This Monday afternoon, joined by a handful of my fellow Terrans, I enjoyed the hilarity that was an offering titled “The Penis Parables: A Response to ‘The Vagina Monologues.’ ” Generally inoffensive and completely hysterical, the Penis Parables detailed the discomforts of premature ejaculation and boxer-brief underwear.
However, at the risk of sounding like a male apologist, I could not help but wonder what a true Penis Parables at Princeton would look like. Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues,” while originally written as a celebration of the vagina, has evolved into a way to spread awareness of and combat female domestic and sexual violence. While I am wholeheartedly in support of this movement and I have devoted time and energy to advancing it, I continue to dwell upon the invisibility of the male experience with sexual and domestic abuse.
This issue has attracted some media attention as of late through Kirby Dick’s “The Invisible War,” a documentary currently nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. The film features interviews from members of various military branches who have survived sexual assaults from fellow service members. However, the documentary has stirred up a controversy over the underrepresentation of male survivors: Its promotional materials contain solely female survivors, and no male survivors were asked to attend any formal screenings of “The Invisible War.” In the wake of their exclusion, the servicemen interviewed for the documentary felt betrayed, claiming in an interview with NBC News to feel as if the film “has turn[ed its] back” on them.
And certainly it is not surprising: Male sexuality and the male body is so rarely taken seriously. In American media, female nudity is almost unilaterally erotic — a problem in and of itself — while male nudity is rendered comedic. In “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” Jason Segel’s iconic nude scene exploited his vulnerability by portraying his bare emotion, pun intended, as hilarious rather than serious.
How, then, if we cannot take male vulnerability seriously on screen, can we respect it when we encounter it in our lives?
Although sexual and domestic violence is statistically more commonly inflicted upon women by men, the invisibility of that which is enacted upon men by either gender affects all survivors, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. By relegating assault to being a women’s issue, we not only delegitimize the experiences of male survivors but also limit the gravity and seriousness of the problem. If sexual and domestic violence were considered human rights issues to be solved rather than simply women’s rights issues, the scope of concern would certainly widen.
So where do we as Princetonians stack up on this cause of increasing the visibility of male survivors? Certainly we could look to SHARE’s “Sex on a Saturday Night/The Way We Move” programming, which demonstrates to incoming freshmen the complexity of the sexual and romantic scene at college. However, in a review of the programming, while female sexual assault is near-consistently nuanced and serious, the only instance in which a man is abused — an addition that only made it into the presentation this past fall — is drawn out to become absurd in an attempt to provoke a laugh. The situation in question follows a man, emotionally abused and belittled by his girlfriend, and leaves the viewers with the conclusion that rape and what we can consider legitimate abuse — be it emotional or physical — does not happen to men, only “crazy” girlfriends happen to men. While the female survivor is granted the seriousness the situation certainly warrants, the male survivor of emotional abuse, because certainly we cannot put the rape of a man onstage beside the rape of a woman, is instead given an uncomfortable, exaggerated plotline that buys into misogynistic stereotypes and shies away from depth and complexity.
Instead of being hung up on juggling the preservation of masculinity and the humor of emasculation, I urge such programming to instead attempt to get at the truth of the matter. While I am not demanding an entire Penis Parables, a lone Penis Parable — a work that attempts to represent the male experience honestly in order to combat violence against men — should certainly be given consideration for SHARE’s future programming.
Lauren Prastien is an anthropology major from Fair Lawn, N.J. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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