Rape, Still Not Funny
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.