This post is not going to be a formal argument against rape jokes. It's not going to analyze rape humor or talk about potential ways that humor can be used to critique rape culture. I could probably write one a post like that but Lindy West did it so much better and no way am I going to try and compete with Lindy West. You should definitely read her article, though. It made me do some serious fist-pumps of agreement and general solidarity. I love Lindy. She is the internet-famous person I would most like to meet IRL.
But today we’re supposed to write about something that makes us uncomfortable so I’m going to talk for a second about how rape jokes make me feel.
Bad. Rape jokes make me feel bad. If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you know that I volunteer for a local rape crisis center, working with survivors of sexual assault. I’m not going to get into the specifics here but my own life has been touched by sexual violence in a variety of ways. So when I hear jokes that make light of sexual violence, or domestic violence, or child molestation, it actually physically hurts. It makes me feel all kinds of concern for the hundreds of thousands of survivors who get to live in a culture that has no problem victimizing them again and again. Being a survivor of sexual violence means more than just having my consent taken away or having no power over my own body. It means that I will be told by friends and family and strangers, in a million different ways, that what happened to me was my fault, that I did something to cause it, that I deserve it. So when I hear a joke that makes light of an issue (or even the word) rape, it makes me uncomfortable.
When I hear a joke about a woman getting beaten up, it makes me uncomfortable.
When I hear a joke about a drunk girl at a party, it makes me uncomfortable.
When I hear a joke about someone being molested, it makes me uncomfortable.
When I hear a joke about prison rape, it makes me uncomfortable (because men are raped, too, and that is also wrong).
When I hear a joke about how “lucky” a boy was that his female teacher had sex with him, it makes me uncomfortable.
When I hear someone explain to me that they laugh at rape jokes because they “just have a dark sense of humor” or they’re just “edgy,” it makes me uncomfortable.
When I hear someone say that they are a survivor of rape and they think that rape jokes are funny, it makes me uncomfortable (each of us can speak only from our own experience). I don’t want to de-validate why that survivor finds that joke funny but I wonder if part of it has to do with needing to laugh because not laughing is another way of opening yourself up to vulnerability and the possibility of re-victimization. I don’t know this but I wonder it inside of my self.
Uncomfortable is the wrong word, really. It makes me feel exhausted and betrayed. It makes me feel heartsick and tired and broken. And small.
If you or someone you know needs to talk, here is the toll-free number for the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673). It’s safe and anonymous and you can call any time. You can also use their online hotline by going here.
If you are someone who hears rape jokes, from your friends, your coworkers, your family, even…you can make a difference by not laughing. By letting them know how hearing that might make you feel or make someone else feel. You can help make others feel safer in the world.