Last week, rapper Danny Brown was performing in at a club in Minneapolis when a fan climbed up on stage, pulled down his pants, and began performing oral sex on him. Brown was mid-verse, and the details are murky as to what exactly he did in response, but from most accounts it’s pretty clear that Brown did not invite the woman to suck his dick on stage, and rather, she began performing the act without his consent.
Here’s how one Redditor described the scene:
I was right behind the girl and saw everything it was scaring edit: Okay so this is how it all went down, I was near the front row and all night Danny had been going up to the crowd and having random girls touch his d*ck through his pants. Then this girl in front of me starts flashing him and he goes up to her and grabs her t*ts. Then all of a sudden gets up close pulls his shirt up a little and she start blowing him. Then I’m behind her and I start getting pushed against her by the crowd shifting. It’s horrible and I hope you guys will be donating to my future therapy sessions but also i came back with a story. He rapped the entire time during too.
His tourmate Kitty Pryde had an entirely different account. In a post on Vice’s Noisey blog, Pryde writes:
I will say that it happened so quickly that nobody I talked to after the show even knew anything had happened (there was only one photo and no video—how rare is that). I will also say that whoever wrote on Reddit that Danny was “walking around the stage getting girls to grab his dick” is 100% false, and to blame someone for their own molestation is a shitty thing to do. Anybody who is exaggerating this tale to climax is also a lying fool, and to call it a blow job is even going a bit far because it was probably the fastest thing I’ve ever seen. “The Thing” was not a thing that Danny facilitated—it was an actual sexual assault, and somehow nobody gives a fuck about that but me.
So why is Brown’s story of sexual assault not being treated like sexual assault? Because he’s a man. And not only is Brown a man, but he’s a black man. And the racist tropes and stereotypes about black male sexuality are still very much with us today. The construction of black male sexuality as savage and violent, the “hypersexualization” of both black men and women, and the stereotype of black men being extra-virile mean that there is very little space to understand black men as victims of sexual assault.
Think of it this way — how would you perceive the above story had the pronouns been switched? Let’s imagine a scenario in which a female artist — say Rihanna — had been similarly attacked by a rabid male fan. It’d be a pretty black and white case, right? Unwanted sexual attention is unwanted sexual attention. And in fact, Pryde relates that at a show early on in the tour, two men reached up from the audience and pulled her pants down. When it happened, the “fans” were dealt with by security, because that’s something we as a culture understand: men are violators and women are violated.
That’s because our culture generally asserts that men can’t be victims. That men always want sexual attention from women — especially attractive women. And that if they don’t willingly accept it, it’s perfectly okay to question their sexuality, masculinity and manhood. We’ve crafted a one-directional narrative in which men are predators and women are victims. And while that’s most definitely, sadly, often the case, men can absolutely be sexual assault victims. According to RAINN — the Rape Abuse & Incest National Network — men comprise around 10 percent of sexual assault victims. Just like female victims, male sexual assault victims are often plagued by feelings of anger, anxiety and shame — compounded by a culture that doesn’t believe men can be victims. But it was only until 2012 that the very definition of sexual assault was expanded so that it could include male victims.
By failing to acknowledge male victims of sexual assault, two things happen — we erase the very real experiences of many men, and we tacitly reinforce the notion that women, with our femininity (and all that implies) are naturally the victims in this dichotomy. And that helps ratchet up the sense of fear, anxiety and helplessness in women. Which helps maintain the status quo.
But back to Brown. After the incident, rapper Kendrick Lamar tweeted at Brown:
To which Brown responded, “And I didn’t miss one bar bruh bruh.” He later deleted the comment, but his response spurred a firestorm of criticism, placing judgment on how he should have responded if he were really a victim. But who gets to decide how someone responds to or deals with sexual assault? Is there an appropriate and inappropriate way? What would be enough to make it clear that Brown was uncomfortable with what occurred? Conversely, what gives us definitive proof that he was totally okay with what went down? And why is it up to the victim to prove anything?
That Brown may be a “provocative” rapper who raps sexually explicit lyrics, that he may flirt with, and even sleep with some of his fans, doesn’t make the fact that Brown was sexually assaulted on stage, in front of a crowd of 700 people, any less real or heinous. And yet, in the reporting around the incident, the same crappy trope emerges: if you act a certain way, rap sexual material, you’re just kind of asking for it. Take Reed Fischer, writer for the Minneapolis City Pages. Fischer reframed the incident to say that Brown victimized the woman who grabbed his dick. “Danny Brown — or any artist or fan — can’t fully be who they want to be while they’re performing in a public place if who they want to be involves indecent exposure,” he writes. “And what isn’t clearly a consenting adult.” Fischer implies that it was the woman who was performing oral sex on Brown who had not consented to the act, directly contradicting, you know, what actually occurred, even though he also acknowledges that “just because Brown sags his pants low and dances close to the crowd doesn’t mean he’s asking to get groped.” No, no it does not.
Fischer then goes on to question whether the woman was actually of consenting age, which is ironic in that he’s clearly worried about the woman’s consent, but not Brown’s. In fact, Fischer is awfully concerned with what might happen to this woman. After all, there might be pictures, or videos of her blow job floating around the Internet. “There was nothing at all stopping the horde gathered from taking photos that can now live on the internet forever for future employers, family members, and potential sexual predators to see,” he writes. “Fortunately, the photographic ‘evidence’ reportedly from the night that is floating around the web is inconclusive. We will not post it here, regardless.” Because, it seems, Fischer’s dubbed himself a keeper of this young woman’s virtue. He posts no thoughts to how Brown might feel about having been physically violated, how he might feel about a bunch of videos and photos of him posted around the Internet. For Fischer, Brown’s status as a man, as an artist who raps provocatively about sexual topics, negates any shame, confusion or anxiety he might feel.
Rapper Kitty Pryde pretty succinctly tallies the number of injustices that have occurred around the incident in her essay (which Brown linked to via his Twitter account):
I’m mad that a person thought it was okay to pull another person’s pants down during their performance in front of about 700 other people. I’m mad that a person thought it was a good idea to perform a sex act on another person without their consent. I’m mad that nobody made her leave. I’m mad that Danny had to actually wonder what he was supposed to do at that point.
Because there is no clear answer, is there, to what Danny should have or could have done. Sexual assault against men is so hidden, so undiscussed, that we barely have the language to begin a conversation. But the conversation needs to happen, because men can be victims, whether we want to talk about it or not.