The “Me Too” movement, or #MeToo as publicized on social media, features a widespread social campaign for victims of sexual assault to relay their stories of experienced abuse in solidarity with other victims.
This movement, which jump-started in October, has given rise to high-profile celebrities sharing their experiences of sexual abuse, such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Lawrence and Uma Thurman. The majority of the voices behind these stories are women. Statistically, this makes sense – the Rape, Abuse & Incest Network reports that one out of six American women have been the victim of sexual violence. However, the most recent celebrity voice to speak up – Brendan Fraser – shows that sexual assault is not only a women’s issue.
Representing men in the movement combats a culture of toxic masculinity. By framing the #MeToo movement as solely female, not only are stereotypes that men are “weaker” or less masculine if they are victims of sexual assault enabled, but violence against women becomes considered normal.
In the most recent GQ profile on Feb. 22, 2018, Brendan Fraser — the 49-year-old actor widely known for his roles in films such as The Mummy trilogy or George of the Jungle — accounts his experience of sexual assault by former president of Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Philip Berk at the Golden Globes in 2003 (Fraser said in the interview with GQ.)
“’I felt ill. I felt like a little kid. I felt like there was a ball in my throat. I thought I was going to cry.”
He rushed out of the room, outside, past a police officer he couldn’t quite bring himself to confess to and then home. After the encounter, Fraser feared going public with the allegation; he became depressed, blamed himself and began to retreat.
This narrative is not unlike the countless stories from the women part of the #MeToo movement. The Sexual Assault Victim Advocate Center lists depression, self-blame and withdrawal as common reactions to sexual assault. These feelings and experiences are not gender-specific, and should not be viewed as such.
While women are statistically more likely to be victims of sexual assault, men do account for a significant number of victims as well. The National Alliance to End Sexual Violence reports that 14 percent of rape victims are men or boys. Men’s experiences with sexual assault should be given an equal platform in the #MeToo movement as well.
The prevalence of violence against women should not be understated or co-opted, but shedding light on men’s stories could benefit the movement. Relaying men’s stories resists the stigmas men face by coming forward about sexual assault and exposing perpetrators, who are overwhelmingly male, as reported by the 2010 National Intimate Partner & Sexual Violence Survey. With 78 percent of sexual assaults being perpetrated by men when the reports of male and female victims were combined, this could address how a toxic culture or masculinity prevails.
In a piece for an online academic journal, The Conversation, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at McMaster University, Christine Wekerle suggests toxic masculinity must be disrupted by challenging who is considered a “socially acceptable” victim of sexual assault. Enabling such stereotypes undermines the movement and thwarts possible change while simultaneously silencing victims and creating cyclical toxic masculinity.
Wekerle states “compassionate masculinity” is necessary to preventing sexual violence. Intervention becomes possible when men’s voices are heard in movements where they are expected to be silenced or nonexistent. Since women do account for a vast majority of sexual assault victims, the focus on and advocacy for women in this issue should not be constrained.
Including men’s experiences of abuse would disrupt the very culture that supports the cycle of maltreatment against both men and women to continue. Fraser’s story demonstrates how sexual abuse is not gender-specific. But rather than accept abuse as a universal experience, compassion, healing and solidarity regardless of gender – should be a collective aim for victims in #MeToo.
Paige Wisniewksi is a junior majoring in interdisciplinary sciences.