The Perils of Bad Titles (and poorly thought out analogies)

I take full responsibility for the kerfuffle I caused last week with my Role/Reboot latest. It was not my most sensitive or thoughtful work and I did some harm where I meant to only raise questions.

I often think that flipping pronouns is a useful way of analyzing the role that gender is playing in media coverage. We’ve looked at examples before, like coverage of Marissa Mayer or a story about a teenage heart throb’s virginity.

Last week, fed up with the excessive victim blaming that goes into coverage of high-profile sexual assault cases, like the recent piece on Hobart Williams and Smith, or Steubenville, I wrote an essay exploring what happens when we flip pronouns on the victims and imagine these cases if young men were raped instead of young women. Would we still say an 11-year-old boy “lured” men like a “spider,” as we did in Cleveland, TX? Would the “Princeton Mom” still say it’s “all on him” if a male college student was too drunk to prevent his rape? I don’t think we would, and I still think that there’s value in exploring how language can expose bias.


But, I made a few mistakes. The biggest one was the title, which I suggested and my editor confirmed: “If Straight Men Were Raped: How Pronouns Change the Conversation About Victim Blaming.*” Do you see the problem? I kind of can’t believe I missed it. Of course straight men are raped. This is not a hypothetical, fantastical suggestion; straight men are raped by other men. In fact, as was pointed out by several readers, although women are assaulted far more frequently, one of the key reasons male victims don’t come forward (i.e. one of the reasons we have so many fewer media examples to refer to), is precisely because the stigmas on male victims are unique.

I did not intend to write an essay on those particular stigmas, as I don’t feel equipped or educated enough to do so. But I also did not intend to belittle or shame straight men that have been raped, nor to downplay the equally-horrible but differently-shaped reactions that those survivors get. Here are a few responses that better articulate the issue:

“A LOT of rape of men by men is disregarded because people think he must’ve given off some sort of “gay” thing that made him seem to want it. There are different ways in which male survivors have their rapes and SAs denied, mostly via homophobia. And god help you find support if you actually are GBT or Q. Obviously we know there are serious issues with GBTQ men who are sexually assaulted. I’d bet pretty much nobody is marginalized when it comes to sexual assault more than LGBTQ populations in general.” – from Joanna Schroeder, Good Men Project

“But where you say that you are merely trying to highlight inappropriate use of gendered language around victims, I contend that you are doing to male victims the very thing you are fighting against – namely grossly distorting and dismissing the realities that we live under. In effect, you are throwing male victims under the bus in order to make a point about female victims that no one in their right mind would argue against.” – From Chris Anderson,

I hope that the content of the article makes clear that I believe all victims deserve respect and that no one, of any gender or sexual orientation, should be shamed, stigmatized, ostracized, or blamed, for their assault. I also hope that Chris and Joanna’s responses help illuminate some subtleties that I missed in my first pass.


*We changed the title later to “If Straight Men Were Raped As Often As Women….” – Better, but not great.

Related Post: “After donation regret” and other rape analogies

Related Post: Using pronoun-flipping on Serena Williams’ Steubenville comments.



Filed under Gender, Media, Republished!

5 responses to “The Perils of Bad Titles (and poorly thought out analogies)

  1. Thank you Emily for posting this. I do greatly appreciate your willingness to hear what I was sharing, and I truly hope that this can allow us to expand our framework to one that recognizes that all interpersonal violence is unacceptable no matter what the form.

  2. I think it’s impressive that you understood and openly acknowledged the criticism. I appreciate that you can recognise your points as well as others’. I think more journalism should be reflective like this.

  3. Of course straight men are raped. This is not a hypothetical, fantastical suggestion; straight men are raped by other men.

    This downplays the fact that men also are raped by women.

    The new headline “If Straight Men Were Raped As Often As Women” as well as the assertion “…although women are assaulted far more frequently…” are also somewhat wrong considering that the two latest NISVS studies found that in 2010 and in 2011 just as many men were “made to penetrate” as women were raped.

    NISVS didn’t say anything about the sexual orientation of the victims, but one can infer that a significant proportion of male victims are straight considering that about 80% (79.2% in 2010 and 82.3% in 2011) of men made to penetrate reported only female perpetrators.

    Another indication the analogy was poorly thought out was that you had to either explicitly rule out large subsets of male victims (those being raped by women and gay victims) and ignoring another large subset of male victims (prison rape victims). All groups which receive their fair amount of victim-shaming and not much empathy – IF they even are considered when discussing rape.

  4. Rapist Blamer

    Way to leave out men who are raped by women in your apology/ explanation. I’m one of them. I noticed you had to add words to do that too, as opposed to simply failing to use the correct ones.

    If you’d just said ‘men ARE raped’ instead of “straight men ARE raped by other men” then your apology would’ve been inclusive. It shouldn’t matter if my rapist was a woman, a gay man, a straight guy who thought I was a woman because he was sleepwalkng, or an escaped violent criminal high on bath salts. It shouldn’t have happened, and no one should ignore that it happened and that this case is not one of a kind.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s