How Men Need Feminism

At Newsweek, Jesse Ellison has a harrowing story on sexual assault against men in the military. I highly recommend the whole thing, but I found these tidbits particularly interesting:

[I]t is the high victimization rate of female soldiers—women in the armed forces are now more likely to be assaulted by a fellow soldier than killed in combat—that has helped cast light on men assaulting other men. For most of military history, there was neither a system nor language in place to deal with incidents of soldier-on-soldier sexual assault…

By the Pentagon’s own estimate, figures for assaults on women likely represent less than 20 percent of actual incidents. Another study released in March found that just one in 15 men in the Air Force would report being sexually assaulted, compared with one in five women.

What’s interesting here is that both admitting to and confronting the problem of male-on-male sexual assault is dependent on eschewing the stereotypes used to attack female rape victims, such as the she was asking for it-type rhetoric. It also requires moving past the image of the rapist as a sexually frustrated man looking for an outlet. Feminists for years have worked to counteract popular beliefs that women are somehow to blame and that men rape out of passion, rather than aggression.

In this way, women's advocates have made inroads that also benefit men. According to the article, it wasn’t until 1992 that Department of Defense even acknowledged rape in the military as an offense, and even then, it only pertained to female victims. This is an instance in which women’s rights have led to more rights for men. Nineteen years after sexual assault against women became an offense, both men and women plaintiffs have filed a class-action suit in February against Secretaries of Defense Gates and Rumsfeld for not sufficiently combating sexual assault in the military. This is a huge problem our military needs to address -- and in general, violence against women remains both pervasive and largely ignored. But assault in the military serves as an useful reminder that gender stereotypes are harmful across the board and that men stand to benefit from some of feminism’s successes.

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