I love to laugh. I enjoy a broad range of comedy, from A Midsummer Night’s Dream to that bathroom scene in Dumb and Dumberer where Bob Saget starts screaming “OH MY GOD, THERE’S SHIT EVERYWHERE.” I’m chuckling a little even as I write this. Nearest and dearest to my heart, h/e, is dark comedy. As a child, I read Edward Gorey’s morbidly funny books again and again. When Edmund sliced off the king’s head in Blackadder, I cried tears of mirth. Sweeney Todd and Heathers are v. possibly my favorite movies in the world. I have an entire repertoire of Dead Baby jokes that I like to tell at parties. Furthermore, I think that people who take themselves too seriously are stuffy and boring and are missing out tragically on life. In short, reader, I consider myself to be a person w/ a sense of humor.
I also believe firmly in the First Amendment, which guarantees Americans the hallowed Freedom of Speech. People find a lot of different things funny, and who am I to judge? De gustibus non est disputandum. But here’s the thing. Rape jokes. Are they ever okay? And if not, how come it’s acceptable for me inquire if you know the difference btwn. a pile of dead babies and a Mercedes Benz?
I’m not the only one to have tackled this issue. Viewpoints differ. Admittedly, I am profoundly uncomfortable w/ rape jokes. But…why? Why can I delight in depraved violence when it’s in the proper context, and yet the merest whiff of sexual assault humor not only fails to make me smile, it will actually anger me?
I think it comes down to fear. Many men seem to be truly oblivious to the fact that women live in constant fear. Most of the time, it’s a latent feeling, manifesting itself only in particular situations. We also deal w/ constant scrutiny, much of it unwelcome.
At the end of the day, 1 in 6 babies will not be bumping into walls b/c they have forks in their eyes, but 1 out of 6 American women have been victims of rape or attempted rape. Would you ever play Russian roulette? B/c if you’re a woman, that’s what you do every day. Talking to my friends, we all have stories about being alone, after dark, terrified by some shadowy figure. One of my good friends was assaulted on a bus by a classmate some yrs. ago. We all have heard of girls on campus who were raped, and wonder if we might be next.
What’s more, this society treats its rape victims in a pretty shitty manner. Maybe we don’t actually stone them to death, but they are held accountable in ways that victims of non-sexual crimes never are. If we hear about a girl getting raped, we wonder what she did to deserve it. And if she was dressed provocatively, or drinking too much, or walking alone after dark, we think Well, that was dumb. Of course something terrible happened. Because unlike men, women apparently do not have the right to dress, behave, or come and go as they see fit…at least w/o suffering disporpotionately horrible consequences.
So, yeah, when some asshole makes a some joke about raping a girl, I’m going to get furious and tell him to shut the f*** up, and that the reason I don’t think it’s funny is b/c it’s too terrifyingly real, and the [male] person who’s telling it is transformed in my eyes from a comedian into someone I should legitmately fear, b/c he condones rape.
Now, wait a minute, Dragon, you are saying. Does that mean no one can ever joke about sex, ever? What about victims of sexual assault who want to lighten their emotional burdens? What about other women? Watch this clip:
To which I reply: I’ve gotta admit, it’s pretty funny. But I would argue that Wanda Sykes is not so much mocking stupid women for letting themselves get raped, as she is mocking the patriarchy for its claim that women perforce = sex. A woman can’t be a person, b/c she has a vagina! If only we could leave them behind, then we could function like normal human beings! Think of all the things we could do unmolested!
In the end, I think it comes down to the context, and to who is telling the joke. But there are very, very few circumstances when this kind of joke is acceptable, and I would even argue that the only ones who necessarily have a “right” to tell rape jokes are survivors themselves, in that they should be allowed to do anything that helps them come to terms w/ and take control of the unimaginably awful thing that happened to them.