SurvivorsUK, an organization devoted to raising awareness about male rape and sexual violence, has released a new ad. It features a rugby ball with a nail jutting out, with the copy “Real Men Get Raped and Talking About It Takes Real Strength.” Certainly, the ad is bold, and it brings to light a critical issue. The British Crime Survey estimates that 11% of British men are sexual abuse survivors. That’s a huge number, and awareness and prevention measures must be taken. But is this ad the right way to go?
The ad targets a very specific demographic, and it may prove to be quite effective in reaching this demographic. According to Joe. My. God., the campaign’s press release states that the campaign “launches during the England home games at the 2012 6 Nations Rugby tournament across London Underground, Waterloo Station and selected OOH Sites on a very limited budget.” SurvivorsUK wants to reach conventionally masculine, presumably heterosexual, rugby-loving men with this campaign. By featuring a violated rugby ball front and center on the poster and timing the launch to coincide with the rugby tournament, heads will almost definitely turn.
However, the problematic messaging of the ad cannot be ignored. By declaring that “Real Men Get Raped,” the ad implies that there are “Real Men” and “Fake Men.” The campaign clearly wants to appeal to a certain demographic of men, but to say that those men are “Real Men” sends a harmful message to men who fall outside of that demographic. It’s possible that men who conform to traditional standards of masculinity who are survivors of sexual assault may not be willing to seek support, finding it difficult or frightening to talk about their experiences. Those men need to be reached, and if this campaign is effective in doing so, that’s a good thing. But I can’t help but think that by using exclusionary language like “Real Men,” the campaign will be shutting out a huge amount of men who would benefit from SurvivorsUK’s services but don’t fit the limited definition of masculinity signified by rugby.
Rape does not discriminate. It affects the lives of men, regardless of gender presentation, sexual identity or personal interests and hobbies. Any man could be raped. So why, then, must there be a false dichotomy of “Real Men” and “Not Real Men”? The idea of using rugby as a hook is a smart one. But the campaign should be inclusive of all men, regardless of how their masculinity manifests.
What do you think of this campaign? Do you think it will be an effective strategy?