When a Man is the Victim: A Second Study in Rape Apology

by Guest Contributor Cara Kulwicki, originally published at The Curvature

I’ve previously done an in depth analysis of victim-blaming and rape denial, and how it varies and how it stays the same, in a case of rape where a man was the victim of a female assailant. After seeing this video at Sociological Images, along with the questions Lisa poses about the attitudes towards sexual violence it reveals, I’m compelled to do a second one. The results are a bit long and wandering.

Below, rapper Lil’ Wayne appears on Jimmy Kimmel Live and (starting at about 2:40) is asked by the host whether or not it’s true that he “lost his virginity” at 11. After looking shocked and attempting to laugh it off, Lil’ Wayne tells his story, and it may be triggering to some of you.

I do not know what Lil’ Wayne would call his own experience, but though he does not use the word, the admittedly few details he provides do indeed portray this quite clearly as rape, for reasons that I hope are obvious to most readers here, and which will be delved into in more detail below. Lil’ Wayne seems to me to be uncomfortable with the line of questioning, and yet Jimmy Kimmel and the other man on the show continue to laugh and joke around about it, even after Lil’ Wayne says very clearly that the experience was harmful to him.

It seems like a reasonable question, to ask what the hell is wrong with Jimmy Kimmel. But the problem is, while not excusing his actions for a single second, that he has a whole culture (and audience) backing him up.

In the majority of sexual assault cases, where a woman is the victim of a man’s violence, rape apology is rooted primarily not in the denial that male violence exists, but in the denial that male violence means something and needs to be stopped. Conversely, in cases where a man is the victim of a woman’s violence, rape apologism is strongly rooted in the denial that women’s actions can count as violence at all — and especially that their actions can count as sexual violence against men, who are routinely construed as incapable of being victims.

In cases of both of these two types of sexual violence (though hardly the only two that exist), the victim is accused of “wanting it.” But while the female victim is also, when that reasoning fails, accused of deserving it, this seems to not be the case with men. No, they just always wanted it. (Again, talking only about male victims of women — gay male victims of other men are routinely portrayed as “deserving” it as well as “wanting” it.) There are no sneers about what he should and shouldn’t have been doing. Just jokes about how awesome the assault must have been for him. Like we see Jimmy Kimmel engaging in above.

Over at Sociological Images, the assertion is made that if Lil’ Wayne was a white female, what was done to him would be seen as rape or sexual assault. Seemingly, this assertion is made with certainty.

While I absolutely agree that if Lil’ Wayne were a white woman, Jimmy Kimmel would not be joking around on national television about the experience — because it wouldn’t be seen as “cool” — I remain unconvinced that it would necessarily be called rape by the majority of the viewing public. As argued partially above, the tactics of rape apologism shift as need be — but with only a few extreme and/or notable exceptions, the intensity varies little.

I am unconvinced that many people who do not see Lil’ Wayne as a victim would see a woman with his same circumstances as one, because the fact that he was assaulted does not rely on age — which, while still subject to rape apologism, is one of the cases where you most commonly see sympathy for female victims. While 14 is significantly older than 11 (since age differences matter more the younger you are), I’m not sure that the majority of people would be comfortable outright calling it rape based on that age difference.

If we were talking an 11-year-old girl and a 24-year-old man? Most people, though of course certainly not all, would probably call that rape. And I know for a fact that significantly fewer people would call it rape when we reverse those genders.

When watching this video, my mind was instantly drawn to another famous musician: Anthony Kiedis, the lead singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I remember hearing long ago that he “lost his virginity” at the age of 12 to his father’s girlfriend, with the blessing of his father, and it always haunted me. I’ve never heard him or anyone else refer to that as rape, even though this seems like an even “clearer cut” case by popular standards than Lil’ Wayne’s above. In fact, it’s almost always told as though the story is “cool.” If Anthony Kiedis was a woman who “lost her virginity” to her mother’s boyfriend at age 12, I think there’s little doubt that most people would see it as anything other than seriously fucked up at worst, and correctly as rape at best.

But it’s not the case here. No, the (primary) reason that this was rape is because no affirmative, let alone enthusiastic, consent was obtained, and this would be the same even if both people were the exact same age. Understanding that “surprising” someone with “sex” is in fact rape is required to understand that rape is what Lil’ Wayne seemingly endured, and far too many people don’t understand that.

So I ask, really, how many people of the sadly few people who are progressive and educated enough to see enthusiastic consent as a standard, are ignorant enough to think that it only applies to one gender? I’m sure that they exist somewhere, but I doubt that they’re a large group.

On the other hand, there is a certain, entirely different group of people who would in fact see this as rape if it was done to a woman, but not see it as rape in the case of Lil’ Wayne. These people are paternalist types. Paternalist types who don’t oppose sexual violence because of a belief in bodily autonomy, sexual rights and social justice, but because they believe that women are delicate little flowers who need protecting, and that men are big boys who really need to suck it up. They wouldn’t see this as rape if the victim was a woman because they note the lack of enthusiastic consent — they’d see it as rape due to a combination of her age, the idea that girls are helpless, and that age-old and totally unhelpful believe that teenage boys “only want one thing.” And they wouldn’t see it as rape if the victim was a man because boys are supposed to be tougher than that — and anyway, teenage boys “only want one thing,” and there you go, he got it, so why’s he complaining.

These people? On their face, they might seem very slightly better than the kind of person who would also claim that the 11-year-old girl wanted it. But they’re still not on our side. Not even close.

The final consideration in analyzing the reaction to this story is the question of race. Again, Sociological Images asserts that the reason people do not see this as rape is because Lil’ Wayne is not only male, but a black male.

It’s certainly true that black men are hyper-sexualized, and that anyone who is hyper-sexualized is instantly construed as unrapeable, all other considerations becoming irrelevant. But at the same time, while Lil’ Wayne’s race surely plays a part not only in the failure to interpret his “virginity loss” as rape but also the prodding by the while males for him to brag about the assault he endured, I’m unsure that this would necessarily be interpreted as rape if a white male was the victim. For an example of why, you can again see above.

Then again, Anthony Kiedis is also interpreted as hyper-sexual both due to the image that he has created for himself and by virtue of being a rock star. Take that away and leave his situation with clearly older predators in tact, and you may have a situation where a white male would be seen as a victim, but a black male (or perhaps other male of color) would not be. It’s not easy to say. While we can say with certainty that racism plays a role in the reactions we see to the story that Lil’ Wayne recounts, we can’t say how exactly the reactions would be different when racism is taken out of the picture.

Again, rape apologism shifts according to its needs. When racism helps its cause, racism is used. When it doesn’t help, or actually hurts, new means are brought in to serve in its place. Similarly, when stereotypes about masculinity serve rape apologism, those stereotypes are also used, and denied when they don’t.

That’s the thing about rape apologism. Strangely enough, for a philosophy that relies entirely on lies and prejudice, it’s actually incredibly nuanced. That’s why it can be so convincing to some people. And it’s why it needs to be analyzed and picked apart.

Latoya’s NotePlease make sure you click on and read all of Cara’s links before you comment. Some people will want to immediately dismiss this conversation as if it is impossible for someone like Lil Wayne to engage in unwanted sexual contact with a woman, much less to be raped by one. But this is one of the things I’ve been thinking about a lot since the Not Rape Epidemic was published in Yes Means Yes. I was prepared for men to challenge my piece, but I was unprepared for men to come and say they could relate, or that they also had “not rape” stories. Please make sure your comments allow these men the room to speak. – LDP