We speak often of rape and rape culture within feminist circles. One of the reasons this topic is so discussed and rehashed and constantly in the forefront of many feminist discussions is because rape culture is so prevalent and all-encompassing. Rape culture permeates even the most minute aspects of our daily lives in the form of microaggressions and every-day misogyny enacted in the form of various privileges. But rape culture does not just harm women; it harms men, and all gender identities and expressions. And while this sometimes is brought up, the lack of attention drawn to the harm rape culture also has on men can have the deleterious effect of obfuscating crimes of a sexual nature against boys and men, like rape and sexual assault.
A current example of this is the misleading and inappropriate reporting of how Chris Brown lost his virginity. In a recent interview for The Guardian, the tale of how Chris Brown first had sex is relayed to the reader thusly:
“He lost his virginity when he was eight years old to a local girl who was 14 or 15. Seriously? ‘Yeah, really. Uh-huh.’ He grins and chuckles. “It’s different in the country.” Brown grew up with a great gang of boy cousins, and they watched so much porn that he was raring to go. ‘By that point, we were already kind of like hot to trot, you know what I’m saying? Like, girls, we weren’t afraid to talk to them; I wasn’t afraid. So, at eight, being able to do it, it kind of preps you for the long run, so you can be a beast at it. You can be the best at it.’ (Now 24, he doesn’t want to say how many women he’s slept with: ‘But you know how Prince had a lot of girls back in the day? Prince was, like, the guy. I’m just that, today. But most women won’t have any complaints if they’ve been with me. They can’t really complain. It’s all good.’)”
The Guardian leaves it at that and moves on to the next question. There is no mention of rape, sexual assault or molestation within the article. For reference, the age of consent and statutory rape laws in Virginia, Brown’s home state, list the age of consent as 18. So while neither child was able to consent, statutory rape in Virginia is also defined as, “Carnal knowledge of a child between ages 13 and 15 when the actor is a minor and the victim is three or more years younger.”
Chris Brown was raped, and many media outlets (including Allhiphop.com, Vibe.com, and even “feminist” website Jezebel) are reporting that he lost his virginity at age eight to a 14 or 15 year old girl and either stopping there, or are making it seem like having sex at such an early age is something that makes him macho rather than a victim of abuse.
Of these, the most egregious reporting comes from Doug Barry of Jezebel. In his piece, Barry asserts that Brown is bragging about losing his virginity and states that, “Of all the pop stars milling about the culture landscape these days, Chris Brown has a singular talent for making it impossible to sympathize with him even if he’s recounting a vaguely traumatic incident from his childhood. You know, like that time he lost his virginity to teenage girl. When he was eight.” What in the actual ever-living fuck, Doug Barry? What the shit is that about?
Here’s the thing: no matter what Chris Brown has said or done, having sex with a 14 or 15 year old when you are eight years old is rape. If you can’t extend sympathy to a child that was raped because you don’t like the actions they have committed as an adult, your empathy chip is broken. When Chris Brown described his first sexual experience, he described a rape. To refer to it as a “vaguely traumatic incident from his childhood” is to complete overlook and dismiss the sexual assault levied at Chris Brown as a child. In doing this, Barry is simultaneously dismissing and silencing any other man or boy who has been raped by insinuating that what happens to them is not actually “rape rape” but more of something to brag about.
In a heteronormative culture that values stereotypical masculine straightness as the norm, along with sexual partners being viewed as sexual conquests as a sign of prowess, it is easy to see how Chris Brown could identify or contextualize his experience as consensual. When so much of how we view and portray masculinity is wrapped up in male sexuality, it could be easier for Chris Brown to view this as an activity he was mentally and emotionally mature enough to engage in rather than a rape, especially when most of the news outlets reporting on it do not frame it as rape and when authors like Barry trivialize the rape as an experience Brown is using to brag and demonstrate his masculinity. This is how rape culture hurts men along with hurting women. By refusing to acknowledge and address that men and boys can be and are raped and that a man’s value is not inherently tied to his sexuality, the experiences of men and boys who have been raped are hidden, obscured by a culture that considers them the aggressor, never the victim.
Chris Brown was a victim, and no matter how anybody feels about anything he has done, claiming that him being raped as a child was nothing more than a “vaguely traumatic incident from his childhood” propagates the sentiment that boys and men can not be raped, and sex at any age is a marker of masculinity and makes it damn near impossible not only for male victims to identify that they have been raped or assaulted, but also impossible for them to report their rapes and assaults without fear of ridicule for not being “man enough.”
This bullshit has to stop. Rape is rape. Over and over and over again this keeps being said, but somewhere along the line, boys and men who have been raped got lost in the shuffle, their story not worthy of being told because surely they must have “wanted it.” And where do we often hear that? How often does a woman who has been raped hear that she must have “wanted it,” or “I know you want it?” This is the flip side of the same shitty coin and is a clear example of how rape culture hurts everybody.
What do you think about the effects of rape culture on boys and men? Is there a double standard? How can we collectively work to change this?