New books

Holocaust Memorial Day 2020

Today, 27 January, marks Holocaust Memorial Day  and 75 years to the day since the liberation of Auschwitz.[1] The Shiloh Project joins the many people worldwide solemnly marking this momentous day.

While other genocides and other mass human rights violations have occurred and continue to occur, the Holocaust is also singular. The Holocaust, or Shoah,[2] has taken millions of lives and has affected and warped millions more, as well as influenced the course of history, consciousness, scholarship and much, much more. For these reasons and others, it remains important to talk about, to remember and to commemorate the Holocaust if any good at all is to come from this tremendous carnage, in the form, for instance, of recognizing the enormous damage and tragedy that comes from the confluence of discrimination, dehumanisation, unquestioning obedience to authority and terror. This recognition is then, hopefully, taken forward as commitment to preventing any further human rights atrocities.

Given the focus of the Shiloh Project, let us point out, too, that sexual violence carried out as part of the Holocaust is slowly beginning to receive more attention.[3] This is demonstrated, for instance, in the important work of Shiloh member Miryam Sivan. Miryam has presented on sexual abuse in Holocaust literature at the Shiloh conference (see  here and here) and has featured in our series on the 16 Days of Activism (see here).

Last year, Miryam published her novel, Make It Concrete.  (For a review, see here.) This novel tells the story of Isabel Toledo, a strong and independent woman, living in today’s Israel. Isabel has three children, several lovers and works as a ghost writer, recording the narratives of Holocaust survivors. But her life and equilibrium is unsettled by a past that predates her life.

What is most affecting about Miryam’s novel is the feeling of the past bearing down heavily on the present. Her account makes clear that our grandparents’ and parents’ lives and the fear and pain of the past can resonate and reach harmfully into present lives and times. This is worth reminding ourselves of as we reflect today on the Holocaust and on the wars and atrocities and refugees’ fates of our own time: how might what is happening now shape and harm lives in times to come? What can we do better?

Please read Miryam’s novel: Miryam Sivan, Make It Concrete (Brooklyn, NY: Cuidono Press, 2019).

[1] This is not to be confused with Yom HaShoah, commemorated in the Jewish calendar on the 27th day of Nisan. This year, in a grisly coincidence, Yom HaShoah will begin at sundown on 20 April, the birthday of Adolf Hitler.

[2] I have written elsewhere about the names ‘Holocaust’, ‘Shoah’ and ‘Porajmos’, as well as about the problematic practice of ascribing the word ‘Holocaust’ to other grand-scale horrors, e.g. ‘The African Holocaust’ to the HIV and AIDS pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa. See Johanna Stiebert, ‘The African Holocaust: What Is In a Name?’ Missionalia 37/2 (2009): 192-209.

[3] For one example, see The Guardian (October 2019),reporting on Nazi atrocities committed against the Sinti and Roma. The article (see here) makes reference to Hermine Horvath’s ‘unusually explicit’ account of sexual abuse perpetrated by an SS leader.

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Professor Johanna Stiebert Inaugural Lecture: “Why I Love Studying the Bible even though (and because) It’s Perverse”.

On 10 October 2019, Johanna Stiebert delivered her inaugural lecture as Professor of Hebrew Bible at the University of Leeds. The title of her paper is “Why I Love Studying the Bible even though (and because) It’s Perverse”.

“In this inaugural lecture Professor Stiebert discusses her chequered and international career learning and teaching about Hebrew language and biblical studies. Her lecture focuses especially on biblical texts that surprised her – not least on account of their graphic nature. Her concluding remarks focus on the responsibilities of professors and on academic integrity.”

Click here to view the lecture. 

About Johanna Stiebert

Johanna Stiebert majored in Biblical Hebrew, alongside English Literature, at the University of Otago (New Zealand), graduating with honours in 1992. She continued her studies with a two-year MPhil in Hebrew Bible at the University of Cambridge and then her PhD on shame in biblical prophetic literature at the University of Glasgow, graduating in 1998. By this time she had started her first teaching post at St. Martin’s University College (now the University of Cumbria) in Lancaster. Wanting to travel, she was about to go teach English as a second language with VSO in Madagascar, when she was appointed to a teaching post in Hebrew Bible at the University of Botswana. Three years in Botswana were transformative, including professionally. There at the height of the HIV/Aids pandemic, it became sharply clear that the Bible played an active part in matters of life and death. The Bible has since become in her own research much more than ‘just’ a fascinating, ancient object of study. Johanna has continued to work with scholarly and other communities in southern Africa and, more recently, also in other parts of the continent. After Botswana and before joining the University of Leeds, she worked at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. This environment, too, being in a state University in the buckle of the Bible Belt during the Bush years, was formative.

Johanna has been at Leeds for ten years and teaches modules on the Bible and Judaism. She has just completed her fifth monograph, her third in Leeds. She is currently involved in four research projects, all centred in some way around the Shiloh Project, an initiative exploring the intersections of rape culture, gender-based violence and religion. She has still not got to Madagascar.

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UN 16 Days of Activism: Day 9 – Chris Greenough

Tell us about yourself: who are you and what do you do?

My name is Chris Greenough and I’m Senior Lecturer in Religion at Edge Hill University. I research and teach on gender, sexuality and religion. My research to date has mostly focussed on LGBTQ+ religious and spiritual identities, queer theologies and queer biblical studies.

 How does your research or your work connect to activism?

As an academic, I engage and contribute to activism in various ways. When we think of activism we think of protest and the public assembly of like-minded individuals, collaborating to fight against injustices and for change. But, aside from this, we are all activists in our communities: in our classrooms, on social media and in our one-to-one interactions. I am a former secondary school teacher and part of my current role is initial teacher education and I work hard to ensure our future teachers are confident to work with LGBTQ+ issues.

Reflecting on how I am activist in the classroom, I have an article in the special edition of the Journal of Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies, edited by Johanna Stiebert. In the article, I explore the notions of risk, experimentation and failure, as well as of tackling specific issues relating to resistance of queer biblical criticism based on religious faith.

There are regular TV and media discussion panels debating questions about how LGBTQ+ lives and Christianity are seemingly incompatible. In conservative religious settings, we see how verses selected from the Bible are used to condemn same sex relationships/marriage, transgender recognition, gay and lesbian parenting or adoption and these form the positional statements of major Christian denominations. In this sense, my work is activism that speaks back to what is, in fact, really toxic theology. My first monograph, Undoing Theology, highlighted the harmful effects of traditionally dominant theology in Christianity on the lives of non-normative individuals. In his review of my book, Adrian Thatcher says, “We need to learn the pain that we cause. This is a bold, truthful book”.

Yet, being bold is not always easy. Activism comes with challenges and obstacles. Sara Ahmed puts this perfectly, “when we speak about what we come up against, we come up against what we speak about” (Living a Feminist Life, 2017: 148). As a queer scholar, I am undisciplined. That means I do not hold much allegiance to any of the traditional disciplines I work across: they each require a critical undoing of the powers and privilege which has produced and shaped them. As someone who writes on queer theologies and biblical studies, I am occasionally confronted with furrowed frowns as a reception to my work. If queer research makes people feel uncomfortable, it highlights the hegemony, gatekeepers and ‘methodsplainers’ at work in our disciplines. It highlights prejudice and discrimination to queer individuals. For me, resisting academic normativity in the pursuit of social justice is activism. I am entirely grateful to my academic scholars and friends at SIIBS and the Shiloh project for their support.

Why is activism important to you and what do you hope to achieve between now and the 16 Days of 2020?

The next twelve months are going to be busy! I’m delighted and incredibly proud to be working with Katie Edwards on a book for the Routledge Focus Book Series on ‘Rape Culture, Religion, and the Bible’. Our title aims to explore contemporary reactions and readings to the naming of Jesus as a victim of sexual abuse: #JesusToo: Silence, Stigma and Male Sexual Violence. In contemporary culture there is undeniably a culture of stigma associated with male sexual abuse. Despite this stigma, at least 1 in 6 men have been sexually abused or assaulted: . There are also numerous myths around male sexual abuse that need further discussion.

I’m also going to be Guest Editor for a special edition of the Journal of Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies on Queer Theory and the Bible. The term ‘queer theory’ was first coined in 1990, so this seems a fitting edition to celebrate 30 years of queer!

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UN 16 Days of Activism: Day 3 – Nancy Tan

I’m Nancy Tan – the one in the salmon pink shirt. This picture was taken last month at a retreat for the female pastoral staff and I gave a talk on “Interpreting the Bible: from Feminist and Masculinities Perspectives”. It was an overnight retreat for the sisters to relax from their busy schedule at church and to encourage and empower each other.  Each of the sisters in this picture are activists: actively protecting the rights of the marginalised, oppressed, harassed and frightened people living in HK now – from victims of abuse to the asylum seekers. I am very honoured to be in this picture!

I am currently an Associate Professor in Hebrew Bible at Divinity School of Chung Chi College, the Chinese University of Hong Kong. I teach courses related to the Hebrew Bible, and also Gender Critical Interpretation of the Bible and Contextual Interpretation of the Bible. Through these courses, and some of my current research interest and work, I hope to challenge conventional interpretations that propagate the suppression and denial of the rights and self-esteem of women and some men in the Bible and especially today.

 I am now working on a book entitled Resisting Rape Culture: The Hebrew Bible and Hong Kong Sex Workers with the Routledge series on Rape Culture, Religion and the Bible. I have been working on a project reading Bible passages that mention sex workers with the sex workers in Hong Kong. This book is part of the output of some of the readings.

 Activism is an inherent component to negotiate issues of injustice. It is the only avenue to raise the awareness and consciousness of the public the stories of injustices suffered by the society. It compels the public to make ethical judgments. From now until the 16 days of 2020, I hope to complete the book I have mentioned above, get it published and also promote it. I hope this small token could become part of the larger on-going efforts to instill respect for sex workers in more people, and also to eliminate rape culture in our society.

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Rape Culture, Religion and the Bible Book Series: Inaugural Volume Out Soon!

We’re delighted to launch the inaugural volume of our book series with Routledge Focus.

Rape Myths, the Bible and #MeToo by Shiloh Project co-director Johanna Stiebert (University of Leeds) will be available in all good bookshops from 5 November.

We’ll be celebrating its publication with a launch event at The University of Sheffield on Friday 20 December 4-7pm G11 – Workroom 2, 38 Mappin Sheffield.

Talks from Johanna Stiebert and Dr Mmapula Kebaneilwe (University of Botswana) will be followed by a wine reception and seasonal buffet.

If you would like to join us, book your tickets here.

If you would like to submit a proposal to the series editors for consideration, contact us at [email protected]

We look forward to reading your ideas!

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Celebrating all things queer

Last month I visited Nairobi to embark on a project together with my Leeds colleague Adriaan van Klinken. Adriaan has been conducting research in Kenya over a number of years but it was my first visit. Our project is funded by the British Academy/Leverhulme Trust and centres on a collaboration with the Nairobi-based initiative called The Nature Network.

The Nature Network is a community of LGBTQ+ refugees (the majority from Uganda) who have come together in Nairobi for solidarity, mobilization, community and survival. Kenya has been called a haven for LGBTQ+ refugees, but their lives are nevertheless far from easy.

The Nature Network provides support and community, advocacy, resources, advice, and a social justice platform for its members but, like other LGBTQ+ people and other refugees, too, they are a vulnerable community. Homophobia in all its insidious and often violent forms is very much present in Nairobi, as it is in very many other places. Added to that, like refugees elsewhere, community members are struggling in the face of economic uncertainties, poverty and all the vulnerabilities these bring with them. The range of members’ needs is complex and varied. Many suffer from unmet health problems, including mental health issues, and all live with various kinds of uncertainty regarding employment, economic security, and future prospects. Many are awaiting decisions from UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, and several are due to be resettled, as others have been before them, in the USA, Canada, or Iceland.

Our project is called ‘Tales of Sexuality and Faith: The Ugandan LGBT Refugee Life Story Project’ and it explores how life stories, or autobiographical accounts, in combination with biblical stories, can become both a means and a resource for activism towards social justice for LGBTQ+ refugees and for activist-inspired research. In doing so, we are mindful of and draw on established and important work in other parts of the continent of Africa. I am thinking here, for instance, of the many activities of the Talitha Qumi Center in Ghana and of the Contextual Bible Study projects of the Ujamaa Centre in South Africa.

Johanna at the Nature Network, waiting to conduct an interview

Adriaan and I conducted some interviews on our visit, but the bulk of the data is being collected by members of The Nature Network. The initial interviews have proved moving and inspiring and we are working towards a collaborative publication that will bring these stories and the method itself into wider circulation.

While I was in Nairobi, there were two other queer highlights for me: one was attending the loud, proud, and lively service with the Cosmopolitan Affirming Community, which again demonstrated creative and empowering deployment of religious motifs and biblical texts; and the other was joining in the vibrant launch of Adriaan’s extraordinary new book, Kenyan, Christian, Queer: Religion, LGBT Activism, and Arts of Resistance in Africa. What a fine party it was – with dancing, drag, fabulous outfits, a play, presentations, and above all, abundant celebration and joy. I am so glad I could be there.

Raymond Brian of The Nature Network holding Adriaan’s book

Adriaan’s book is being launched again in Leeds: at 4pm on 14 November 2019, at Claire Chapel, Emmanuel Centre, University of Leeds. The event is co-hosted by the Leeds University Centre for African Studies and the Centre for Religion and Public Life. All supporters are welcome.

Alongside the people and communities I encountered in Nairobi, and alongside Adriaan’s research and publication, there are yet more queer events to celebrate. First, there is the research of Sam Ross, a PhD candidate based at the University of Leeds. Sam is exploring queer readings of Hebrew Bible texts that focus on suffering, pain, and trauma; he features as our Researcher of the Month on the Religion in Public blog. You can read about his research journey here. What he does not mention is that he has had a paper accepted in the peer-reviewed Journal for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies. Congratulations! Look out for the special issue on transgender and genderqueer perspectives coming soon.

And another shout-out for a queer celebration goes to Chris Greenough who has just had two books published (yes, he’s an over-achiever). The first, Undoing Theology: Life stories from non-normative Christians (SCM, 2018, reviewed here), has been invaluable as I reflect on and think ahead to the next stage of the project in Kenya. In this book, Chris takes up the call of Marcella Althaus-Reid who, in 2003, published the words, ‘At the bottom line of queer theologies, there are biographies of sexual migrants, testimonies of real lives in rebellions made of love, pleasure and suffering’ (The Queer God, Routledge, 2003, p.8, reviewed here). Chris documents his communications with three sexual migrants, or non-normative Christians: an intersex-identifying Catholic, a former ‘ex-gay’ minister, and a Christian engaging in BDSM (bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sadism, masochism). The result is a moving testament from those who are sometimes seeking, sometimes demanding, and occasionally finding inclusion and spiritual fulfilment. What remains un-erased in the course of this book are the difficulties and traumas encountered by and inflicted on sexual migrants. The book is a remarkable blend of vivid personal accounts and incisive critical theory.

Chris’s second book is called Queer Theologies: The Basics (Routledge, 2019) and is an invaluable resource for anyone wanting to come to grips with queer interpretation and queer theologies. Those who have tried to do so know it to be a rich and varied field with some hard-to-navigate ideas, theories, and terminologies. Chris’s book is accessible and written with clarity and flair. It also contains a helpful glossary and plenty of suggestions for further study and exploration.

There is so much queer to celebrate!


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Rape Culture and Religious Studies: Book Review by Rabbi Dr. Barbara Thiede

The recently published book Rape Culture and Religious Studies:Critical and Pedagogical Engagements is edited by (Shiloh contributor) Rhiannon Graybill, Meredith Minister, and Beatrice Lawrence. This review is by Barbara Thiede, Department of Religious Studies, UNC Charlotte.

Rape Culture and Religious Studies is an important book for all Shiloh Project supporters. Please order copies for your courses and libraries! More details can be found here.

Rape Culture and Religious Studies

Edited by Rhiannon Graybill, Meredith Minister, and Beatrice Lawrence

Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2019 (vii + 207 pages, ISBN 978-1-4985-6284-3, $95.00)

Once the #MeToo movement was taken up by celebrity (and white) victims of sexual harassment and assault, it sparked a public conversation that spread across the globe. A wide range of media outlets offered venues for personal disclosures, painful discussions, and, it was hoped, increased awareness of the rape cultures women are forced to navigate every day.

Religious studies teachers, in the meantime, continued to address sexual violence in the texts and traditions they studied. And yet: conversations in Religious Studies classes, that so often focus on class and race, gender and sexuality, sexual violence and abuse, seemed detached from the rape cultures that (literally) surround students and teachers alike.

In their co-edited volume, Rape Culture and Religious Studies, editors Rhiannon Graybill, Meredith Minister, and Beatrice Lawrence put the question: how do religious texts and traditions that justify, support, and maintain sexual violence intersect with contemporary rape culture?

The volume contains an introduction and nine essays. It includes studies that treat Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu traditions. Topics are wide-ranging. T. Nicole Goulet, for example, assesses the place and power of recently emerging “sacred literature” in the discussion of sexual violence and rape culture. Her discussion of Priya’s Shakti, a comic book that emerged after the gang rape and death of Jyoti Singh Pandey in 2012, describes how the comic revived Hindu practices while urging women to “speak without shame.” Goulet notes that while the comic does not critique existing power structures, the women it invites to speak have done so. Goulet’s essay demonstrates: there are significant intersections between religious tradition and contemporary rape culture.

Other essays provide similar insight, sometimes with surprising effect. Minenhle Nomalungelo Khumalo asks what happens when we read the biblical gang rape and death of the Levite’s Concubine in Judges 19 as a rape fantasy, one which can be profitably compared with non-consensual pornography. Kirsten Boles explores the way #MosqueMeToo can be situated when #MeToo adherents engage in racializing sexual violence; such as when Islam is accused of inherent misogyny and Muslim women are depicted as needing to be saved from violent brown men by Western (white) feminists. Meredith Minister offers a trenchant critique of the fetishizing of consent to counter rape culture. In her essay, she makes clear why consent, too, is an instrument of power. Rhiannon Graybill explains why analyzing rape culture demands more nuanced approaches to issues of harm, describing the relationship between race, sexual violence and colonialist visions of women as victims. She also points out that the Religious Studies classroom which addresses rape culture must deal with the ambiguities sex and sexual pleasure introduce to the discussion.

Some essays disappoint. Susanne Scholz’s essay on what she calls “cop-out hermeneutics” not only fails to offer new or innovative insights, it also deploys language about students that seems potentially flippant (“students may shed tears” when asked to relinquish “privatized, personalized and sentimentalized” biblical meaning). Teachers in Religious Studies classrooms can aim to ensure that their students feel safe when they are introduced to academic analysis of their religious traditions. No one benefits from internal eye-rolling or dismissive responses to this challenge.

But other essays in this volume provide models for Religious Studies teachers, like the essay by Gwynn Kessler, which demonstrates deep pedagogical self-reflection. Kessler also offers a model lesson plan that layers Deuteronomist texts on genocide, slavery, and rape and consciously brings those texts into conversation with contemporary manifestations of violence and sexual abuse. She walks the reader through her lesson plan, providing a fine example of thoughtful pedagogy for teaching texts of terror.

When I teach texts of sexual violence in the Hebrew Bible, I know that one – or more – students in my classroom will likely self-disclose in some way; rape victims are among my students. Rape Culture and Religious Studies acknowledges that survivors sit in our classrooms and that many come from religious traditions that promote or, at least, make a home for sexual violence.

Religious Studies teachers and their students live and work on campuses where rape culture is normalized. Today, teachers of religious traditions and sacred texts cannot afford a pedagogy that examines sexual violence of the past and simultaneously shuts out the rape culture of the present. Religious Studies teachers should read Rape Culture and Religious Studies. It will help us begin the work of exploring, analyzing, and exposing the intersections of religion and rape culture. That, too, is our work.

Barbara Thiede, Department of Religious Studies, UNC Charlotte


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Book Launch of Broken Bodies: The Eucharist, Mary, and the Body in Trauma Theology

Thirty seconds before I was due to take the podium, I opened my copy of my new book and realised that my carefully prepared notes were on my desk in my office halfway across the building. And that was how I winged my first ever book launch. Best laid plans…

On a cold Tuesday January evening at Sarum College in Salisbury, I was delighted to celebrate the launch of my new book Broken Bodies: The Eucharist, Mary and the Body in Trauma Theology (SCM Press, 2018) with colleagues, friends, family, and members of the public. Despite leaving my notes in my office in my haste to get to the launch on time, it was a real privilege to share my research (a project I’ve been working on since 2013!) with so many interested people. I shared some of the inspiration for the project with those gathered; my frustration at the eliding of bodies in theology and my sense that the concept and experience of trauma offered real potential for doing something creative and fresh in theological scholarship.

A short section from the middle of the book entitled ‘Rupture’ sets out the task I am undertaking in Broken Bodies.

The experience of trauma is a rupturing event. Like an earthquake rolls through a landscape and radically alters the topographical features, so does trauma roll through lives, stories, memories and bodies, leaving them radically altered. Allowing the traumatic memory of the Body of Christ to be framed in terms of the Annunciation-Incarnation event and moving it away from the destructive power of the Cross causes a rupture in traditional Christian narratives. The way in which the Christ-event has been understood, along with the intertwined narratives of priesthood, sacrifice, and the Eucharist, are radically altered in the light of this traumatic reframing. It is from this rupture that new, fresh, life-giving theological narratives come forth. They blossom in the space cleared by the rupture of trauma. Like a forest awakening in the aftermath of a fire, or a trauma survivor stirring up a survivor’s gift in the aftermath of trauma, some stories can only be told in the wake of the rupture. These are those narratives.

Highlighting the way in which my reading of trauma through and against traditional Christian narratives of death and destruction brought to light a theology that was full of generativity and flourishing, this sense of traumatic rupture captures something of what this book is about.

The discussion afterwards ranged from questions about caring for those who had been in war zones, self-care when supporting people who had been traumatised, and the responsibility of the church to be a place where trauma was acknowledged and where liturgy and ritual for post-traumatic remaking was offered. It was a rich conversation that helped make the connections between theological work and praxis. I was reminded once again of the words of Michelle Gonzalez Maldonado who urged me to do my theology from the place where it hurts. Broken Bodies is theology from a hurting place and I’m really delighted it is available for people to read.

You can buy it from SCM Press in hardback or if you can wait until late March you can buy it in paperback!

Karen O’Donnell

Coordinator, Centre for Contemporary Spirituality and Programme Leader for MA in Christian Spirituality, Sarum College.

[email protected]


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ANNOUNCEMENT: Routledge Focus Book Series on ‘Rape Culture, Religion, and the Bible’

We are delighted to announce our new Routledge Focus book series ‘Rape Culture, Religion, and the Bible’, edited by The Shiloh Project co-directors Caroline Blyth, Katie Edwards and Johanna Stiebert.

Titles are peer-reviewed, short form publications between 20,000-50,000 words, published within 12 weeks of submission.

If you would like to discuss a potential proposal, contact the series editors at [email protected]

Look out for exciting titles coming later this year!

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Conversation about male rape, masculinity and religion

Conversation about Male Rape, Masculinities and Religion

Dr Aliraza Javaid is senior lecturer in Criminology and programme leader for Criminology at the University of East London. He recently published the book Male Rape, Masculinities, and Sexualities: Understanding, Policing, and Overcoming Male Sexual Victimisation (New York: Palgrave MacMillan 2018). On behalf of the Shiloh Project, Adriaan van Klinken arranged an interview to discuss the book and the question of male rape. (Adriaan teaches and researches in religion and African studies at the University of Leeds. He is also Director of the Centre for Religion and Public Life.)

Congratulations, Ali, on the publication of your latest book, and many thanks for making yourself available for the interview. Could you summarise in a few sentences what the book is about?

Thank you so much for having me. The book is essentially a critical exploration of the relationship between gender, sexuality and male rape. In particular, it attempts to make sense of how state and voluntary agencies serve male rape victims and aims to identify any gendered male rape myths. Similar to female rape myths, these can potentially inform police practice and third sector practitioners’ response to male victims of rape. The book is about rape of men by other men, rather than focusing predominantly on male child sexual abuse, sexual violence committed by women, and other forms of sexual violence, though these are briefly touched upon to provide some context.

In the introduction to the book, you refer to a Master’s course about Sexual Violence you once took while at university, in which the topic of male rape was not touched upon at all. I’m afraid that also in the Shiloh Project so far, we have paid little attention to this issue (for one exception see here). Why do you think male rape and male sexual assault is often left out of discussions about rape and sexual violence?

I think this serves to maintain the status quo of heterosexuality and hegemonic formations of masculinity. To put it another way, the active invisibility of male sexual violence acts as a way of perpetuating gender norms and institutionalizing heterosexuality. Heterosexuality as ‘normal’ and ‘normative’ is so embedded in everyday discourse – including conversations about sexual violence – ingrained in institutions, such as the family, education systems, and religious establishments, that to discuss the unspoken or the tabooed is to invert gendered scripts and heteronormativity. The dichotomy between hetero/homo still remains strongly intact in social life, so by bringing male rape to the fore, female sexual violence and the construction of the ‘real’ rape norm becomes threatened or destabilised in terms of how we think about rape and sexual assault, both of which are expected to happen only to women and girls. However, when a man is sexually assaulted or raped, his masculinity is undermined, and male power and authority become contested. Male domination exists and gender inequality is clearly reproduced in all areas of life, but, when we discuss male sexual victimisation, we are discussing that men can also be victims; however, we are led to believe that men are expected to be invulnerable, unemotional, strong and powerful. This narrative overlooks that power is not distributed equally amongst men, that there are different masculinities that do no always equate to power and domination, and that men can be victims, too. When we speak about men in particular ways that challenge gender norms, such as the possibility of men being able to enact love and romance, which I discuss in my other book, Masculinities, Sexualities and Love (2018, Routledge), we almost become scapegoated as the ‘other’, the abnormal, the deviant, which often brings about backlash and produces barriers to career progression, questioning whether we can be accepted as a ‘real’ scholar. These issues, and more, I have encountered, which I detail in the book.

You argue that male rape is a critical social and legal issue, and is on the increase. Can you give us some background to the size and impact of the problem we are talking about, here in the UK?

In societies, we are made to believe that male rape does not exist or that it is not a ‘real’ issue. However, it is more common than we are led to believe. For example, in 2013, the Crime Survey for England and Wales roughly estimated that 75,000 men are victims of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault a year, while 9000 men are victims of rape or attempted rape each year (Ministry of Justice 2014). Relatedly, each year, 72,000 men are estimated to becoming victims of sexual crime, whether reported or not (Ministry of Justice 2014). Much more recently, the Crime Survey for England and Wales in 2017 estimates that, while 3.1% of women (510,000) suffered sexual assault in the last year, 0.8% of men (138,000) aged 16–59 experienced it in the last year. This estimation is made regarding the year ending March 2017. The figures are striking and deeply concerning, since there is no major change from the previous year’s survey. We know that male rape is on the increase. This might be down to two things; first, some male victims are now reporting at higher levels, with a slow increase in confidence in the police; second, because of changes in police practice, such as developments of ISVAs (Independent Sexual Violence Advisers), SARCs (Sexual Assault Referral Centres), and specially trained officers, and so on, the victims are able to tell their stories and are encouraged to do so. Recently, male rape in the media, such as the recent Coronation Street storyline involving David Platt as the male rape victim, has also helped to increase reporting levels, as other stats have shown. We need to bear in mind, though, what lies beneath the figures are more incidents of rape and sexual assault against men, given that many victims continue to not come forward to report. There is a ‘dark’ figure of crime. These figures just represent the ‘tip of the iceberg’. Many incidents of male rape and male sexual assault continue to not get reported.


Of course, statistics only tell part of the story. Many cases of male rape and sexual assault remain unreported. What are the cultural, social and political factors that contribute to the culture of un-reporting?

There is a host of reasons. Men may have a much harder time acknowledging or recognising that what has happened to them was actually rape and that it can be reported, especially when sexual assault and rape are generally thought to only happen to females. The notion that sexual assault and rape occur only to females or that ‘real’ men cannot be raped can induce men’s risk of stigma, embarrassment, and shame; this may make male rape victims reluctant to report. Men hesitating to report may be feeling shame for not being able to sustain hegemonic masculinities, which I define as those masculinities that legitimate unequal gender relations between men and women, between masculinity and femininity, and amongst masculinities. Male rape situationally feminizes men, so this makes it difficult for them to momentarily embody power and dominance through the enactment of hegemonic masculinities. Men, unlike women, are expected to be strong, powerful, invulnerable, macho, unemotional, violent, and capable of protecting themselves. The omnipotent threat of homophobia can also prevent many men from reporting rape, especially for those men who are not out of the closet or heterosexual male rape victims fearing that they will be seen as gay, both of which somehow interlink with homophobia. Further, it is a common misconception that, if men ejaculate or have erections when being raped, they must have somehow ‘consented’. Getting an erection and ejaculating are involuntary physiological reactions to male rape, though, but this could prevent some victims from coming forward for fearing that they might be seen as having ‘enjoyed’ the rape, that they instigated it, or ‘wanted it’. They might, therefore, be blamed for their sexual victimisation.

An important focus of your book is concerned with the way in which state agencies, in particular the police, respond (or fail to respond) to the problem of male rape and deal with male rape victims? What are your key findings in this regard?

With the support of empirical police data, I have shown that the police do not regard themselves as a support provider, but rather as a criminal justice agency that are there to try to get a prosecution. While some officers attempt to adopt a multi-agency approach, working with voluntary agencies to support victims throughout the police investigation process, many officers do not take this approach so leaving male rape victims unsupported. The victims are often treated more as a statistic, a number, rather than as a victim. This is because of constructs of hegemonic masculinity in the police; a gender order is present in the police, reproducing—materially, discursively, metaphorically, and symbolically—hegemonic masculinities at the local and regional levels across police forces in England. For example, I argue that police training reproduces hegemonic masculinities through police discourse at the local level. Thus, police training can enable officers to choose hegemonic discursive positions to assist them in warding off anxiety and avoid feelings of powerlessness; this is so that the police can address the threat of male rape or the possibility of it. By producing a ‘silence discourse’ about male rape, emanating from the absence of formal police training on male sexual victimisation, the police can deny the existence of male rape while perpetuating the male rape myths that ‘men cannot be raped’ and that ‘female rape is “real” rape’, thus reproducing gender inequalities.

One of the arguments you make is that male rape myths are born out of gender and sexuality norms that are created in the midst of social structures, including religious institutions. For the readers of the Shiloh Project blog, who have a particular interest in religion vis-à-vis rape culture, could you elaborate on the role of religion in relation to male rape?

That’s correct. I argue in the book that hegemony is not only attained through sexual violence, or even through violence more generally, but also through non-violent means to create and reproduce privilege and unequal gender relations, such as through religion. In conservative religious establishments, hegemony is often attained through the gendered division of labour. For example, in the Muslim milieu I grew up in myself, women are often positioned as those who do the childcare work while men go out to bring in the money. This dichotomy can also be seen in the example of bodies; Muslim men’s bodies are constructed as those that penetrate, while Muslim women’s bodies are those that are penetrated. This religious construction of Muslim bodies gives no capacity to even think about the existence of ‘male sexual victimisation’ because Muslim men’s bodies are regarded as non-penetrable. The penetrated body is often associated with femininity and powerlessness, and so women within Islam will only likely to be considered as ‘real’ rape victims for rape has connotations of weakness and subordination; words that are antithetical to Muslim men’s bodies. Similar dynamics can be observed in other conservative religious circles. I think, therefore, we need to think about how bodies are constructed not only in religious establishments, such as Islam, but also in everyday public life.

How do you think your book, and in particular the raw and honest account of your own experience beautifully narrated in the preface, may help to break the silence and stigma surrounding male rape victims? What are the conditions for a #MeToo movement of victims of male rape to emerge?

I would like my book to open up a platform in which to have a conversation about the existence of male sexual violence. It happens in our everyday life, but, because of gender and sexuality norms, we are not supposed to speak about it; to do so would disrupt the gender order. I took a risk, being susceptible to on-going backlash and being constructed as ‘deviant’ or the ‘other’, which has affected me in my personal life as I detail in the book, but I had to speak the unspoken in order to challenge gender inequalities. I hope my words encourage other male victims to speak of their painful silences.

That said, the movement for women rape victims has been enormous on a grand scale, with many historic victims of rape coming forward to report and to speak out. I think that a MeToo movement for male victims of sexual violence is possible. It will take courage and bravery, though, to get a conversation started. We are slowly seeing some adult men who were victims of child sexual abuse coming forward, so this is a start. I don’t know which direction this will take in the future, but it will be a slow journey since to speak out against male sexual violence is, as I say, to dismantle the gender order; but many men do not want this because it threatens to take away men’s power and privilege. Although not all men can embody hegemonic masculinities at the same time, they are often complicit in its manifestation, meaning that they benefit from the cultural and symbolic power that men as a social group hold. However, we know that not all men hold equal amounts of power at the same time, and that there are multiple masculinities during a given context, so there is always contestation in the gender order, but not enough to completely eradicate gender and sexuality norms in societies. It’s the same for women; we can’t simply argue that women are completely expelled from power, since power works in complicated ways, meaning that some women can and do configure patterns of hegemonic masculinities at particular contexts, times, and places. To suggest that women as a social group are powerless is to determine and essentialize women in this way and to reinforce their subordination, without considering the complexity of power and that it is negotiated between male-male and male-female bodies. The battle for gender equality remains: I am certain that we will see changes in patterns of gender social practices, but whether this will be for better or worse remains to be seen.

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