The truth? No one is ‘unrapeable’
There are people in our society who are perceived to be “unrapeable”. These people — who are often female — are not incapable of being sexually assaulted. Rather, it is accepted societal mores that make their experiences of assault seem normal.
The “unrapeable” — including sex workers, married women, those who are not conventionally attractive — are described by South African feminist scholar Pumla Dineo Gqola in her book Rape: A South African Nightmare.
She explained this misconception in a 2015 conversation with publisher Melinda Ferguson: “I tried to show that what makes up a part of rape culture is the reliance on this paradox that some people are legally and socially constructed as unrapeable, meaning that they’re not impossible to rape in the real sense, but in the law there’s the historic[al] creation that it is not possible to have rape associated with these people — married women, for example,” Gqola said.
“It doesn’t mean that a married woman can’t get raped but that society says you can’t rape her because she’s your wife. Part of creating rape culture or expanding the mythology is this construction of who is unrapeable. That tells us something about that society.”
Former National Football League linebacker, activist and Brooklyn Nine-Nine star Terry Crews recently testified before the United States Senate judiciary committee to advocate for the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights. Crews recounted the profound impact of the sexual assault he experienced, which he detailed in October in a series of tweets.
Crews accused Adam Venit, the longtime head of William Morris Endeavour Entertainment, of groping him at an event in 2016.
Crews is the archetypal man’s man. And in the current narrow view of masculinity, he is what many believe to be unrapeable or, at the very least, he cannot be a victim. Given his stature — as a big, confident, attractive black man with loads of money and access — it’s natural to think it is he who is more likely to perpetrate abuse. There is also a common sentiment that men, especially black men, are always open to sexual advances and therefore automatically consent.
The response to his alleged assault has been telling, especially from other men. One Curtis Jackson, popularly known as 50 Cent, took it upon himself to mock the actor because Crews being a victim and speaking openly about his experience is apparently the antithesis of masculinity.
Sexuality and gender are socially constructed: how we view our gender identity, sex, sexual orientation and sexual practices in relation to ourselves is profoundly shaped by how we are socialised. This aspect of rape culture, which shames and silences the survivor, protects the abuser.
The aim here is not only to ridicule Crews into silence but to protect 50 Cent and his notions of masculinity (as tightly enmeshed in his idea of what it is to be a man as they are) and, by extension, his own identity.
Crews’s silence would only ensure 50 Cent and others are never in the position to question patriarchal norms and their identities, which are built on this idea of masculinity.
Making a mockery of male survivors of sexual assault denies them justice by protecting the perpetrator and allowing them to reoffend. It also serves as a reminder of the consequences of speaking out.
Crews’s testimony also focused on toxic masculinity and the culture of complicity that enables abuse, illustrating how predatory men actively help other predators to avoid the consequences of their violence.
A common rebuttal for not believing survivors of sexual assault is the bizarre and misguided notion that speaking out somehow benefits survivors. When questioned about whether he faced any repercussions for filing the lawsuit against Venit, Crews alleged that a different producer — who was later identified as Avi Lerner — used his influence to threaten him into withdrawing it.
“I’d done three movies called the Expendables with Sylvester Stallone,” Crews recalled. “The producer of that film called my manager and asked him to drop my case in order for me to be in the fourth instalment of the movie. And if I didn’t, there would be trouble.”
Just months after Lerner threatened Crews’s livelihood, he himself became the subject of a lawsuit for allegedly sexually harassing female employees.
Crews, meanwhile, declined to be in the movie on principle. “And since I came forward with my story, I have had thousands and thousands of men come to me and say, ‘Me too’.”