Hi, I'd like to share a story. Once in New York I watched a comedy show where the last and headlining comedian made a barrage of rape jokes to much of the male audience's approval. Afterwards two of my (female) friends and one of their boyfriends talked about the set. One friend loved it, the other not so much. One friend thought it was hilarious and perfectly okay to laugh about rape because, well, comedy has no boundaries! Nothing is sacred! We should laugh at everything, otherwise the terrorists have won! (If I remember correctly, this is verbatim.) After that friend and her boyfriend went to sleep, my other friend turned to me and detailed how uncomfortable she felt about the set and that in truth she had experienced a pretty brutal experience with a few guys a couple years earlier where she had been drugged and then gang raped at a party. She was still unsure about the details and hesitant about how to a) handle the trauma b) reconcile the fact that people she knew had done this to her. Not only had she tried going to the police only to be (literally) laughed at, they (the police) then had the audacity to suggest that perhaps (due to the fact that her memory was so clouded) she had made it up. Because what woman wouldn't want to be gang raped by a group of her friends! It must have all been a dream!
As a writer who is currently working on her novel about a (fictional) girl's struggle with rape, I have time and time again been faced with my friends opening up about their own encounters with sexual abuse. Many don't want to be judged and convince themselves that it's easier to forget that it happened, only to realize that the feeling of distaste, dread and anger never really dissipates.
For those of you who don't know, Lindy West of Jezebel went on FX's Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell's segment "Comedian Vs Feminist" where she had a discussion with Jim Norton about the apparent comedy grey zone known as RAPE. Norton stood by the fact that comedy is about talking about everything. Even things that make us really uncomfortable. Why? Because everybody knows rape is carazzy! Besides when comedians talk about rape everybody is probably cringing in that room! There's a sense of solidarity when some comedian is like, "Yo, wouldn't it be hilarious if we all raped that girl sitting in the front?" Because everyone knows it's just a joke. "Lolz so funny! But, like, seriously, though, rape is pretty serious, bro."
Norton explained that rape is just as abhorrent as genocide or, say, murder. Although I think that's true, I highly doubt most of society would agree. How many people in that room do you think is some dictator or killed some dude? Cool. How many people in that room do you think has forced their partner to have sex even when that partner said NO? How many of those people do you think had sex with someone who was unconscious? How many of those people forced a person they didn't know into sex? Perhaps not many, but the figures are significantly more to genocide and murder, and the figures are jarring. So, the reason that rape jokes are a problem is not because it's precious and women just want to ruin everything for men, even their rape jokes -- it's because rape is common. It is a problem. It happens. ALL THE TIME. To people. To people you know. And maybe even to you.
Truth is, we don't really seem to understand the dialogue that surrounds rape, which is one of the reasons WHY there's so much disconnect. Nobody IS insinuating that if you make a rape joke you're going to go rape a ton of girls (or boys) afterwards. That's absurd and not at all the argument. It's the fact that we, as a society (and as a whole) have a pretty cavalier idea of what rape really means and how it affects one as a person. The fact of the matter is that most cases of rape go unreported (due to the fact that victims are afraid that nothing will happen and/or they personally know the perpetrator and are afraid of getting caught) and not only that -- the legal system does not protect women and neither does society. Ask any woman who's reported a sexual harassment case only to be forced to answer a deluge of questions, i.e., WHERE, WHEN, HOW, and (my personal favorite because you were probably asking for it) WHAT WERE YOU WEARING, SLUT?? A woman MUST prove that she is telling the truth and that she is a victim.
Nothing safeguards a woman in these circumstances, nothing.
And so rape jokes only perpetuate the idea that rape is a thing that CAN be joked about because well everyone knows rape is abhorrent. It's like when somebody pulls the I'm-not-racist-because-I-have-a-black-friend card. Firstly, what does that even MEAN? And, secondly, how does that stop the facts? Because the facts show that we all don't know rape is abhorrent. If we did then such high percentages of rape would not occur on a daily basis AND more perpetrators WOULD be jailed and face some kind of justice AND victims would also come to some kind of legal consensus.
The pretty chilling (and yet sadly effective) proof of Lindy West stating rape is not funny is the response to her video with Jim Norton. You can read some of the informative comments here. But seriously, how are we still faced with this? I guess the more we talk about it, the more we can come to some kind of understanding of how nuanced this criminal act is and the more we use our brains we can perhaps try and understand something as abstract as rape (sarcasm, because it's not that abstract) and, whoa, maybe we'll understand something even if we've never gone through it ourselves like how awful it might be if someone FORCED YOU TO DO SOMETHING YOU DID NOT WANT TO DO HEY HAVE YOU BEEN THERE? YEAH? I BET!
I now look forward to the flood of rape threats that will be thrown my way. Ready, set, go...