I’m pretty sure if I sat down with a woman who’s been [raped], and I said, "Can you describe what this was like, going through this?" she’s not gonna look at me and go, "Have you ever played Halo?"See that? That's a funny joke about rape. Kate Harding collected 15 of them, in fact. That's right: 15 hilarious jokes about rape. Even Dane Cook, she points out, "can construct a funny rape joke. This means no one else, anywhere, ever, has an excuse to screw this up."
Now here's a joke about rape from so-called comedian Daniel Tosh (yeah, I'd never heard of him before this week either), that isn't funny:
Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like, 5 guys right now? Like right now? What if a bunch of guys just raped her?It's hard to imagine a universe in which a woman being gang-raped by five men passes for knee-slapping humor. So what was the set-up that provoked such a "joke"? While performing at a comedy club, Tosh had a riff about how hilarious jokes about rape are. After quite a while of this rape-is-funny rant, a woman in the audience yelled "Actually, rape jokes are never funny!" So Tosh showed her just how funny rape jokes could be by suggesting that five men raping her would be hysterical. Get it? Because gang-raping a woman for the crime of interrupting a comedian in a comedy club is a perfectly suitable—not to mention entertaining—consequence. Hahaha. Don't you get it?
Many have explained why actually, no, telling a woman she should be gang-raped isn't funny. Lindy West at Jezebel, for example, gives a very clear explanation:
The world is full of terrible things, including rape, and it is okay to joke about them. But the best comics use their art to call bullshit on those terrible parts of life and make them better, not worse. The key—unless you want to be called a garbage-flavored dick on the internet by me and other humans with souls and brains—is to be a responsible person when you construct your jokes.Tosh's defenders are pulling out all the standard lines: It was just a joke. Can't you take a joke? Damn humorless feminists! That's what comedy's all about! It's edgy! You can't criticize a comedian because then you're just the thought police oppressing that comedian's First Amendment right to tell a woman she should be raped—but, you know, as a joke.
Ms. West, who should be given a Pulitzer just for the delightful phrase "garbage-flavored dick," has an answer to that one too.
(Continue reading below the fold.)
Male comics: this is not an issue of your oppression. You guys know that "thought police" isn't a real thing, right? (I mean, not anymore—it was the first thing to go in the recession.) At no point in time will some shimmery grandpa-of-the-future say, "When I was your age, Timmy, we had these things called 'jokes.' But then they came for our rape humor and our racism, so comedy died and chuckles were abolished." I'm pretty sure there are a couple of jokes out there that don't involve a lady getting raped. Like 100 at least! Hooray, comedy is saved! Nobody is taking away your right to talk about rape, make jokes about rape, or use the word "rape." No cunty feminist killjoy is citizen's-arresting you and taking you to brain jail for your shitty rape joke.The entire post is well worth the read (as if you couldn't already tell), and she also gives some examples of hilarious jokes about rape that aren't actually about, you know, how women deserve to be raped. Jokes that even a "cunty feminist killjoy" can enjoy.
Here's what cunty feminist killjoys tend not to enjoy: jokes that perpetuate our already extremely pervasive and destructive rape culture. You know what rape culture is, even if you think you don't.
It's that belief that rape victims are somehow asking for it. That "What was she wearing?" and "Why was she in that part of town at night?" and "How many sexual partners has she had?" and "Is she using birth control?" and "Did she really say no?" are all legitimate, relevant questions to ask when a woman has been raped. That's how you end up with articles in the New York Times about an 11-year-old girl in Texas who was gang-raped, and the article suggests that she may have provoked the attack because she "dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s." Because even when a child is viciously raped, our newspaper of record blames the victim, suggesting that she bears responsibility for her own attack (and, therefore, her rapists are at least partially absolved of responsibility) because she wore make-up—which is just like asking to be gang-raped.
Rape culture is the idea that rape just isn't that big a deal, that it isn't a traumatic and violent assault. In fact, goes another supposedly hilarious joke told by many, including a fundraiser for John McCain in 2008, "As long as it's inevitable, you might as well lie back and enjoy it."
Rape culture is the idea that there is a continuum of rape, that some rape isn't really rape, that not all rape is bad, or at least not bad enough to merit treatment. That's how we end up with Republicans in Congress trying to redefine rape to eliminate the sort-of-but-not-really rape "loopholes" that rape victims exploit for all the fabulous gifts and prizes that apparently are doled out by the government to rape victims. That's rape culture.
Rape culture is when self-appointed guardians of "traditional values" like Rick Santorum tell rape victims that, yes, rape is horrible, but if your rapist impregnates you, it's "nevertheless a gift in a very broken way, the gift of human life, and accept what God has given to you." Aw, rape victims no doubt think to themselves, an unwanted pregnancy conceived in rape? For me? From God? Awesome! After all, despite the ugliness of rape, says Rick, "We have to make the best out of a bad situation." As even the most causal readers of this series know, according to Mr. High and Mighty, making the best out of bad situation means passing laws to force women who've been raped to carry their rape-babies to term. And a "Gee, thanks, God!" wouldn't hurt, you ungrateful, selfish bitches. Just because you've been raped is no excuse to be thinking about yourself. There are more important considerations than the trauma of your violent assault—like how male politicians feel about your violent assault and how they feel that you should feel about it. That's rape culture.
Rape culture is the idea that while men's bodies are sacred and should never be touched in any way that makes them uncomfortable, with women's bodies, it's sort of a gray area. Sometimes women can and should be touched against their will for some greater good because ultimately, women do not own their bodies and do not have full autonomy to make decisions about their bodies.
Example? Okay. Remember way back a whole week ago, when we discussed those oh-so-charming Republican fellas in the Texas legislature who are outraged and appalled that sometimes airport screenings by TSA agents involve said agents actually touching said Republican fellas? Such touching made them very uncomfortable—and yes, because we're talking about Texas Republicans, it also violates their freedom blah blah blah—so they want to pass a law that criminalizes TSA agents, who are trying to catch potential terrorists who want to blow up America and destroy our freedoms, touching the "anus, sexual organ, buttocks or breasts of the other person or touches the other person in a manner that would be offensive to a reasonable person."
Meanwhile, these exact same Republican fellas support laws that force women to be touched and invaded against their will when seeking an abortion because their desire to mandate that she be thoroughly shamed and humiliated before having an abortion trumps any feelings about whether women want to be touched and invaded in such ways when it has no medical purpose. Touching a woman's "sexual organ," no matter how offensive it is to a reasonable person, is appropriate if men in power say it is. Sometimes women can or should be touched in ways that make them uncomfortable. Sometimes it's even okay to beat women if they are, say, lesbians. Or immigrants. Or Native Americans.
And sometimes, it's okay to tell a woman that she should be raped by five men just for opening her stupid lady-mouth and, um, saying something.
That is rape culture. And that is why it's actually not funny to tell women they deserve to be raped (or beaten or violated in any number of ways) "as a joke," because actually, women hear it all the damn time already. From people in positions of power who write and pass the laws that further perpetuate the message that sometimes, it is okay to do whatever you want to a woman's body because sometimes there's something more important than the woman not wanting to be touched or probed or groped or beaten or raped against her will.
So, as the very wise-and-yet-somehow-still-funny Lindy West advises:
So, comics. This doesn't mean that everyone is obligated to be the savior of mankind. You can be edgy and creepy and offensive and trivial and, yes, you can talk about rape. Doing comedy in front of a silent room is scary, and shocking people is a really easy way to get a reaction. But if you want people to not hate you (and wanting to not be hated is not the same thing as wanting to be liked), you should probably try and do it in a responsible, thoughtful way. Easy shortcut: DO NOT MAKE RAPE VICTIMS THE BUTT OF THE JOKE.Comedians can make any jokes they want. But when their comedy relies on pushing that same message women already get enough of as it is—that their bodies are not their own, that sometimes they deserve to be invasively and even violently assaulted—but the message is for a laugh, so somehow it's different, they really shouldn't be surprised when women aren't laughing.