Edmonton is the capital of Alberta, Canada, with a population just shy of one million. But it has become the unlikely eye of a political storm between the high-pressure system of a men’s rights group and the approaching Katabatic wind that is the feminist movement.
Here’s what happened. In November of last year, the Sexual Assault Voices of Edmonton (SAVE), launched a campaign entitled “Don’t be that guy” to educate men about consent. In response – eight months later, another example of typical male ineptitude – the Men’s Rights Edmonton group created posters imitating SAVE’s efforts to. Their new tagline: “Don’t be that girl.”
The strength of the initial campaign lay in its foresight* and an unorthodox approach to the topic of sexual assault. First, the posters categorised non-consensual intercourse as “not sex”. In other words, SAVE defines sex as an emotional, not merely physical, exchange between two consenting adults. Therefore, if someone doesn’t actively and voluntarily give his or her ongoing consent, the act is one-sided. It is a base violation of another human being. It does not have the respect, understanding and awareness, the so-called “strings” attached to sex. Rape forces the victim to engage in acts of physical, emotional and mental degradation. This is why the victims of sexual assault often experience emotional instability or rape trauma syndrome after the event. Sex is never just a matter of mechanics.
Second, and more pertinent to the issue of men’s rights, is SAVE’s decision to create a poster identifying men as potential victims. One in six men in Canada will experience sexual assault. And this is where it gets interesting.
According to Women Against Violence Against Women in Vancouver, forty-seven per cent of Canadian women will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime. Only six per cent of sexual assaults against women by men are reported to the police. If the average incident has two perpetrators, then we are looking at roughly one in twenty men accused of sexual assault.
In short, if you are a man, then you are more likely to be a victim than you are to be accused of sexual assault.
Men’s Rights groups often complain about being left out of the feminist debate. But understanding the dynamics and prejudices of masculinity in gender discourse is just as important as looking at whether Disney princesses are sexualised. Feminism has largely moved on from its man-hating era. It’s now down to investigating the implications a heteronormative patriarchy has for our identities and behaviour. That means we need a dialogue between men and women, not a divisive splinter group ostensibly failing those they should be championing.
The counter-campaign identifies victims as only female. This is a crushing blow to any attempt to break down gender barriers and admit that men can, too, experience physical and emotional weakness. Men’s Rights Edmonton casts men as accused predator, rather than potential prey.“Don’t be that girl.” invalidates male victims of an already stigmatised crime. Male victims of sexual assault are already less likely to report their experience to police. They fear the humiliation of being patronised, feminised or accused of being a homosexual, in the case of Male-Male sexual assault**.
This counter-campaign has been criticised for breathing new life into all sorts of old and crusted myths surrounding sexual assault. Spun as an attempt to start an honest conversation about rape, it is really no more than an excuse to blame victims and excuse perpetrators. (Who is that girl, anyway? A young woman who gallivants around accusing men of sexually assaulting her just to prove that she isn’t “easy”? Does the Men’s Rights Edmonton chapter really believe that a woman would prefer to spend her life treated as a victim rather than showing a bit of sexual liberalism? Obviously these men think that if their women aren’t virginal, then it would be better that they were violated than willingly gave out sexual favours. Ruined Madonna > Whore.)
But to me, the most is the mistreatment, or total disregard, of male victims. We already have radical women declaring their bodies safe from sexualisation and sexual assault. (Not nearly enough, we might add.) But the voice of male victims of rape is still yet to be heard. The male survivor is still the invisible man. And if he is not front and centre of this debate, then who are Men’s Rights Edmonton really fighting for?
For more information on the sexual assault of men and boys, visit Male Survivor.
*“Through framing sex as a way of gaining power, and through acting in sexist ways which restrict womens’ behaviour, we set the stage for sexual assault to occur.” – SAVE mission statement, 2012. Nothing new there.
**Male victims of sexual assault can have experience an involuntary erection or ejaculation during non-consensual intercourse. As a result, men who are raped by other men are often accused of “enjoying it”, and harbouring latent homosexual tendencies.