Rape isn’t funny. What could possibly be funny about trauma, humiliation and brutality? What’s amusing or joyous about a prevalent and devastating abuse of power? What’s humourous about bullying and cruelty? What’s funny about a violent epidemic that effects 1 in 5 women and 1 in 20 men in their lifetimes and is virtually going unchecked due to our shared inability to make victims safe enough to report the crime or to successfully prosecute perpetrators for the crime when we do get them before a court of law?
There are three things we all need to know about rape jokes.
1) Rape jokes hurt victim/survivors of rape. They don’t offend us. They harm us. Perhaps, offense comes to mind because the joker is offended they didn’t get a laugh. But we’re not offended, we’re crushed and silenced. Again. Once more, a fellow human being has effectively communicated to us that abusing our human rights isn’t an outrage, it’s amusement. Humiliating us, demeaning us, mocking our integrity and humanity isn’t a cause for remorse, or better yet a call for strident action by the justice system, but apparently a laughing matter. How can we be safe, let alone feel safe, in a world that takes our security of person so lightly?
2) Rape jokes speak the silent language of nods and winks, the implied endorsement, the dog whistle that rapists rely upon to continue their crime sprees. Rape jokes – not just those that tell them, but any of us that laugh at them or stand by silently as they are told – make us rapists’ allies. We stand in solidarity with them, we protect their right to behave the way they do by indicating to them that we think their actions are OK, just a laughing matter, worthy of a moment’s mirth and no further consideration. We offer rapists the vindication they need to continue unabated. Rape jokes encourage rapists to go on raping and discourage victim/survivors from coming forward. Afterall, would you expect much support from a society that finds your vicitmisation amusing?
3) Rape jokes fail to capitalise on a transformative opportunity. Humour posseses so much potential for change – the possibility for illuminating the ludicrous, for bringing the powerful down a level or two, for shaming abusers and emboldening the disempowered. Humour can upend hierarchies and offer us radical new ways of seeing the world. It can point out to us the hypocrisies and idiocies of the current world order. It can unseat long-held assumptions and challenge our ingrained beliefs – and all without us even noticing until we’ve stopped laughing.
Rape jokes miss this potential altogether by settling on the lazy option. They take those long-held assumptions – that rape is no big deal, that it’s just a fun night out, that it’s light entertainment for the powerful – and reinforce them. Rape jokes kick a victim while their down and then pause to delight in their own apparent strength and cleverness. But there’s nothing strong or clever, let alone funny, about making fun of those who have no chance to defend themselves. It’s cowardly and a cop out. It’s the lowest form of humour and it just ain’t funny.
It might not be easy to be the only one saying, “hey, that’s not funny, that’s sick, that’s a crime” when everyone’s laughing. It’s often not much fun to be the lone voice protecting the vulnerable or condemning the dominant. But it is so important. Not only does it protect all of us from a culture that holds out to us the potential of becoming the next victim – for as statistics only too clearly prove, a culture that finds rape amusing resolutely fails to prevent it from occurring, and at alarmingly frequent rates – but it makes it possible for us to begin the move from a rape-enabling culture to a rapist-disabling culture. Not only will that protect us all from violence but it will also protect us all from lazy humour and bad jokes. Two things well and truly worth speaking out for, surely?
In case this isn’t enough to convince you, three more great posts about why rape jokes aren’t funny:
- To all those men who don’t think the rape jokes are a problem, Organon
- On rape jokes, The Funny Feminist
- An earnest letter to guys about the problem with rape jokes; It’s not about being PC, Talkin’ Reckless