‘Why do people think rape is funny?’ and other questions I’ve been asking myself this week

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I started a new job this week, so my time has been happily devoted to it. It’s great to be back in the newsroom, on top of current events, writing for a living. It’s the life I’ve chosen for myself because I love it, but it is also a busy job, meaning when I get home at night, I’m too spent to write more. What I’ve been doing instead is jotting down semi-coherent thoughts prompted by things I’ve read or discussed.

What follows is a similarly semi-coherent post about what’s been on my mind.

In the last week or so, there’s been a revival in the online discussion of rape jokes, after Jezebel writer Lindy West waded back into that territory, trying to address the issue of why rape jokes are still being made and why comedy seems like such a hostile place for a woman to be. Predictably, and unfortunately (not sure whether it is more unfortunate as a standalone fact or whether the fact that it is so predictable is more unfortunate), she was met by a response very similar to the one I mentioned in last week’s post.

First, she was threatened with rape. Then, she as told she was so ugly and sexless that she’d probably secretly enjoy being raped.

And somewhere along the line someone decided that the best way to react to a woman you didn’t agree with was to joke about her being raped, or maybe even cut out the middleman and threaten to rape her yourself. You get bonus points if you throw in a little chaser about how she’s really too ugly to be raped, and should therefore be grateful for the compliment that is your erection. As it is forced inside her body.

I was watching what is possibly the worst film ever made yesterday. Besides being completely lacking in plot, badly written, and far too long to be enjoyable, it is infuriatingly sexist. It was heartening to realise it wasn’t just me who thought so when Hannah, who was watching with me, groaned in frustration after Megan Fox was treated like a piece of meat to be ogled and fondled for the gazillionth time. (I’m not kidding. Fox is beautiful, no doubt, and all the film does with that fact is turn her into an idiotic escort with a fit body who loves blow jobs and is too thick to realise when men are perving on her.)

But another scene got to me even more than that. Paul Rudd, who plays the husband/father, is having an argument with Melissa McCarthy (who plays a crazy mother *sigh*) after Leslie Mann (who plays the wife/mother) has threatened to “hurt” McCarthy’s son if he insults her teenage daughter again.

The first offending line is delivered by McCarthy in reference to Mann’s character: “Check her meds and get them right.” (I will leave you to your own conclusions about this one).

The second is delivered by Mann, who says to McCarthy’s character:

If he insults my daughter again, I’m going to hit him with my car. Got it? In fact, if you insult my wife again, you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to show up at your house when you’re sleeping, and I’ll take your iPad and your iPod or your iMac and I’ll shove them up your fucking iC*nt.

Most Americans watching this (Brits not quite as much, possibly) will have been shocked by the utterance of the word ‘c*nt’ which, for some reason, is considered the worst possible word one can possibly use ever. Weird, isn’t it, how the worst word is a term for female genitalia? Hmm.

But I digress. My point is – it was not the word that shocked me. It was the rape threat.

“If you don’t do as I say, I will break into your house and forcibly insert things into your vagina.”

Yep. Rape threat. Rape threat in a comedy film.

So here we go. Here’s my question: is the idea of sexual assault on women just not shocking enough? Is it not getting the gravitas it deserves? If somebody had made the same joke in reference to the daughter character, the film would have been vilified. Because paedophilia and sex offence against children is just. not. funny.

So what age does a woman have to be for it to be socially acceptable to joke about her violation? 16? 21? 70?

So why is brutally inserting unpliant objects into a woman’s vagina without her consent funny? Why is it an acceptable way for a man to argue with a woman? Are men still such primitive creatures that when all else fails, they resort to sexual dominance? Don’t they feel offended by this sentiment? Don’t they want to be seen as something other than impulsive monkeys?

West put it quite poignantly in her article, How to Make a Rape Joke, when she said:

It’s really easy to believe that “nothing is sacred” when the sanctity of your body and your freedom are never legitimately threatened.

Sad, but true. I am not by any stretch of the imagination suggesting that men do not get raped. They do, and it is just as horrifying and traumatic. But the truth is that a man walking down the street alone is probably thinking about normal things: dinner, work, money, tv; a woman walking down the street alone is trying to assert whether the man who’s been looking at her for far too long is a threat to her; or whether she should change her route home just to get away from the guy who is walking behind her and wolf-whistling. This is the reality of it. Women are more aware of the threat, because they are more likely to be violated.

So if your defence is ‘It’s just a joke’ – I would ask you to check your privilege. It may be just a joke to you, but to 230 a day, it is a shocking act of violence which will change their life.

Which brings me to another thing that’s been on my mind. Following last week’s article, I had a guy retort with “It’s just porn”. That person and I had a discussion about the whole thing, which we did end up resolving (argumentation is healthy. It promotes discussion. Embrace it.), but I wish now I had retorted in another way (ah, l’esprit de l’escalier, or whatever its Facebook equivalent is. L’esprit de just-after-you’ve-closed-the-tab, perhaps?)

“It’s just porn,” he said. “So you say we ought to ban porn? Or some things are above parody? By the way, ‘it’s just porn, dude’ is a pretty coherent argument.”

Here is what I should have said:

I would never be in favour of banning anything. Or censoring it. Nor am I suggesting that anything is above parody. But here’s the thing: porn and comedy (especially the latter) will say that nothing is untouchable when it comes to parody. If that is the case, then porn and comedy are not untouchable either. By complaining about something which has offended me, I am exercising my right to free speech and contributing to the free market.

Here is what I’m saying: if Coca Cola made a product they though was going to be amazing, but it turned out to be crap; if people were writing in to complain about it because it tasted so awful, then it would be only logical for them to pull it off the shelves.

In the same way, Hustler is a private company who has made a product. If the public are writing in to complain that this product leaves them with such a dreadful taste in their mouth, then it would only make sense to take it off the shelves. That is how the free market works.

So you see, the argument isn’t against porn; it’s against THIS porn.

What’s more “it was just a porn” or “it was just a joke” are not suitable disclaimer phases that’ll let you get away with anything. If a friend told you “Dude, you’re hideous and stupid and people hate you because you smell” and then followed it up with “it was just a joke”, it wouldn’t make you feel any less uncomfortable.

So if you are going to defend a joke or porn or film or comment or Page 3 or whatever (and I hope you do, because discussion is healthy), just know that “it was just a…” is not a suitable argument.

The end.

Reading List:
How to Make a Rape Joke
We Must Threaten Women With Rape to Save Comedy
An Open Letter to White, Male Comedians
2 Comments
  • Hannah
    June 9, 2013

    Well put, Dav. I had forgotten (read: suppressed) the ‘meds’ comment. Fuck that was an awful film but hey, at least it prompted this.

    • admin
      June 9, 2013

      Silver linings and all, right?

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