“It’s Never a Big Deal”: The Normalisation of Sexual Harassment Suffered by Men
Let’s make up a scenario: A woman is tallking to her subordinate at work. She finds him funny, she laughs, reaches over to touch his arm, his button, his beard, she leans on him. She comments on how strong his arm is and how kissable his lips are. He does not complain, he cannot complain.
(Every male is supposed to like every female’s single touch on their bodies or be helpless against it).
Scenario 2: Just imagine that the boss is male and the subordinate is female. He does exactly the same as above.
How did you react to the two situations?
One way the patriarchal system is disadvantageous for men is by prescribing unrealistic, onerous, unfair and unhealthy sexual behavioural norms. The result is that patriarchy leaves men unprotected against sexual harassment and abuse. Under the laws of most countries of the world, a man cannot be raped; whether by a woman or another man. The laws simply do not envisage it because majority of our lawmakers across the world are patriarchs. They recognise that rape is an act of control over another but fail to see how a woman can so control a man because according to the, a woman is incapable of overpowering a man in any way.
Some countries, majorly due to the successes of feminist movements, have improved their laws on rape. For instance, the Canadian Criminal Code criminalises sexual assault whether by/against a man or woman. But in many parts of Africa, the situation is vastly different except in South Africa and a part of Nigeria. The Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015 of Nigeria which is not widely applicable can be interpreted to also criminalise sexual abuse and perhaps rape, of a man, by a man or woman.
The absence of laws adequately protecting men’s right against sexual harassment is a tragedy, a result of a sexist view that men are so powerful and strong they cannot be defiled, (for rape is an overpowering act) that sexual offences cannot be committed against them; and that men are structured to always enjoy sexual contact from women. Our society then shames men who are victims of rape and sexual abuse. If there were laws adequately protecting men in this respect, they would greatly facilitate the general society’s perception towards such crimes.
Perhaps more saddening is the reality even where the law provides protection against sexual harassment for both men and women, corrupt and sexist law enforcement officers prevent the law from prevailing. We have millions of instances across Africa where policemen refuse to prosecute rapes committed against women because ‘E no fit rape you, na your husband’ or ‘You went to his house! At night!!’ or ‘Are you mad? See what you’re wearing and you said he raped you. How will he not rape you? Prostitute!’
The situation is also deplorable for men. Because of the prevailing existence of toxic masculinity standards, very very few men ever report that they were raped or sexual harassed. If it happens, the common reaction for a long time now has been to ridicule the victims. This ridicule does not only happen with sexual harassment against men, but also with other forms of domestic violence done by women. Somewhere in Lagos in 2017, a man committed suicide because he was brutally mocked by the police after he reported that his wife had been beating him on several occasions.
Our society has made it normal that females must be coy about sex while males are defenceless against their sexual cravings. We must realise that this norm is a lie. While we address the widespread cases of sexual abuse/rape of females by intimate partners, family members, co-workers, religious leaders and strangers, we must also deal with the co-existing evil of the same against men by the same group of persons. Our prolonged blindness to these issues have led to far-reaching psychological results on persons in our society.
At the same time, we all have to shun the normalisation of abuse by females against males. Don’t hit your wo/man. Don’t hit any wo/man. Don’t smack your colleague’s butt or talk about it. Don’t try to touch your friend’s penis or breasts or butt or make remarks about their sizes. Don’t touch your nephew’s/nieces sexual organs. Don’t kiss a person that does not want to be kissed by you. Please, don’t be an abuser.
Never try to water down or delegitimise the pain felt by a victim of sexual abuse, whether female or male. They are survivors whose stories are valid.