Chris Brown, Jezebel, and Getting Rape Wrong
We’ve come a long way on certain issues relating to gender, sexuality, and assault. But some things take longer than others. We specifically still have trouble accepting that boys and men are sometimes the survivors of sexual assault. At best, we ignore the stories of men being sexually assaulted. At worst, we couch those experiences in ridicule. Doing so is dehumanizing and only works to further invisibilize rape survivors. When men articulate what it means to survive a sexual assault, they cannot count on the support they need, but can instead count on a patriarchal culture that mocks them. Jezebel recently illustrated how this works.
In an interview with The Guardian, Chris Brown recalled his first sexual encounter:
He lost his virginity when he was eight years old, to a local girl who was 14 or 15. Seriously? “Yeah, really. Uh-huh.” He grins and chuckles. “It’s different in the country.” Brown grew up with a great gang of boy cousins, and they watched so much porn that he was raring to go. “By that point, we were already kind of like hot to trot, you know what I’m saying? Like, girls, we weren’t afraid to talk to them; I wasn’t afraid. So, at eight, being able to do it, it kind of preps you for the long run, so you can be a beast at it. You can be the best at it.” (Now 24, he doesn’t want to say how many women he’s slept with: “But you know how Prince had a lot of girls back in the day? Prince was, like, the guy. I’m just that, today. But most women won’t have any complaints if they’ve been with me. They can’t really complain. It’s all good.”)
In case it isn’t clear, Chris Brown is describing his rape. An eight-year-old cannot consent, and when an older teenager engages a child sexually, it is rape. Regardless of what Brown describes as being “different in the country,” it doesn’t matter whether an assault takes place in a rural or urban setting. He was raped.
However, it’s not surprising that this escapes those that buy into the myth that men cannot be raped – perhaps even Brown himself. The failure to even be able to define rape by politicians, the population, and the media contribute to perpetuate a societal epidemic. It’s bad enough that The Guardian glossed over what happened to Brown. But no matter how unpleasant Chris Brown may be, he does not deserve to be ridiculed for being sexually assaulted at the age of eight.
Over at Jezebel, Doug Barry decided to weigh in in the worst way possible. It starts with the title of his post, “Chris Brown Brags About Losing His Virginity When He Was Eight.” Barry immediately dismisses the fact that Chris Brown was raped by simply calling it braggadocio. It’s unclear whether this was done because Brown is seemingly unaware that he was describing his own sexual assault, or because Barry refuses to accept that boys can actually be raped – or both. Nevertheless, it’s irresponsible for Barry to get something so simple so incredibly wrong. Not only does Barry fail to see Brown as a rape survivor, but he also uses Brown’s honesty about what occurred to deride him.
This is not the first time that Doug Barry, while writing for Jezebel, has refused to recognize that a man can be raped. Just last year, Barry wrote about a woman who raped a man in Germany, and titled his post “German Woman Tries to Hold Sexhausted Man Prisoner in Her Apartment.” The story of a woman who actually barred a man from leaving her apartment while she raped him seems one that would be especially difficult to get wrong. But not for Barry. In fact, Barry fails to use the word “rape” even once. Barry’s conclusion is indicative of the sarcasm he uses to dismiss certain rape survivors:
It’d be interesting to see what becomes of these charges, and whether a German defense attorney chronicles this man’s entire sexual history in an effort to discredit his accusations and make him seem way too promiscuous in an effort to prove that it was his own fault in the first place for sleeping with a complete stranger. Can you picture a bunch of German talk radio hosts calling this guy a “slut” or suggesting that he was just asking to be held as a prisoner in this woman’s apartment? Now that would be quite the gender reversal.
Ironically enough, Barry is doing just what the very pundits he is taking a jab at would do. He is silencing, blaming, and ignoring the plight of the rape survivor. And, by describing this rape as “sexhaustion,” he is making a joke of sexual assault. Man or woman, when someone is held against their will and sexually assaulted, it is called rape. Boy or girl, when an older teenager coerces or forces themselves upon a child, it is called rape. When Jezebel calls rape “losing ones virginity” or “sexhaustion,” it’s erasing an experience, and reinscribing violence through that erasure. Yes, women make up the overwhelming majority of rape survivors, but making fun of anyone’s rape is intolerable.
When Chris Brown detailed his rape as a child, he provided an opportunity to defy the myth that men cannot be rape survivors. There are many more survivors out there. Too many times, they stay silent themselves. And too many times, when they do speak up, they are ridiculed by writers and by publications that should know better.
Follow William on Twitter @WilliamCAnder.