“Don’t imagine it, don’t even talk about! The Muzungu (White person) think we are fools. When in war where bombs and bullets are blazing in your ears, who has time to undress and rape you?”
This is quite a statement one of my intellectual friends said to me when he had just seen that there are more upcoming cases of ‘Male rape’ among remnants of civil war in Northern Uganda, refugees from South Sudan and DR. Congo who have crossed into Uganda.
My friend is an ex-soldier among the ‘few’ who fought the so called ‘liberation wars’ our current President boasts to have dawned a new Uganda. The issue of ‘male rape’ has generated greater concern and as is disturbing to hear, it still goes undisclosed and unaddressed. But, is the problem rape per say or is it is because of shifting the discourse to the men, the heroes, and protectors of our families and nation? The concept of rape in patriarchal or heteronormative societies is that rape is envisaged to be a heinous crime committed down to women or girls and not unto men. The construction of the masculine identity is that as men, we are supposed to be strong, without emotion, brave, act as protectors, among others. The war for a long time has been generated through stories from a ‘colonial’ male perspective deep rooted in Victorian ideology where nothing that celebrates a man as a supernormal being is coming under challenge.
War in the 21st century has been seen refashioned in new ways. From the developing of nuclear weapons, the drones, and cyber war, our globalized society has evolved and so are our human minds. Looking at ‘male rape’ in terms of war on the battlefield doesn’t help deconstruct the idea of male rape in real contexts. It only gives us the abstract of man fighting man, killing man, the human. War, however, falls in the category of conflict and conflicts generate a phase of displacement both internal and external, regionally and internationally. And so, gender and social relations are subject to change in these processes.
Why is Disclosure so Feared?
Monstrous as the word can be categorized, the discourse on male rape represents a shadow of fear and shame in the secrets of war harbored for a long time. When we start talking about ‘male rape’, the shift takes a turn on focusing on the male body and its vulnerability which most men caught in hegemonic masculinity cannot afford. Hegemonic masculinity is that ‘dominant kind of masculinity’ that legitimates men’s dominance in society [power too], justifies women’s subordination and marginalizes other ways of being a man. Masculinity as identity is subject to social constructions which means it varies across cultures and is fluid over time.
Rape Victimhood Mischaracterized as Consensual Homosexuality
Also, ‘male rape’ is silenced or feared because it shames the nation or rebel state and its agents to have failed its citizens and or supporters. Talking about ‘male rape’ risks asking questions of defining whether the so called men in context could be defined between gay or rapists and to the victims, the fear of being segregated by the whole society, even women. Male rape seemingly dis-empowers the male and equalizes him to a female, his natural contested partner.
The failure of the law to redefine ‘male rape’ as inclusive of general rape cases makes the crime hard to solve. Dolan stipulates that:
“In the Rome Statute [which established the International Criminal Court] you have a definition of rape that is wide enough to include women and men, but in most domestic legislation, the definition of rape involves the penetration of the vagina by the penis. That means if a man comes forward, they’ll be told it wasn’t rape, it was sexual assault.”
Given that homosexuality in the greater Great Lakes region is a big criminal offense, male rape thus shift turns not on whether there was ‘consent’ but the ‘male body’ itself. This can also be argued to have been sustained because, for a long time, rape has been normalized to be done against women and not men. Even the current Gender-related persecution policy by UNHCR (2002) takes rape as general, done unto women and has nothing scripted on ‘male rape’. Also, religious institutions see male rape victims as vile and violated while on the other hand have acted as perpetrators of the act such as sex scandals for long such in the Catholic Church and in today’s ISIS terror war in Syria.
It has been reported that one of the many victims of male rape have not or never come out to report this heinous crime because they will be blamed for not fighting against it (shamed for their weakness) leading to the other type of victimhood, the crime of being ‘gay’. This is what you can call Gender against Men.
The lack of definition of rape normalized where a ‘penis penetrates a vagina’ dis-empowers the talk about the politics of rape as only situated in heterosexual relationships. The critic to the study of masculinity today is that all masculinity is seen to be falling in line with hegemonic masculinity, sometimes contesting therein, encapsulated and suffocated.
This produces the problem about we have debated over ‘male rape’ for such a long time because we are deluded to think men are always dominant, brave, protected even in the sight of other fellow men who are rapists. Talking about male rape doesn’t mean passing an anti-gay bill; on the contrary, it simply means we are considering protecting the boy child and men from other evil men out there, and yes, they exist. Like in Owiny’s voice; “…everybody has heard the women’s stories. But nobody has heard the men’s.”
Whether we admit it or not, the contest of ‘male rape’ and the silence lies around the victimizing agency that surrounds the male subject were men (of power) cannot imagine themselves in public discourse debating over the honor of their ‘male’ body. One would wonder, what is interesting about the male body except for the real thing, the sexual organs?
Society has for a long time normalized that rape is female rape done by a male and not ‘male rape’. The ideology of defining ‘male rape’ as attached to homosexuality derails the crime itself and only reprimands the victims to being ‘gay’ thus suffering in silence. But the fact is, who would want their child whether male or female rape? Ask the men; how would you take it that you were raped by someone stronger than you with or without a gun?
My friend only looked at ‘male rape’ at the battle field and not in terms of conflict and displacement lens where a lot takes place, where gender and social relations continuously alter as people continue to search for safety. Society should come to recognize that ‘rape is rape’ whether done to a male or female.
Men can be victims of rape too!