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Feb 12 2012

Rape survivor campaign in UK: Must we say “real men?”

I’m of two minds about this UK rape survivors campaign highlighted over at Copyranter.

Rugby ad: ball pierced by a nail with text, "Real men get raped, talking about it takes real strength"

On the one hand, this is excellent in both its imagery and its targeting. By having been raped, you — average rugby-loving Joe Masculine — might feel like you are somehow less of a man. Underreporting is a drastic systemic problem in determining rape statistics, so encouraging those who have been raped to come forward and get the help they need to cope with the emotional trauma they’ve experienced is paramount.

However, I do have to take issue with the idea that there’s such a thing as a “real man”. This idea of masculinity drummed into us of stoicism, taking our “lumps” and walking them off, is nothing short of toxic. And the adjoining idea, that if you are unable to “walk it off”, you are not a real man, is every bit as toxic. The demand that men, if they are to conform to the gender roles to which they are consigned, must show no emotions and no weakness if they are to be considered appropriately manly, damages these very men. It puts them into an unwinnable situation when they are emotionally injured, where they are forced to compound their own injury.

The “talking about it takes real strength” line does in fact undermine that toxic stoicism. But reinforcing the idea that there’s a Real Man archetype, and it involves being strong, is kind of terrible to those men who do not see themselves as strong enough.

I don’t know. I could be reading too much into this one. Could this ad honestly be done any better, though? We’re already in a situation where the gender roles proscribe stoicism in the face of drastic trauma. Must we work within those confines, or could we find a phrasing that is fairer, or more appropriate, to those men who have been victimized and otherwise feel like there’s no recourse?

39 comments

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  1. 1
    michaeld

    I’m with you on it not being my favorite wording and I really roll my eyes any time I see “real man”. But, if it helps someone I’m alright with it. I’d really like to see all this real man crap torn apart though. Why can’t the mra just put all their energy into that instead icky squicky people…

  2. 2
    smhlle

    I think the ad campaign is trying to imply to the reader “men like you get raped”, with the intention of creating an empathetic response. But, it’s rather awful because it’s easy to read in the choice of the word “real” to mean “average” or “typical” or “like you”. And that translates in my mind that they are trying to imply that it’s not just gay men and weaklings that get raped, but, hey, “regular blokes”, which is repulsive but implied by the use of “real men” in the sentence. (And the phrasing in the ad tends to marginalize incarcerated men who get raped at higher rates than the general population. They are “real”, right?)

  3. 3
    Callum James Hackett

    The intention of the ads is good, but not only does it perpetuate the silly ‘real’ man/’weak(?)’ man divide, playing to the fear that if you’re raped you mustn’t be a ‘real’ man, it also suggests that we already know ‘weak’ man get raped, and that’s somehow more understandable.

  4. 4
    Stephanie Zvan

    I’m with Michael on this, I think. If it were a general awareness campaign, I’d have a lot more to say. This, however, is advertising a group that helps survivors, and it’s targeting a demographic that all too often doesn’t reach out for help when something like this happens because of the ways in which rape challenges their identities. Changing the way we talk about rape takes decades (as we’ve seen). These people need help now.

  5. 5
    Michael Brew

    We’re also totally marginalizing all the imaginary men who are also raped.

  6. 6
    Chiroptera

    When I first read the ad, I thought it was meant, partly, as a subversive dig against the stereotype of a “real man.”

    But I don’t live in the UK, so my cultural experience is very different, and so I my interpretation may very well be the minority.

    At any rate, the discussion here certainly shows that the poor choice of words in the ad might be distracting from its intended message.

    What will be interesting if the Real Man Movement shows up to further distract from the ad’s intended message by…complaining how our discussion is distracting from the ad’s intended message. (Yes, I’m ridiculing an argument that is showing up on another thread.)

  7. 7
    Ace of Sevens

    The wording sounds to me like it’s saying you aren’t a real man if you haven’t been raped, like rape is some sort of hazing ritual.

  8. 8
    Alyson Miers

    I had the same reaction as Ace of Sevens @7. The phrasing is awkward, like they’re saying: if you are a Real Man, you MUST have been raped.

    Which is obviously not what they’re trying to say. I’m sure what they’re really trying to say is that your trauma isn’t just in your imagination, you’re not alone, and we want you to be able to seek help.

    Maybe the wording is intentionally problematic, in order to be shocking and get attention.

  9. 9
    John Greg

    (moved)

  10. 10
    John Horstman

    Could they have simply thrown some single quotes around ‘real men’ in order to demonstrate that it’s a constructed category while not *necessarily* leveling the sort of challenge that might be alienating at that identity for people who have internalized it?

    How about: “Rapists do attack ‘real men’”? Or even the redundant but shorter “Rapists do rape ‘real men’”? “Do” makes it clear that this does happen, but isn’t universal. The shift from passive to active voice makes the fact that rape is the result of a vicious action on the part of the attacker, and not something that simply ‘happens’ to passive objects, shifting the causal framing from victim/survivor-centric to attacker-centric. Such a shift may help a man see an attack against him by a rapist as the result of the rapist’s actions and not his own failure.

  11. 11
    Chiroptera

    Ace of Sevens, #7:

    Dammit, Ace! Now I read it the same way!

  12. 12
    Jason Thibeault

    (moved)

  13. 13
    firefly

    I first read it the same way as Ace of Sevens (#7). (Any ‘real man something something’ message just reminds me of the coffee mug a former boyfriend had that said ‘real men like cats.’) It’s poorly worded but, on the other hand, at least someone is addressing the issue.

  14. 14
    Altdorf

    In the UK “Real men do/don’t do X” has been a common meme for a long time, whether used seriously (presumably by the archetypical “sports fan” the image is aimed at) or in jest.
    Personally, I’ve only heard it used in humour/satire over the last few years. This means it will catch the attention of a lot of readers, regardless of which interpretation they are most used to.

    The fact that it (the “real men” part) has this ambiguity gives the slogan an unsettling feeling to me, so it is likely to stick in my mind for a while. I think it is well chosen.

  15. 15
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    Hmm, I would have innocently read it as a stab at the “real men” “strong men” trope.
    I think that’s the intention. I am a bit at loss how to change it as not to fall into those traps.
    On the other hand, it is clearly targeting a group that subscribes to the “real men don’t get raped” and “even if, real men just suck it up” tropes, which is the group that is victimized several times.
    So, I’d say, feminism 101 is fine and dandy but probably not the right time when the main goal is to reach out to a male rape survivor who identifies with traditional masculinity.

  16. 16
    John Greg

    (moved)

  17. 17
    John Greg

    (moved)

  18. 18
    PZ Myers

    (moved)

  19. 19
    John Greg

    (moved)

  20. 20
    Stephanie Zvan

    (moved)

  21. 21
    Marshall

    (moved)

  22. 22
    John Greg

    (moved)

  23. 23
    Marshall

    (moved)

  24. 24
    John Greg

    (moved)

  25. 25
    Jason Thibeault

    (moved)

  26. 26
    Marshall

    (moved)

  27. 27
    Stacy

    This was an interesting thread until John Greg tried to make it all about him.

    Anyhoo, back on topic–I very much agree with Giliell, here:

    …feminism 101 is fine and dandy but probably not the right time when the main goal is to reach out to a male rape survivor who identifies with traditional masculinity.

    The ad’s targeting men who do so identify. It’s OK to simplify the message a bit in order to reach people–trying to say too much or unpack the “real men” trope would dilute the ad’s power.

  28. 28
    John Greg

    (moved)

  29. 29
    Stephanie Zvan

    (moved)

  30. 30
    John Greg

    (moved)

  31. 31
    Stacy

    (moved)

  32. 32
    John Greg

    (moved)

  33. 33
    Jason Thibeault

    (moved)

  34. 34
    John Greg

    (moved)

  35. 35
    Tristan

    (moved)

  36. 36
    PZ Myers

    (moved)

  37. 37
    Jason Thibeault

    (moved)

  38. 38
    Jason Thibeault

    All those (moved) comments are here now. I’ll be retweeting this post in hopes of getting the conversation going again, only this time sans all the extra nonsense about personal grudges between factions on the blog-drama part of the blogosphere.

    Sorry folks. Carry on. This was productive, and it helped highlight for me the fact that there are some times when you shouldn’t let an unfortunate wording stop you from raising consciousness about such drastic issues.

  39. 39
    Erin

    My mind went the way of #7 at first – you’re not a real man unless you’ve been raped. Then I thought, “as opposed to fake men?”

    Regardless of how you read it, it’s a fantastic ad. It’s visually striking, it’s succinct, and it hits the nail on the head in telling men that you are not weak for admitting that you’ve been raped (something which goes for both men and women, but is far more acceptable for women to admit than men). It will be effective and for that you can’t pull out the feminism card.

    In fact, instead of complaining about how ‘real men’ are perceived, it would be a better idea to help re-image the phrase. We’ve allowed the phrase to mean testosterone-driven, sports and sex obsessed men for far too long. In reality, men change diapers and hang out with the kids – if they have any. They help clean the house and buy groceries. They work at desks as well as all those other places. REAL men are interested in and do so many more things than the men that the ‘real men’ phrase currently refers to. Even a fair number of fictional men on TV don’t fall into that ‘real men’ category anymore.

    Real men: real everyday men as opposed to an outdated image of how men ‘should’ behave.

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