When I was 13, I played a game of strip poker with a woman who was at least twice my age. I don’t remember how or why we ended up playing, but I do remember being pretty damn excited about the prospect of seeing a real live naked woman. I won a hand or two, enough to get her shirt off and see some bra, but that was it (she let me win those hands, I’m sure of it). But in the end, I was the one who lost everything. When the game was done and the moment arrived for me to go full monty, I couldn’t do it. Lucky for me, she stopped the game and didn’t make me go any further.
Now, some of you may be shrugging your shoulders at my story thinking “meh, that’s not such a big deal” or saying something like; “lucky guy… too bad he didn’t see more.” I’m willing to admit had this not been my own story, at a certain point in my life I would have reacted the same way. But what if we flipped roles? What if I was a woman disclosing that at age 13 I played strip poker with a man in his mid-twenty’s? Would that change your reaction at all? I would venture to guess that many of you shrugging your shoulders right now would take my story far more seriously. Suddenly that 20-something year old man becomes a pedophile (rightfully so) and as a 13 year old girl, I become a victim (unless you’re versed in the ways of the victim blamer. Then, no matter my age and gender, you’d find a way to accuse me and claim I was at fault).
Sad isn’t it? That we live in a world where the exact same incident can happen to two different kids and for one it’s considered a terrible crime and for the other it’s merely a right of passage, despite what laws tell us (this of course doesn’t only apply to gender and sexual assault. Race is another huge factor when it comes to such discrepancies, no matter the crime. However, for this post I’m going to focus only on gender and assault). We see this happening very publicly with Chris Brown’s recent disclosure that at age eight he “lost his virginity” to a girl of 14 or 15. Here for example is the moment Brown discloses this fact during an interview with The Guardian (emphasis mine);
…He lost his virginity when he was eight years old, to a local girl who was 14 or 15. Seriously? “Yeah, really. Uh-huh.” He grins and chuckles. “It’s different in the country.” Brown grew up with a great gang of boy cousins, and they watched so much porn that he was raring to go. “By that point, we were already kind of like hot to trot, you know what I’m saying? Like, girls, we weren’t afraid to talk to them; I wasn’t afraid. So, at eight, being able to do it, it kind of preps you for the long run, so you can be a beast at it. You can be the best at it.”
Just to be clear, that’s not a story about a boy “losing his virginity” and becoming a man, that’s a story about statutory rape. Many in the media (and the rest of society) don’t seem to understand this. Just Google “Chris Brown lost his virginity” and you’ll notice that with the exception of feminist leaning blogs and news sources, his disclosure is presented as nothing more than a titillating fact. Even worse, I’ve noticed many commenters on those same blogs and news sites claiming that Brown is probably lying in order to appear more manly.
My goal here isn’t to tell Chris Brown he’s wrong for interpreting his past the way he does (like he reads my blog anyway). He has the right and ability to interpret his life any way he chooses or needs. What I want is to consider this issue in a larger context. What does it means for boys to have experiences that meet the definition of statutory rape and have the world not see this is a problem? Why don’t we, as a society see this is problematic?
Poet, author and activist Olivia A. Cole argues in her post “Chris Brown and a Nation of Raped Boys” that the “depression, promiscuity, unexplained anger [and] anxiety” many men exhibit may be a result of these sort of experiences. And that it’s no wonder men “…grow up sex-obsessed, equating violence with pleasure, and imagining that rape is only something that happens to women…” She certainly has a point. Although, I would argue that much of those feelings result from the generally restrictive and often painful pressures of growing up male in this culture; regardless of a man’s personal experience with sexual abuse. But if there’s truth to Cole’s point, why then do men brag about these experiences instead of choosing to hide or deny them?
Let’s call it the “MILF Effect,” MILF being a term popularized by the movie American Pie. The MILF Effect is really a combination of two other long held cultural beliefs; 1. men are the ones driving the bus when it comes to sex and; 2. It’s a sign of skill and/or maturity when a younger man is able to convince an attractive older woman to sleep with him. Combine these and it becomes clear why so many men treat these experiences as a badge of honor. In American Pie for example, we see the 18 year old Finch “seduce” his friend Stifler’s Mom. Long before that, in the 1967 film “The Graduate” we saw a 21 year old Ben Braddock seduced by his future girlfriend’s mom, Mrs. Robinson. In both very famous scenes, no particular reason is given for the older women’s attraction to these young men so we’re left to assume it’s just cause they’re so damn what… cute? …wonderful? …suave? Whatever it is, They’re both “the man” of their eras because a sophisticated older woman couldn’t resist their immature, lost asses.
Lets look again at how Chris Brown describes his experience. In his framing of the story, an eight year old boy convinces a 14 year old girl to have sex with him. He claims that at eight, he wasn’t afraid to talk to girls. Of course, no one but those involved knows if this is true so I’m not in a position to question his statement. What I do know personally however, is a number of men who’ve disclosed experiences similar to Brown’s. These disclosures were often dropped during group discussions with other men and much like Brown’s revelation they were generally presented with great pride. Yet in all of these braggadocios moments of story sharing, details were very conveniently left vague while the situation was presented just as you might expect; “I’m the man. I made the moves. I’ve got it like that.” Sounds a lot like convenient framing that allows the storyteller to score coveted man points, while glossing over a rather inconvenient truth about how things really went down.
It can be difficult to read through the lines of stories like these, especially when the story teller himself doesn’t quite grasp what he’s saying. Brown himself doesn’t seem to feel like he was raped, for example. And I’m sure my story can be just as confusing too. Both Brown and I are male and the older person in our stories are female. That alone trips people up. Additionally, when we shared our respective stories, both Brown and I talk about our excitement, despite our young ages. For many, it can be tempting to interpret such excitement and curiosity as consent, therefore justifying what happened. I certainly wasn’t forced to play strip poker and although I don’t remember, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if I was the one who proposed the game. But that doesn’t change the fact that in each of our cases, neither of us was capable of giving consent due to our respective ages (here in the U.S. at least, and I would argue morally and developmentally as well… no matter where you are). Luckily for me, things didn’t go any further than near nudity and an inappropriate game. We don’t know for sure how things went down in Brown’s case, but as he tells it things went much further. I’m guessing for many people, Brown’s case seems even more muddled because the girl was also under the age of consent (remember she was only 14/15). Regardless, as the older person (teen or adult) in the situation these women should have known better. They both chose to take advantage of underage, curious boys and engage in highly inappropriate and illegal behavior. No matter who’s idea it was.
There are two final issues to consider as well; First, we have own up to the fact that as a culture we often assign adult male attributes and responsibilities to young boys far too early. Whether it’s by calling a young boy “little man” or telling him to “man up and stop crying” when he’s hurt or saying thinks like; “you’re the man of the house now” whenever the father leaves… especially when that father fails to come home again. If we push our boys to act grown up before they’re ready, is it any wonder that sex shows up as just another adult activity that boys are pushed into far too young? Second, we must consider the influence of older males. Looking at Chris Brown’s story again, note that the writer mentions Brown’s “great gang of boy cousins” who watched porn together (first off, gang? Would she have called a white artist’s extended family a gang as well?). He was watching porn at eight with other boys. One has to imagine that at least one if not many of these cousins were older and probably the ones to introduce Brown to porn. Kids learn from and emulate their elders, be they teens or adults. One can only imagine the expectations around women and sex these cousins helped to create for a young Chris Brown as the porn played. Based on some of Brown’s song lyrics and what he did to Rihanna, I think we have evidence that those expectations weren’t great.
Our awareness of boys experiences with sexual abuse has increased over the past few years. It started with revelations of abuse in the Catholic Church. Then came Jerry Sandusky. Both altered forever our cultural understanding of sexual abuse of boys committed by older men. Now we have Chris Brown (and before that Lil Wayne, who actually went into graphic detail about his sexual abuse). Could Brown’s revelation begin to re-frame our understanding of statutory rape of boys committed by women? If I were to pick a spokesperson for this cause it wouldn’t have been Chris Brown, and that clearly wasn’t his intent, but his story is out there now and it has sparked some conversation. With any luck, this issue will begin to receive the attention it deserves and as a society we’ll take boyhood experiences like these more seriously. Hopefully as well the Chris Brown’s of the world will finally come to terms with their pasts and men like him will begin to realize, much as I did, that their self styled badges of honor are in actuality scars in need of healing.