By Jo Early
In Amber Tamblyn’s novel “Any Man” a serial rapist named Maude is on the loose for decades, breaking men while and leaving no way for police to track her. The victims’ stories are met with ridicule, mockery and disgust. The story unfolds through the perspective of her victims, the media and the reaction of the masses who mindlessly latch onto provocative viral content. Tamblyn switches between poetry, narration, tweets and media segments to express both the trauma of the attack and the overwhelming pain of the aftermath.
When male victims of sexual assault come forward, they are often met with dismissal or worse, laughter. Society from the beginning has labeled men as rabid beasts constantly frothing at the mouth for sex and contradictorily as robots without feelings, with no capacity to experience trauma. Small, ill and old men are seen as exponentially stronger than women, victimizers with no potential for victimization. Even if they’re drugged or disabled, tricked or silenced, this group of survivors are rarely believed or offered sympathy.
In one segment of the novel, told as a talk-show segment, a panel of women question a victim’s story. Why didn’t he fight back? How does his wife feel? Did he secretly want it all along? The same questions pinned to female victims; a toxic symptom of rape culture for all.
As a survivor, I saw myself in these characters. One young man turns to rituals of exercise, orthorexia and self-harm, every act a curse towards Maude. Another attempts to cope with humor but avoids the one subject at which he cannot laugh. The first victim wants to become a voice for male survivors, wants to destigmatize the conversation, but every program he guests on asks him to expose himself for dissection over and over. They ask him about the state of his body, for details of the assault. They blame him for being at a bar, for having a drink with a friend.
“Any Man” is not a perfect novel. It goes into too much detail and several parts made me sick. Due to the vivid depictions of assault and its realism of the aftermath, it is going to be very triggering to all survivors. But it’s a worthy read and I’m glad to see the conversation being had because regardless of gender, the blame never lies with the victim. Any man deserves to be able to come forward without shame.