“If your first response is what about me, there is clearly something that you are missing.”

14 03 2009

I just read a great post on Womanist Musings that I keep mulling over in my mind. It’s about how being an ally is not an easy job, and how despite our best intentions and deep commitment to progressive politics/activism, our thoughts, statements and actions can still be colored by the colonization of our minds by the patriarchal social order. The first step to activism is consciousness, yet it can still be difficult to monitor ourselves all the time especially when you have been socialized by patriarchy that there is a lot of internalized shit that we can’t always keep track of.

For instance, I have heard friends say “I’m so gonna rape him/her one day” when they talk about someone they are attracted to. Of course they don’t mean that they are going to force penetration of any bodily orifice of that individual. They’re just throwing the word “rape” around in a way that discounts its severity and bears witness to how pervasive rape culture is, that we can just joke about raping people without thinking about what rape entails. It’s difficult to point these out to people because they may think you are getting too hung up on one word or they may just be like “gosh, I obviously didn’t mean it, and you know it.” Abusing language like this and refusing to participate in dialogue about why it’s wrong to say things like that just reinforces rape culture and gives people a green light to not deal with the true implications of their speech.

A quote from the post:

When you grow in a racist, patriarchal, homophobic, classist, sexist culture your way of thinking becomes infused with ideas that are necessarily counter to freedom and basic human respect. Even the most conscious amongst us will continually revert to patterns of behavior, thought, or speech, that are counter to our stated beliefs.  Due to a constant desire to privilege our experience and our existence over another often we do not even recognize these lapses.

The last sentence really rings true to me and reminds me of people I know who are very open-minded, progressive and concerned about social justice issues who try to speak about oppression for oppressed people. How can you articulate exactly what oppression feels like for an unemployed black queer man, or a Japanese trans-woman, or a low-income, physically handicapped woman of color if you’ve never experienced it? Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s important for everyone to learn about the different forms of oppression and how they intersect, but you can’t be an advocate for a marginalized group if you’ve never quite experienced the oppression they’ve experienced. You can be an ally, but you can’t claim their oppression as your own if you’ve frankly never experienced it.

We can never fully understand the experiences and struggles of marginalized individuals if we ourselves have never been marginalized in the same way. The oppressed do not have many spaces where they can constructively and honestly engage in conversations about oppression with others who may be more privileged. Sometimes the experiences of the oppressed are not validated by the less oppressed unless they have statistics or academic research backing it up, which is ridiculous because what can be more validating than experiencing oppression every single day?

If you are gay or lesbian you’re an expert in heterosexist culture and how it marginalizes the various sexualities because for the entirety of your existence you have had to negotiate it to be able to survive.  If you are of colour you are an expert on white privilege and racism because for the entirety of you life you have been assaulted by it.  If you are differently abled you are an expert on abelism because for the entirety of your experience you have been denied access by others, or told to capitulate and remove yourself from any and all social actions.  The oppressed are experts because we live it every damn day of our lives.

It is insulting and infuriating to continually have to repeat the basics to others because they refuse to see beyond their experience to validate the life of another.  If your first response is what about me, there is clearly something that you are missing.  Not every conversation needs to focus on the socially dominate bodies. To demand that the few spaces that are dedicated to fighting oppression continually regurgitate 101 basics stunts conversations and amounts to the tyranny of the majority.  If you are a privileged body most of what you will see, read, and hear is already dedicated to you.  From mainstream media to every other agent of socialization the message is clear; unless you are necessarily white, cisgender, male, and heterosexual your life is inconsequential. (Bold emphasis mine.)

For me, the bold parts of the quote are right on point and are the answer to all the “Why isn’t there Men’s Studies if there is Women’s Studies?” or “Why isn’t there Heterosexual Studies if there is Queer Studies?” or “Why isn’t there White Studies if there are all these cultural studies?” questions I’ve heard over the years. It frustrates me because I’ve had wealthy, straight, white males ask me why there’s no space for them and I just want to scream UM, IT’S CALLED THE WORLD!

It is definitely legitimate to understand privilege (especially white, heterosexual, upper-middle / upper class male privilege since that is at the top of the patriarchal hierarchy) and how that enfranchises a small portion of the population while disenfranchising the others, but at the same time since mainstream society favors such a small fraction of society it’s necessary that the marginalized groups can carve out a space for themselves where their oppression is recognized and validated. When you’re up against a rigidly patriarchal society, you need these arenas and tools in order to educate and enact social change.




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21 responses

25 03 2009
E-Bender

lolwut? There’s a “true” implication of their speech, that “influences and reinforces” rape culture even though they “obviously didn’t mean it, and you know it”. And not only that, you are aware of this “true” implication and its negative effects. That’s lucky for you. Perhaps you should give them concrete examples of the way their words reinforce rape culture rather than just asserting that they do.

26 03 2009
E-Bender

Yeah, if your response to them is as comprehensive as your response to me, I’m unsurprised they don’t change their minds.

“They’re just throwing the word “rape” around in a way that discounts its severity and bears witness to how pervasive rape culture is, that we can just joke about raping people without thinking about what rape entails”

So does that mean that the fact people joke about say… murder, blowing up the world, and among some people the holocaust means that we live in a murder culture, world-destroying culture and that some people live in a holocaust culture? This seems less than usable as evidence of the rape culture.

27 03 2009
feminist2

I think you need a better understanding of what rape culture is. We LIVE in a rape culture in which rape is pervasive and sanctioned through sexist attitudes and beliefs that make violence against women seem like a normal, natural and inevitable part of society. Misogynist jokes, glamorized imagery of sexualized violence in the media, objectification of women, sexual harassment and the public/government dismissal of sexual violence as unimportant or as mere women’s issues help shape a rape culture and enable it to thrive.

And joking about murder, blowing up the world and the Holocaust lessens the severity of these atrocious acts in the same way that joking about rape lessens the severity of rape.

Keep in mind too that 1. women are disproportionately more likely to be victims of rape or attempted rape than men are, and 2. rape is one of the most underreported and unprosecuted crimes.

27 03 2009
E-Bender

Thanks for the reply.

I know perfectly well what the rape culture is. And I’m well aware that we live in one. (Well, Americans certainly do)

However, unless you also think that X jokes are evidence we live in an X culture, it’s not logical to say that rape jokes are evidence we live in a rape culture.

It’s all of them, or none of them. And as far as I see, we definitely don’t live in a ‘blowing up the world’ culture, or holocaust culture. (Again, Americans probably do live in a murder culture, other people don’t though, and still make murder jokes)
It doesn’t make any difference to me, I’ve already seen the actual evidence of rape culture… but to anyone who hasn’t, or is blinded to it by their privilege, when you say that jokes are evidence for it, and they’re not, they will see that, and may well think that the rape culture doesn’t exist at all, since your evidence doesn’t add up. (All of that is moot, if you do in fact stand by the assertion that X jokes are evidence for X culture, cos then they’re wrong)

As for “And joking about murder, blowing up the world and the Holocaust lessens the severity of these atrocious acts in the same way that joking about rape lessens the severity of rape.”

Well… so you say. And you may well be right about yourself, and even the people around you… but I know for a fact that people I know joke about these sorts of things all the time… and in no way lessens their opinion of the severity of all these things. So unless you have compelling evidence that it will lessen the severity if they keep doing it… well… that’s definitely wrong, I’ve seen it with my own eyes.
You’ll need to change that to “joking about X, Y and Z lessens the severity of these atrocious acts in the eyes of people without strong moral convictions”

Take the people at my school. I went to a Jewish school, almost all my friends were Jewish. They often made anti-semitic and holocaust jokes. Many of them had lost family in the holocaust, they did not in any way take the actual holocaust any less seriously.
Similarly my flatmate was raped in the first year of university, by a friend. He makes all types of jokes, including rape jokes. He definitely does not take rape lightly. The jokes have done nothing to change that. How does that square with your assertion?

27 03 2009
E-Bender

Me: “And I’m well aware that we live in one. (Well, Americans certainly do)”

That’s not to say I don’t. I don’t live with the Minangkabau (probably one of the only non-rape cultures out there, though that seems to be changing 😦 damn it). But less so than America, as I’m lead to believe.

27 03 2009
feminist1

I agree with feminist2. I do not believe that joking about rape is funny, although I know many perfectly nice and intelligent people who do it. Same with joking about murder and the Holocaust. It is something that is laughed about, and with no intention of hurting anyone. But there are problems with joking about these subjects, and I do think it lessens the perceived severity of the acts, not necessarily in the individual, but in the society as a whole. I wouldn’t say that joking about the Holocaust is evidence of a “Holocaust culture,” as I don’t think that term even exists…but I would say it’s evidence of a culture in which violence is normalized. So yes, maybe joking about hate violence in general is evidence of a “violent culture” of some sort. That is not to say that people who joke about the Holocaust generally want to go out and create another Holocaust. That is completely untrue. But jokes about these subjects are insensitive at the least, infuriating often. The core of many jokes makes one person in the in-group and another in the out-group, someone laughing at somebody else’s pain.

I do see your point, E-Bender, and I think it comes down to a difference of opinion. Feminist2’s point is completely valid, and I agree that joking about rape perpetuates rape culture. Your point about rape survivors joking about rape and Jewish people joking about the Holocaust is an interesting debate. It ties into the whole debate about whether racist jokes are okay if a person is joking about people of their own race. And then there’s the debate about whether women making misogynist jokes is still misogynist. I would be interested to hear peoples’ opinions on this. Some rape survivors may not be bothered by rape jokes, but the truth is, many survivors as well as many non-survivors are bothered by the jokes. And there are also people who are not bothered by the jokes, but fail to internalize the full severity of the issue. It’s not a completely clear cut “wrong and right” issue, but I stand with feminist2. E-Bender, It’s pretty unfair to completely discount her opinion simply because you disagree with it.

27 03 2009
feminist2

E-Bender,

Thanks for your input and thanks for engaging in conversation.

Joking about rape is just one indicator that we live in a rape culture. What I meant to say that I perhaps did not clarify enough is that the fact that people joke about rape alone in itself does not necessarily mean that we live in a rape culture. Joking about rape + media objectification and hyper-sexualization of women + institutional failure to prosecute rape and support survivors + victim-blaming ideology + the construction of violent masculinity + various other factors contribute to rape culture.

Like what feminist1 says, joking about the Holocaust isn’t necessarily proof of “Holocaust culture.” It isn’t as simple as saying that joking about x, y or z means that we live in an x, y or z culture. A joke cannot be looked at in isolation but in the greater context of society as a whole. Specific to rape, when someone jokes about rape it just reinforces institutional dismissal of rape and shows that because our government, our schools, and our media (mainstream media at least) doesn’t care about rape that people don’t find it a big issue.

I hope I’m not being redundant but I just want to be sure that I’m making myself/my point clear. Perhaps we may just have to agree to disagree.

Feminist1 raises a good point about how humor is often used to hide racism, sexism, etc. After thinking about and talking about this to many different people, I do not think that it’s okay to dismiss a racist, homophobic, sexist, etc. joke because someone just says that s/he is joking and not serious. There is a false perception that just because we can joke about something and laugh about it, we are completely over it or we are absolutely beyond it, which is definitely not the case.

Also, E-Bender, I empathize with you on the last bit. Most of my high school friends are wealthy Jewish people and they’ve often made anti-Semitic jokes. It seems more PC if a group makes a joke about their own group because they’re “allowed” to do so, but I question whether that is really true or not.

I often struggle with calling out my friends or just strangers on insensitive, offensive, racist/homophobic/sexist/ableist/etc. “jokes” that they make because I am frequently met with eye-rolls and “gosh, I was just joking, lighten up!” However, I do think that it is important to let people know that their comments/so-called-jokes are offensive and I have still not found a constructive way to say so. Humor cannot be an excuse for offensive comments/jokes.

Any thoughts?

29 03 2009
E-Bender

Hi, sorry it’s been a few days, I have been very busy lately, I have a day off tomorrow though, so if you reply to this message I’ll definitely read and respond then. I did read your posts before though, and I’ve been thinking about them.

“E-Bender, It’s pretty unfair to completely discount her opinion simply because you disagree with it.”

I don’t mean to. Sorry about that.
If I had completely discounted it, I wouldn’t have posted again.

I can’t address everything that both of you have said, otherwise this post will swell to a mammoth size, and anything interesting I say will be lost in the mass of text, so I’m going to have to pick and choose what I reply to. If I miss something you think is important, or worth covering, please say it again, or direct me back to it, and I’ll happily re-read it and respond.

To start with:

“jokes about these subjects are insensitive at the least, infuriating often”

Absolutely.
I think that even if these jokes are acceptable in the way I’m about to suggest that they are, that anyone who chooses to make them must be aware that even if they are confident that they are not wrong to make the jokes there are many people who do not agree, who will be offended, and may well be very shocked or upset to hear them. Thus they must be aware of their audience, never tell these jokes in public, and make sure that everyone they tell in private agrees that the jokes are acceptable.
No one I know who tells offensive jokes that are not about a group they are a member of tells them publicly or to people they don’t know well. When people have forgotten, or slipped up, they’ve always been called on it, and have always felt bad and apologised. (That I’ve seen.)

“The core of many jokes makes one person in the in-group and another in the out-group, someone laughing at somebody else’s pain”

And I agree with you, that all of these jokes are wrong, and should never be made.
The jokes that are made by the friends I mentioned though, are not this type of joke. In their jokes we are all the in-group (I think, unless I mean out-group) not laughing at anyone’s pain, but laughing at the shock and surprise that anyone would say anything so terrible.
Telling these two types of jokes apart can be difficult, if you’re not the person telling the joke, or don’t know them well. And people do sometimes tell the first type of joke, and if called on it pretend that they were trying to tell the second type of joke. But that is not the case with either my Jewish friends or my other friend.

“Feminist2’s point is completely valid, and I agree that joking about rape perpetuates rape culture”

This I can’t agree with. I just want to point out that the goalposts are shifting slightly here, and it’s my fault. The initial point was about the friends in the OP and their jokes. I have now shifted to talking about my friends and their jokes. We can talk about either, but your quote here covers both of them, and I don’t know the OP friends, whereas I do know mine, so I’m going to continue talking about them, if that’s ok.

I do agree that some jokes definitely perpetuate rape culture. When the laugh generated from the joke arises from the enjoyment of the idea of someone getting raped. Or where rape is seen as justified either as punishment, or as a consequence for being stupid/being unwary. If you are enjoying the idea of someone being raped, or suggesting it was deserved, then you are trivialising the concept of rape. And as you say, whether you are affected or not (and I think you probably are) you are probably affecting the opinion of those around you.

However, to go back to the example of my friends – the humour in the jokes they make is derived entirely from the fact that the holocaust and rape/his rape are not trivial. The jokes re-emphasise the serious nature of the events, as it is known that they’re funny because what’s being said is not ok.

And the boundaries are policed very carefully. Jokes that are in fact not of this type, that actually depend on agreeing with, or not caring about the bad things mentioned, are reviled and attacked.
A friend of mine once opined on China, backing it up with the assertion that he knew, because he was Chinese. When it was pointed out that he was in fact Japanese, he responded with “Japanese, Chinese, they’re all the same” – this was greeted with hilarity (because it was so wrong, and we all got that). Bernard Manning however (an old comedian, please don’t google him, he’s vile) is a racist, sexist, misogynist idiot with good comic timing, masquerading as a comedian. When he made anti-Japanese and Asian jokes he had us shouting at the screen in anger. (In fact we didn’t stop shouting for most of his ‘set’ if you can call it that. *spit*)

I always start to drift around the point when my posts get long, so if it’s unclear a summary of what I was thinking when I wrote this could be “I agree with you that there are jokes that we would both agree definitely contribute to rape culture, however there seem to me to be jokes that in fact have the opposite effect”
I’m very interested to hear what you think about those jokes.

I’ve been at this for ages, so I may not make another post responding to you feminist2, though I will try to at some point today, as I’d like to see what you say, and respond tomorrow when I have the day free.
I’d also like to say that it’s kinda cool speaking to feminist1 and feminist2, it’s almost like I’m debating with a feminist supercomputer that deigns to speak to me, the lowly human, with its two faceless mechanical avatars. I’m imagining you both as identical beings in glowing white robes and hoods, with near-featureless faces, golden irises, and possibly a fiery dark red 1/2 on your foreheads. Speaking with the voices of a thousand people in chorus, soft and powerful. Possibly the hood is trimmed with cloth that has indistinct writing on it in some alien language that seems to shift and change in the corner of the eye, but not when looked at directly.
Um… Ok. I got a little carried away there. But I think it’s a pretty cool image. I may well try and incorporate that in something I write in the future.
In case we’re not on the same wavelength, that’s entirely inspired by your handles, not either of you, and is certainly not intended to diminish either your individuality or you as a person. Nor does it reflect my opinion of who I think I’m speaking to.

29 03 2009
E-Bender

“Thanks for your input and thanks for engaging in conversation.”

Thank you too. And feminist1.

I want to respond to a lot of what you say, but quoting all of it will double the length of the post, so I’ll only quote excerpts and refer to the rest by paragraph not counting your first two individual lines as paragraphs. And I just discovered the blockquote function so at least the short quotes will be neater.

Your first paragraph makes perfect sense. And it was absolutely unclear to me that you meant that. But I’ve always said that miscommunication takes two, and in this case I think that sloppy reading on my part was the larger factor.
You’re right that all those factors unambiguously contribute to rape culture. Except, I’m not sure in the light of what I said above about the type of jokes that involve bad things, but do not (as far as I can see) support, encourage or trivialise those bad things, “Joking about rape” seems to me to either contribute or detract from rape culture, depending on what the joke is.

I hope I’m not being redundant but I just want to be sure that I’m making myself/my point clear. Perhaps we may just have to agree to disagree.

Absolutely not. Text as a medium can lead to plenty of ambiguity, and laying it out logically and completely like you are is the best way to avoid miscommunication.
We may well have to agree to disagree, especially if we reach a point where we’ve laid out all our reasons, and all our reasons we aren’t convinced by each others reasons, and if you get bored with this conversation at any point, that’s the point we should do that. I’m not going to get annoyed if I can’t convince you, and I hope you won’t either if I’m never convinced. I’m also unlikely to get bored, unless we end up going round in circles, I’ve debated abortion on and off with a Muslim friend of mine for years, and I’ve never been bored by it, except the brief times we’ve become repetitive or stale.

Feminist1 raises a good point about how humor is often used to hide racism, sexism, etc

That’s absolutely true, and when that’s the case I agree that it’s entirely wrong. Those jokes are never acceptable. I don’t think that’s always the case though, like with my Jewish friends. (Sorry, I’m already sounding repetitive_)
The fact that it’s hard if not impossible to be sure whether someone is hiding the etc’s in their words is why I don’t think that even if you aren’t hiding anything in your words you shouldn’t make these jokes where people may believe you are. Otherwise you may upset them, hurt their feelings, or more selfishly may give them a bad impression of yourself.

I do not think that it’s okay to dismiss a racist, homophobic, sexist, etc. joke because someone just says that s/he is joking and not serious

Because they’re lying? Or because even though they’re not lying it’s still a bad thing?
If the latter, does my reasoning about jokes that may de-legitimise racism etc make any difference?

There is a false perception that just because we can joke about something and laugh about it, we are completely over it or we are absolutely beyond it, which is definitely not the case

As a society, we’re not. I’m not 100% sure what you’re saying here though. If we take two of my friends, Thaboharadan and Jim – they often joke and laugh about racism (well using mock racism, if that counts). They are completely over it, and absolutely beyond it. Neither of them is racist, neither of them think racism is in any way acceptable. Is that relevant to what you’re saying?

It seems more PC if a group makes a joke about their own group because they’re “allowed” to do so, but I question whether that is really true or not

I have a lot of opinions on this, but so much has been said already that I’m going to leave it for now. Later though I’d like to answer this and see what you think.

I often struggle with calling out my friends or just strangers…

I sympathise. In my experience unless you’re willing to have a blazing row about it there are few ways of calling anyone out about something unless the majority opinion is on your side. Bullish arrogance seems to help, quixotically, sometimes people will just back down if you outright tell them that what they’ve said is unacceptable, whatever their intention. And don’t let them have a moment to give any reasons that they disagree with you.
It’s a risky strategy though, as depending on the mood, both theirs and whatever group you’re in, it could backfire terribly and cause a massive argument or even a fight.
The trouble can be that people have already established to their satisfaction that it is the intent of a statement that matters, not the words used – and may assume that you do to, unless you make it very clear that that is not the case. And from that they mistakenly deduce that you must think them racist/sexist/homophobic in both words and intent. And they will either try to correct you about their intent, which is not the point, or they will feel insulted, and there goes the chance for rational consideration of what you’re saying.

Specific to rape, when someone jokes about rape it just reinforces institutional dismissal of rape

I don’t know how you mean. I was going to write out the several ways I could imagine that rape jokes reinforce institutional dismissal of rape, and question them, but that doesn’t make any sense – all of the ones I was wrong about would be wasted time for both of us, and there’s only a medium chance that one of them would be what you mean.
This is the question I’m most interested in you answering – because if you’re right, and all rape jokes (which is what I think you mean) cause more institutional dismissal of rape, then that means that the jokes that my friend who was raped makes are contributing to institutional dismissal of rape – and that means that they aren’t harmless and he shouldn’t make them. (And if I’m convinced I absolutely will tell him too, and try to convince him, though our debate will be more… robust (read: full of insults) than this one, to say the least. But we’re good friends so no-one will be offended)

[last quote] and shows that because our government, our schools, and our media (mainstream media at least) doesn’t care about rape that people don’t find it a big issue.

I don’t know how rape jokes contribute to institutional dismissal of rape, but I don’t agree that rape jokes show that people don’t find it a big issue because of [the reasons you gave].
I would agree that rape jokes show that people don’t find rape jokes a big issue, but in my experience that has never been a predictor for how seriously people take rape itself.
Unless, and correct me if this is wrong, you’re essentially saying something like – “People don’t find things funny when they consider them to be a crisis. (i.e. a big issue). People do make rape jokes, therefore, whatever their opinion of the act of rape itself, they don’t believe that there is a rape crisis in society as a whole”
In which case, for many people, you are completely right. Though I think loads of other people actually do find things funny even when they consider them to be a crisis (see Catholic Paedophile Priest jokes), therefore I don’t think you can safely conclude anything about whether people think there is a rape crisis from the fact that they make rape jokes.
Ignore these last two paragraphs if I’m wrong about what you meant there. 😀

There’s loads more that could be said, but I’m interested to hear what you say about what’s already been said, and about anything that you’ve already said that I missed, overlooked, or just didn’t reply to.

The last thing I’ll ask is: I’m about to describe an example from my own life where ‘racist’ jokes were made – what do you think are the negative consequences of these jokes that I didn’t (and don’t) see. (By ‘racist’ I mean the ‘funny’ of the joke came from ‘OMG, you just said that?!?’ rather than ‘damn straight that’s true’ or wev)

I went to the birthday party of an Indian friend of mine, there were a load of people there, mostly other Indians, a few Pakistanis, a Shri-Lankan and other Asians that I don’t know specifically where they came from. I didn’t know most of them that well, and at first they didn’t warm to me that rapidly.
Late in the evening, we were back at his, and they all started telling racist jokes. Really out of order jokes (I can quote one or two that I remember if that helps add context to the story, just ask, I won’t do it now, since I know you don’t agree with them) . Mostly ‘anti-Indian/Pakistani’, a couple of esoteric ones pitting Indians and Pakistanis against each other. And at first I didn’t say anything. But when they encouraged me to join in, and I figured ‘what they hey, they don’t mind, and I know I don’t mean it, so what’s the harm’. So I did.
And you wouldn’t believe how quickly they warmed to me. Soon we were laughing and joking and having a great time. The whole night was a blast, and it started for me when I stopped treating them like porcelain dolls and started treating them like robust people who were able to judge for themselves whether they’d be offended by the things people said. And they judged that they weren’t. (One of them later told me in passing that he’d got the impression I was a killjoy since I wasn’t drinking much, and I turned down their cigarettes, and that joining in with them was the first sign I wasn’t going to be a damper on the night. Yes we were young, and yes, everyone else there smoked and thought it was pretty cool)
I’m still good friends with some of them. I don’t hate Indians. They don’t hate Indians (they all are Indian, except the Shri-Lankan guy). As far as I can see there were no negative repercussions to those jokes, and plenty of positive ones (all the things that have come from knowing them).

29 03 2009
feminist2

Hey E-Bender,

Thanks, again, for your input.

Haha, this was funny:
“I’m imagining you both as identical beings in glowing white robes and hoods, with near-featureless faces, golden irises, and possibly a fiery dark red 1/2 on your foreheads. Speaking with the voices of a thousand people in chorus, soft and powerful. Possibly the hood is trimmed with cloth that has indistinct writing on it in some alien language that seems to shift and change in the corner of the eye, but not when looked at directly.”

Your response was very long and I am crunched for time so I may not get to every point, but I’ll try.

1. “I agree with you that there are jokes that we would both agree definitely contribute to rape culture, however there seem to me to be jokes that in fact have the opposite effect.” Perhaps we’ll just have to agree to disagree because I do not think that there are rape jokes that counter rape culture, or at least I have not heard of any such jokes. In general, it is difficult to distinguish offensive humor from funny humor, and this is something that I would rather not go into right now.

2. Your response to my saying “I do not think that it’s okay to dismiss a racist, homophobic, sexist, etc. joke because someone just says that s/he is joking and not serious” confuses me. You ask, “Because they’re lying? Or because even though they’re not lying it’s still a bad thing?” When people say they’re “just joking” or “not serious” about their offensive jokes, I do not think that all of them are necessarily lying. Some of them may genuinely not know or not understand how their jokes are offensive. Therefore it is important to point this out to people and engage in conversation with them so hopefully they walk away with new knowledge. It’s important to question why we find things funny, and why people find it acceptable or funny to joke about certain things. What are the assumptions that lie behind jokes? More importantly, what are the oppressive (racist, sexist, ableist, heterosexist, etc.) undertones underlying the joke that people sometimes may fail to recognize? I’m not sure if this gets at what you’re saying…

3. Your thing about your two friends, Thaboharadan and Jim, how they often joke about racism, and how you say “they are completely over it, and absolutely beyond it. Neither of them is racist, neither of them think racism is in any way acceptable.” I do not believe that anyone is “completely over” or “absolutely beyond” racism. Even if you are not racist yourself, that does not mean that you are “completely over” or “absolutely beyond” racism. Racism is deeply entrenched in society and touches all our lives – even if you are white, you experience white privilege which exists partly because of racism. Meanwhile people of color experience racism during their everyday lives. Some of them may think that racism is irrelevant, which can reflect internalized racism, thus demonstrating the extent and pervasiveness of racism in society. Furthermore, for those of us who are not racist ourselves, simply not being racist is not enough. In order to work towards eradicating racism it is not enough to only not be racist, but it’s proactively and actively being anti-racist. Being anti-racist entails recognizing that racism is pervasive on a personal level and a highly structural level. There are structural inequalities in society that entitle and enable some people to have access and economic/political/sociocultural power while disenfranchising others. Anti-racist activism would be working towards eliminating these structural inequalities, establishing more equitable policies, and holding institutions and individuals accountable for enforcing these structural inequalities.

4. In terms of how to confront people about insensitive and offensive jokes, perhaps one of the most constructive approaches to conversation would just to ask leading questions. This way you’re not sounding arrogant or pretentious. Instead, by questioning them and their assumptions, often times you will make them question their own assumptions as well because many people often do not do so. Also I think when you’re having a dialogue with someone about any of the various forms of oppression with someone it’s important to arm yourself with statistics, facts, research and information beforehand so that you are well equipped with factual information to make your argument seem more credible. It is also important to choose your battles wisely. Some people may not be willing to engage in conversation and may just be purposely being offensive and continue doing so just to anger you even more.

5. Regarding your paragraphs about rape jokes and how they reinforce institutional dismissal of rape, I feel like I have already said what I have/need to say about it. I’d like to re-emphasize that rape culture is normalized cultural attitudes and behaviors that sanction sexual violence, the cumulative effect of toxic personal attitudes and toxic systems related to sex, consent and sexual violence. Rape jokes are a part of the language we use to talk about rape, and many of these jokes reinforce traditional narratives that support and reinforce rape culture. For more examples of language and rape culture we can examine the mis-use of words in media representations of rape cases. I’ve posted about this before, but one of the things the mainstream media always does that is WRONG is calling rape “sex”. Here is a recent case from earlier this month: http://www.lasvegasnow.com/global/story.asp?s=9938410. The headline of the story is “Stiles Faces Life Sentence Toddler Sex Case”. Note “sex case” instead of rape, what it really is. However, I digress… To reiterate, I do not wish to pursue this conversation further with you because I am getting a little bored of this back and forth and I feel that I have said what I’ve already had to say.

6. Thank you for sharing your experience at your friend’s birthday party. I do not think it is appropriate to join in on racist joking – even if someone says that it is okay for you to join in, it is still not appropriate. I feel like there are other ways to warm up to people or have people warm up to you. I do not feel particularly qualified to comment thoroughly on this experience since I wasn’t there and I do not know you or your friends. But thanks again for sharing.

7. Going back to being anti-racist, I’d like to make a comment on diversity. I feel that a lot of the “diversity” talk that occurs is “feel-good diversity” where we have many friends of different ethnic/racial backgrounds, we eat many different ethnic foods, etc. to give the impression that we are into diversity and trying different things. However, this all seems to be very superficial diversity. There needs to be more of an emphasis on what diversity really is/needs to be – more of a focus on the inequalities in access and distribution of resources/power to certain groups while excluding other groups.

That’s all I have to say now. Hahah, the feminist supercomputer has responded.

30 03 2009
feminist2

Hey again E-Bender,

An article I thought may be relevant to our conversation:

http://chronicle.com/review/brainstorm/barreca/when-is-a-joke-not-a-joke-part-one?utm_source=cr&utm_medium=en

31 03 2009
E-Bender

Thanks, I’ve read what you say, but I’ve been busier than I expected, so haven’t had a chance to respond yet. I’m letting it all percolate through though, so perhaps the extra time will improve my next post 😀

2 04 2009
“What about me?” Well, WHAT ABOUT YOU?!!! « The Gender Blender Blog

[…] blogged about this before but I think it needs to be reiterated.  The society we live in grants privileges and rights […]

2 04 2009
Renee

I wanted to stop by and say thanks for the linky love. I am so pleased that you took something away from that post.

3 04 2009
E-Bender

1) Ok

2) Ok, ignore my response, it’s not relevant given the rest of your answers. However you say:

“It’s important to question why we find things funny, “

Absolutely. Why do you think people find offensive jokes funny?
I suspect from what you’ve said so far that your answer to that question would differ greatly to the answer people who actually find them funny would give.
I won’t put words in your mouth though, I’ll wait to see what you say.

why people find it acceptable or funny to joke about certain things

I’m not sure about this, but again I’d suspect that you think it’s for a variety of reasons that may or may not include the only reason that people I know find it acceptable – “They don’t think it causes any harm”, not even offense, because as I’ve said, they don’t say them around anyone who may take offense.
What would your answer to this question be?

3) Ignoring Jim, for the moment – Thaboharadan is not white. He does not benefit from white privilege. He grew up in a multi-ethnic town and suffered no noticeable racism. He is an up and coming doctor with a degree from a prestigious university where he studied in a poly-ethnic group (largely women) taught by a multi-ethnic and multinational group of people. He claims to have experienced no racism, he claims to not be racist.
Do you dispute any of that? If not, then yes, he is beyond racism. And he enjoys joking about it. This ties into my final comment*

4) That makes a lot of sense. However, the leading questions shouldn’t be obviously leading, as if they are smart enough, or aware of your opinion enough to see where it is going, then they may find that condescending. Also, you’re going to run into trouble if you ask a leading question requiring one answer but instead get another answer. Then you can’t really proceed directly to your next question.

5)

I feel like I have already said what I have/need to say about it… …To reiterate, I do not wish to pursue this conversation further with you because I am getting a little bored of this back and forth and I feel that I have said what I’ve already had to say

That’s a pity, as this is the crux of the issue. If you’re right about this, then all your other points fall into line after it.
That said, and acknowledging that you have said what you want to say (which I take is the totality of what you have to say to convince people), I hope you won’t mind if I summarise why I’m not convinced. At the very least it may give you an insight into why you don’t convince other people in the future, at best, you might regain interest and try to convince me again:

You have said rape jokes –boost–> rape culture, they do this by ‘reinforc[ing] traditional narratives that support and reinforce rape culture’ but you don’t give any examples of how they reinforce traditional narratives that support and reinforce rape culture.

As it stands you’ve made an assertion, and backed it up with no evidence. The assertion is plausible, it sounds really convincing, but without evidence rational people just won’t accept it. In fact it would be deeply irrational to just accept your word for it.
(It’s ok though, most people aren’t rational, so if you make your case sound convincing enough, you won’t need evidence. In fact, a well evidenced position will probably convince less people than a smoothly argued position, so overall you’ll be ok either way)

I have heard plenty of jokes involving rape (never told one though) and I’ve never heard one that suggests that passed-out people are capable of giving consent, or that wearing a short skirt is as good as consent, or that women lie about sex they regret, or any of the other toxic attitudes that maintain rape culture.

The misuse of the word ‘sex’ however, is a clear and evidentially stupid and wrong situation. There’s no excuse for that kind of offensive lapse. (I’m unconvinced that anyone will start to think of the rape of a toddler as acceptable sex because of headlines though)

6) See, this could also be the crux of our disagreement as well. I stand by this principle “An event or action is only wrong if it produces negative consequences”

If I shout racist insults to an empty room, and don’t become more racist because of it, then nothing bad has happened, therefore it’s not wrong.

In the example of my friends, it’s very similar. It’s like punching people, for example – generally wrong, certainly wrong as a general rule. However, between people who have agreed that the other may punch them, it’s entirely acceptable. Ditto racist jokes.

If you disagree though, and feel that certain things are wrong even when they have only positive results, because in other situations they have negative results… then we must agree to disagree, because that doesn’t parse for me. (Or you could post a devastating set of reasons that that is the case, and I would have to re-evaluate)

7) It’s semantic really, but what you’re describing there I call anti-racist work for equality. What you call superficial diversity I call ‘not being provincial and limited in your experience of the world’

*My final comment is a question… you don’t need to be specific, but are you part of any of these groups that are being ‘disparaged’ by these jokes? (Or hurt by them, in the case of rape jokes maintaining rape culture)
Because, without dipping into the question of ‘can groups tell jokes against their own?’ question – I definitely don’t think that you should tell any members of groups that you are not a part of what they should and should not find offensive. It’s not your place. You don’t know their own situation better than them.

Take for example, me. As you may be able to tell from my name, I’m an internet using futurama fan who’s gay.
If you’re gay, we can have a productive debate over what we think about making homophobic jokes or calling things ‘gay’ in the privacy of our own homes. You will be able to get it, because you know what it’s like. You’ll understand what part of it is resistance, what part is reclaiming, what part is satire, often angry brutal satire of the types of people who’d make these jokes seriously.
If you’re not, then how do you know? I know what effect the things I say have on my life. I know when people are wary of me, or treat me differently when they hear I’m gay. And I know when people don’t. When people accept me for who I am, without making any judgments, or asking stupid questions – and often they are the same people who will joke around with me freely. (I am also able to spot people who don’t know what an acceptable gay joke is, but make unacceptable ones in front of me under the guise of ‘joking’, if you’ve never seen a brutal verbal takedown, it’s a pity you weren’t there, I took them to pieces)

I can’t speak for every ‘target’ of offensive jokes, but I can accept it when they speak for themselves, and I’m afraid that without exception everyone I’ve ever asked has said that people who share your opinion do not speak for them, and they do not appreciate your efforts to ‘help’ them or ‘help’ society. And I’m afraid that in the absence of any evidence that they and I am wrong, and harm is actually occurring, then I’m afraid I must go with them.

p.s. the apostrophes either side of “help” represent the tone of voice they’ve usually responded in, not my opinion of whether you are actually helping them in any way. They seem to find it condescending when it comes from outside their own group.

3 04 2009
E-Bender

This may also be relevant to our discussion, – the first part is a personal account by a sexual assault survivor of why she thinks rape jokes are necessary and useful to rape survivors.
The first joke is by Sarah Silverman. Skip it, you won’t like it.
The second, is apparently one praised by Jessica Valenti in the Guardian.

I haven’t read any further than that, but am returning to it now.

http://jezebel.com/5094798/is-a-rape-joke-ever-funny

3 04 2009
Ender

Wow I said ‘afraid’ at least three times in that one paragraph. I guess I’m terrified :p

On another note, what’s the metric by which you’re measuring jokes that are unacceptable? Is it harm caused, or offense caused? Or both? (Neither?… no.)

For example, South Park had Jesus dancing around crapping all over people. That obviously can offend Christians, but given their position in America, isn’t going to do them any harm (probably). Is that acceptable?

Would it have been acceptable had it involved a minority religion, say, Islam, or Hinduism – where harm may be caused?

If your answer is ‘no, it’s not acceptable’ to the latter example, what’s the cut off point? Muslims consider any visual representation of Mohammed to be offensive, whether in a humorous context or not.
Would it be acceptable to show Mohammed involved in a joke in some way where he was not the butt of the joke? (e.g. South Park actually did show him as part of ‘Jesus and the Super Best Friends’ where they tackle some threat or other)
Would it be acceptable to show Mohammed at all, ever?

5 04 2009
feminist2

Hello E-Bender,

I am frankly a little exhausted of our back-and-forth, I feel that it has not been a very constructive conversation and we’ve been going around in circles a bit. However, these are my closing thoughts:

– Your going by the principle “An event or action is only wrong if it produces negative consequences” sort of relates to the whole issue of “If a fall trees in a forest but no one hears it, does it matter?” This is debatable. If you’re just worrying about the repercussions, then that means that you are primarily focusing on the end result and discounting the process. However, I personally feel that the ends never justify the means, and that it’s important to consider and be mindful of the process.

– Regarding jokes: I think it is very contextual and depends a lot on where you are and who you’re with. The problem with making jokes that joke about oppression (“racist” jokes that poke fun at racism, etc.) is that only people in the “in group” can really joke about it and understand that the joke’s on oppressive power structures that marginalize instead of the marginalized. The whole thing about how only x people can joke about x things also sounds like tokenism to me, where it’s only acceptable for a black person to make jokes about black people, for gay people to make jokes about gay people, etc.

– In response to your question about whether I am part of any groups that are “disparaged” or hurt by these jokes: as a woman of color, I do feel that I am the specific target of certain offensive jokes. However, I feel that questioning whether or not I belong to any of these marginalized groups is a very narrow way of framing the issue. The issue is more of the intersection of the various forms of oppression: you cannot look at racism in isolation, but rather you have to examine it in the context of and in conjunction with sexism, ableism, ageism, heterosexism, etc. Furthermore, even if you are not in the “in-groups” who are oppressed and marginalized, it is important to be an ally and to advocate on behalf of these less-privileged groups. Being an ally is not an easy job because you cannot speak for oppressed groups if you’ve never experienced their oppressions, but it’s important to help further certain issues that are often sidelined.

Anyway, thank you for reading the blog and commenting E-Bender. I hope you keep reading the blog, we appreciate our readers!

5 04 2009
E-Bender

I am frankly a little exhausted of our back-and-forth, I feel that it has not been a very constructive conversation and we’ve been going around in circles a bit. However, these are my closing thoughts:

That’s a pity. Perhaps if you’d answered any of my questions, or justified any of your positions at any point we’d have been able to move forward.

the ends never justify the means

Indeed, but this phrase refers to a good end that justifies bad means. What I’m talking about is a good end and no bad means, as nothing bad came out of any of my examples.

important to consider and be mindful of the process

Very true.

I don’t really understand what you’re saying about jokes. First you show why only members of a group can really tell jokes about themselves – as only they actually get what it’s like to be a part of that group. Then you say it smacks of tokenism?

Thanks for the discussion, I’ll stick around, you have an interesting blog here, and I’ve enjoyed the conversation, even if in the end we didn’t get anywhere. I’ll probably lurk moar though.

20 04 2009
Jason

…Interesting conversation. I was going to post my thoughts on jokes about serious matters at first, but I don’t think I will. xD

However. I do want to say.
…What about me?

Let me explain. I’m very interested in femanist movements, anti-rape points, anti-violence points, etc- you know, the whole treating people with overall respect and the elimination of the lack of that respect, in all the forms it takes. (‘Cause that’s what the violence, rape, abuse, etc comes down to, isn’t it? Lack of respect.)

The vast majority of such organisations- trying to find ways to reduce rape and abuse, and help survivers to recover- focus purely on women. Of course, women end up suffering far more abuse, and get raped far more, than men.

But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen- and because the movement is so focussed on helping women, men feel left out, without any place to turn. They can’t talk to friends or family, because a man who “allows” himself to be abused or raped is clearly “weak”, whilst if it happens to a woman, most of the time, her friends and family will help her and support her. He is, quite literally, left alone, without anyone to talk to.

What are your thoughts on those male victims? Should they be recognised by the movements who are trying to eliminate violence against women? Or should their different bodies result in their being left out of an anti-rape, or anti-abuse, movement?
…Can they wonder, “what about me?”

I bring this up, because I am transgender. I was in two abusive relationships before I “came out” as a man; the first of which led me to strongly believe that I deserved whatever I got in the second (much worse, and much longer) relationship. I was raped by both, as well as the housemate of a lady I was seducing who decided he was going to “join in”. I have suferred sexual abuse, rape, violence, and heavy emotional abuse- sixteen years of the last were from my mother, and set the “I deserve this” mindset that I had for many years following. So I’ve experienced abuse from both genders.
(Definately not had a smooth life so far.)

I am now a man. One might argue that inside I always was, but now I live as a man. Do I deserve the same support as any other woman who’d been through what I have? Even though I have a male name, and a male body, and identify as male, and largely think as a male would, should I still be supported like any woman who’s been through similar?
Am I allowed to think, “what about me”, when women are discussing support for female rape victims, abuse victims, violence victims? Because the world may- does– show preference to men who are viewed as “normal”, but what about male victims?

…What about me?

20 04 2009
feminist2

I definitely agree with you that most anti-rape and anti-sexual violence organizations tend to focus more on female survivors. Statistically speaking, women are more at risk to being sexually assaulted than are men, but I agree with you that sexual violence isn’t only a woman’s issue and it isn’t something that only affects women. These organizations still offer services to male survivors, but I think that most of their advertising/PR is geared towards female survivors.

However, I do not agree with you that most of the time, a female survivor’s friends and family will help and support her. While some survivors certainly are very lucky and do have supportive families and friends, I would hesitate to generalize this as something most female survivors have. You do make a good point that “a man who ‘allows’ himself to be abused or raped is clearly ‘weak'” – one barrier for male survivors is the social stigma of being “not masculine enough”, which entails expressing any kind of vulnerability.

To answer your question, male victims should definitely be recognized by these movements, and should be able to access quality services and spaces for them to help them after their experience(s).

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