Rape Jokes, Part 2: What To Do When Someone Thinks They Made A Funny
aka Women Are Not Always Right
Fugitivus has a brilliant post on this here. First, let's take a look at some of the options of the listener when someone else makes a rape joke (edited version of original post):
- Say Nothing. Hope the conversation does not continue extolling the virtues of rape, making saying nothing harder. Hate yourself for saying nothing...Have minor flashbacks of what was done to you... Stop enjoying the day. Stop enjoying the company of your friend. Make a mental note to withdraw from others before they can casually, “jokingly” remind you of your rape. Feel bad...Feel angry...Feel alone and angry. Assume bitterly that you will feel this way forever.
- Be Edgy! Jump in with some even MORE offensive humor! Run with the rape joke! Make it even more rape-y!...Settle in with the smug knowledge that you are not like those other broken, damaged, traumatized victims. Withdraw from “those” kinds of victims, who might try and drag you down into their hysteria with them. Throw them to the goddamn wolves. Throw your flashbacks to the goddamn wolves. Toast to rape!
- 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. You know you are actually ruining his sense of himself as a good and decent person, but you cannot communicate that to him, because he is smug and disengaged, and you are shaking and stuttering and trying to explain the experience of women to a man who has grown up among women, known women, loved women, and somehow doesn’t know this already, which means he doesn’t want to know, doesn’t care. Feel vulnerable. Feel angry that you feel vulnerable. Consider stopping mid-sentence, getting up, and walking away. Promise yourself that after this you will never speak to this friend again. Immediately break the promise, because you know if you don’t, he will tell everybody that you stopped being friends because you are Andrea Dworkin all of a sudden.
- 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. Realize that to him, rape is conceptual, even when it has really happened, even when it is real. Wonder if he has raped, without knowing it, because it was just a concept. Realize you now wonder this about every man. Are you Andrea Dworkin? Do you have any right to ruin this lovely summer day by dumping your rape on everybody? Did he? After this, will he now tell everybody that you FREAKED OUT just because you were apparently “RAPED” and you can’t GET OVER IT when it was just a JOKE, SERiously? Will everybody know you have been raped? Will everybody think you are a humorless rape-bot from now on? Feel like shit afterwards. Be reminded that you cannot trust anybody, now. Because you were raped. Because you are Andrea Dworkin. Because you didn’t prosecute. The reasons don’t matter anymore; the result is the same. You are Angry About Being Raped, which just compounds the stain of Being Raped. Add in Unable To Take a Joke, and you are officially Female.
- Find Some Other Way. Can’t count on this one; sometimes an alternative pops into your head, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes you manage to say “Rape is funny!” and laugh away in such a sarcastic, biting voice that it communicates everything you wanted to say, and you all move on. Or you do what I did, which was threaten to break my beer bottle on the railing and stab my friend in the fucking neck with it if he didn’t shut his fucking maw. Ha ha! I said. A joke! Not really, man. Ha! Am I kidding? Am I? Fun-nay. The simmering rage remains, the distrust, the wondering if you should speak to this person ever again, the flashbacks. But the day moves forward rather than grinding to a screeching halt.
Yeah. So. In the year and a half following my more overt and openly-acknowledged rape, I have been around several people who have made rape jokes. At first, I was so often shocked that I didn't say anything-- I did option #1, where I sat in silence and fought through my panic and depression and unwanted thoughts and memories and feelings on my own. However, I've started to realize that there's no reason why I can't point out their comments and call them out-- I can damn well tell them that they are being hurtful and I can request that they stop. So I've started doing that.
Some of them apologize for being idiots afterward, and while the apology doesn't stop the flashbacks or unfreeze me from my tense, dissociated state, it at least helps. But. BUT! On to the exciting part-- the people who get all defensive and start attacking me for requesting that they stop! I love these people. </sarcasm>
One day, I was walking back from dinner with a friend who has a habit of making off-color jokes because he likes to make people laugh. Of course, we got on to the topic of rape jokes, and of course, we reached the house before we finished and so the discussion continued on in the chapter room, where several other people were sitting. Keep in mind that everyone involved here knows that I was raped. They have seen me cry, and panic, and write livejournal posts about how f*cked up my life was in the months directly following it when I couldn't put my life back together. They know. So guess what some of their responses are?
Some reactions from people I used to consider my friends after I requested that they not make rape jokes, especially not directed at me (because it's happened! don't you love how sensitive people can be?):
- "My high school friends and I made this joke [specifically, "It's not rape if you yell surprise!"] all the time. I think it's funny, and I'm still going to say it if I want to."
- Shrug. Look bored and faintly amused at this silly girl who has been raped who thought it would be reasonable to ask you to not make rape jokes because they HURT.
- "It's so selfish of you to expect the world to revolve around you."
- "What, would you stop making a joke just because it bothers someone?"
To the last one-- yes! In fact, I would! If someone came up to me and politely asked me not to make x kind of joke because it hurt or offended them in some way, I would apologize and do my best to not do so, at the very least not in their presence. And if I slipped up, I would apologize. I would not get defensive and snippy or superciliously dismissive of their request. Because that's just plain rude and ignorant.
I still think about that conversation, and it infuriates me. And you know what? It wasn't even like those comments were made by ignorant, misogynistic men. They were made by women, women I know who claim to be feminists. Women who sneer outright at the possibility that a rape-culture exists, women who make the problem worse. Most of my male friends were supportive, sensitive, and caring to me during the aftermath of my own experience. Not so with many of my female friends.
Needless to say, they are no longer my friends. I found their reactions to be exceedingly repulsive and contemptible-- and I would have felt that way even if it had not been me who had been hurt by their comments, if it had been someone else whose feelings and polite request were so carelessly dismissed and trodden upon. These comments are steeped in undeserved privilege and refusal to acknowledge other people's experiences and feelings. And that makes me angry.
So I guess what I wanted to say in this post was that rape/sexual assault advocates and feminists often seem tied to man-hating and blaming male privilege and male culture, but men are not always the problem. The reason I had such a hard time healing from my own assault was the women in my life who minimized the trauma I lived through and made me feel like shit when I still thought they were my friends.
So, please, if you hear someone make a comment like that, stand up to them, even if the speaker of the comment is female. Being female doesn't automatically provide "get out of jail free" cards for hurtful, ignorant remarks. Call them out on it. And if they try to use their gender as a defense, tell them that's bullshit, because that's what it is.