Second Class Rape Victims: Rape Hierarchy and Gender Conflict

johnThe most disturbing part of the 2006 documentary Deliver Us from Evil isn’t the fact that Father Oliver O’Grady is rewarded by the Catholic Church with a new congregation in Ireland after his short stint in prison for the rape of dozens of children in the 1970s, but rather the hierarchy of gendered victimization which is often created throughout the various rape cases that are both reported and unreported throughout history.

I am often troubled by the ways in which rape cases are discussed and deconstructed via mediums such as blogs, online communities, social media networks, the news, and popular culture.  No series of events troubled me more than the Jerry Sandusky trial, but more importantly, the ways in which the young boys and adult men who were subjected to Sandusky’s abuse quickly overshadowed the other rape cases that are reported on a daily basis, specifically those involving young girls and women.

Deliver us from Evil

Deliver us from Evil

Our country needs to have a serious conversation about the ways in which masculinity is not only constructed but also deconstructed through the acts of rape, incest, sexual assault, domestic violence, and virility.  How do these horrific actions pinpoint and break apart the depiction of the hegemonic and virile man who is impenetrable.  How do these acts, which have historically occurred throughout time, gain greater significance in our 24hr news cycle, tech obsessed culture?

Although the rape of a women on a bus in India by six men didn’t go unnoticed by the world, I have to wonder what would have happened if her story would have occurred on November 4th, 2011, the date when a grand jury, who had convened in 2008, indicted Sandusky on 40 counts of sex crimes against young boys.  Would it have gotten the same amount of attention it did when it came across U.S. news screens on December 16th, 2012?  Would the outcry from women across the world silence those of both Penn State as well as various other sports fans and individuals from across the United States?

What these events and society’s obsession with them for the weeks and months and even year after signify isn’t that more attention is being given to violent sexual crimes against all types of bodies but rather a resignification of the hierarchy that is already all too present within our culture today: stories about men in all forms get top billing.

Upon asking a small groups of friends whether or not they have heard about the rape case involving the Indian woman on December 16th, 2012 or even the rape of an elderly bird-watching woman in Central Park in September 2012 the resounding silence pinpointed the reasons why, when asked whether or not they had heard about Jerry Sandusky, their answers were an unequivocal yes.


While the activist in me wanted to cry out and scream “Are you serious?!” the scholar in me knew to take a step back and examine the situation from various angles.   Why are violent crimes against women cast aside in light of new stories that involve men sexually or violently abusing young boys or other men?  What about masculinity makes it seem both impenetrable and innately hegemonic?

While we could reduce the actions down to the violent response men have when any form of their power and social/sexual status is threatened, we have to step back and examine the issue of the innate power that men are endowed with not only through social institutions but religious ones as well.

Men are seen as “on top” both figuratively and literally throughout the various images that bombard both young girls and boys from being birthed from their mother’s womb (and some would argue even before that).  From early on, young boys are taught that they are #1 and that “the other,” i.e., the young girl, is not only below them but also an object that they must possess, whether through violent action or the eternal dance of courting.   However, when there is a disruption to this innate system of power structures, the response that we often see is one of violence.  While men are taught that they should not show emotion or deviate from the heteronormative society acted out in front of them on a daily basis, their crisis of masculinity often comes with the inability to negotiate what their identities as men actually mean to themselves personally.  Giving men the ability and space to discuss what their masculinity means to them creates the opportunity to change the narrative of “men on top.”  From small ripples of change that eventually overtake the mainstream current, deconstructing masculinity during times when violent actions are inflicted upon male bodies creates a new chance for scholars and activists to draw attention not away from the victims at hand but rather into the larger narrative of social, sexual, and domestic violence that occurs all around the world every day to all types of bodies.

Deconstructing masculinity isn’t the key to solving social, sexual, and domestic violence across the world but it is a step worth taking when attempting to engage men in affecting change to stop these violent actions since men are statistically the perpetrators of the crimes that both cause outcry as well as perpetual silence.


(I was fortunate enough to get to spend some time this month talking with Dr. Gina Messina-Dysert at lengths about our lives, our careers, and like with most scholar/activists eventually about the topics we are passionate about.  Always a source of inspiration, Gina frequently helps me hash out the many topics I’m interested in writing about and pointing me in the right direction. This post (and the blog it is housed on) would not be possible without her continual presence as a force for change and progress within Feminist and Religious communities.)

John Erickson is a doctoral student in American Religious History at Claremont Graduate University.  His research interests involve an interdisciplinary approach and are influenced by his time as the director of a women’s center and active member in the GLBTQ and women’s rights movements.  His work is inspired by the intersectionality of  feminism, queer identity, and religious political and cultural rhetoric.  He is the author of the blog, From Wisconsin, with Love and can be followed on Twitter at@jerickson85.

Categories: Abuse of Power, Activism, American History, Belief, Bible, Body, Catholic Church, Catholicism, Children, Christianity, Church Doctrine, civil rights, college, Community, Ethics, Family, Feminism, Film, Gender and Power, Gender and Sexuality, General, God, God-talk, Hierarchy, Human Rights, Identity Construction, In the News, Justice, LGBTQ, Men and Feminism, Politics, power, Power relations, Rape, Rape Culture, Reform, Relationality, Sex Abuse Crisis, Sexism, Sexual Ethics, Sexual Violence, Social Justice, Spirituality, Sports, Violence, Violence Against Women

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16 replies

  1. John, thank you for this courageous, honest and difficult post that highlights the inequities of a masculinist hierarchical system.


  2. Deconstructing masculinity was an issue even in New Testament biblical times.One of the passages about it is in 2 Peter. Other texts are in Jude, 1 Corinthians and Colossians. These texts are not generally understood because translation decisions have obscured their meaning.
    A quote from my eBook, “A Gender Neutral God/ess” and a literal translation from a Greek text in 2 Peter is: “2 Peter speaks of false teachers by whom ‘the way of Truth (f.) will be blasphemed’ and refers to The Lord punishing ‘unjust men.’ the conclusion of 2 Peter is about ‘fair and equitable dealing.’

    Most of all the ones going after flesh in lust and defilement
    And despising feminine Authority (kuriotes)…
    These men,
    As animals without reason having been born.
    2 Peter 2:10-12 GNT”

    There is also material in this eBook that may be relevant to GLBTQ issues. Even if one is not religious in the traditional sense, religious has a vast influence. Thus it is important to study biblical material and learn its origins, and also how it has been altered to change concepts.


  3. When we hear and read about the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, we hear of the boys who were abused, seldom if ever do we hear about the girls and women.


    • Kathleen,
      That is exactly my point. I think what I am most troubled by is that when we think of the Crisis on the Catholic Church regarding sexual abuse, we automatically see “man/boy abuse” and not “Man/girl” abuse. The whole crime of men being unable to be penetrated is very fascinating and reminds me a lot of the ways in which Dworkin works through her arguments in her classic, Intercourse.


  4. I had to take public speaking in college to graduate. One of the topics I chose to speak about was male rape. I used all the anatomically correct terms in my talk. You literally could have herd a pin drop in the room. Later as I went to get my grade from my professor(a former Jesuit priest) he told me,” I didn’t think you had the balls to give that talk.” and he also said that it was the first time that topic was ever talked about in his class(probably the last time) and I got an “A” for my efforts.


    • It is funny that he used the term “didn’t have the balls.” Just another individualized way in which women are seen to need permission to talk about “male” topics such as this. Thanks for the comment.


  5. Thank you for addressing this. I remember when a father killed his son’s rapist approx 30 years ago and he was celebrated for this. And he wasn’t brought up on any charges for this deliberate act of killing. But being a victim of multiple molestations and attempted rapes by a family member as a preschooler, it was swept under the rug by my family and it just wasn’t talked about or acknowledged any further. I was treated like I was the ‘problem.’ nevermind the family member that molested me went on to molest many other kids and everyone looked the other way. And when the father who killed his son’s rapist became national news, my mother commented ‘good for him for blowing that bastard away.’ That comment stung as she laughed as she created a vivid image with words as to how she imagined the rapist was cowering or begging for mercy. She never connected my my rape as being of equal importance to that boy’s rape–it was as if I didn’t existed to her in that moment and my rape didn’t happen. But to add salt to the wound, she dryly added, ‘If his son was a girl and he killed his daughter’s rapist, he would be brought up on murder charges in a heartbeat.’

    If I didn’t already know my lack of value to my family already as a girl, I knew without question then. Until girls and boys are treated the same and have the same reaction to the sexual victimization of both sexes, we’re all a part of the problem and our society is truly sick.


  6. John —

    This is a great post, and it sketches for us the gender inequality that rape reinforces in so many ways. Good work! My one quibble is the word EXPULSION! I’ve given birth and that term does not resonate with me at all! I gave birth. My baby did not get expelled on its own. Please name the actor in the birthing process, just as you name the actor in the raping process. As you know, we need to name women and their actions whenever possible in this rapist/sexist society. Besides, expulsion’s connotations are all negative — expulsion from school for breaking the rules/crimies, expulsion from Congress for misdeamonors. Its synonyms are banishment, deportation, displacement, exile, relegation. You see what I mean. And birthing my daughter was one of the most miraculous experiences of my life, despite the pain.


    • Now that I go back and think about it, I have no idea why I decided to go with expulsion. Apologies if it offended you, it wasn’t my intention :) Thanks for the comment! I’m glad you liked the blog!


  7. I just wanted to let you know that I updated the language because I agree with your point :) I have no idea why I put that!


  8. Hi John, Thanks so much for this. V Day One Billion Rising is on Thursday, but it is so hard to bring violence aganist women and girls to the light of day, because in so many ways it it tolerated in patriarchal societies, as you point out. Here in Molivos a dance party is being organized, but I am not sure if people here understand that the V Day is as much about violence in the home here as it is about supporting women in say, India.


    • As a coordinator and proud past director of the Vagina Monologues (that story is quite funny if we ever talk more about it) I am proud to say that One Billion Rising is an important part of the engaging men process. From the prayer to men that is on the website to acts of understanding, OneBillionRising is really making some great strides in changing the global conversation. I’m proud to say that I’ve been a part of the West Hollywood process:


  9. Hi John,

    Thank you so much for your “shout out” here. Of course, your efforts are what continue you on your path. :) I appreciate this post and think you make some very important points here. It is interesting, as some point out in these comments, that we hear very little if any about the girls who were abused in the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. In thinking about your post – it is the culture we live in. The norm is to rape women and girls so no one gives it a second thought. To rape a man or a boy is to treat him like a female – there is nothing more disgraceful. Disturbing and so important. I’m glad you wrote this piece.


    • Exactly; the norm is to rape women as they can be “entered” whereas men cannot be penetrated in that same way. It goes into a large discussion, within gay/queer masculinity studies, of the whole top/bottom power narrative that rides the tails of who is fucking who and “why.”

      Thanks Gina! You’re always an inspriation.


  10. OK. We can take a hint. Male victims need to get back under the carpet where they belong. They should not be seen let alone heard. Assuming there’s any of them to begin with.

    Institutional cover ups WERE possible BECAUSE the victims are predominantly boys. The coverage those events gain now is largely because of the interest among many in attacking the institutions themselves. It has nothing to do with who the victims are.


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