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Why Rape Jokes Aren’t Funny. Ever.

February 15, 2012

As I start this post, I was going to try to keep it impersonal and distance myself from it so that maybe everyone could think I was being more objective. But it’s a blog, not an ethnography, so I’m taking my bias and running with it for a second, go with me here.

There’s this Facebook group that somewhere around 1,000 people are a part of (my school is around 2700-ish). It’s a place where people can post things they overhear in the hallways, on campus, from professors, etc. that they find funny and think other people will find funny.

I’m a part of this group, I rarely post, and moreover just sort of watch and chuckle sometimes. Until people post (and in posting, reproduce) rape jokes.

Within the group, it feels as if there’s quite a bit of antagonism around people who confront posters of rape jokes as the anonymity of reposting what they have heard makes it somehow more okay. Twice (that I know of), rape jokes have been posted. And each time I think of the statistic that 1 out of every 6 women in the U.S. has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her life.

How many people go to my school again? How many people are a part of this group? Who are the women (and men) who are seeing this post and aren’t saying anything for fear of ridicule as being someone who is just “complaining about a stupid joke”?

There seems to be an environment in this group that re-posting these jokes is okay because it’s not like the poster themselves said it. And if the posters were putting it in the group to point out that this is NOT okay and that this is something that is being said at our university and needs to change (as I am here, and for which purposes, I do reproduce the original posts), it would be different. But, as is the status quo, no such commentary exists, as the posters do not write anything other than what was overheard along with a vague location attached to the quotation.

So, why is it still not okay to be reproducing these jokes in this way? Because by posting them in a group dedicated to humor, you’re advocating that there is some humorous quality to what was originally spread. Moreover, for people reading the site, it trivializes rape and makes light of it in a way that is never appropriate. In this case, “retweeting may not equal endorsement” but it sure as hell reproduces hurtful language in a very public forum.

There are those who also like to make this an issue of free speech, saying that if we cover up the problem and stop talking about it at all, it won’t be solved, it will just be hidden from our view. I get that, I’ve even discussed it in a previous post here in regards to women-only internet spaces. The thing is, with rape jokes, it’s not really about free speech for me. It’s about how what you say (or repost) minimizes and downplays an actually extremely heinous moment in someone’s life. And how, upon reading these things, it reinforces a silence that sexual violence survivors (or victims, if you’re so inclined, there are arguments for using either term) might be living with as valid and necessary. That to speak up about the violence committed against them would mean becoming one of those people who everyone will see as being “whiny” if someone around them tells a rape joke.

News Flash: They’re not whiny, you’re just being a jerk. Because it’s rape, you dimwit. It’s not Sunday brunch with your grandma that you don’t look forward to and loathe having to sit through. It’s a violent, violating crime. Don’t. Make. Jokes. About. It.

And for goodness sake, don’t reproduce those jokes that you’ve heard on campus in a humor-driven page. Because even if you may not be endorsing it, you’re putting it in a very public place, where you cannot control the audience who will see it. And in a group of 1,000, or even a friend you’re talking with whose background you don’t really know, 1 in 6 should be deterrent enough to tell a joke that could trivialize something that it very, very real for them.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. February 15, 2012 8:13 am

    I’ve never been the blurred out guy in a facebook photo before.

    The horrors of rape and why you shouldn’t take it lightly were burned into my skull when I was a kid. My mother was actually raped three times at different points in her life and during high school some kids had the nerve to speculate if I was a “rape baby.” To say the least this really pissed me off.

    “Joking” though is not equivalent to “taking lightly.” Offensive jokes are not hilarious because you’re taking them lightly; they’re hilarious because of the weight of the subject matter. There’s a joke that goes “what’s worse than a worm in your apple? the holocaust.” You COULD imagine that a neo-nazi or Mamoud Ahmadinejad is making the joke, but most people find it funny because… it’s hyperbole. Meiosis. It’s like saying “Hitler was grumpy.”

    If it’s ever true that you do take the subject matter of an offensive joke lightly, the joke ceases to be funny. Napoleon was a ruthless dictator similar to Hitler, but due to the emotional distance history creates the joke “Napoleon was grumpy” doesn’t seem nearly as funny.

    I don’t think making these jokes “trivializes” rape. They aren’t talking about the rape of a person. I’m not even sure what the basis is for assuming joking about something “trivializes” something, since Little Timmy is not exactly going to think his friend’s mom dying is a joke just because he used “killed the ball” at baseball practice. Is there a study that proves the “trivialization” thing definitively? The only thing I’ve been able to find was the Romero-Sanchez study, which used a self-report where “get my way in this situation” meant “would rape in this situation.”

    A pretty big percentage of my friends are women, and if someone told me tomorrow that one of my friends was raped I’d be devastated. More than likely I’d ask my boss if I could take the day off. And if you told me a rape joke then, I’d probably be disgusted with you, because you’re talking about a person *I* knew. Jokes, save for the kind about Hitler or whatever, are abstractions — they aren’t actually about you. So that’s why there’s the “too soon” effect — say a joke too close to someone’s trauma and they feel like it’s about them.

    But, to reference George Carlin, I don’t know Porky Pig or Elmer Fudd, but when Porky Pig starts raping Elmer Fudd in an internet cartoon I’m going to chuckle a little.

  2. Just Another Girl permalink
    February 15, 2012 1:24 pm

    First, I want to add a disclaimer: I understand what you’re saying. I truly do. I’ve been sexually assaulted a couple times and raped once. I would say it was horrible and awful and traumatizing but not only would that be stating the obvious it would also be trite.

    That said…I have to say I’m a little aggravated by your completely one sided “my way or the highway” approach to this. Yes, I was raped and for a while after rape jokes would make me cringe and remember the fear, pain and humiliation. I would feel helpless and worthless. But, given time and distance…I laugh at rape jokes. A couple of times, I’ve even made one. Why? Because it helps me. To “make light of it” (even though I think that’s certainly debatable) actually helps me to cope with the horror of what happened. Black humor (what some, including you, would deem inappropriate) is how I make it through tragic situations. What right do you have to tell me, one of those victims you think you’re advocating for, that my way of taking back my life is wrong? He took my virginity but dammit he won’t take my life, my sense of humor, or my ability to enjoy things just for the sake of enjoying things.

    I understand your heart is definitely in the right place and I applaud you for that. But everytime I laugh at a “rape joke” I get a little, tiny piece of me back and I don’t think that’s wrong.

    • February 15, 2012 2:47 pm

      Ack, I knew this post would come back to bite me. I am sorry, I should have provided some sort of disclaimer (as most posts of this nature do) that I understand, in no way can i speak for everyone’s experience and in doing so open the post up to issues.
      The reason this post is not structured that way is because it was made in a bit of haste in response to some things going on that I was personally invested in and needed to write a little more stream of consciousness.
      I see where your coming from with the humor and really appreciate you posting as my experiences as a victim are of course, not indicative of the whole.
      I do think there might be something to say still though for people erring on the side of caution as it’s difficult to anticipate people’s reactions to “black humor”. Aside from all of that, thank you for sharing your perspective.

  3. thesecond permalink
    February 17, 2012 12:05 am

    “Because by posting them in a group dedicated to humor, you’re advocating that there is some humorous quality to what was originally spread.”

    Because there is something humourous about rape and other painful activities. Humour works by making awkward situations which cause your brain to release endomorphins. Because rape is psychologically traumatizing and painful it is also funny. It’s like dead babies, or genocide, or pedophilia.

    “It’s about how what you say (or repost) minimizes and downplays an actually extremely heinous moment in someone’s life. And how, upon reading these things, it reinforces a silence that sexual violence survivors (or victims, if you’re so inclined, there are arguments for using either term) might be living with as valid and necessary. That to speak up about the violence committed against them would mean becoming one of those people who everyone will see as being “whiny” if someone around them tells a rape joke.”

    I understand the issue. Rape jokes are painful for some people that have been raped because they remind them of the rape, and it sucks for rape victims to feel that they can’t speak about it. But there’s another side to humour. By making rape jokes you allow the rapee to relive their experience in a less painful way- all of the best rape jokes I’ve heard, I’ve heard from rape victims.

    It’s a basic defence mechanism the brain has against trauma. After a painful experience it tries to relive and rewrite the experience in a safer environment. We laugh so that we might not cry and all.

  4. May 1, 2012 6:03 pm

    The problem with social media and jokes is that you have NO idea who’s reading this stuff or what their emotional state is. I find a lot of stuff on FB (and I am long past college) totally inappropriate and offensive.

  5. Andy permalink
    August 30, 2012 8:47 am

    Rape jokes annoy me.

    The only person I knew who made them was a collegue at work. He was a child in his early twenties. A tantrum thowing bully, a sci-fi nerd who too pleasure in others misfortune. He had yet to move out of his parents house and encounter the adult world.

    I have known people who have been violated. They are very difficult to console and it is hard to try and undo the damage done. The more wounded souls I encounter the less funny the jokes are and they weren’t funny at all the first time round.

    You can legally tell rape jokes, it is a free country. But if you tell them it’s kind of like broadcasting how much of a idiot you are with a neon sign.

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