I read this post from another Holidailies participant yesterday and it got me thinking. As we all know, when I think I write long rambling posts, so get ready for a long rambling post.
Basically, for all of you too lazy to hop over to that post and read it, the author wrote about rape jokes, and why they are not funny. His post was sparked by discussions of the Michael Vick case, in which people make comments about him being a prison bitch and getting what he deserves. But, the author points out: “One, rape is never funny. Two, rape is never permissible.” The author also felt like he was in the minority of popular public opinion for believing these things.
I commented in response to his post, because I thought he brought up some interesting points, but I didn’t want to hijack his comment thread, so I decided to write my own darn post as well.
Basically, my initial response when reading the post was “of course he’s not in the minority! No one thinks rape is funny!” And then I thought about it some more, and I realized that we are actually in the minority. The thing that really brought this home to me was a dinner party I attended at one point with a group of intelligent, sensitive, really nice people with liberal inclinations. At some point, for some unknown reason, someone made a stupid joke about rape, and I called them on it, because I was feeling bold, and cranky, and it bothered me.
And the entire table fell into a shocked silence. The table that had been laughing moments before about the hilarious rape joke was guilted into silence because I spoke up. The silence persisted for quite a long time after my outburst, actually, and then someone tried to steer the conversation on another track and everyone apparently decided that it was just better not to mention it. I also got some glares from people who obviously thought that I had committed some sort of social faux paus by daring to think that a rape joke was not an acceptable topic of conversation for a polite dinner party, or any dinner party.
Because, here’s the thing: rape is not funny. Not. Funny. There is no way, no context, no conceivable fashion in which rape could be funny. In fact, it’s about one of the most un-funny things that I can think of, as one of the commenters said. Rape is a horrific crime. It is violent, it is violating, and it occurs way more often than it should. Between one in three and one in four American women can expect to be raped in her lifetime; statistics on male rape are more difficult to pin down, but around 9% of total rape victims are male*.
Most rapes are committed by someone that the victim knows. 22% of the women who are raped are girls under the age of 12. Many people who are raped tell no one. Tell me, please, how this is funny. I’m really dying to know.
I understand that as a culture, we tend to make things funny when we have difficulty dealing with them. By joking about something, people can abstract it, and make it less scary. I’m not sure that this is a good thing; I’ve been laughed at when challenging idiotic points of view, for example, because people didn’t want to confront their own issues. I’ve also been told that I should lighten up about things like this, that “it’s not that big a deal,” that “everyone knows that no one here would condone an act of rape,” and I look around at a dinner party like that and I think about the fact that according to statistics, 3 of the people sitting at the table have been victims of rape, or can expect to be. And I wonder if someone in that awkward silence was secretly very grateful that I said something.
As Nels pointed out in his post, rape jokes cheapen the impact of rape, just like repeatedly using words like “bitch” and “cunt” cheapens women. He also points out that rape jokes are on a slippery slope; if people think that some rape is funny and some rape isn’t, where is the line drawn? Is the line…flexible? Will there be a time when rape is an acceptable form of punishment? It’s certainly used for torture by many armed forces including the United States military. Maybe that would happen even if we collectively agreed that rape isn’t funny, but it might be more heavily criticized if people dealt with issues like rape, torture, and abuse, rather than belittling them and making jokes of them because they can’t process them.
Processing is hard. I get that. Dealing is hard. But collectively hiding from facts is harder, and it’s wrong.
*Source disclosure: this and following statistics are from a rape education site maintained by UCSB.