UCLA’s second annual Consent Week hosted by 7000 in Solidarity held an event on Wednesday called “The Word: Male Survivors.” Co-organized with UCLA Cultural Affairs Commission, the event showcased several poets and speakers who expressed the importance of raising awareness about male rape victims who are belittled when speaking up about being sexually assaulted. This spoken word event was held at the “Man Up?” art gallery which exhibits the way that the phrase “man up” creates an environment where men are seen as hypermasculinized individuals who must suppress their feelings and emotions. The gallery can be read more about here.
Rape is usually spoken of in a way that excludes men as victims of rape. When coming out as a survivor of sexual assault, their emotions are usually dismissed as insignificant because, in a large portion of society’s terms, men are supposed to be invulnerable and immune to sentiment. It is important to acknowledge that all humans have a right to a safe space when speaking about sexual assault, and that all humans can be at fault of committing a sexual assault. Survivors should not have to validate themselves and their experiences, let alone feel challenged.
Why is it that one automatically assigns survivors of sexual assault with a feminine pronoun? Why is it that one must add “male” before “survivors” to differentiate between the emotions and experiences of men and women? In that case, why mustn’t one add “female” to “survivors” as well? Survivors are assumed as women because when men are sexually assaulted, they are “not really sexually assaulted.” They should “man up” and enjoy it because they “got some.” They should “grow some balls.” They are high-fived. In the eyes of many, being sexually assaulted as a man is not possible. Men are often stigmatized for expressing their emotions; this event highlighted that and created an inclusive safe space for survivors who are male and female, and for those whose psyche is negatively affected by the phrase “man up” and what that phrase means.
Individuals are affected by the phrase “man up” in different ways, and it is important to acknowledge all experiences. Those at the event were handed a small note that read “describe a time you were told to man-up” which all attendees were encouraged to anonymously complete. They were read aloud during the event to acknowledge the wide array of effects the phrase has on individuals, and to create a safe space that is inclusive of all experiences.
After the event, I spoke with a few of the poets to get their insight on the topic of consent and sexual assault. Kevin, co-host of the event, shared his experience as a survivor of sexual assault and how he feels he must suppress his emotions for fear of being looked down upon. He states, “As a guy, it is easy to be ashamed and to feel vulnerable.” For the longest time, he felt he could not share his experience because being a survivor of sexual assault as a male is stigmatized and is often not even deemed as a possibility.
Nora, who will represent The Word at a poetry slam in March, states that she has friends who have been sexually assaulted and are offered little information about the topic and how to cope with the trauma. She says, “We should make it easier for survivors, not harder. Anyone who has experienced trauma should feel safe.”
Savannah Badalich, founder of 7000 in Solidarity, feels that it is important to deconstruct masculinity, which can be done in various ways that explore many different interests. She expresses that spoken word creates a safe space for all to share their experiences, which is why this event was organized.
It is important to deconstruct the idea that men cannot be sexually assaulted. We must be inclusive of all experiences in order to destigmatize men’s expression of emotion. Nobody is immune to feeling feelings.
To 7000 in Solidarity, sexual consent is a “positive, unambiguous, and voluntary agreement to engage in specific sexual activity throughout the sexual encounter” (expanded on here).