“Sex” with boys isn’t sex

It’s physically impossible to have sex with a child. If you’re an adult and you are “having sex” with a child, that’s rape. Even if you insist that the child consented. The Huffington Post recently reported about a woman who was jailed for “having sex with an eight-year old.” When the story was reprinted in one of Ghana’s newspapers, The Daily Graphic, It was filed under “odd news.”

This indicates a lot that is wrong with how societies in general view male sexuality. A grown woman raping a boy is not odd, it’s criminal. The paper reported that “Loren Morris, 21, was 16 when she first slept with the schoolboy and continued until he was ten years old. Morris… would have regular intercourse with the boy, now 14, and was only found out after he was overheard bragging about it at school.” [emphasis mine]

The judge gave her a two-year sentence, giving the reason that “due to the concern and embarrassment caused to both you and your family that you will not be offending again, let alone committing sexual offences.”

In 2008, Kelsey Peterson, a 26-year old math teacher, pled guilty to raping her 12-year old student. Her defense? “I resent the term ‘child.’ You’re baby-fying this kid. This kid is a Latino machismo teenager.” Aside from the fact that “babyfying” isn’t a word, “machismo” isn’t an adjective, and a 12-year old isn’t a teenager, her defense places the blame on the victim of her predation, throwing in all kinds of gendered and racial ideas about sexuality, and who can and cannot be a victim.

In 2009, Lil’ Wayne disclosed that he had been a victim of sexual assault at age 11. In his documentary, he brags about how he “loved” it, even though when he later appeared on Jimmy Kimmel, he didn’t speak about the experience as though it was a positive one. Because it isn’t.

There is something wrong with what society is teaching both men and women about male sexuality when boys who are victims of a crime find that it’s something to brag about. I don’t believe that it’s their fault- the idea of a man being the victim of this type of crime is seen as a joke. How often do you hear jokes, especially in American media, about “dropping the soap” in prison, like in the Boondocks episode?

We are bombarded all the time with images about men being hypersexual, always wanting it and it being impossible for a man to be a victim of rape, because men always want to have sex with anything and everything. We have not created a world where a boy can come forward and admit to having been a victim; they are supposed to have enjoyed it. As Cara at the Curvature put it, “In cases where a man is the victim of a woman’s violence, rape apologism is strongly rooted in the denial that women’s actions can count as violence at all — and especially that their actions can count as sexual violence against men, who are routinely construed as incapable of being victims.”

When you add racialized stereotypes and expectations of how men are supposed to behave, it makes people that much more resistant to acknowledging that boys (and men) can be victims of this kind of predation.

It’s only when men and women are acknowledged as full human beings with individual desires, agency, and libidos, that survivors will be able to come forward without shame.


Building peace through gender in Dakar

29 students have just completed a Masters program in gender and peacebuilding at Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar, Senegal. The program is run jointly by the university the United Nations Peace University in Costa Rica, and Femmes Africa Solidarité, an NGO that supports the inclusion of women in conflict prevention and peacebuilding.

The 29 graduates are made up of 15 women and 14 men and come from Benin, Burundi, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, to name a few. According to Vera Songwe, World Bank country director in Senegal, “Africa cannot have sustained growth without peace and without the participation of women, who make up 50 percent of the work force.”

As I’ve written before, even people who have Masters and PhD’s in peace studies think that “gender” means “women,” and fail to consider that men are also gendered. The courses offered as part of the program include gender and human rights, gender concepts and postcolonial theory, history of sexual rights, and masculinities and violence. The nearly 50% distribution of enrolment between men and women indicates just how important it is for both men and women to consider, and be considered, in gender mainstreaming as part of peacebuilding initiatives.

Women are affected by conflict just as much as men- from girls who are abducted and forced to serve as child soldiers to women who have to bear full responsibility for their households when their husbands are drafted. It’s impossible resolve conflicts without considering what women go through and how what women need differs from what men go through and what men need after the end of a violent conflict.

Djenebou Diallo, an Ivorian graduate of the program, says “Today, thanks to this master’s, I’ve become a different person, with new ambitions for Africa as a whole and my country in particular.”

The revolution begins… with menstrual pads

It seems as though women’s bodies have always been a source of controversy. Through media and daily interaction, I’ve learned that women’s bodies are disgusting and shameful, and need to be hidden. (That is, of course when we’re not supposed to have our bodies fully on display, but only after we’ve completely altered what we look like to fit a non-human ideal.)

Once, I used the word “clit” in conversation, and my white, male friend flipped out. “Do you kiss you mother with that mouth?” he exclaimed. “I would say dick around my mother, but never clit.” “Oh really?” I asked. “So male body parts are fine to talk about, women’s bodies are too dirty and vulgar? I get it.” He said that it was “different” because men’s body parts are funny. And what, women’s parts are disgusting? On another occasion, a black man (that I would most definitely not call a friend) kept trying to force a conversation about sex, even after I had repeatedly told him that I was not interested in discussing it with him. At some later point, he tried to make the assertion that I was responsible for cooking as a woman, and I said “really? You think having a vagina has something to do with cooking?” He freaked out because I said the word “vagina.” Interesting, how he someone preoccupied with trying to force a conversation about sex was so affronted by the use of the word “vagina,” the female sexual organ! The name of a body part, just like a cornea or tibia, was too disgusting for him to have to hear because it’s a female body part. I can’t count the number of times I’ve witnessed someone mentioning the word “period” or “menstruation” and seeing all men in the room grimace and cover their ears. Women’s bodies are just so disgusting.

Arunachalam Muruganantham, a man from rural, southern India, has spent the last 15 years trying to make sanitary pads affordable for women, starting with his wife, after seeing the rags that she used during her period. Women make up half of the world’s population, yet for so many, access to pads (much less alternative forms of menstrual sanitary accessories) is completely out of reach, sometimes meaning they end up dropping out of school and severely limiting their income potential; trapping them in a cycle of dependency.

Muruganantham ended up being completely ostracized from his community– his wife left him, his mother left, and he was run out of town, facing vitriol from both men and women- simply for trying to find an affordable method to provide with a basic health provision.

Fortunately, thanks to Muruganantham’s perseverance and his invention to allow women to make and sell affordable pads, women in over 1,000 villages have access, and stigma around a natural biological process is disappearing. He says of his success: “My aim was to create one million jobs for poor women – but why not 10 million jobs worldwide,” and is planning to expand to over 100 countries around the world, including Nigeria, the Philippines, and Mauritius.

Although the initiative is by no means a panacea for the vitriol that is directed towards women’s bodies on a daily basis, just imagine, all those attitudes changing, all that income potential for women, and all those pads, thanks to one man from a rural Indian village.