Rape, Still Not Funny

Posted by on July 27, 2012 in Featured, Thoughts | 24 comments

Some of the things that came up in not the comments and reactions to it on twitter from my last piece “Rape Is Never Funny” prompted me to write further on this subject. But firstly, I must admit, that piece was written from an emotional standpoint; I know I overlooked some aspects of the topic, and may have overlooked others. But my point stands; rape is never funny.

Firstly, I notice most of the aversion to the conversation about whether someone should or shouldn’t be allowed to tell a rape joke goes back to the idea of “freedom” and “rights”. I’m often told people should have the right to do and say as they wish, as this is an enactment of freedoms. I’ve also been told that by stifling the telling of rape jokes (or racist jokes, or jokes about the differently abled) that somehow I am hoping to stifle people’s rights to tell them. No, this is not the case. You have the right to tell the jokes, you even have the right to laugh at them and find them funny. But just because you have these rights and freedoms does not mean that they are good. People are obsessed with their rights and freedoms, and rightly so, for taking away people’s rights and freedoms only stands to undermine the power of the individual. However look at it this way; while you may have the right to a freedom of speech and expression, if you use these rights to harm others, you lose stand to those rights. This is the basis of the judicial system, where one pays for their misuse their societal rights. If tell a rape joke, and I find it offensive, while it’s not illegal to do so, be ready for me to berate you for it, or at a minimum tell you why I find it offensive. If you don’t like that, fine, I’m not your master, but I can assure you that if I see it as inappropriate then I have every right to tell you so. Rights are earned, and as the commenter on my last piece proved, some people aren’t ready for the responsibility that goes along with these rights. And that is the bottom line, with rights and freedoms comes responsibility. If you shrug your responsibility, be ready to be held accountable for it later. Rights do not mean “doing whatever the hell you want to.” This is because we live in a society which is made up of many individuals, and we all have the same rights and freedoms; lack of responsibility for actions and expression can, and does on occasion, impinge on the rights and freedoms of others.

I stand up for your rights, but I will also hold you accountable for your foibles.

The second thing brought up is that a culture that fosters things like rape jokes is unhealthy. Rape is an undesirable experience for anyone to have to go through. That said, nobody should ever “have to” get raped, but it does happen, and always has, since before mankind domesticated animals. I won’t go into the anthropological evolution that puts rape into society, that’s a PhD thesis in itself. What I will do is point out that by perpetuating things like “rape humour”, we are bringing rape up from “one of the many undesirable things humans do” to the realm of “acceptable”, or at minimum “it’s bad, but what are you going to do about it?”. We can’t go about normalising things like rape, because the consequences for the person violated are far too great. If rape is normalised and seen as an acceptable part of human discourse, we are disenfranchising more than half the population from a life of comfort and safety, something that we all wish for, and have striven for as a civilisation since the advent of human rights was envisioned.

You have the right to tell a rape joke, but it is a normalising of an undesirable part of humanity, and I’ll point that out to you if you tell one.

Thirdly, where these two former points come together is fear. Fear is the most powerful motivator in human discourse. It bolsters religion (fear of damnation), totalitarian governments (fear of death and impoverishment), and the patriarchal society we live in (fear of destabilising power). There are many people who stand to lose some of their perceived power when women, more than 50% of the human population, are seen as equals in all facets of life. Males fear the emasculating effects of equality, when they can no longer hold dominion over women. Men have had a privileged place in society, and this privilege is something that, I’m afraid, many can’t imagine a world without. Many men, and women, fear this change, for it forces a reevaluation of “traditional” gender roles in society. This fear becomes apparent in the language people use (a woman who chooses to go against the accepted “norm” is called a bitch, a dyke or a whore), and can cause people to use the language of violence as a defense, making threats of rape or even death against these women. What the Skepchicks endure daily is just one of many examples; the anonymity of the internet seems to make this stuff all the more attractive to the would-be abuser.

The topic of rape jokes is all over the web right now. It’s not because it’s more contentious than usual, just that the there seems to be a spate of resentment against the atheist/skeptic communities with relation to the safety of women at conferences. But it’s not just the communities I associate with that is experiencing this right now, it’s in the wider community too. The sometimes snarky, always gossipy website Jezabel tried to make light of rape jokes in an article by Lindy West titled “How To Make A Rape Joke“. I don’t agree with the entire article, but it talks about a few of the same things I do here, and is probably worth the read.

I do find it a bit disheartening that this topic needs to be revisited and revisited again by so many people, and so often, but it seems that we are not learning from our mistakes. I am hoping that the current spate of abuse is coming from a backlash from cornered men who feel their way of life (and the way they are comfortable about dealing with women) is slipping away from them. However I feel that this is just the beginning. It’s going to take a lot more than a bunch of atheists and skeptics talking about this on blogs to make a difference in the way we live our lives on this level.

If all this weren’t enough, I leave you with some links to further this discussion. Read Tauriq Moosa’s article “Lazy Thinking and Online Sexism” which follows a conversation I had with him yesterday about the attitudes of gamers as they relate to sexism. Read “In Which I Gain Respect for Certain Atheists….“over at Fostering Belief, talking about Surly Amy’s current project and the Skepchicks. Read Russell Blackford’s piece “No sexual images, please – we’re atheists” concerning the a code of practice for atheists and skeptics. And finally, watch this video over at YouTube titled “am/not feminist” describing dismay at someone not calling themselves feminist. (also check out the related videos, where lots of women are angry at feminism, which i also fins perplexing.)

Let’s keep this conversation going, we all have a lot to learn and a lot to do, but ti’s a conversation well worth having.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 7.6/10 (7 votes cast)
Rape, Still Not Funny, 7.6 out of 10 based on 7 ratings

24 Comments

  1. So it seems to me that your argument is something as follows:
     
    1) Rape jokes “normalize” rape (i.e. they make it seem more socially acceptable).
    2) We ought not to make rape seem more socially acceptable.
    3) Therefore, we ought not to make rape jokes. 
     
    The argument is sound, but I question premise (1). It’s not at all clear that making a joke about something makes it more socially acceptable. Louis C.K. appeared on the daily show to talk about the tosh-rape-joke scandal, and at the end of his interview he said “so let’s all get together and kill the jews.” This line got huge laughs and no one raised an eyebrow, at leas that I’m aware of. What we can be sure of is that his making light of the holocaust did not get people nearly as riled up as tosh’s making light of rape. It seems to follow from your argument that Louis C.K. made the holocaust more socially acceptable. Since genocide is about a million times worse than rape, you should have gotten a million times more angry at Louis C.K. than you did at Tosh. Yet you didn’t. Either you’re being inconsistent or your argument is flawed. 
     
    Furthermore, comedians make jokes about murder all the time, yet no one gets nearly as angry at them about this, which is odd considering that murder is a more severe crime than rape. For example, in George Carlin’s comedy routine “Complaints and Greivances” he had a whole routine about types of people he wanted to kill, e.g. those who pay for small purchases with credit cards or people who wear visers. He would introduce the next person he was angry at with lines like “here’s another group of people who ought to be disembowled with a wooden cooking spoon.” Or, “here’s another pack of morons that ought to be thrown screaming from a helicopter.” This comedy routine was highly successful, and at the time, no one seemed to care that he was making light of grizzly murder. According to your argument, Carlin was making grizzly murders more socially acceptable, and people should have been even more angry at him than people were at Tosh. Yet people weren’t. 
     
    Finally, it seems that most comedy functions by juxtaposing something horrible with something trivial. Quentin Tarantino is a good example. Pulp Fiction often finds humor in gruesomely violent situations. Your argument would have us condemning Quentin Tarantino with equal ferocity as Tosh. Worse still, it would have us condemning any comedian who makes a joke about something bad, though our condemnation would have to be scaled appropriately to the badness of the thing, with holocaust jokes evoking the most condemnation and jaywalking jokes evoking the least condemnation. I shudder at what the arts would look like if people actually adopted this practice. 
     
    My guess is that feminism has distorted your sense of what is horrible. Ideologies tend to have that effect. Yes, rape is bad, but murder is worse. And the holocaust is worse still. If your going to get mad at people for making jokes about horrible things, at least be consistent about it. 
     
     

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
    •  @dpinsof Rape is torture, and it’s a hate crime against women and non-gender conforming men. 
       
      And it’s still quite acceptable in our society. It wasn’t until the 1990s that the last state in the USA outlawed rape by a husband of his wife. 
       
      That’s the difference. Everyone understands that murder and genocide is bad. Not so much with rape. Well, people SAY they’re against rape, but when you point to specific instances of rape, they’ll have a laundry list of excuses as to why it doesn’t qualify as rape: she was drinking, she was out alone, she was dressed that way, she was wearing makeup, she should have known better, she should have left him, she was leading him on, she just regretted her one-night-stand, she was just trying to ruin his reputation, etc.,etc, hundreds and hundreds of reasons to claim that the victim was “asking for it” and thus not truly raped. See Whoopi Goldberg’s comments on Roman Polanski’s drugging and anally raping a 13-year-old girl for a well-known example. Giving alcohol and quaaludes to a child, refusing to let her leave your house, intimidating her, and then finally assaulting her–it’s hard for me to see how that could be anything but rape. But Whoopi said it’s not “rape-rape.” So.
       
      There are jokes that involve rape that are quite funny–but these are invariably jokes that make the perpetrators and the apologists for rape the butt of the joke, rather than the victim. http://www.theonion.com/articles/raped-environment-led-polluters-on-defense-attorne,817/ See this Onion article for an example. 
       
      Hope that helps.  

      VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
      Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
      •  @SallyStrange” And it’s still quite acceptable in our society.”  What are you going on about? Even in prison a rapist is considered a pariah. Please show me where rape is acceptable in our society. Anecdotes from a minority of the population doesn’t make it acceptable. This type of exaggeration makes you sound shrill.

        VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
        Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
        •  @DWAdams I advise you read the rest of what I wrote. And “shrill” is a description of the frequency of the tones of my voice. I presume you mean something different than its literal meaning. Perhaps “vocally feminist.” In that case I take it as a compliment. 

          VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
          Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
        •  @SallyStrange  @DWAdams As you know, “shrill” is an ad hominem attack designed to silence you a vocal feminist.Rape *is* acceptable because victims are shamed and blamed for rape, because some want to find a share of gray that means the victim was at fault, that victims are silenced from talking about their rapist, etc.  Blame the rapist.

          VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
          Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
        •  @KimRippere Stop doing that. You’re both perpetuating rape culture. Your broad generalization of “rape IS acceptable” does a huge disservice to rape survivors, not to mention women who are raped and won’t report it, because people keep saying nobody will listen. YOU are making rape acceptable. As to being shrill, stop trying to read minds and get a dictionary.
           

          VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
          Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
        •  @DWAdams I love being taken out of context.  I am was merely describing the recent/current landscape for victims.  

          VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
          Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
        •  @DWAdams So rape “jokes” are OK?  BUT, you want to silence me from talking about the current reality of rape victims experiences.  Interesting.

          VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
          Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
        •  @KimRippere I’m sure anyone who reads what I posted can see that is not what I’m saying. Why are you trying to make it look like I am? Maybe reread my post and try again?

          VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
          Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
      •  @SallyStrange Thanks for the reply. It seems like your argument is a bit different from Martin’s. Let me see if I can sum it up and let me know if I’m missing anything:
         
        1) A significant number of people in America do not understand that rape is bad.  
        2) Rape jokes prevent these people from understanding that rape is bad. 
        3) We ought not to prevent these people from understanding that rape is bad. 
        4) Therefore, we ought not to make rape jokes. 
         
        The logic is sound, and it is definitely a more sophisticated argument than Martin’s, though I think there are some holes in it. 
         
        For one thing, I am extremely skeptical of premise (1). In Steven Pinker’s book “The Better Angels of our Nature,” he presents evidence that shows that rape is has been in sharp decline in America since the 1970’s, and that pro-feminist attitudes have simultaneously been on the rise since the 1970’s, and we are now more feminist than at any time in American history. This evidence, coupled with the overwhelming difficulty I have of imagining a 21st-century rape-apologist, makes premise (1) seem very shaky. Do you have any data on this that would prove me wrong? I’m open to the evidence, but it just seems so implausible to me on the face of it. Maybe I’m wrong, but if anything, I feel like the harsh moral condemnation to which Tosh was subjected makes it seem like we understand the horrors of rape all too well. 
         
        But that’s not the only issue with your argument; I am also pretty skeptical of premise (2). It’s not at all clear how making a joke about something bad will keep ignorant people from understanding that it is bad. I suspect that anyone ignorant and bigoted enough to defend rape these days is not going to be made much worse by a rape joke, nor is that person going to be made much better by a lack of rape jokes. Did Louis C.K.’s holocaust joke make all the anti-semites out there less likely to realize that the holocaust was a bad thing? If Louis had refrained from telling that joke, would anti-semitism have decreased? It seems doubtful. If anyone is still benighted enough to be a misogynist or an anti-semite in this country, I seriously doubt that the absence or presence of a certain kind of joke is going to make much of a difference on their attitudes either way. Then again, maybe I’m wrong on this. If you have any data on the matter, I’d be happy to reconsider my position. 
         
        All the best. 
         
         
         

        VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
        Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
    •  @dpinsof You’re making too much sense. ;)

      VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
      Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
  2. Rape is a cultural phenomenon. Standup is at its best when it deals frankly and honestly with people and the things they do. I’m not really a huge fan of Daniel Tosh; his standup is arrogant and his show is america’s funniest home videos plus swearing, but, like every other comic, he is actually performing a service by forcing us to explore these things that make us uncomfortable. I’ll always be a firm believer that a comic’s job is to make us think, and that making us laugh is a means to that end. This article, the “How to Make a Rape Joke” that you link to, all of the discussion caused by a single off-handed comment while dealing with a heckler (something that comics have to do all the time. Imagine if, while you were writing this article, a few thousand people were allowed to shout editing suggestions at you, and most of them had been drinking.). Rape jokes don’t make rape acceptable. They only exist because rape is horrible and unacceptable. What they do is force us to think about the ways we deal with rape as a society.
     
    You seem to believe that since you can’t make certain types of humor illegal, you need to at least make sure people feel bad for laughing. I’m reminded of Jim Jeffries talking about, I believe terminally ill suicide bombers as a more efficient way of killing people. He gets heckled by someone who decided that, much like the woman at Tosh’s show, they are the final authority on what is “edgy humor” versus what is “over the line”.  Jim takes a moment to explain to her that this terminally ill suicide bomber only exists in their collective heads, much like the rapists you’re railing against. If you are uncomfortable talking about this, that is your issue, not ours.This is standup, and we are adults. Sacred cow is best served medium-rare.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
    •  @reverendsteveii And in some ways I agree.  One thing to keep in mind is that different people find different thing humorous.  For instance, I do not find physical comedy funny nor body fluid jokes funny nor  jokes that demean or dehumanize nor jokes about murder, race, etc.  To me they are simply *not* funny.  In the same way, jokes about rape are simply not funny.  Culturally we have a *BAD* history of how we deal with rape and are just now starting to learn to see it in another way.  It is the only (?) crime in which the victim is shamed and blamed.  That does not happen when someone is murdered, robbed, etc.  Joking about rape typically reaffirms the traditional view of rape – that the victim is somehow the problem.
       
      I am an adult, who does not enjoy this type of standup or comedy.

      VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
      Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
  3. That anyone can try to justify rape joke is appalling and completely beyond my ability to comprehend.  They are not funny.  Explain to your hearts content . . . does not change anything they are not funny:  they are about power, silencing, and privilege. 

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
    •  @KimRippere I think it’s important to distinguish something here: we’re talking about two different things. ONE: a rape joke, which is…a joke. As someone below pointed out, Louis C.K. made a joke about the holocaust and no one was outraged. That is baffling to me as the Holocaust was an event of genocide where people were LITERALLY burned to death. TWO: The issue of women being raped is serious; however, the argument people are making cannot be taken seriously. It’s like when FOX news supporters say that Obama is a Socialist. I think that’s a bit unfair and unethical of this cookie blogger/rape survivor to have started this issue–because Daniel Tosh didn’t rape her, and she chose to attend the Laugh Factory in Hollywood (which–spoiler alert: you WILL be offended at a comedy show in Hollywood). That this has gotten this out of hand is really outrageous. 

      VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
      Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
      •  @mycultlife Well, the same as any of us, I can only talk for myself.  I, personally, would not find a “joke” about the holocaust funny.  Seriously, I wouldn’t.  Nor do I see how it can be funny; just me.  If it helps, I have a few friends that have offered to purchase me a sense of humor!Whether she was a rape survivor, imo, is irrelevant.  I am not a  holocaust survivor and yet cannot imagine that being funny.  And, yes I would find it a problem and potentially blog about it.  That is what bloggers do – look at life and write about it.

        VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
        Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
  4. I love @reverendsteveii ‘s response. That the entire “feminist” community is appalled at this is just infuriating to me. I’m glad everyone jumped on the bandwagon on this. (Rolls eyes) Think for yourself. Have a laugh once in awhile. Double check the story for accuracy. There are a lot of women who are trying to be objective and educated, including using critical thinking skills to examine their own “feminist” movement. I happen to have shifted myself away from the feminist movement months ago for various reasons and many women I’ve spoken to are feeling the same way. We don’t feel the movement represents US or men who are supportive of women. We also don’t feel there’s a place for non-white women or trans-women. I also took personal offense when women attacked me for standing up for Daniel Tosh. There’s a bit of mean-spirited, holier than thou group think/speak going around. I’ve been in a situation like that–fundamentalism. I do feel the radical feminist movement has some similarities to the fundies and as a result, I don’t want to get sucked into group think again. I thought Daniel Tosh was funny long before this, and he’s told rape jokes before. I’ve laughed. His response to this whole thing was pretty funny and light hearted, considering the amount of internet HATE he got from some women: http://tosh.comedycentral.com/video-clips/in-her-skin—uncensored?xrs=synd_facebook 

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
    •  @mycultlife  @reverendsteveii I completely agree that no movement is or should be without variation.  Multiple voices and viewpoint must be not only allowed, but desired.

      VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
      Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
  5. I’m normally not this blunt, but anyone who says “X is never funny,” is just plain stupid. It’s stupid when you say it about the holocaust about which many a funny joke has been written, and it stupid when you say it about rape. I’m not saying that pronouncements like “You should be raped,” are the least bit funny, because they’re not. But that’s a far cry from saying that rape jokes can’t possibly be funny. George Carlin covered this explicitly years ago in a fucking hilarious bit specifically addressing this little corner of the stupidity universe.

    Listen to that and tell me you didn’t laugh because rape jokes are NEVER funny. NEVER!!!

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
    • @Venture Free I’m a bit ashamed of that first sentence. I think it’s stupid to say “X is never funny,” but I don’t think that means you’re stupid. It’s an important difference.

      VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
      Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
      •  @Venture Free  @Venture None of us are perfect!  ;)  Thank you for the second note.

        VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
        Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
  6. Perhaps I am a stick in the mud, but I cannot imagine ever finding a rape joke funny.  Rape, I think we all agree, is a terrible crime.  While people have a right to make whatever jokes they want, why choose to make light of something so serious?  I don’t get it. 
     
    I also agree with Martin’s point that making rape jokes helps to normalize it.  I do not see much good coming from that. 
     
    Comedians will make the jokes that will earn them money.  They have every right to do so.  I for one, will not be laughing at jokes that I find offensive…rape falls into that category.  If audiences take a moment to think of the horror that is rape and cease their laughter, I would certainly welcome that.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
  7. Some good points being brought to bear here, and I’m glad we have managed to, for the most part, keep this conversation civil. That is important to me. One thing I’ve noticed, though, is that this conversation keeps going back to Daniel Tosh, George Carlin and standup comedy. This is not only about standup comedy, rather the much less publicised, but much more common and insidious tendency to tell these jokes, or make “joking” threats of rape against people as a means to demean them and threaten them. This is where the problem lies. I don;t really care about Daniel Tosh, though he has served as a catalyst for a lot of this conversation. What I care about is in the wider community, the everyday conversations of people, the attitudes and actions of men with regards to women.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
  8. Martin,
     
    I am writing to ask you to practice what you preach.  Listen to the 27 June 2012, 100th Imaginary Friends Podcast, Then explain to your friends Jake, Greg, and Peter how deeply offensive this show is.  With a few exceptions, the show is almost entirely jokes at the expense of women victims of male violence.
     
    I’ve only been listening for 5 or 6 months, but I’ve gone through all of the podcasts up to episode 100.  I just finished listening to it and am still nauseated.  I thought Jake was a good guy.  Now I’m not so sure.  I’ve written some feedback, but doubt he will take it seriously.  He’ll probably say I can’t take a joke or that he warned the the show was unedited.  I expected to hear a lot of swearing and sex jokes, which I did.  No biggie.  I did not expect to hear an hour of nearly complete contempt for women, particularly women victim of male violence.
     
    The way to fight rape, harassment, and bigotry towards women is for men who believe in women’s rights to call their friends on their abuses.  These are your own thoughts.  These are also your friends, if what you say on the IMF show is true.
     
    You can clearly talk the talk. Now it is time to walk the walk.  Jake, Greg, and Peter need to recognize how insulting and degrading show 100 is and address the problem.  Acknowledgement of the issues with the show is needed.  An apology would be nice.  That may be wishful thinking on my part.
     
    Please,
    Celia Jane

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Column A and column B | Butterflies and Wheels - [...] Pribble is also paying attention. There are many people who stand to lose some of their perceived power when…
  2. The Feminist Yawn-A More Heartfelt Response | My Cult Life - [...] what it’s worth, I’m still feminist. I’m not feminist in the way my friend Marty is feminist, though. When…

Have your say

%d bloggers like this: