Your Joke’s Not Funny

CBC’s Q hosted a discussion of sorts on the reaction to “rape joke” Facebook pages. The pages — with real people who “like” them and everything — have charming names like “You know shes (sic) playing hard to get when your (sic) chasing her down an alleyway” (194,000 “likes”) and “Riding your Girlfriend softly, Cause you dont (sic) want to wake her up” (87,000 “likes).

First problem, rape jokes are never ok. Second problem, why can’t people who mock sexual violence spell and punctuate properly?

Why aren’t rape jokes funny, you say? (You being the person who is not reading this post because my readers are better than that.)

1)      Rape jokes are implicitly condoning rape.
Really, what else could it be? They offer excuses for men who rape, they shame women who get raped and they minimize the damage rape does to women and society.  Rape jokes perpetuate a rape culture in which we blame victims/survivors for violence done to them.

Every time you laugh at a rape joke, you make it ok for someone to make a rape joke.  If it’s ok for someone to make a rape joke, it’s ok for everyone to make a rape joke. By doing this, you normalize rape – and not normal like “rape is an every day tool of war and oppression around the world and that fact is so horrific that we must stop it” but normalize in the “rape is funny. Ha ha. It’s no big deal because I’m not a rapist and anyone who gets raped obviously deserved it because only bad people rape/get raped.”

2)      But they’re just jokes, Lizz! You know we don’t mean it!
You might say this because you are not a rapist. Good for you.  Maybe your best friends aren’t rapists. Fantastic! But what if someone listening is a rapist? By making those jokes, you’re telling him “hey, it’s cool. Go ahead and hurt women. It’s funny. See, we’re laughing.” And that rapist is thinking “these people have totally got my back.”

3)      The content of rape jokes blurs the lines in some people’s minds about what rape is.
30 Rock made rape jokes last season. The shot flashed to Pete having sex with his wife while she was asleep.  It was meant to get a laugh.  Last year during the Julian Assange assault allegations, Naomi Wolf (yeah, THE Naomi Wolf) went on national television and claimed that penetrating a woman while she was asleep was not rape. So maybe a woman is raped in her sleep or when she’s passed out. But maybe she’s afraid to call it rape because she’s surrounded by jokes, TV shows, and feminists who tell her that it wasn’t such a big deal.  Or maybe she does report it, but law enforcement doesn’t take her seriously because they don’t believe that it was “real rape.” Are you ok with that?

And how about the US politicians who fought to de-fund abortions for women who weren’t “forcibly raped” (as opposed to willing rapes, obviously)? They seem to think there are different, less deserving kinds of rape.

4)      Obviously rape is bad, Lizz. But what about free speech?
Free speech is a pretty important right that we often take for granted. I believe in free speech. But do I believe in free speech above all else? No, not really.

I think free speech is important, but when it incites violence it loses my backing. There’s a big difference between saying ‘I hate women” and “It’s ok to hurt women because they are women” There’s also a difference between saying something, and creating a support group for it — and for a corporation like Facebook allowing its platform to be used to spread hate in the name of free speech.

5)      People make jokes about all sorts of horrific things like murder and dead babies. Why is rape any different?

Well I’m sure that there are lots of people who would be horrified by murder and dead baby jokes and I don’t speak for them.  But there is a difference: everyone agrees that things like murder and hurting children are bad, but not everyone believes that rape is bad.

Sure, if you ask people point blank if rape is ok, they’ll say no.  But once you dig, you find that astonishing numbers of people think that many things aren’t rape (spousal/partner assault, while a woman is unconscious/asleep/drunk/incapacitated, when she was wearing “slutty” clothes or drinking). Margaret Wente claimed that we’re living in post-feminism utopia because Canada was outraged at Justice Robert Dewar when he said a women was asking to be raped based on her clothes, but you need only read the horrendous comments on the dozens of SlutWalk discussions to know that people believe victim blaming is loud and proud.

There’s an easy way to avoid my rage. Don’t make rape jokes. Don’t laugh at rape jokes. Don’t hang out with people who make rape jokes.  It’s as easy as just acting like a decent human being.

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4 thoughts on “Your Joke’s Not Funny

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