Yesterday I read an article in which Chris Brown discussed the age at which he lost his virginity. He was 8, he says, and the girl was 14 or 15. He mentions that in “the country” he and his cousins watched a lot of porn, so by age 8 he was “hot to trot.” Maybe so. Children can have sexual feelings at 8, but whether they can consent to sex at age 8 is an entirely different subject. Sex at age 8 is rape, especially given the fact that the girl involved was significantly older, a teenager. Chris Brown was raped, but to hear him tell it, that experience was positive, healthy. Something to brag about. “At eight, being able to do it, it kind of preps you for the long run, so you can be a beast at it.”
And the worst part? This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this from a man.
I’ve personally dated two men who described these early sexual experiences, and have heard these stories from friends as well. In terms of my former boyfriends, one was seven when he lost his virginity, the other nine. Both saw this as a notch in their tiny, child-like belts. The girls in their experiences were teenagers also, so the men seemed to think that this was a testament to their own irresistibility: at eight years old, their sex appeal was so overwhelming, so potent, that teenage girls were compelled to have sex with them. The idea that this was rape—and it was—never crossed their minds. Why? Because the same poisonous system that tells women they are rape-able tells men that they are not.
We know some of the behavioral signals that occur when girls have been raped. Depression, promiscuity, unexplained anger, anxiety. These are words we use when we describe the ways victims behave. It’s interesting that I have seen these same symptoms in young boys—alongside me in class when I was a child, in boyfriends as I got older, in men beside me on the bus in Chicago—yet no one looks at male anger and male promiscuity as symptoms of anything. These are just classic male behaviors. “Boys will be boys,” and boys sleep around. Boys have bad tempers. Right?
What if we have been normalizing male rape victims’ symptoms for centuries? This is not to say that every man has been the victim of sexual abuse, but I know more than a few who have been, and their cries for help—the ones that get such attention when our “ladylike” daughters act out sexually and/or aggressively—went unnoticed, chalked up to a male standard of behavior that not only turns a blind eye to promiscuity but rewards it. Can you imagine? Can you imagine being sexually abused and then growing up being told that this is a good thing? That your sexual potency has been enhanced? That rape was a “head-start” into the wonderful world of sex? The damaging system that tells girls they are worthless after rape has a disgusting flip side for boys: you have worth now. This violence has made you a god.
And we wonder why our boys grow up sex-obsessed, equating violence with pleasure (“be a beast at it”), and imagining that rape is only something that happens to women. We wonder why they grow up hating women; women who might look like their abuser, or women who were raped and actually had their violence addressed by a society that believes men are immune from that kind of crime, a crime that when committed against a male goes woefully under-reported.
Boys will be boys. And boys can be hurt. We must stop viewing patriarchy as a weapon that wounds only women. To do so silences generations of victims…and often creates more.
Update 10/08/2013: I just came across this post by Colorlines on this same subject and I encourage you to read it as well.
Update 10/09/2013: I’ve been told numerous times that I am misinterpreting the phrase “be a beast at it.” I am aware of this and it was done deliberately, as I believe it’s important to acknowledge and understand the role of semantics in patriarchy and rape culture.