The Less Valid Victims?
by Candy Apple
The recent flurry of controversy over "Domestic Discipline" stories raises, in my opinion, another very meaningful issue. Those who object to stories in this genre, as I do, have cited a variety of reasons, including the concern that the stories are condoning, promoting even, the mentality that has often kept women in abusive relationships for years. But what of men? Even in this environment of slash fans, where male-male relationships are certainly not the object of discrimination, the vision of an abuse victim is generally female.
Our society reinforces the concept that men are not valid victims of crimes like rape or domestic violence. This attitude is reflected in the macho ideals to which our men are raised trying to measure up--a "real man" can take care of himself, a "real man" wouldn't be weak enough to be slapped around by a woman (despite the fact that another societal norm teaches men that it is wrong to hit a woman, which definitely stacks the deck against them in a relationship with a physically combative or abusive female)--and this isn't even touching on how a man in a relationship with another man would fare. In our homophobic times, his pain would, at worst, be dismissed as one more piece of evidence of the depravity of gays, or at best, essentially ignored due to a lack of available community resources.
Which brings me to my next point--assuming a man is able to overcome all the societal cliches that tell him he can't be a victim, and he seeks to better his situation, where does he go? Throughout the country, there are only a handful of shelters that will admit male victims. Because they are a small group compared to the number of female or juvenile victims, they are last in line when it comes to spending out scarce dollars for counselors or crisis lines that are able to meet their needs. So not only do we have victims who are fighting an incredible prejudice to begin with, but who actually have very little available to them in terms of help or resources if they do come forward.
While women have gotten the short end of the stick throughout history in a lot of ways we've had to fight to overcome, the treatment of male rape victims is one way in which our society is truly cruel to men. There is such a "macho" image pressure on guys--the same sick imperative that makes it okay for two guys to kill each other but not hug each other on television. Homophobia takes on a lot of ugly faces, and guys fearing being labeled "queer" as a result of a sexual assault by another man or men is just one of them.
Women do have a certain built-in support group when faced with such a crisis--women, in general, detest the concept of rape, and are generally sympathetic to a female victim. The same could be said of women's attitudes regarding other women who are beaten by male significant others who presume to "punish" and "correct" their behavior. I speak in generalities, because there are exceptions to every rule. Still, overall, a woman can find a certain "sisterhood" among her own gender in the face of such a horrible experience. Men, however, slam head-first into the brick wall of homophobia and denial among their peers. They must have wanted it, they must have been out looking for it, it must be consensual because they could stop it if they didn't like it, how could they let something like that happen... and the list goes on.
So what does any of this have to do with fan fiction?
Sadly, far too much. The "Domestic Discipline" theme (which to me is only a pretty euphemism for domestic abuse) portrays two men in a relationship where one dominates the other, imposes his will on the other, and on more than a few occasions, uses superior size and strength to inflict physical pain on his significant other as "punishment" for "misbehaving". I raise the question of whether or not it would be the same turn-on to read or write if it were a woman being beaten. Would the person inflicting the beating be excused as easily? Is it more acceptable for Jim to beat Blair for misbehaving because Blair is a man? The issues of humiliation, loss of self-esteem, and acceptance of physical violence due to a host of other emotional/psychological issues are somehow less valid because the victim is a man? Or, do we automatically assume that because he is a man, he is "strong enough" not to be an abuse victim? That he couldn't be emotionally manipulated into enduring the abuse out of love or fear or any number of other reasons we see as logical when a female abuse victim stays on and makes excuses for her abuser?
"It's just spanking." That's another response to objections to "DD" stories, as if the issue of where you hit someone truly makes a difference in the debate of whether or not you should hit him at all. Further, since when isn't it dangerous to have someone with muscles that could bench press more than your body weight, delivering repeated blows to some part of your body? The spanking in these stories is not sex play--it's punishment, and often delivered in a spirit of anger. An angry, large, very strong man beating a smaller one until he's worked through his anger through the act of beating his lover. The image is ugly, and it makes me shudder.
I don't ask anyone to agree with me, or to magically change their opinions about stories that condone and promote beatings as part of a love relationship. I also don't sit in judgment of those who read and/or write such stories--at least not beyond the formation and expression of my own opinion, which is my right, as much as it is their right to express themselves. I would only ask that we consider if, in this society of fans who celebrate men the way slash fans do, we are not simply adding to the invalidation of men as victims by portraying these beatings as acceptable--or if we are seeing them as acceptable, because, like the rest of our society at large, we don't view male victims with the same sympathy or validity we do female victims.
Thinking of the men who are in real life abuse situations, are we helping support and promote the attitudes that keep them there? Are we minimizing the seriousness of male on male domestic violence by calling it by a euphemism and considering it entertainment?
These, among many others, are a few of the questions that cause me the most unease over the recent proliferation of "Domestic Discipline" stories. Freedom of expression is a wonderful thing, but I believe it leaves us with the responsibility of serious soul-searching when it comes to determining what, as authors, we will write, and what, as readers, we will accept silently as entertainment.