Minorities Within a Minority

Recently, the New York Times published an investigation disclosing the nature of sexual assault in the U.S. military.

Recently, the New York Times published an investigation disclosing the nature of sexual assault in the U.S. military. More than just a simple article, the investigation spanned beyond 3,000 words and involved in-depth reporting and personal testimonies. The report went on to be featured on several major news outlets including the BBC, NPR, and others. Sexual assault isn’t new to our country. Over the past few decades, campaigns such as the #MeToo movement have garnered much attention surrounding the topic and encouraged victims to speak out against these issues. Brett Kavanaugh’s hearings for his role as Supreme Court Justice encouraged widespread discussion, and overall the level of awareness on this topic has increased significantly. And yet, if such a topic has already been covered, why the media flurry around this investigation?

The New York Times’ investigation wasn’t groundbreaking because it dealt with sexual assault, but because this one pertained to men. Following the stories of six men and estimating the total number to be far greater, a social movement made to encourage the voices of the oppressed had somehow left the stories of 100,000 men behind. This leads us to a pressing reality. Amidst a world where we are constantly searching for inclusivity, aiming to elevate the voices of the minority, it seems that we sometimes leave certain groups out in the process of defining it.

When we think of the term “sexual assault,” our minds subsubconsciously conceive an image of a woman. Even if we are aware that both men and women can undergo the same traumatizing experiences, our society has unknowingly created a culture that is exclusive and heavily one-sided, where certain issues skew our perception in one way. In the case of sexual assault, we defined the boundaries, where men where the perpetrators and females the oppressed. Although often the case, the New York Times investigation suggests a different view. Given this new information, we should come to understand that male victims deserve the same sympathy in their concerns as those given to women.

More than just the nature of an issue, the New York Times investigation also shows how flawed cultural conceptions can bias our view. Sexual assault took on its own cultural connotation when defining relationships in our society, one where females were the victims. This, coupled with traditional stereotypes of masculinity, lead to a society viewed in binary. Many of us subconsciously assumed that sexual assault was an issue exclusive to females. Due to this public stigma and the common cultural expectation of men, the movement of sexual assault failed to truly integrate them into an inclusive community where women are encouraged to share their experiences. Although society has definitely learned to advocate against sexual assault, we have also created a selective environment where certain groups are deemed relvant to an issue, and others cast aside.

Our perception of these issues is also biased through the media, simply in the nature of those stories that are prominently featured. We are overly accustomed to having female figures dominate on topics related to this issue that many of us simply reinforce this cycle that isolates male victims. For example, when a female influencer discloses a personal story about sexual abuse, we often take to social media and encourage other women to follow in their foosteps, but seldom do we publicly invite men to do the same. Since men are rarely seen addressing this issue in the open, the lack of male influencers and public support can discourage other victims from sharing their experiences. In short, those whose stories of oppression are relevant but act as outliers are often excluded from the wider social circle.

Thus, the real question is: how can we create an environment that not only supports female victims, but also encourages male subjects to feel safe and accepted within society as well? The stories of these six military men, among hundreds of thousands of others, serve as a shocking wake-up call for society to start taking initiative. We can start by redefining our perception of sexual assault and being more receptive to the thought that men are also part of the equation, not just women. When we frame social issues, we shouldn’t divide it into a binary system where certain groups are relegated to certain roles, because our purpose is not to set up a stark contrast between one group against the other, but rather to universally address every member within society. Ultimately, change is meant to establish a community that equally upholds all groups. This story of sexual assault isn’t unique to one social issue, but moreso a wakeup call. There are inevitably others who have been left out when their experiences didn’t fit the demographic of the oppressed. In this process, we create our own minorities within a minority.

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