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.

About tigtog

writer, singer, webwrangler, blogger, comedy tragic | about.me/vivsmythe

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

  1. While reading this last week, I was thinking about how there are more murder jokes than rape jokes, and what makes them more acceptable in polite company, since murder is after all a heinous crime. I figured it’s probably because fewer of us have a close friend or relative murdered.

    And then on the NPR radio show This American Life there was a show on survivors of murder victims, “How to Rest in Peace.”


    In one segment, the survivor was discussing this very insensitivity to survivors. She was saying how there are Murder Mystery weekends but no Rape Mystery weekends.

    I’m definitely not saying “why aren’t you talking about murder victims, they’re more important!” There’s at least one obvious way in which rape jokes are more harmful — the victims are still alive to be triggered or insulted by them.

    Just thinking about the similarities and marveling at the coincidence.

  2. JoAnne,

    Perhaps it’s because murder is generally part of generic violence, heinous as though it may be, and rape is overwhelmingly a misogynistic crime not only in that 9/10 victims are female but also because they were selected for brutalization on the basis of gender (think: comparing physical assault to gay bashing). Murder jokes are part of our normalization of general culture of violence, which is all too rarely questioned as well.

  3. Also, murder as a crime is taken very seriously by the justice system and society in general, while rape is not. You don’t hear many people making excuses for murderers or claiming that murderers didn’t *really* commit murder, etc., etc. Joking about it isn’t as harmful as joking about rape because it doesn’t perpetuate a “murder culture.”

  4. Murder is a genuine problem as well, though. Because we do have a murder culture here in the US, primarily in inner-city low-income areas, and it’s primarily men doing violence against men. There also seems to be a whole lot of overlap in the culture that glorifies man-on-man violence and the culture that glorifies rape and the objectification and humiliation of women. It all seems tied up in this ultra-macho picture of man that certain aspects of our culture have been focusing on.

  5. “You don’t hear many people making excuses for murderers or claiming that murderers didn’t *really* commit murder”

    Well, not domestically. I’m now thinking of Blackwater in Iraq,

  6. I take it the Oswalt bit referenced was “Rape Stove” from “Werewolves and Lollipops”

  7. I have no idea Chris – Oswalt is not on the Australian showbiz radar as far as I know (maybe for those with cable access to American all-comedy channels).

    Melissa, the author of the quoted post, quite possibly neither knows nor cares what the name of the routine or the album/show is, if she just came across it while looking for some laughs on the telly and was confronted by the oh-so-edgy rape humour.

    Any particular reason anyone should care what the particular “rape is so funny” routine is?

  8. Well, it re-contextualizes it. “Rape Stove” is just a play on “Death Bed”, a horrible 70’s horror movie he riffs on in the bit. The idea is that it was a ridiculous premise for a movie (a bed that murder people), and in the end he offers one just as ridiculous. Thing is, in the context he used it, “Rape” is supposed to be used in a negative connotation just as “Death” is in the original movie title.

    Basically, a tacky, ridiculous movie premise of an inanimate object performing a horrible act was the point. I can’t recall any other jokes involving “rape” by Patton, but he’s a very sweet, realistic (though edgy and literary) comedian and I’m sure he’s very aware of that line.

    For example, over here in NY, there’s a whole comedy scene of people who just say those things, out of context, for shock laughs. Now, I agree about them. It isn’t funny, and they’re purposefully misappropriating “rape” as a concept to illicit cheap laughs. Plus, (google “opie and anthony” to see the sort of people and scene I’m talking about) they, like mentioned in the above reference are on that whole “Hey, get a sense of humor about this horrible thing I joke about” trip that, as someone of mixed race that deals with political issues constantly, I find lazy and insulting.

    But Patton and Brian aren’t doing that.

    (Plus, most NY comedians are horrible, haha.)

    Just want to end with saying I dig the blog. BitchPhD from suicidegirls.com posted the link and so far it’s just as neat as she said it is.

  9. I must say, I have never heard a rape joke. Nor have I heard a mass murder joke. I have no idea to which venue the posters to this thread are going for entertainment, but I’ve never been there. And I’ve been to some fairly boorish places where many otherwise scandalous jokes were told.

    I suspect the well of feminine complaints is running dry, if such obscurities as this rate discussion.
    Perhaps the blog editor could begin a thread pertaining to jokes never heard by 99.99% of the population. Oh wait I think she has.

  10. Philo, you are being either obtuse or disingenuous. Rape jokes are everywhere, just pay more attention.

    Just a few months ago Seinfeld made a typical rape joke of the sort that is meant to be shrugged off:

    Promoting his new animated film, Bee Movie, in the New York Daily News today, the usually family-friendly comic quipped, “Bees have the only perfect society on earth … They have no crime, they have no drugs, they have no rape. A little rape, but it’s not that bad.”

    No empathy for the pain and fear of rape victims.

    Opie and Anthony were suspended for egging on a guest on their show to fantasise at great length about how much fun it would be to rape Condoleeza Rice, Laura Bush and Queen Elizabeth II.

    “My Name is Earl” had a joke about gang rape in Season 2, Episode 18:

    So we’ll just wait till this place closes and you can do me on the pinball machine like in that porno Jodi Foster did.

    Primetime TV – did the show get yanked? No.

    Russian leader Putin last year made a joke about rape allegations against the leader of Israel:

    He said the president continued: “What a mighty man he turns out to be! He raped 10 women – I would never have expected this from him. He surprised us all – we all envy him!”

    Again, no empathy for those raped.

    A few years ago an Australian rugby league player was disciplined for the following:

    With officials in damage control over rape allegations against six Canterbury Bulldogs players, the Brisbane Broncos star Darren Lockyer told a public function in Brisbane: “St George, they won 11 premierships with one Raper [a famous player of a previous generation]. Imagine how many Canterbury will win.”

    These are just from the first page of Google hits for “rape joke” – drill down a few pages and find link after link to boom-tish punchlines that normalise and trivialise rape and which are repeated widely.

    And let’s not forget the rape jokes that are against men – the prison rape jokes that normalise and trivialise the institutionalised brutality of prisons that are essentially rape factories. Here’s a satirical piece about that: Prison rape jokes ‘not that funny now’ to man facing jail sentence

  11. You know, of those quotations, only the last two are objectionable. The premise is fine, but there’s a line between fighting the status quo and lacking nuance.

  12. No one’s mentioned one really obvious point (though by no means a decisive point): rape jokes are often made for much the same reason Holocaust jokes and dead baby jokes are made. Rape is seen as an unspeakable moral horror, and the jokes play off of that fact, and get their ‘charge’ from that fact.

    So, often enough, the jokes require a reasonable, appropriately horrified view of the seriousness of rape in order for them to be funny.

    • Right, Regfsdjglsfdj, so I should just put up with people laughing at something that causes me intense emotional distress… in the name of dark humour?
      What about all those guys commenting “ooh, I rape her! What a hot bitch”? After all, they say, they didnt *mean* it. It was just a *joke*.

      • To be honest, I don’t really think a comment like that is meant to be a joke, it’s purely being a dork. If someone would try to say “hey, where’s your sense of humour?”, you could just say something like: “I guess it went to find yours, I hope they’re ok and come back soon”.

  13. Chris, I’m guessing your name isn’t short for Christine?

    When you haven’t been, and aren’t likely to be, a victim–that is, when you are a man–you really don’t get to decide what’s “okay” and what’s “objectionable”.

  14. […] And no, I will not “lighten up.” […]

  15. The last time I heard a rape joke, it was two guys who Id’ve sworn were smart enough to know better. “She’s worried you’ll rape her…” “Hur hur…she should be so lucky!” Just a throwaway comment about a female they didn’t like. Yeah, that’s a laugh riot. :p

  16. Without arguing with criss’s observation, here’s how the Patton Oswalt line doesn’t exactly register as a “rape joke” (of the type under discussion) for me: The line doesn’t suggest rape culture is good or benign. It doesn’t suggest women do or should enjoy rape, desire rape, solicit rape as in the exchange quoted by mustelid. It doesn’t minimize rape or get into “rape is just rough sex”. If a different horrific crime were substituted, the substance of the joke would still hold (which is a double-edged sword, of course, raising the question of why he therefore chose to use rape as his example).

    I’m not asserting that it isn’t objectionable (at least, I’m not asserting that anyone who finds it objectionable is wrong). I’m just surprised to find it mentioned in this context at all. When I saw the Shakes quote it took me a minute to figure out when Oswalt had even mentioned rape.

  17. I don’t want to tap into a feminist agenda here, sorry

    It’s just that whether man or woman, whatever it may be, there’s nothing funny about a cruel, inhumane act that robs a person of his/her will and integrity

    I don’t see how getting infuriated by a rape joke is only something a feminist would do. I would hope to think that any sensible, decent person, man or woman, wouldn’t want to trivialize a crime that is very deplorable.

  18. In that bit with ‘Rape Stove’, he also says something about ‘ripping one’s own d–k and stabbing one’s eyes out’. So, there is a self-mutilation (and\or suicide) joke along with the rape one, and do the ‘sensible and decent’ women that like to tag themselves as ‘feminist’ notice this? Of course, they do not. From everything that I’ve seen about ‘feminism’, it’s agenda is political, and really has nothing to do with speaking out for victim of any crime.

    • I should probably make it clear that this person wasn’t agreeing with me. I should probably clarify my position: the Patton Oswalt bit is not a joke about rape, but a joke with the word “rape” in it. Obviously rape is not funny

  19. It really depends on your sense of humor, and that’s the bottom line. For instance, I have a very dark sense of humor, as do some of my friends. I think dead baby jokes are funny. Does this perpetuate the “dead baby” culture? Just because I find a joke funny doesn’t mean I’d be any more likely to harm a child, or allow someone else to for that matter. “Rape Stove” sounds hilarious to me for the exact reason that Chris mentioned; it’s a shocking and ridiculous juxtaposition. There it is, that’s how someone finds a “rape joke” to be humorous. Laughing at the phrase “Rape Stove” does not mean I find anything even slightly acceptable about rape as a concept – that’s an illogical and disjointed conclusion. As a result, it doesn’t make sense to say that it perpetuates a “rape culture.” In fact, to even say we have a rape culture leaves the door open for a significant number of other shocking “cultures” that permeate our society. Though, this is an entirely different issue.

    I can understand if someone had an experience with rape in their lifetime and was extremely sensitive about it as a result, but should our entire culture change to make them more comfortable when they watch television? Many people in my life have died, due to suicide, accidents, and diseases. While watching movies on TBS for the last hour, I saw at least three people die. Shockingly – or perhaps not – I found it funny. I laughed out loud at parts. People die. People get killed. People kill themselves. I wouldn’t say we have a “Death Culture”. I mean look at media during the Civil War… Terrible things happen to people, and while they are tragedies in real life, jokes survive in an entirely different realm; they live in language. Now, if you’re the type of feminist who believes changing the spelling of certain words, such as women to “womyn” will somehow promote gender equality, then I have an entirely different issue with you, but it should be well understood that great tragedies in the real world aren’t necessarily so in the world of language.

  20. Class now pay attention, criss just shown a classic example of the ad hominem fallacy by arguing that because Chris is a male he can’t be objective and this invalidates his arguments.

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