[TW] 10 Things Rape Is Not
I think it was the day I first learned the phrase “trigger warning” that I realized what it is that happens to me when people reach lazily for the word that describes my nightmare and use it to describe what their wife did to them in their divorce or what their buddy did to them in HALO the night before. That sick feeling, the inevitable visualization of what the word means–to me, personally, based on my experience having survived rape. The reminder that although at least one in four women have experienced sexual assault (and 1 in 33 men), for many people that experience is so foreign that it can easily, casually, and sometimes it seems, constantly, be reduced to an analogy or even a punchline.
When the whole Daniel Tosh fiasco happened last year, I wanted to write about it. I really did. I started a draft. I collected reference articles. But I just couldn’t do it. Maybe it’s because I’d already gotten up a head of steam over the topic. A few years ago, on a long-dead blog, I wrote a post about many of the reasons rape jokes and analogies should be used with care, if at all. Everyone else did a great job of explaining all the reasons why Daniel Tosh is an idiot, so I let that pass, but I still find myself on probably a weekly basis wanting to link people to that old article that explains why I wish they’d just stop with the rape jokes and analogies already. So today I made the postcard above, and now I’m resurrecting my old article below. If you’re like me, you’ll find frequent excuses to link it.
Rape: It’s Not Funny (or Cool)
After seeing the word “rape” used as a punchline and an analogy for everything from the financial crisis to a sports victory, I’m utterly and completely over it. I’ll admit that this is a personal thing for me: I have been raped. I understand that’s not true of everyone, and I don’t expect my world to be scrubbed clean of all references to rape. But too many of us, male and female, have experienced this violent, debasing act for any of us to be tossing the word around carelessly. Consider the following reasons to find a new analogy—a different punchline.
Rape Analogies Aren’t Cool
I’m as outraged as anyone about the mess Wall Street has made (that our government has allowed them to make) of our economy. And who doesn’t love to see their team win? But to use “raped” to mean “was victorious over” indicates that we believe rape is a cool way to assert power. To use it to mean “victimized” (as in Wall Street victimized America) is at least in the ballpark, but I think it really boils down to a crude attempt to be edgy or even provocative. Johnny Depp compared photo shoots to rape. Really, Johnny? I expected better. When we let these analogies slide we’re contributing to a culture that trivializes rape, and that’s not ok.
Comedian Dane Cook, who doesn’t think twice about making sexist and racist jokes, had this to say about rape analogies:
“I think the word raped gets thrown around far too casually. You ever listen to a bunch of guys playing video games with each other online? It’s like, ‘Ah man you shot me in the back dude. You raped me dude!’ I’m pretty sure if I talked to a woman who’s been through that horrific situation and I said, ‘What was it like, you know, being raped?’ she’s not gonna look at me and go, ‘Have you ever played Halo?’”
I’ve only ever seen one rape analogy that I thought worked, and that’s because the objective was to point out the stupidity of victim blaming in rape cases.
Rape Jokes Aren’t Funny
We use humor and analogy to help us understand our world, and humor in particular relies on (among other things) pushing the boundaries of comfort and social acceptance. People joke about religion, politics, gender, crime—even race and homosexuality still get a workout from standup comedians. Is rape a special case? Perhaps not; maybe it’s fair game like everything else. Except that it isn’t. Rape is a violent, humiliating, abusive act that is damaging on a scale that I’m not sure one can grasp without experiencing it. I wouldn’t wish something like that on my worst enemy, but I think anyone who believes it’s ok to make rape jokes should take a moment to imagine it: someone pins you down (or threatens your life or drugs your drink or waits until you’re asleep) and penetrates you without your consent. Imagine the fear, the pain, the violation, the humiliation, the disgust…do you think you would ever find humor in that situation? Do you think you would be ok—really ok—with people making your trauma the source of their amusement?
Some humor makes us laugh and cringe simultaneously. Disasters and gruesome celebrity deaths usually give rise to at least one groaner, and though we know we shouldn’t be laughing, it’s as if our bodies betray us (though there’s a part of me that always feels a little dirty afterward). But there are some lines that we seem to agree on some level shouldn’t be crossed, and when they are, nearly everyone in the room shuffles their feet and coughs uncomfortably. Race is one of these, in what I like to think of as the more enlightened circles. Homophobia is another. And there are things that it doesn’t even occur to most of us to joke about, like Hiroshima or hate crimes. That’s because these are violent, horrifying acts and events that we recognize as worthy of some gravity. Rape should, in my opinion, be among those.
But that’s only part of the problem.
Rape Jokes and Analogies Can Do Harm
Two things happen when people make rape jokes and analogies: one is that they can help reinforce a culture in which rape is somehow acceptable. Because I can’t say it any better myself, Wikipedia offers this:
Rape culture is a term which originated in women’s studies and feminist theory, describing a culture in which rape and sexual violence against women are common and in which prevalent attitudes, norms, practices, and media condone, normalize, excuse, or tolerate sexual violence against women. Examples of behaviors commonly associated with rape culture include victim blaming, sexual objectification and rape apologism. Use of the term has recently become more common.
The other thing that happens when people use rape to get a laugh or describe a victory or make a comparison is that those of us who have been raped may be “triggered*”—that is, we may react adversely to unexpectedly encountering a thoughtless remark, for instance, using our trauma to describe what one team did to the other one on the football field today. Some of us have stronger reactions than others. Personally, depending on the remark, I cringe, my stomach clenches, I might experience some nausea or anxiety. This is a mild reaction—other people, for various reasons, can be triggered to a much greater degree. Rape survivors are traumatized people, many (or most, or all) of whom suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to one degree or another. Their reactions can range from panic attacks to flash-backs to the desire to hurt themselves to escape feelings of rage, shame, and fear.
It All Comes Down to Empathy
We’ve all got our sensitivities, and I believe political correctness can go too far. Some people seem to spend all their time looking for offense—and finding it—and I think they should really lighten up. But I also believe we can all benefit from an understanding of how our thoughtless comments can affect others whose experience might be so much different from our own. Sure, you can write people off as “too sensitive” or invoke your right to free speech or state self-righteously that “it’s not my job to keep other people from being offended,” but ultimately, if our words hurt someone, that person remains hurt despite our rights and entitlements. Freedom of speech is not freedom from consequences. We all have to decide whether our right to use rape as a punchline or an analogy is worth the consequences.
This article on Shakesville makes an important point that I did not:
Here’s another article that tells it like it is:
And a petition:
FOX Sports, a division of News Corp.: Tell FOX to drop the UFC unless they clean up their act!
And if you have a strong stomach, here’s a look at 10 minutes on Twitter. This is what rape culture looks like. Oh, and here’s an entire World of Warcraft fansite forum thread dedicated to rape jokes.