A Very Quick, Small Thing about Rape Jokes

I don’t need to tell you guys about the Daniel Tosh rape joke kerfuffle this week, right?

Great. Now my very small point. Most of the guys I know – because I know mostly good guys – want to be protectors. They want to be defenders of women. They want to be heroes. They want to slay dragons. And believe me, guys, most of us want you to. Even if we want to slay dragons, too.

But here is the thing. Guys, when women hear you tell a rape joke*, or laugh at a rape joke, or defend the maker of a rape joke, we hear one thing – don’t look to this guy for support if you are raped. And/or don’t tell him about the time you were in fact raped. It’s the same thing we think when we hear you go rape-apology. You’re not on your side. You’re on your rapist’s side. You aren’t the heroic dragon-slayer. You’re the guy on the sidelines going, “Yeah, dragon! Get ‘er! Breathe that fire! Woohoo!”

Now, I know you don’t think laughing at a rape joke is that big a deal. But when a woman is raped or sexually assaulted, it’s a pretty vulnerable time for her. She needs to know for damn sure that the people she looks to for support are going to give it, 100%, no questions asked. And you laughed at a rape joke. So she’s not sure.

And I know some of you will say, “How dare you? Of course I would defend my sister/daughter/friend/woman! I’d want to kill the bastard!”

Here’s the thing. The bastard is very rarely that crazy monster-man who jumped out of the bushes to assault her. And she’s usually, like, a person, not some pigtailed virginal beacon of perfection. So when you conceptualize the rape that the woman you know might have suffered, conceptualize, too, the things that actually happen. Think about how you’d react if your female friend told you that it was your friend, your good buddy, who’s always at your parties, who always gets a little hands-y and aggressive but you know, he’s a good guy at heart, it’s just that women have to know to what he’s like, that’s all – he raped her. At a party. She was a little drunk. She tried to push him off but he’s stronger than her and she got scared and confused so she froze up. Does she know for sure that if she tells you about it, you’re not going to say, “But you know how he is! Why did you let him get you alone?”

Or what about that guy your wife was always sort of flirting with? It annoyed you, that she flirted with him, that she went on about how cute his ass was. But this one time he came over at night when you weren’t home. She let him in; of course she let him in. You guys are friends. They laughed and flirted – until he got dangerous. Then she said no, but she didn’t want to make much noise because the baby was sleeping. So maybe she wasn’t as vociferous in her protests as she could have been. Will she be afraid that you’ll conclude that this was an affair and not rape at all?

Let’s say your sister is cornered by a client of the company she works for. He’s a big deal; she’s not. If she loses him, she risks her job. She doesn’t want to, but she doesn’t say no . . . exactly. She says, “Please don’t get me fired.” To some guys, that sounds like consent. To some judges, that sounds like consent. Is she going to be absolutely sure that it won’t sound like consent to you?

Let’s say it’s your daughter. She’s been partying a lot. She’s been drinking and maybe more; you know for sure and you’ve grounded her but it doesn’t seem to do any good. She’s wearing these tiny little outfits everywhere and when you restrict them, she just puts them on under more acceptable clothes and takes off the outer layer when she’s out of your sight. She goes out every night looking for trouble, and one night, she finds some. Is she going to be able to talk to you, or is she going to think you’ll say she had it coming, what with her behavior lately?

Those are just some examples. Obviously, rape happens in many ways. The main point here is, when a rape happens to a woman you love, do you want to be her hero? Or do you want to be the guy she perceives as standing on her rapist’s side? Because if she’s already marked you, on her list, as someone who laughs at rape jokes, who makes rape jokes, or who apologizes for rapists, you’re either not going to know that any of these situations have happened to her, or she’s going to drop you from her life when they do or at least distance herself quite a bit. So if you want to be a dragon-slayer, you’ve got to first be a person a woman would tell about the dragon.

Now, let’s say that you’ve read this post, and you’re going, “Dammit! I have laughed at rape jokes! But I totally want to be the dragon-slayer! Is it too late for me?” No. It’s not. Chances are, the women in your life are there because they love you and see you as a good guy, or at least a redeemable guy. Just start now by not doing that anymore.

(I should note that slaying the dragon in this case rarely means literally killing the rapist. Usually it means hand-holding and allowing your shoulder to be used, or maybe offering some real logistical support like going with her to the rape crisis center or to the police, helping her organize her life so that she doesn’t need to be in contact with her rapist anymore if that’s possible, etc. It’s less exciting and glamorous but it’s usually what’s needed.)

(I should also note that it could be your brother or son or male friend who’s raped. It’s rarer, and it’s really rare that he’d trust someone enough to tell them, and if you’ve ever laughed at the very idea that a man could be raped, well, then, you’re not going to be his dragon-slayer, either.)

Wow, I said this was going to be quick, didn’t I? Sorry.

*By rape joke, I mean a joke in which the victim is the butt of the joke. There are plenty of ways to make a good rape joke, as is illustrated in the article I linked to. The rules of comedy are actually pretty simple. You can make fun of power structures. You can make fun of people in power. You can make fun of people who do bad things. You can make fun of hypocrites. You cannot make fun of those who are oppressed. You cannot make fun of victims. That is all.

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