Normalization & Male Survivors

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Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash

Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash

Normalization is "the process of bringing or returning something to a normal condition or state. (Oxford Dictionary)

Society is still reluctant to acknowledge males as sexual abuse survivors and many males refuse to accept that they may be survivors. There may be many possibilities for why this is happening, but one of the most significant issues is normalization. The media and entertainment businesses have conditioned society by glamorizing blatant portrayals of sexual harassment, violence, and rape cultures in news reports, movies, television, plays, novels, music, art, comic strips, comedians, commercials, ads, porn, graphic novels, etc. The keys to these successes are the normalization and the appeal to various worldwide audiences, where the acceptance of a man manipulating and abusing a woman demonstrates fertility and masculinity. 

Audiences seem to celebrate these depictions, such as in the HBO drama Game of Thrones, which presents over 50 rape scenes as normal and acceptable. Robin Thicke's song, Blurred Lines, reached #1 on Billboard in 2013 with apparent misogynistic intended lyrics. Many graphic novels illustrating sexually explicit situations have become worldwide successes, like South Korea's Painter of the Night. Hip Hop and Rap music demonstrate high sexualization and degradation with the unbalance of gender equality. Even in an article, "Why These Disney Films May Help Perpetuate Rape Culture," for Teen Vogue states, "Stories like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Sleeping Beauty were first written in societies with more patriarchal ideas of women as being inferior, servile, and dependent on men, and those notions seem to have gotten carried over into some contemporary adaptations, where they might end up contributing to rape culture." 

With so much infiltration, depiction, and normalization of what it is to be a "real man," society has become accustomed to this idealization of men being assertive and having a right to take anything they want from women and perpetuating the myth that males cannot be sexually abused or raped. But in the shadows, males have been silently sexually violated. 

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Photo by GR Stocks on Unsplash

Photo by GR Stocks on Unsplash

"Normalization justifies perpetrators' behavior while minimizing the consequences to their victims" (Foucault, 1990). Sinko et al. state that one's social upbringing perpetuated the normalization of violence against women…, and the importance of recognizing that messages about gender expectations and violence and norms can be internalized at a young age impacting the way survivors and those around them view and make meaning of their experiences as adults. 

Normalization stems from grooming; it is a way to create trust and experiment with boundaries over the individual(s). Many survivors are unaware that they have normalized specific red-flag signals that would otherwise not go unnoticed to belong and be a part of a group, community, and sport. Like grooming, normalization is a quiet intruder and usually takes time to become part of the situation. Many children who have experienced long-term abuse have normalized the events to function daily, like going to school. 

However, society is beginning to discover the exposure of this secret world of male abuse in the church, boy scouts, fraternities, universities, and sports. Yet, confusion and misconceptions continue to distance society from completely understanding and accepting this as possible. What is missing is the understanding of the normalization that happens in each of these settings. 

In the United States, we idolize professional and Olympic sports figures and tend to turn a blind eye to any idea of normalization within the locker rooms, practices, competitions, and social events. Abusers rely on the god-like status that society bestows on athletes and the reluctance to accept anything that could dethrone these idols. Sports are composed of small communities with unique jargon, actions, and expectations unfamiliar to the outside public. Within these communities, male abuse is normalized and disguised as hazing, initiation, and rite-of-passage. 

How often have we witnessed a coach patting an athlete's bottom?   

Within the sports environment, there are many stages to normalize questionable actions. I was aware that when I decided to enter the sport of springboard and platform diving, I would have to adapt to the sport's jargon and environment. I knew I would have to become accustomed to the sport's rules, wearing Speedos and how the coach instructed. Accepting these requirements was a process rather than an overnight infiltration. The coach touched my shoulder, neck, and lower back when he whispered instructions in my ear during practices or competitions. He would hug me after a good performance, and these moments started to linger and were always done in public to demonstrate that he cared. When he touched other areas like my chest, stomach, or legs, I underwent another normalization process. The coach reminded me it was his coaching method to help me understand my positioning in the flight of the dive. I was encouraged not to question these actions and constantly reminded with comments like, "There are ten other athletes that would kill to be in your position" and "If you don't like my coaching style, you can always leave. I am the only one that believes in your abilities." So, I decided that if I wanted to be the best I could be, I had to accept these actions, and I normalized them.

Every survivor's experience with normalization is different and unique. Survivors need to understand that normalization is a quiet process (at least it was for me) and not blame themselves. Recognizing and acknowledging normalization is an essential key to the healing journey. 

As a society, if we understand that normalization is a silent process, we can stop this epidemic.

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Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash


Dorsi, J. (2017, October 27). Why These Disney Films May Help Perpetuate Rape Culture. Teen Vogue. Retrieved April 28, 2023, from

Foucault, M. (1990). The history of sexuality: An introduction. Vintage.

Palfy, K. (2020). Men Too: Unspoken Truths About Male Sexual Abuse. Peaks and Valleys Publishing.

Sinko, L.; Munro-Kramer, M.; Conley, T. & Saint Arnault, D. (2020): Internalized Messages: The Role of Sexual Violence Normalization on Meaningmaking after Campus Sexual Violence Normalization on Meaning-making after Campus Sexual Violence, Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, DOI: 10.1080/10926771.2020.1796872

About the Author:

John-Michael Lander is a Survivor, Advocate & Public Speaker

He is also the founder of An Athlete's Silence:

Published by SurvivorSpace, an initiative of Zero Abuse Project