Real men & rape

by Jess McCabe // 6 February 2009, 09:14

This poster was stuck up in the bus stop of the University of Western Ontario:

Later, another photographer found the same poster had been mangled:

As Lisa at Sociological Images says:

Until inequality is challenged, things often seem to be just fine; when groups stand up and demand equality, we suddenly see how fiercely people will defend their privilege.

Comments From You

Laurel Dearing // Posted 06 February 2009 at 19:04

they probably thought it was a joke, seeing as rape is apparently funny at the moment. i always wonder whether the "real men" line is a good one to use. i suppose it appeals best to the demographic thats likely to want to assert their masculinity, but at the same time, those men are less likely to see things like coercion or getting someone drunk as rape. i dunno...

The Boggart // Posted 06 February 2009 at 19:28

I dislike the phrasing of the sign. I feel that "decent men" or "good men", rather than "real men" would have been preferable alternatives, as the term is controversial enough to potentially overshadow the issue at hand, or to divert debate. I also feel conflicted that in order to elicit feminist-positive responses, the makers of this poster had to resort to very old-fashioned ideas what constitutes (whatever is) "real maleness".

Finally, a part of me wonders at the motives of whoever defaced the posters, as this is key to the context in which this vandalism is interpreted. Is this the work of just one bitter misogynist? Did the defacer specifically return with a tool to make the second change? Or, is this (dread cliché) just some prankster or antisocial teens thinking that they are being oh so very edgy?

Jess McCabe // Posted 06 February 2009 at 19:40

I should probably have clarified; it's not the wording I'd have used in a poster (or elsewhere), for a variety of reason.

In terms of the motive, to be honest it probably was a joker - but, hey, you know what? I really don't care. I mean, there's a rape epidemic. Their little joke is just Not Funny to me, and neither is the subversion of efforts to raise awareness about rape, and highlight men's responsiblity in preventing their friends and colleagues from raping and carrying out sexual assault.

Catherine Redfern // Posted 06 February 2009 at 19:59

Woah. My reaction:

Sharp intake of breath. How could someone do that?

Then, thought: It's true. Real men [by which in this context I guess means 'normal', everyday men] DO Rape.

Although I guess the defacing person was a misogynist rather than a feminist trying to make a point. :(

Either way, it sucks.

Lucie // Posted 06 February 2009 at 21:02

It's funny because I thought the amendment was a stronger statement - I guess it all depends on how you interpret it, like Catherine said.

(Considering how rapists are always framed as aliens on the fringes of humanity, but the reality is that they are normal people).

Rose // Posted 06 February 2009 at 23:15


When I first saw the vandalised version, I thought it would have been done by someone entirely disillusioned with men. The idea that it was done by a misogynist didn't occur to me til I read your posts.
It strikes me as an extremely anti-male comment, that would shame men who saw it. If I were a guy, I would feel insulted by the insinuation.

Kuja // Posted 07 February 2009 at 00:26

Rose, I see your point but I don't think many men would feel insulted by this. The group with ingrained morals and respect for women obviously will, but the larger group will see it as pretty amusing. And I think it's clear to both groups that a woman didn't deface this sign that way. I'd stake my life on that!

Catherine Redfern // Posted 07 February 2009 at 11:55

It's quite common for anti-feminists to make anti-male statements - e.g. men can't multitask (therefore women are naturally better at doing housework); men are just animals who can't control themselves (therefore women should cover themselves up when they go out), and so on, and so on...

Anne Onne // Posted 07 February 2009 at 12:27

Hmm...this can have many interpretations.

First of all, what we mean by 'real' men. The interpretation may be that 'real' men rape: ie that men following the patriarchy's definition of manliness would indeed rape, rape culture and all.

Secondly, like Lucie suggested, men who rape are real. No less than everyone else. We can't simply use the 'No True Scotsman' fallacy to get out of the fact that men rape: those who are are no less physically male (or physically human)

Then there's the depressing rape joke option, likely the intended effect.

I find it unlikely to be a woman, too. Someone angry enough about rape occurring probably isn't going to cut up a poster to subtly alter its meaning in a way most people would interpret as more obviously misogynistic. It could happen, and I'd find it more of a relief if it was this, but in a world where rape jokes are apparently hilarious, I doubt it.

Thuogh I'd be fine if it DID make men feel uncomfortable, because that was what even the original was supposed to do. Men shouldn't stand by and let their friends, brothers, fathers and sons rape. That is the point. And if they feel a realisation that it's their group doing terrible things, then it's tough, but we can't afford to keep them in a little cocoon of privilege forever. The very fact that a lot of men walk around without even considering this is part of the problem.

Yes, this sign would be a blunt way of putting it across, but then again, we all get the realisation in different ways. Sometimes patience works, sometimes a sharp reminder.

In the end, I suspect it's some youngster who thought it would be absolutely hilarious to impress their friends with. Though it's perfectly possible it could have been an older man, or even a woman, but considering rape jokes are considered funniest amongst young men, I'm thinking this the most likely explanation.

Jess McCabe // Posted 07 February 2009 at 12:38

I agree with Anne that it's unlikely that a feminist did this; although I do see that there can be alternate readings, I suspect that a feminist objecting to the original poster would have found a way to make the point which couldn't be misread as a violent pro-rape statement.

Kath // Posted 07 February 2009 at 14:55

I actually agree with those who say that the second message is a more powerful feminist statement (whether it was done by a feminist or a misogynist isn't the point) if read as a statement of fact as opposed to a recommendation or boast. Real men ie normal, everyday men, friends, lovers, husbands DO rape. The first sign is problematic as an anti-rape statement because it says that men who rape are not 'real men'. Well what the hell does that mean? Using emasculating language against those whose actions we dislike doesn't serve feminism well. It serves the myth that rapists are outsiders, weirdos, men who can't get laid 'normally'. Having said that I think the sentiment in the first sign is right. It's moving on from the 'real men don't rape' slogan to asking all men to take a stand against the actions of some members of a privileged group that they are part of. The problem with both those messages is in the language: the use of 'real' as a form of approval which feeds into patriarchal standards of what a man is.

Rose // Posted 07 February 2009 at 15:43

To clarify, Im not suggesting that it was 'revised' by a feminist, I'm just saying 'anti-male'.
There have certainly been times in my life when I would have found a statement suggesting that 'real men' weren't rapists was just an offensive load of bull. This feeling did not come from feminism, or a love of women, but revulsion of the behaviour I was seeing from 'men'.
You don't need to like yourself, to hate another for their treatment of you.

nyeah // Posted 07 February 2009 at 16:38

a real man is meant to mean a bloke who has enough sence to not rape or do worse.

who ever done that could well be someone who does rape. basicly a stupid person with no right to be called human let alone a real man

Clare // Posted 07 February 2009 at 21:23

Unfortunately, I think it is probably someone trying to be "edgy". I've lost count of the times that I've heard so-called rape jokes told by guys of my own age (early twenties). It is seen as a cool, anti-politically correct thing to say. A sort of "we all think this but I'm the only one brave enough to say it" type attitude. If you challenge it, you're told you can't take a joke.

Rachael // Posted 08 February 2009 at 08:54

It reads to me as probably a campaign against rape.

Anne oanne has a point - someone who is angry about rape would probably welcome such a campaign (even if the wording is a little odd - "real" men and all).

I say this as someone who has campaigned against child abuse. A few years ago I was going to the annual London march against child abuse and I wanted to get as many signatures on the petitions as possible (we hand over these petitions to 10 Downing Street at the march).

Since I lived in a large block of flats at the time, I decided that this would be a wonderful way to collect many signatures. I pinned the petitions on a notice board in the foyer.

I was right in that the response was phenomenal!! I could not pin new petitions up fast enough for all the signatures I got! So at first - I was extremely happy.

Then I came down one morning and noticed a slight tear in my latest petition. Someone had tried to take it down. And in one corner of it, someone had written "I think this is bull***t". Surpise, surprise - it was written anonymously!

This was SO disheartening for me - and a little scarey!

There will always be dissenters when positive changes are being made. And certainly - some rape-victims are so very traumatised by their experiences that they may not welcome help through fear of having to face their pain.

However - I reasoned that the person who defaced my petition was probably just a person who preferred the old social order of children (and of women) staying silent. It was so sad to see.

I never did find out who did it (and indeed, many of the residents who had signed my petitions were as disgusted as me) but I would have loved to have asked the person why they felt the need to do that. Really, really sad that some people would rather see others suffer to hold on to some stupid patriarchial order.

Vyrquenox // Posted 08 February 2009 at 23:00

This all boils down to a picture and every connotation of words, 'real' is sometimes an adjunct, in this case objectively it could mean 'actual men' or it could be the idiom version of 'real men', which might or might not imply what society views as a 'real man' and masculinity itself. Certainly John Wayne would not be considered a person who raped women, but the cultural implications of 'the quiet man' are varied, given that sometimes consenting people enjoy fantasy play involving a dominant partner. Rape in the context of the 3 words before it would have to have the implication of 'forcibly removing goods from something' whether those things are resources or one's bodily sovereignty, that is not absoloutely made clear on this picture. If the connotation is that 'a true man confident in his gender rapes people' then I disagree, if it is that actual men do rape things/people, well that's just a captain obvious statement. The intention of the defacer is almost irrelevant, much like in classes where teachers attempt to make you think they know what the author of a book meant, when they usually have no proof that they know any better than you do other than a piece of paper from a university that says they had time and money to read books. The meaning behind this is removed entirely from the original printer of it and the defacer once it becomes a picture, and it all becomes up to you to decide how you feel about it.

Vyrquenox // Posted 08 February 2009 at 23:13

My girlfriend of 6 years is a magna cum laude graduate of a state university, majoring in sociology and minoring in women's studies, so I have had plenty of these discussions. The only real time I've felt slighted by women campaigning against oppressive men is the instance I recall of actual individual males who were abundantly innocent and uninvolved were pictured and named in a campaign with the words 'these men are all potential rapists'. Well I am sure that the intent was to spread the word that anybody you meet could possibly be a Ted Bundy and to protect yourself, but think sometimes about involving innocent people by name. I guarauntee you if I extrapolated that from that particular picture what it sounded like and thought long and hard about any man's inherent possibility to become a monster, and said I agreed with it wholeheartedly the way it sounded, and posted the pictures of all the women at my college and their names and said at the bottom, "these women are all my potential rape victims," you know where I would go. Yet without proper guidance and upbringing and awareness, perhaps in another world I might have ended up being a mysoginist pig who might do something like that. It really is less about bringing down the male gender and more about bringing them up right.

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