This International Men’s day, while we strive for ‘Better health for men and boys’ the sexual abuse of men – normalized and joked upon in movies and shows, needs to be called out.
TW – Sexual Assault and R*pe
It’s November 19. Happy International Men’s Day to all the men across the globe! Thanks for your love and support. May you keep well and find the strength to overcome all obstacles.
As we celebrate the positive value men bring to our lives, let’s talk about something that either remains in the shadows or is silenced – sexual assault/ sexual violence against men. Almost unheard of and mostly disbelieved, patriarchy has infested many with the belief that as men are superior, men can’t be sexually assaulted or raped and of course, this gives rise to the saying “Mard ko dard nhi hota (Men do not feel any pain)”.
As per legalservicesindia.com; according to the PEW research statistics 2014, 25% of women and 13% of men between the ages of 18 to 24 have experienced sexual harassment while online. Men and boys who have been sexually assaulted or abused may have many of the same feelings and reactions as other survivors of sexual assault, but they may also face some additional challenges because of social attitudes and stereotypes about men and masculinity. However, neither society nor the Indian law gives a safe space for men to come forward and strive for justice.
Popular culture, especially cinema and other forms of entertainment are informed and inspired by the social system. Consequently, a very disturbing trend, a trend that easily passes under the radar is the sexual assault of men being played for laughs. Let me explain this through an example from F.R.I.E.N.D.S, a popular, American television sitcom. In a scene, famously known as ‘Joey’s tailor’, laugh tracks have been added to Chandler (one of the main characters) telling his two other friends – Joey and Ross that he was “cupped” and “taken advantage of”.
Another instance is from the 2010 comedy movie from Bollywood, Golmaal 3, in which an entire 3-minute scene that is supposed to be taken as a double-meaning joke is built around the premise of the step-brothers sexually violating each other with different objects. This is true for not just one or two shows, rather countless movies, TV shows and even cartoon series; spanning film and show industries of many countries. Sexual assault of men is so trivialized and normalized that most of us are guilty of laughing at these ‘jokes’ as it shows up almost everywhere. From casual punchlines, inappropriate touching, threats of anal rape, flashing/indecent exposure, sex acts all these are laughed away as ‘jokes’.
Punchlines about men being sexually assaulted usually revolve around the idea of a man being made subordinate to another man, and therefore, forced into a role that is stereotypically feminine. Especially in Bollywood movies, an assault on a man, such as a forceful kiss, is followed by the victim acting in a ‘feminine’ manner (covering his chest with his hands, shrivelling up and crying hysterically) with dialogues like “Abb main kissi ko munh dikhane layak nhi raha (Now, I will not be able to show my face to anyone).” The victims are portrayed as being emasculated as the ultimate humiliation for a man in a patriarchal society is being perceived feminine.
There’s a particular trope identifiable in the characterization of the perpetrators as well. Firstly, the perpetrator is coded as a gay man or a character of ambiguous sexual identity. Sexual assault, in this case, is usually framed as a product of some uncontrollable sexual desire. Queer characters like Todd Cleary in Wedding Crashers, Sammer Gazi in Dishoom, Kiran in Partner, and many more are shown as ridiculously dressed and hitting on every living thing around them or making jokes about sucking c**k.
This is a pattern going on for ages in Hollywood, as well as Bollywood wherein gay sexuality, is framed as a threat to straight people. Statistically speaking, men are far more likely to be the perpetrators of sexual violence than are people of any other gender. It is very essential to highlight the fact that queer sexuality is not a threat to straight people. Rapists are a threat to straight people, just as they are a threat to people of all genders and all sexualities. Second, is the female perpetrator, whose depiction is less frequent but no less troubling.
The society largely refuses to acknowledge that men can sometimes be targets of sexual assault and that women can sometimes be the perpetrators, for instance, the characters ‘Dale’ and ‘Julia’ in Horrible Bosses(2012). Now, statistics don’t tell the whole story but the numbers do tell us that adult men being sexually assaulted by women are relatively rare compared to the reverse. But it does happen, and a sexual assault should always be taken as a heinous crime regardless of the frequency of the crime, or the gender of the perpetrator.
Portrayals like these are based on the myth that men can’t really be violated by women because they’re always willing anyway and all men want sex all the time or at least should want sex all the time. Therefore, rape or assault scenes are also constructed and played out as illicit sexual fantasies and male victim ‘enjoying’ the assault. Other male characters express admiration or envy or even congratulate the male victim for being assaulted. Another rape joke that demands a special mention is ‘Don’t drop the soap!’
The idea behind the joke here is as obvious as it is toxic that men who aren’t tough or manly enough to avoid being victimized are pathetic and therefore deserving of ridicule or worse.One of the reasons these rape jokes pass under the radar is because, for straight, adult men of able body and mind, the possibility of being sexually assaulted isn’t a real concern in their everyday lives. Thus, the idea that the sexual abuse of men is inherently funny and absurd is reinforced and presented comically, however, grave the scenarios may be. As Terry Crews, an American actor, comedian, activist, artist, and former professional football player, known for his role in ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’, who came out with his ordeal of being assaulted, reminded us during his Senate testimony – Sexual assault is not really about sex, it’s about power.
So, no matter the fewer number of cases that come to light or the scale of the barbarity of the crime, the belief that men can’t be assaulted/raped must be shunned. Abuse must not be ridiculed as a joke or just men/women playing around. It is high time that we also address the inherent patriarchy is not only societal beliefs but also laws that refuse to acknowledge and criminalize such crimes. Coming out as a survivor must not be perceived as emasculating. Also, most importantly, the discussions around male sexual assault should not be limited to the politics of ‘whataboutery’, wherein male sexual assault is discussed and put forward against sexual assault of other genders, especially women.
In the end, I would like to specially mention and also recommend two YouTube videos from the channel ‘Pop Culture Detective’ that has inspired this article as they talk about and share some media clips about the same issue. The links have been attached as follows –
1. Sexual Assault of Men Played for Laughs – Part 1 Male Perpetrators:
2. Sexual Assault of Men Played for Laughs – Part 2 Female Perpetrators:
Featured image credits – nydailynews.com