Comedian Daniel Tosh recently made a rape joke at a club, an audience member remarked that rape jokes are terrible, and Tosh responded that it would be hilarious if she were “raped by like five guys.” This audience member told her friend about it, her friend blogged it, and the internet did its job. Tosh has since sort-of apologized and other comedians have defended him on Twitter.
People started arguing on the internet. Then I started arguing on the internet, and I found myself responding to the same set of questions over and over. So I just went ahead and did y’all a solid by putting my answers all in one place. Enjoy!
Q: But I’m not a rapist! The thought of assaulting a woman has never crossed my mind! Why can’t I joke about it?
Rape is historically perpetrated by men upon women as a means of oppression, abuse, control, and dehumanization. For a member of a group that has historically oppressed another group to make a joke at the expense of the oppressed group is problematic and will invite the outrage that exploded around the Tosh controversy. This is why white people making racist jokes about people of color is not OK, and this is why a man, however devoid of rape fantasies or violent behavior he may be, should not make jokes about women being raped.
This question is a symptom of a lack of awareness of one’s own masculine privilege. Cisgendered men, listen up: you don’t know what it feels like to function in the world as a woman-identified person. You have not felt the special terror we feel while walking home at night when a male silhouette appears out of nowhere – a terror that on top of possibly being robbed or beaten we may also be raped by a stranger. When was the last time you and your buddies planned to check in at the end of a night out to make sure no one was abducted or date-raped? In all likelihood you didn’t have to go through adolescence learning how to not get raped as girls do every day when we travel in packs, avoid eye contact, temper our behavior, and opt to cover up when we go outside.
One in five of you have not been sexually assaulted. The next time you’re in a crowded room, calculate how many women in that room have been assaulted, and then ask yourself whether you’d defend someone making a rape joke in that room.
Why shouldn’t you, your buddy, or some cavalier comedian make that joke? We already live in a rape culture. Speaking flippantly about rape (which you in all likelihood will never experience) dilutes the horrific nature of the act. When you make jokes about rape you bolster rape culture — period.
Q: Don’t I have a right to free speech under the First Amendment? I can say whatever I want, whenever I want. And that is why America is great.
You have the right to say whatever you want, whenever you want, and folks like me who take offense due to legitimate issues have a right to a) respond b) be angry c) ridicule you publicly. Big ups to the Constitution for that last one.
It comes down to this: This isn’t an issue of can. You most certainly can, and I support your right to giggle about rape. It’s a question of should. If exercising your constitutional right to make rape jokes is more important than avoiding saying something that could further traumatize and humiliate someone who is already suffering, that’s your prerogative, but I can’t help but question your basic human decency. Although I think you’d have a very, very difficult time looking a rape victim in the eye and making jokes about what happened to her.
Q: I’ve heard rape victims joke about their experience to make it less painful. Is that okay?
That’s a question that only a survivor of sexual assault can answer. Definitely not your call, dude.
Q: You have to joke about horrible things to cope with them! If we don’t laugh we’ll cry, right?
Yes and no. This always seems to be the last resort fallback appeal to a common humanity that allows – nay, encourages rape jokes. Most of the intelligent women who have responded to this incident would probably agree that edgy, borderline offensive humor can have a positive impact by way of catharsis, levity, and conversation. But this is a moot point when it comes to men making jokes about women being raped. Exactly whose suffering are you trying to alleviate with a rape joke? How are you helping any of the women who may overhear your banter about women’s bodies being violated by force?
And finally, who the fuck asked you to do that?
Some suggested reading below:
– By Maggie Calmes