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Rape Jokes – Can We Stop Now (myself included)?


rape12I remember when the whole Daniel Tosh rape joke incident went down last summer. Comedian Daniel Tosh responded to a heckler who’d told him rape jokes weren’t funny with, “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like, 5 guys right now? Like right now? What if a bunch of guys just raped her.” That’s a quote from a blog of a woman in the audience, so we’ll call it hearsay, but something like that was said that created a media frenzy.

I’ve always considered myself a pretty ardent feminist. I know some women really flinch at that word, but I don’t know a better one for supporting women’s equality, equal pay, reproductive rights and defending women’s integrity and standing in the world. I thought what Tosh said was unfunny, beneath him, and he deserved what he got (which was basically some bad press). That being said, I just got called out professionally for a rape joke in an article I’d written. While I understood their rejection, I felt really shitty and couldn’t believe that I’d write something that might even, in some small way, endorse our rape culture.

I was writing about my epic Yelp drama (which I’ve chronicled on this site). Describing a very uncomfortable hair appointment I joked, “What I didn’t like was the most aggressive, violent hair-washing I’ve ever experienced. I feel like I got head raped.”

I always thought it was obvious that ‘head rape’ was a joke and believed it to be fairly innocuous since it’s something that doesn’t exist. But I’ve since realized that rape jokes are so common place, and all of them (mine included) lessen the impact and horror of the act. I really regret writing what I did. Even more, I regret that I didn’t know better.

I felt as a woman in a situation with a creepy dude, that I could make a rape reference and it would be acceptable I now realize that by making one joke, I condone all of them. I’m glad my article was rejected (okay, maybe not totally), but I’m glad that I’m more aware and responsible than I was before.  Everyday we hear people use the word rape as a way to exaggerate or drive home their point, especially in status updates and tweets. Each one we hear lessens the word rape, it lessens the victims, and it makes a horrific, traumatizing, despicable act of violence less heinous.

The FX show “Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell” took the conversation (regarding sexism in comedy vs. comedy’s right to free speech) to the next level and held a debate between Jezebel writer Lindy West and comedian Jim Norton. It’s pretty interesting, and actually a level-headed, articulate debate and not two pundits talking over each other. 

While I respect the art of standup comedy and it’s ability to make jokes out of any situation, good or bad, many comics are not talented or experienced enough to balance this high wire. And sadly, being in the standup trenches has made me more insensitive and immune to jokes that would have offended me years ago. (Rape, porn and masturbation are a new male comic’s go-to topics. At least, that’s what I heard a lot of in the early days.) I’m not trying to make excuses, but I do think that we’ve all started to hear the word rape used to describe everything from how a sports team got raped when they lost badly, or how anytime someone pays a fortune for something they were raped by (insert store, DMV, doctor, mechanic, etc.). And I think it needs to end. There are so many descriptive words out there, surely we can all come up with another way to tell that sport, doctor, DMV story?

I recommend reading Lindy West’s discussion of the rape/comedy issue. In the meantime, I’ve learned a lesson – one I thought I knew but sadly didn’t. But maybe we all could stop using the word so casually. I won’t use it again unless I’m specifically talking about the criminal act of rape. No jokes, no puns, no funny rape references because there aren’t any.  





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