The West Virginia oral sex case and the seriousness of sexual assault against men

For days I have been mulling over the case in West Virginia where a woman allegedly wielded a knife to force her estranged husband and his friend to give her oral sex. I am ashamed to say that I initially responded to the story with nervous laughter and shock. I laughed because it was comical to read about the act of oral sex being talked about as if it was such a formal procedure. This business of a woman who “commenced to undress herself,” or a man who “declined said invitation” just threw me. I was shocked because my own stereotypes about men led me to wonder why two men couldn’t simply overpower this woman.

I’ll also admit that my feminism is often set on default to side with women. So I thought about the possibility of this woman being framed because of the stigma that surrounds performing oral sex on a woman.  I was reminded about data from the recent national sexual study which found that women and girls ages 14 – 39 are more likely to report that they had given a man oral sex in the past month than men in that same age group reported that they had given a woman oral sex.

Despite my initial thoughts, one thing is certain: sexual assault against men does exist, should be taken seriously, and we are missing an important opportunity to discuss it. These men are likely victims of sexual assault; laughter and giving the aggressor the benefit of the doubt was totally inappropriate. It is also important for feminists to consider how emphasis on unimportant details is being used to undermine the validity of this sexual assault incident, simply because the aggressor is a woman.

Jezebel’s coverage of the issue raised some of these issues for me. It could be my browser, but the dimensions of the aggressor’s picture almost dwarf the blog entry prompting the reader to focus more attention on what this woman looked like instead of the sexual assault that was committed. Additionally, much of the coverage of this issue has focused on the alleged smell of the woman’s vagina. The Jezebel piece mentions that Watson, one of the victims “understandably, declined to proceed any further” after learning about this woman’s smell. The Smoking Gun piece is even tagged with the label “horrible vaginal odor.” This emphasis on the smell of the woman’s vagina is not only inappropriate but it demonstrates how not serious they consider this to be. It’s not a crime, it’s a joke.

In the end, the struggle against sexual assault exposes something that men and women have in common. We are all struggling for the right to be believed, to be taken seriously when something happens to us. Although men don’t confront rape culture in the same way that women do, they still have a right to be heard and to have their complaints seen as valid instead of as humorous.

and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.

7 Comments

  1. Posted November 8, 2010 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    The term “understandably” jumps right out there, doesn’t it? Like there needs to be a damned good reason for someone to say no to sexual activity. We do have a long way to go.

  2. Posted November 8, 2010 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    Although men don’t confront rape culture in the same way that women do, they still have a right to be heard and to have their complaints seen as valid instead of as humorous.

    This sentiment might be more convincing if you didn’t place qualifying statements on it every time you made it.

    • Posted November 9, 2010 at 10:03 am | Permalink

      Actually, I have to disagree. Sexual assault against men is serious and men do have rights surrounding sexual violence, of course. However, men do not face the same systemic rape culture that women do. I think it’s a valid qualifier.

      • Posted November 9, 2010 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

        Qualifiers have a nasty tendency of diminishing the message one is (or should be) getting across. If someone were to say something like “even though society expects men to have lots of sex, we still must hold male rapists accountable,” that framing can be bothersome.

        Personally, though, that’s only about the third-messiest part of that sentence. A close second is using weak words like “seen as valid” rather than “taken seriously.” People use a word like “valid” in the context of being able to have legitimate concerns or disagreements — rape is (or should be) a clearer issue.

        However, the worst part of the sentence to me is “instead of as humorous.” It is human nature to not fully appreciate the circumstances of other people. I understand that the point of the article isn’t just that the author didn’t just think that such a rape was odd but was actually funny. But there’s something deeply unsettling about the author reinforcing that idea in the final sentence of an article, and at the very end of that last sentence. What is more important than the fact that the author is saying this problem is “not humorous” is that she is *still* framing women raping men with the word “humorous.” People need a more constructive message to read at the end, because the details of that last remark are what they are inclined to remember most.

  3. Posted November 9, 2010 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    Thanks for this. You checked your own prejudices in reporting this case – how you tend to “side” with women, how you are tempted to laugh at the perceived ridiculousness of a woman being the aggressor, how you wondered why the men didn’t just “overpower” her – these are things feminists forget to admit sometimes.

    We’re not immune to sexism ourselves, is the point. And that’s something feminists need to remember.

  4. Posted November 9, 2010 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    I’m having a hard time turning up the story in a reputable news source. So I wouldn’t put too much credit in it being an actual event. Still, the fact that many people consider this kind of thing humorous, and the responses of people who apparently do consider it factual, are telling.

  5. Posted November 9, 2010 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    It’s frustrating to me both that rape against men seems to be downplayed by the way people are talking about this case, and that the crime itself seems to be almost overlooked (other places online, not here) in lieu of making jokes about the woman assailant’s apparent lack of good hygiene. I agree with Shannon’s commentary on the phrasing “understandably”. It’s almost like it’s implying that if she hadn’t smelled bad it would have been ok, despite the fact that she was attempting to force someone at knifepoint. It doesn’t matter if you’re a woman, man, clean, smelly, beautiful, ugly—the minute you try to overstep someone’s boundaries and force sexual activity without their consent, you are in the wrong. End of story.

Feministing In Your Inbox

Sign up for our Newsletter to stay in touch with Feministing
and receive regular updates and exclusive content.

181 queries. 0.321 seconds