The cultural influences of masculine sexual violence

When allegations involving Harvey Weinstein were broadcast right and left in 2017, actor and former NFL player Terry Crews tweeted that he too had been assaulted. Not by Harvey Weinstein, but by William Morris Endeavor agent Adam Venit.

The incident has been reported as happening in February 2016 at a party with Hollywood elites like Adam Sandler in attendance. Crews later told Sandler about the assault. At the time of print, he has yet to make a comment. Crews has reported that Venit groped his genitals, in front of his wife Rebecca King-Crews, among other odd and uncomfortable behavior. According to Crews’s reports, the incident left lasting impressions on his life and was the first encounter he had had with Venit.

In an interview with ABC News, he remembered the assault as emasculating, saying it left him feeling objectified.

ABC News also reported Crews’s conclusion that he got Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein started being accused of sexual misconduct. Crews on Oct. 10, 2017 tweeted, “This whole thing with Harvey Weinstein is giving me PTSD. Why? Because this kind of thing happened to ME.”

On Feb. 9, Deadline Hollywood reported that Venit is now facing a probe by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office over the alleged 2016 incident. And Venit? He received a one-month unpaid suspension and a demotion.

Crews in December 2017 filed a complaint with the Superior Court of the State of California for the County of Los Angeles, Central District against Venit and the William Morris Endeavor Entertainment company. The complaint says, “It is now time to hold Venit accountable for his sexual predatory behavior and to hold WME accountable for its conduct in condoning, ratifying, and encouraging Venit’s sexual predatory behavior. Indeed, a message needs to be sent to those in power who abuse those over whom they exert influence and control that abusive and sexual predatory behavior will not be tolerated.”

Crews has experienced a wide variety of responses because of his decision to speak out about his assault. Several commentators on YouTube have commended Crews for breaking his silence, saying that he has become a role model for male victims of sexual assault and a shining example of how sexual misconduct can affect anyone, even a wealthy, strong man like Terry Crews. Others were quick to use his experience to further emasculate and taunt him.

Survivors, like Crews, often find themselves in situations influenced by gender norms: “She was asking for it, she was wearing a mini skirt and showing off her legs. What was she expecting?”

Researchers Julie Freccero, Lauren Harris, Melissa Carnay and Cole Taylor of the Human Rights Center at the University of California, Berkeley write that “attitudes and beliefs about sex play a significant role in how communities respond to incidences of sexual violence. Three major facets of socio-cultural influence —which often occur coincidentally — include male entitlement to sex, the perception of females as a symbol of honor or purity, and sex as a taboo topic of discussion. When sex is considered a man’s individual right, the concept of mutual consent is virtually nonexistent. Paradoxically, rape may also be considered the woman’s fault, suggesting that she has power to seduce the man into an illegal act.”

Gender norms create different kind and degree of discrimination for women and men. Men, for example, seldom get heckled for clothing on the level that women do. However, dressing in a manner considered “too feminine” can create discrimination for males. As Ben Barry in the Harvard Review explains, “As work was separated from the domestic sphere, home became feminized and work became masculinized. In this way, the business suit was seen to embody masculine traits, and became synonymous with corporate success. In contrast, people who enjoy wearing fabulous clothing (like other activities considered feminine and associated with women and marginalized men) are often denied opportunities and become seen as ‘problems’ in organizations.”

The gender norm expectation for men to “toughen up” or “act like a man” when faced with issues also is at play when males report their own sexual assault. Erlanger A. Turner, PhD, in Psychology Today cites research from B.D. Wilson: “for decades, the dominant cultural image of masculinity has included heterosexuality, physical strength, athleticism, control over situations, family caretaking as the head of the household, financial success, and/or not crying or showing emotion.”

Crews’s reporting of his assault can be considered in light of these gender norm expectations, as ABC News reported: “I said, ‘Man, what kind of man would I be to tell my kids, ‘If someone touches you where you don’t want to be touched, tell someone, tell someone,’ and then I don’t do it?” he said. “Let me tell you something, it freed me.”
Romeo Vitelli of Psychology Today is quick to point out many myths clouding masculine sexual violence. Myths like men cannot be raped, “real” men can defend themselves against rape or that men cannot be raped by women.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that one in five women and one in seventy-one men will be raped at some point in their lives. Rates of sexual violence other than rape exceeded 40 percent in the LGBTQ+ communities. These statistics could allude to the significant struggles men and minorities face in the broader subject of sexual violence and harassment, and these statistics raise questions of the relationships between sexuality, gender and sexual violence.

Anthropologist Margaret Mead investigated the “meaningful differences between people born with vaginas and those born with penises,” stating that gender norms across all cultures play important roles in social life. Or in other words, “men’s lives are just as organized by gender as women’s.”

This is important to note because, unlike most feminine #MeToo survivors, Terry Crews was shaped by masculine values, both from an American perspective and an African-American perspective.

These beliefs could have prevented Crews from speaking out sooner.

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