the proverbial diamond as possible? (Though on some level we all know that men do not embody rampant sexuality, we do occasionally hold that prejudice.)
Most likely it is because it is difficult for men to speak up, and therefore it is difficult for the campus to understand their perspective. Since men do not have a center or cultural house to advocate for the victims among them, individuals bear the burden of bringing their concerns forward. And though we as a liberal society have in some sense renounced traditional masculinity, every man’s interaction with his conception of masculinity influences his behavior.
Our society still questions the manliness of homosexual men, and asks heterosexual men simultaneously to represent virility and to constrain their testosterone-fueled antics. Men’s place in society is unstable, and many consider it inappropriate to designate them victims. This attitude prevents productive engagement from which we can all benefit.
The entire campus needs to involve itself in removing the stigma surrounding survivors of sexual assault, including those survivors who are men. All victims should be applauded, not criticized or derided, for accessing resources such as SHARE. Most sexual assaults are committed against women, and women should remain our focus. But male targets should not be further marginalized as a minority.
Male survivors need to know that they too have agency, resources and unconditional support. I’m not asking for a Men’s Center, or a forum deconstructing Yale’s culture of masculinity. I just want open conversation and recognition that our understanding of vulnerability should not be constrained by gender. Sexism still exists against both women and men, and we must be sure not to perpetuate it in any form.
Ted Lee is a junior in Saybrook College.