On rapejokes

… I am going to write a few lines closely related to the rape joke thing. Now, I read about it since the discussion about sexism in videogames have expanded recently – I am neither a rape victim, a woman, a comedian or a journalist. I make no claims of being an authority.

As with anything else, most of what I read about this is preaching to the choir – aggressive language promoting either side is good at making people feel justified but unlikely to persuade anyone to change their ways. Some people, like comedian Curtis Luciani, attempt an explanation for those who simply cannot comprehend what is so horrible about it.

Personally, I think requiring people to imagine a completely different world is a bit of a stretch to make a point. A short description is not enough to provide context and legitimacy and people are unlikely to read Egalia’s Daughters just to be convinced. So this is my attempt to talk about something a bit closer to heart.

A friend of mine divorced his wife a few years back and as a part of this he lost custody of his child. Now, there was no violence involved, no drugs or abuse, no question about ability to be a providing parent or anything like that – my friend is a fairly normal guy but custody battles are one of the few places were the odds are usually stacked in the woman’s favor. The courts ruled that he should be allowed to see the child on a regular basis but it was up to the parents to arrange¬† this.

Fast-forward a few years and he is still fighting, still has not been allowed to meet his child. The mother has used the usual tricks; taking the child out of town during the time for the planned meetings, claimed the child was sick each and every time and in some cases blatantly lied about him being a danger to the child. It is starting to get into the territory of the mother claiming that since he has not met the child for so long, it would be best if he simply was left out completely.

Now, his friends are sympathetic but fighting this publicly quickly builds opposition. Comments like “well, he obviously can’t be innocent or this wouldn’t have happened“,¬† “it can’t be that bad, he should be happy that they are with their mother” and, at best, “sure, it’s bad, but we need to deal with these other injustices before we focus on the privileged“. The act itself is not comparable to rape, but the societal response is full of distrust, trivialization and derailment arguments in both cases.

So let’s say a comedian makes a cheap joke about this. Maybe something like this; “So, this guy is complaining because he’s not allowed to meet his kids once a week. Hey, my kids bug me all day when I’m home – it’s always dad! dad! dad! Maybe he could just take mine instead – say a few hours every Saturday so I can watch the game. But yeah, he seems pretty shaken up about it. Maybe it’s for the best that he has some alone time so he can figure out how to be a man again.” … To me, this seems a little more likely than a society where women cut off penises. I do not have to suspend myself in a fantasy world to know hearing that would hurt on a very personal level. I know women who were subjected to sexual violence, but I have never been afraid to walk home alone at night; never been in a relationship where I had to trust someone not to be violent. But I have been hurt by people I placed my trust in, and through my friend I can easily imagine how much pain that could result in.

To be fair to Curtis Luciani, the rest of his post is spot-on. Lindy West also wrote about it. It is not a question about free speech, it is a question about personal responsibility. If I make a violent game I do it knowing that I am ignoring the people who think violence has no place in games, if Daniel Tosh tells a rape joke he should do it knowing that a lot of people will be offended by it and take responsibility for that. I think my favorite quote in the matter is from Tom Bissell after the whole Skyrim joke thing; “Do I loathe people without senses of humor? Very much so. But what I loathe even more is people who thoughtlessly propagate stereotypes and fall back on an easy gag for what they think is going to be an easy laugh

Without knowing how we are offending people and how much, it would be hard to judge if the value of the work is worth it – hence the anecdote above.

If you read this and you feel that you are the friend in question and take offense to your grief being used in this example – I am truly sorry. I try to be constructive but not everyone solve their issues in this way.

Also, if you perceive this as a way to shift attention from rape to custody issues, I am sorry as well. This is definitely not the intent – I just want create understanding by talking about something a bit closer to home. I do not want to compare the two, but I will say that thoughtless jokes are a non-issue with custody problems – maybe because it is easier to relate to for most men.

5 Comments so far

  1. wisnoskij on July 15th, 2012

    Before reading this article I do not think I had ever heard about rape jokes before.

    I don’t know what all the fuss is about, after a quick search of some actual examples it seems that most rape jokes are not even laughing at raping, it just has something to do with the joke.

    And the horribleness of a statement does not decrease its funniness. Something is never “not funny” simply because it was horrible and offensive, sometimes that just makes it funnier.

    I also do not see why this was turned into a feminist issue, men get raped all the time, often by women. Maybe everyone just universally agrees that man rape is funny? I would agree with that.

    By ultimately, comedy talks about a lot of sensitive topics and is often used to open dialogue on political, social, and racial issues. People are doing nothing but harm by saying that the word “rape” should never be used in comedy. And if we would take out every sensitive topic that some people have a bad memory of from comedy, then what would we be left with? Fart jokes and other assorted toilet humour? Maybe not even that, sometimes everything does not go right when on the toilet.

    But still in this one case, if he actually was correctly quoted Tosh was being an assh., but was still likely very funny.

  2. Saint on July 15th, 2012

    The point – at least my point – is not that rape jokes are never funny, the point is understanding your subject matter. People are free to make whatever jokes they want and other people are free to call them out as being in poor taste. If you are fine with offending people that’s one thing, but in this case – as in many others – he seems surprised by the aggression, meaning he either does not understand his subject matter or his audience.

    Hence the anecdote. I doubt any male rape victims would have any trouble understanding why rape jokes can make people uncomfortable, but in a larger scope complaining that rape has become a “feminist issue” is a red herring. Talking about rape against women does not trivialize rape against men.

  3. wisnoskij on July 15th, 2012

    Yes, but saying that rape is a feminist/woman issue does trivialise the rape of men. And the second feminists get involved you know it is on a issue they at least think is only a woman issue, because they do not tackle generic unisex problems.

    You yourself implied that being a man made you less likely to understand rape/being raped. You pretty much said that rape is a woman only issue, which is more or less in line with what everyone else seems to be saying about the subject. Technically, this is trivialising rape against men, not that I really care if it is trivialised or not.

  4. Saint on July 15th, 2012

    I find it odd that you would see that implication. What I said was that I personally have a hard time understanding living in fear of sexual violence – if your standpoint is that rape of men is a societal problem as big as rape of women then connecting that to me being male should be no more implied than connecting it to me having brown eyes.

    You are obviously pretty annoyed by feminism and I understand where that is coming from, I really do. That being said, I am not going to respond to strawman arguments that try to make this into something it is not.

  5. wisnoskij on July 15th, 2012

    Ah, that makes sense.

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Posted on Jul 15/12 by Saint and filed under Meta-blog | 5 Comments »