An Open Letter to the Oatmeal
Guest post by Sid
Before I start, I want you to pretend with me for a minute. Pretend that you haven’t had a wave of shitty words thrown over you in the last 24 hours, even after you took down your defense. Pretend that you didn’t have to turn off the computer just to get a few hours of peace—so you didn’t have to keep looking at words like “asshole,” “misogynist,” or “sack of shit.” Pretend for just a minute that that never happened and that the internet consists of only you and me.
Now that we’re alone, let’s talk.
I do not want to call you names or imply that you meant to hurt anyone. I won’t do that because I know that wasn’t your intention. I’m not angry with you, because I understand that you honestly might not have a handle on what all the fuss was about—and not in a “willful ignorance” kind of way. In a “no, seriously, I can’t make this make sense” kind of way.
I want to sit with you, calmly and respectfully, and try to unpack what all this backlash is really about.
Wait, wait, wait…don’t close the window yet. I know—you’ve been hearing it in 140-character chunks all day long. People have said it to you over and over again. But the thing is, most of those responses were angry and hurt, and many used hateful words. No one listens once hateful words are leveled at them. That’s just science. So here, in our little pretend world where none of those words were said and you and I are alone, I’m hoping you’ll give me a chance to explain what the problem really is.
Lots of inappropriate things are funny, including many of the things you listed. So why isn’t rape funny? Or rather—since you never claimed that rape was funny and I don’t want to put words in your mouth—why isn’t it funny to compare activities that aren’t rape to rape?
The word rape brings with it a lot of imagery. It is the forceful and unwanted invasion of a person’s body. Every day more and more people experience it. You can say the word—you can—but by using it to describe an everyday task, like refreshing a web page, it takes some of the meaning away from the word. It gives the word a little less potency, which makes it easier for friends, employers, and juries to write it off as “not a big deal.” (This gradual impotence of meaning is what people are referring to when they say “rape culture,” because it leads slowly to acceptance of rape as “norm.”)
So why is it okay to joke about other offensive things?
Because being offended is different from being hurt. If you want to fight the “people get offended too easily” fight, I will walk beside you and fly the flag, but this is something different. A lot of people—women in particular—are actually hurt when they see the hell that they experienced made into something small. They relive the experience of having their bodies invaded.
Let’s, for just a moment, liken it to the n-word. I imagine this is a word I would never see in your comic, because this word hurts people. It directly targets one specific group of people and tells them they are less. I completely understand that this was not ever your intention, but when you joke about rape, you tell survivors that it’s no big deal, that we can joke about it. It targets them as a group and tells them that they are less because they weren’t even worth thinking about.
As I mentioned, I know you’ve taken down even the defense of the joke, but I suspect you may have done that because you were tired of the hateful words (which would be totally fair). Please note that I am not saying your apology was insincere. I believe that you really meant the apology. My honest goal here is to try to help you understand—not to condescend to you and not to treat you like some kind of monster, but to come to you with a sincere explanation of a sincere issue. I hope I’ve done that.
If you would like to respond to any of my points, have questions about any of my examples, or would otherwise like to continue in respectful discourse, my Twitter is @SeeSidWrite—just DM me with your interest (and whether you prefer Matt or Matthew) and I will DM you back with my personal email address. I would be more than happy to continue this conversation.
All the best,