Does ‘no’ Still Apply When the Roles are Reversed?

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The overwhelmingly biased world surrounding the issues of consent irrefutably continues to trivialize the stories of men and their experiences with assault. Though we grow successful in teaching most men that “no” does not mean “yes”, “maybe”, or “I’m teasing”, it seems we have fallen behind in teaching women the same thing when the roles are reversed. It goes without saying that women are most definitely, and unfortunately, the victims of sexual assault at a much higher rate than men are, and that more women have come forward with their stories. 

It is easy to consider the ‘me too’ movement, in which millions of women came forward to share their stories on Twitter alone. After the shock, disgust and disappointment you feel when reading their statements, you cannot help but wonder how much larger that number would have been, had we as a society not groomed our men to believe that they should be lucky enough to even catch the attention of a woman. 

In an interview with Jimmy Kimmel, rapper Lil Wayne discusses the topic of “losing his virginity”, in which he states that he was eleven years old and the woman was older than he was. He tells Kimmel that “she cut the lights off, I don’t know what happened, she pulled my pants down.” Though we hear this and can immediately identify that he did not “lose his virginity” so much as get raped at the age of eleven, the audience and host himself still proceed to erupt into laughter at this story.

In a documentary about his life called The Carter, the rapper goes into more detail about this event, noting how the older men around him joked about his lack of sexual experiences and encouraged the girl to take him away and help him experience them. Here, the rapper joins in with the jokes, telling them that he “loved it” and that because he was “young money” it was what he was supposed to be doing. But take a step back from this story, and replace the role of Lil Wayne with the presence of a young girl, the same age as the rapper, being put in the exact situation. It is almost certain that neither she, nor anyone she tells the story to, would have laughed at her the way they did the rapper, nor would they have had the confidence to throw it at her in an interview. 

Consider the cases where penetration is not always involved. Men, particularly while at university, while not in the same measure as women, are still pressured and coerced into sexual activity without their consent. In a study conducted outside the university union for just half an hour – 66.6% of men asked admitted to having been, at least once, ignored in their exclamations of “no” and touched against their will regardless. 

One of the victims of assault that we spoke to, whose name will remain anonymous, expressed his discomfort and disgust when recalling those moments in which he was assaulted. “My now ex-girlfriend, though I told her multiple times that I did not want to sleep with, kiss or touch her, just ignored me and kept groping me.” He claims that she refused to believe he did not want her because he always had before and he is now just playing “hard to get.” She told him she knows he will eventually “give into her” because he “has before”. The subject then told us about his friends’ reactions when told the story. He stated that they laughed at him, even egging him on. One ostensibly said, “just shag her mate, can’t tell us you don’t want it” and “go on lad got girls begging at your feet.”

Now again, as before, reverse the roles. The woman has told her ex-boyfriend “no” yet he has continued to grope her, and has persisted with his efforts until she finally agrees. Her friends would most definitely not congratulate her for men wanting her, nor would she feel like less of a woman for not wanting to sleep with him. In some of the more seriously treated cases as well, the man would possibly even have been jailed or at least brought in for questioning. 

So, what is it about male victims that makes our society more reluctant to acknowledge their victim status? If we argue that he could have just fought back, he would have been charged with violence, abuse, and assault. If he eventually slept with her to get her to leave him alone, we would congratulate him on getting laid. 

In reality, believe it or not, sex through coercion, pressure and practical begging, is no longer sex. Coercive sex is rape. This is applicable regarding both male and female parties. A man who is touched, spoken to, or pressured into sexual activity must be regarded with the same extremity that female victims are. It is our duty as a society to normalise the idea of male victims and rid ourselves of the falsified stereotype of men as Alphas, in which their victim status becomes incomprehensible and ‘emasculating’. Failure to do so will lead our young men and women to grow up with the teachings that men cannot be victims and women cannot be perpetrators.