Feminism Friday: More on how Rape Jokes Just Aren’t Funny

Obviously, a lot of women feel uncomfortable about rape jokes because rape is an ever-present background threat to daily life for us, not just a bit of regrettable “bad sex”. Melissa McEwan at Shakesville has written quite a lot about how rape jokes bolster rape culture, and posted an excellent essay on the subject of rape jokes this week, and it highlighted a point I hadn’t especially considered, and which I wish I had considered: that rape jokes are Post-Traumatic Stress Triggers for those who have been raped.

Seriously? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I will never understand why anyone wants to be the total douchebag who blindsides someone by evoking her (or his) memories of being raped, in the guise of “humor.”
Meanwhile, I added Patton Oswalt and Brian Posehn to my ever-growing list of comedians I don’t watch, because””silly me””I don’t like being slapped upside the head with rape jokes when I’m trying to have a good time.

Quite honestly, it’s not even because I particularly find the jokes personally triggering anymore; I generally just find them pathetic and inexplicable. I’m more bothered by the fact that the jokes normalize and effectively minimize the severity of rape and thusly perpetuate the rape culture. And I’m bothered by the thought of a woman who’s recently been raped, who’s just experienced what may be the worst thing that will ever happen to her, and turns on the telly to watch her favorite comedian and have a much-needed laugh””only to hear him using that horrible, life-changing thing as the butt of a joke. About cologne. Or a bad movie. For fuck’s sake.

I still don’t understand””and I don’t believe I ever will””why anyone wants to be the guy who sends that shiver down her spine, who makes her eyes burn hot with tears at an unwanted memory while everyone laughs and laughs.

Still. Not. Funny.

Crossposted at Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog

Categories: ethics & philosophy, violence

Tags: , , , , , , ,

11 replies

  1. Humour – the final frontier of colonialisation. You really now you’ve co-opted someone into the frame of dominance from which you work, when you can get them to laugh at jokes insensitive at the least, vicious in the usual. Which is why it’s so important to berate those humourless one who fail to laugh or worse still dare to complain – they’re obviously not with the programme.

  2. Infuriating insight there, Bernice. Depressing, too.

  3. Don’t lose all hope!
    I am pretty male and pretty ‘jock’ but I wouldn’t laugh at a rape joke, or even let one pass uncriticised. I suspect Australian society is more with you than against you.

  4. Thanks for the support, Patrick.

  5. Why People Tell Rape Jokes:
    Like it or not, one of the main elements of comedy is taking something that would normally be very serious or tragic and making it silly. An example of this would be somebody slipping on a banana peel; in reality this person could be severely injured or even become handicapped from this incident, but this is still considered humorous.
    And rape isn’t the only serious thing that’s joked about, there are also plenty of jokes about dead babies, quadriplegics, dead pets, and even some jokes about genocide.
    As for my opinion on the subject, I just think it’s a matter of personal taste. I actually get a certain angry shiver down my spine when somebody tells a joke about dead cats, it reminds me of seeing kittens suffer and die when my mother did animal rescue. But at the same time, I don’t think that the person telling the joke is a bad person (unless they know I don’t like it). Jokes are supposed to be a sign of friendliness, they try to help us forget about the terrible things in life (although this can sometimes backfire).
    I don’t mean to offend anyone here, I just want to give my opinion.

  6. You’re presenting a very limited function of jokes, the idea that it’s all just friendly bonding. As discussed in this post, humour is used to shame and silence out-groups as part of the way it acts as a tool for social bonding for the in-group. Most people understand this instinctively rather than intellectually, but the basis of most humour is laughing at someone’s pain, and that someone is out of the in-group.
    I have worked as a stand-up comic: I guarantee to you that most comedians perform from a core of deep and abiding anger at the world’s wrongs (as they perceive them), and that they cope with that anger by crafting punchlines that make other people laugh in an exclusionary way at the thing the comedian hates. It’s an amazingly cathartic experience to make a room full of people laugh, stamp and whistle in agreement with you about how disgustingly useless and vile the thing you hate is, even if you are performing from an instinctive mindset rather than appreciating cerebrally why it gives you so much release.
    Misogynistic jokes about women work in exactly the same way – they make men the in-group and women the out-group, and when rape jokes are brought into it they act as an implicit threat from the in-group to the out-group. Being threatened in the name of someone else’s joke is not funny.

  7. I once heard, a few years back an argument by a feminist about how the lack of rape jokes indicated a timidness within our culture at approaching or being able to discuss the “taboo” of rape. She claimed that we were able to approach all other risky areas, but rape was a no go.
    It’s difficult, because we should be able to laugh at awful things, sometimes. I know that for all the sexist things I see in the world, joking about them (don’t get me wrong, I DO act as well) keeps me sane.
    Obviously though, the “trigger” argument makes a lot of sense, and it could be distressing for some people. Perhaps comedians should take more care, but audiences often know who the risky and controversial comedians are.
    As Hollio points out, it is a matter of personal taste, clearly. You might not find it funny, some people do (me sometimes). I hate sexist jokes, but I don’t mind rape jokes. If it gets people talking without feeling embarrased and covering the subject up, that seems almost positive to me.

  8. StemFem, I recommend having a bit more of a read of Liss McEwan’s writing on the topic. If you follow the links at the top of the post you can find a whole range of her posts tagged and easy to find.
    The key point is one Liss has made about the audience versus the butt of the joke. She actually agrees that jokes that have the effect you describe are fine and great and she makes them herself. What you have to ask is: is this joke designed to make the rape victim laugh and the rapist squirm, or to make the rapist laugh and the victim squirm? I think you’ll find most rape jokes fall into the latter category, and we all need to have a really good think about what that means.

  9. @ orlando:

    is this joke designed to make the rape victim laugh and the rapist squirm, or to make the rapist laugh and the victim squirm? I think you’ll find most rape jokes fall into the latter category, and we all need to have a really good think about what that means.

    Also broader rape culture categories, of “men who believe women lie about rape: will they laugh or squirm at this joke?” and “those who believe women passed out drunk are fair game for sex: will they laugh or squirm at this joke?”


  1. Feminism Friday: Humour as a tool for shaming and silencing at Hoyden About Town
  2. Feminism Friday: Humour as a tool for shaming and silencing « Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog
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