Are rape jokes ever funny?

3 04 2009

I have been discussing this issue with different people for quite some time now, and I still stand by my belief that rape jokes are never funny.  While humor is a way for some sexual assault or rape survivors to diffuse and normalize their experiences, I don’t think that it’s okay to make rape jokes because you never know who is in your audience and the jokes can be very triggering for some people.  It is not obvious just from appearance who is a survivor of sexual assault or rape.  Whereas other characteristics like race or gender identification may be more apparent and obvious, it is not as easy to tell who has been victimized by sexual violence.

I’ll admit that immediately after my own experience, I joked about it, but that was so people wouldn’t box me in and pity me as that “poor little girl who was just raped”.  And I didn’t want my friends to feel like they couldn’t talk to me about it, that it was “too serious” for them to ask me about or to mention, so I used humor to make it seem like it was more of an approachable issue to discuss.  My joking about my experience or using humor to lessen its impact did not mean that other people felt like they could joke about it too.  Using humor to mock certain aspects of my experience (like making fun of the facebook message my perpetrator sent me the next day that was all “you’re so smart and beautiful, and I’m so smart too and I’d never ever rape anyone”) was a way for me to deal with the trauma that overwhelmed me and was difficult to process.

Later on, after some time had passed and I talked to more people about my experience, other survivors or progressive feminists who were well versed in issues of sexual violence and I would use sarcasm to poke fun at victim-blaming society or to point out the blatantly unfair treatment of sexual violence survivors in society.  The “jokes” we told enabled us to commiserate with each other and shake our heads at a misogynist and flawed system/society that is slanted against survivors of sexual violence.  These “jokes” weren’t told to be funny but to comment on how poorly rape survivors are treated in society.

An earlier post on Jezebel says:

If we take sexual assault off the table of things we can laugh about or joke about, it’s just another way of saying: this is a different crime than any other crime, and so we can and must treat its victims differently than any other crime.

And, you know, fuck that. I got treated differently than any other crime victim once because of the kind of crime that I was the victim of. If I had been mugged, would the cops have been calling my friends and asking them how much I’d been drinking that night? If I had been only robbed, would it have mattered to the cops whether I’d told the guys I was out with that night that I was dating someone? If I had been shot walking out of the bar, would it have been anyone’s business if my friend thought that I was flirting or not? And if any of those crimes had been committed instead, would everyone be so horribly offended by me making jokes about it? It’s all part of the way in which society wants to treat me differently because of how I was victimized. Let’s treat sexual assaults like any other crime and tell some rape jokes. Cool?

While I strongly believe that the legal/justice system’s response to sexual violence as well as societal attitudes and behaviors around sexual violence need to change and survivors need to be treated better, I do not think that telling rape jokes is the way to go.   The reality of the world is that sexual assaults/rapes are categorized and treated as a different kind of crime and survivors of these crimes are treated differently than are victims of other crimes.

I know that there are people who will disagree with me on this matter, and perhaps it will just come down to a difference of opinion, but for me rape jokes are never funny.



One response

6 05 2009

I honestly don’t think comedy should ever have any boundaries. Dodging every possible bullet that can cause offense leaves comedy very lukewarm and unthrilling. I believe one can make rape funny just as one can 9/11, John Wayne Gacy, or the recent naval Somalian pirate incident. If we excluded rape from comedy, we wouldn’t be making it like other crimes, we would be separating it from them.

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