Why rape jokes aren’t harmless fun.
Laura // 22 July 2009
Reader KJB linked to this truly brilliant post in the on-going comments thread under Ellie Levenson’s guest post. In it, Harriet Jacobs thoroughly elucidates just why telling rape jokes is not funny and why so many people, men especially, cannot understand this. The crux of her argument is that rape jokes are triggering to rape survivors and reinforce rape myths, and seeing as so many women have survived rape, it might be, you know, considerate not to be joking about rape when you have no idea if someone listening has been affected by it:
For those of you who wonder why rape victims get all super sensitive about rape jokes ‘n shit, well, this is why. Before you’re raped, rape jokes might be uncomfortable, or they might be funny, or they might be any given thing. But after you’re raped, they are a trigger. They make you remember what was done to you. And if the joke was about something that wasn’t done to you, not in quite that way, you can really easily imagine how it would feel, because you know how something exactly like that felt. Rape jokes stop being about a thing that happens out there, somewhere, to people who don’t really exist, and if they do they probably deserved it, and they start being about you. Rape jokes are about you. Jokes about women liking it or deserving it are about how much you liked it and deserved it. And they are also jokes about how, in all likelihood, it’s going to happen to you again.
Harriet argues that only rape victims can acceptably joke about rape, as only they live in that world without rules, without safety, unmoored from the reality the rest of us know. Only they get to know what’s funny about it.
She also perfectly describes that moment when someone in your circle of friends says something that you object to – in this case a rape joke – and you can’t decide whether to go into angry feminist mode:
Several options flash through your head.
1. Say Nothing. Hope the conversation does not continue extolling the virtues of rape, making saying nothing harder. Hate yourself for saying nothing. Notice girl sitting on the porch of the house next to you who has heard what was said. Notice her similar reactions. Hate yourself more for saying nothing, because she has probably been raped, too, because you don’t know any woman who hasn’t. Hate your friend, because he doesn’t know that every woman he knows has been raped. […]
2. Be Edgy! Jump in with some even MORE offensive humor! Run with the rape joke! Make it even more rape-y! Now your friend will never guess you have been raped. […]
3. Initiate a Very Serious Conversation, out of nowhere, like. Tell your friend that joke was not funny. Tell him rape is never funny. Keep talking after his face has pinched up in resentment and disgust, because you are RUINING his day and his BEER and his FUNNY. […]
4. Initiate A Very Serious Conversation Version II: Follow version one, except also disclose to your friend (who thinks rape is funny and exciting) that you have been raped. Be surprised, all over again, that this does not immediately change his perspective, the way it changed yours. […]
5. Find Some Other Way: Can’t count on this one; sometimes an alternative pops into your head, sometimes it doesn’t.
Sounds all too familiar to me; I feel frustrated just thinking about it.
Do read the whole post if you have the time; I’m telling everyone else I know to read it so I couldn’t miss The F Worders out!