How to Ecape from the Prison of Violent Masculinity
Anti-rape Campaign #ThatsRape (3)
Editor’s note: The Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center is leading a campaign against sexual assault committed with the help of alcohol or drugs, called #ThatsRape. This series of articles explores the discussions held by the campaign’s planning committee, as well as their questions and recommendations for change.
“What kind of man doesn’t like sex?”
One day a musician friend of mine had a concert in Hongdae, so I went to see it. When the concert finished, six of my friends and I ended up hanging out in the Hongdae playground, drinking and talking.
I’m asexual. I’ve never felt sexually attracted to anyone. I’m also genderqueer (a term referring to those whose identity is outside of the male-female gender dichotomy), but my assigned gender is male and socially I’m perceived as a man.
On that day in Hongdae, we started talking about asexuality. A male stranger wandered up to us and said, suddenly, “I’m sorry to interrupt, but did you say that you don’t like sex? Want to go to a massage parlor? I’ll pay. What kind of man doesn’t like sex, you probably just haven’t done it...” and watched me as if waiting for me to laugh along.
I was flabbergasted. I was beyond getting angry or feeling upset; I couldn’t respond. There were a few LGBTQ people among the friends I was with, and they knew how painful it was to have your identity rejected. I felt that my friends were watching my reaction. My brain seemed overloaded. Finally, I didn’t respond at all and just took a drink. So my friends started to berate the man and told him to go away. He snarled one thing at me before he left.
For a long time, I thought that I had been treated this way because of my asexuality. But hearing “What kind of man doesn’t like sex?” and “Fucking eunuch” made me wonder if it isn’t just because of my asexuality but also because of the perception of me as male.
As I remembered the many other times I’ve been called “eunuch” and how, when I went to clubs with my friends, people didn’t believe me when I said I was asexual and one woman even invited me to a hotel because she wanted to test me, I became quite sure that I am treated this way not simply because I am asexual but because I am an asexual “man.”
Men with excess sexual desire
For a long time, I was able to avoid these kinds of thoughts. This was because there weren’t that many “normal” people among my friends. After coming to identify as a sexual minority at a young age, I made friends mostly with LGBTQ people - whether online or offline – and within feminist communities. So I was able to avoid “normal” talk about sex and especially talk about how people think about me with regards to sex.
But as I moved from high school to university and university to the working world, my ability to limit the people around me to those I chose waned. It became more common to hear conversations about masculine sexuality. I got more used to that, and as I did so, I realized something. It was that we men excessively assert our own sexuality. That is, we brainwash both ourselves and others to believe that we are hypersexual.
“Men always like sex. They’re up for it at any time. They can’t find it unpleasant or uncomfortable.” These are some of the rules of male sexuality that we create and apply to ourselves and others. After coming to understand this, I became better able to understand many of the experiences I had had.
In university, I dated a foreigner. Once, on a date, I ran into an older male student I knew. Even though my date was right there, he said [in Korean], “Oh, your girlfriend has a killer body. Is it true that foreign women give it up easily?” What I remember most is that when my expression then darkened, he cursed at me.
I also thought about the customers I had seen while working part-time in a bar. There was a group of men who seemed like they were having an office dinner, and when the oldest of them said, “After this, we’re going to a brothel,” there was a man who seemed uncomfortable but didn’t say anything and tried to match the group mood. Later, he went outside and called his partner to explain the situation and apologize [because he would have to go along].
You’ll be an accomplice, right?
I can’t be the only man who’s aware of this destructive and harmful male sexuality. In fact, I think I became aware of it comparatively late, because I didn’t come into contact with it until recently. I think that many men already know how much they have suffered by being held to and holding themselves to this kind of standard. The problem lies in the fact that they can’t say that this is uncomfortable, unpleasant, and painful, that it hurts and they don’t like it.
I think the reason that the man in Hongdae waited for my reaction and that the older student got mad and cursed my lack of response is that they knew they had asked sexually abusive questions. Despite knowing that, they were asking me, “You’ll be an accomplice, right?” And because I didn’t join in their sexual violence as a bonding ritual between men, they were ejecting me from their world with “eunuch” and other curses.
Somehow, we’ve shut ourselves up in this room and locked the door. That’s may be why we just watch when men ogle, catcall, and harass passing women, why we let it go when an older student casually says he wants to get a woman drunk and “try something,” instead of telling him, “That’s rape.”
The demand not to call the male world’s portrayal of sex unpleasant or uncomfortable, no matter how abusive, destructive, and painful it is – this demand functions as a code that goes beyond saying, “You’re an accomplice, right?” to implying that you can only be a man if you are an accomplice, and strengthens a sense of belonging between men.
And we, having grown up seeing the social power afforded to those recognized as men and the exclusion faced by those stripped of the title, say “Yes” to this demand and thus keep confining ourselves into an unhealthy framework. We are both prisoners and prison guards.
Things that men don’t want to hear or say about rape
But this prison-like room has an exit. The door that we’ve thought of as firmly locked has always been open. We just need to walk out of it, and we’ve always had the chance to do that.
There’s a reason why I say that. People say we’re shut up in a room without an exit, but that does not mean that we are victims of larger forces and have no choice but to allow and participate in this harmful sexual behavior. Rather, it’s the opposite. The door is always there and unlocked; it’s just that we don’t open it. We are avoiding taking on the responsibility of opening the door and walking out. I’m saying for our own sakes, we should accept the responsibility and open the door.
There is something we must face if we want to get out of this room. It is a kind of key that will unlock the door. Virginie Despentes, feminist author of King Kong Theory [the Korean title translates to “King Kong Girl: Feminism for Ugly Women], once said this in an interview.
“Rape, it’s always a women’s subject. I’m 45 years old and I think I’ve been here listening about women gathering about rape for more than 30 years now and I’m tired. I want to see men, really, I want to see men gathering and please, try to understand what is going on with you, how can you be a rapist? How can you prevent it, because we can’t. Rape, it’s like a dark place without language for women. It’s like night. If you bring some light here, I think it could change things.”
In order to avoid responsibility for the violent structure of male sexuality, men also avoid talking about sexual violence. When a man is a victim, when a man is a perpetrator – no matter the situation, we talk about sexual violence like it is not related to us.
When a man is the perpetrator, the first things we say is not to generalize about all men, that it is not a male problem but a matter of “a few crazy assholes,” and so on. Or we shift the responsibility to the victim, saying, “Because you dressed that way,” “Because you got drunk,” “Because you came onto him...” This is a desperate struggle to evade and conceal the violence inherent in male sexuality.
And we avoid talking about male victims of sexual violence.
When both the victim and perpetrator are men, we often see people use that fact to justify their homophobia. But if you look at research about sexual violence between men, you’ll see a different story. According to a “Human Rights Watch” survey conducted in the United States about rape between people of the same sex in prison, most perpetrators identify as heterosexual. That is, even though they might be heterosexual, they express their occupation of a powerful position through rape, but they don’t admit that.
Many anti-feminists argue that by making rape into a women’s issue, feminists ignore male victims of sexual violence, but actually, even when the perpetrator is a woman and the victim is a man, men can often be seen disregarding the voice of the survivor. You hear things that start from “You had sex without having to work for it? You should be thankful,” and then pass “If you got raped by a woman, are you really a man?” to reach “How can a man be raped?”
This is how we avoid serious discussion of rape.
“Uprooting Masculinity”: an escape campaign
Violent sexuality has become a part of masculinity, and we need to express the discomfort, displeasure, pain, and hurt that we’ve felt about this. I think that’s the first step towards escape. We have to break this promise of silence that men have made to each other. This is not a sacrifice that needs to be made for others, but work that must be done for our own sakes, for our survival.
In order to do that, I think that discussion about sexual violence is essential. Thinking and talking about the behavior that most plainly reveals this violence is a way to open the door that will let us out of this room.
While helping run the #ThatsRape campaign, which aims to prevent rape committed with the help of alcohol and drugs, I am sometimes asked, “Why is an asexual person interested in and participating in a campaign that’s deeply connected with sex?” It’s because I believe that I could help bring about discussion that unsettles everything, not just rape between men but all of the uncomfortable, unpleasant, and painful parts of male sexuality.
The way we will go after opening the door and leaving the room is not clear. Because it is a new path that we must walk after rejecting everything we know, we might be afraid of opening the door. But there’s no need for solitary fear or hesitation.
On January 15th, the campaign to prevent rape committed with the use of alcohol and drugs held a discussion entitled “Uprooting Masculinity.” Its purpose was to provide a place for the unearthing and consideration of such thoughts. And we are planning follow-up gatherings in order to find a new path. On Friday, March 4th, at 7:30 P.M., you can join us to search for a way to escape from the prison of violent masculinity together.
Let’s throw open the door to this stifling room, and walk out together.
By Yi Jo
Published: March 1, 2016
Translated by Marilyn Hook
* Original article: http://ildaro.com/7389
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