Trigger Warning: Multiple mentions of rape, rape culture, and sexual assault throughout this post. Also, I may swear a bit.
If you’ve somehow been unplugged for the last day or so, let me catch you up to speed. This happened: Comedian Daniel Tosh was performing stand up and made some jokes about rape, an audience member called out that rape jokes are never funny, and according to her, he decided the best way to handle her outburst was to respond 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…”
The incident was shared via a Tumblr post and… the internet exploded. Everyone had an opinion – on whether or not you can even joke about rape, about Tosh’s non-apology, about how to make a rape joke, and many spoke up in support of Tosh. (I also love Bitch‘s Douchebag Decree that sums up everything to a T)
I’m not a comedian, and am only occasionally (mostly not on purpose) funny. I’m not here to comment on humor or what passes as a joke these days. However, an unintended conversation on Twitter yesterday, coupled with a story from a friend got me thinking.
Last night I found myself engaged with a comedian who didn’t quite understand why everyone was so up in arms over Tosh’s “joke.” Relax. Take a chill pill. You’re overreacting. You have no sense of humor, etc… I did my best to not engage, but when he verbally attacked a friend of mine, I stepped in. I was rational. I was calm. I made some logical points. And yet…
(I’ve chosen not to share screen caps of our conversation because I don’t need to give this guy any more attention. The bolding/color highlighting are my doing).
Him: The idea of “rape culture” is your cross to bear, I’m afraid. Not everyone believes in it. Like alien abduction.
Me: how can you not believe in it when 1/6 women are victims of rape/attempted rape? coincidence? (And I linked to: http://www.rainn.org/get-information/statistics/sexual-assault-victims)
Him: Because the idea of rape being a culture is a very specific idea propagated by a very specific group that I am not part of.
Me: rape culture means that as a society we fail 2 be a part of the solution when it comes to rape. regardless of individuality. and when you make “jokes” or observations or attacks or whatever you want to call it, you become part of that problem.
Him: It’s a very extreme feminist viewpoint, which I can’t get behind. Rape’s already illegal and immoral. What else do you want?
Me: Not everyone agrees it’s immoral or there wouldn’t be rape. or people joking about it. or people saying she was “asking for it.” or people saying she “led him on/teased him.”
Him: Those two things are bullshit, I agree. But they are not my problem, or society’s problem. They are a rapist’s problem.
Me: when you make “jokes” or observations or attacks or whatever you want to call it, you become part of that problem.
Him: No I don’t. That’s where it goes off the rails. My words don’t cause people to get raped or rape each other. That’s nonsense.
Me: words may not *cause* rape but they allow others 2 feel ok laughing about it-normalizing it in society when its anything but.
* * *
That. That conversation right there is why Tosh’s “joke” aimed at an audience member is unacceptable. There are people who believe that their words don’t matter. The fact that there are people that live in the same world I do who don’t believe that rape culture exists makes it very dangerous to have jokes like Tosh’s not only applauded but defended. Beyond thinking that “rape culture” is an extremist point of view, this guy shrugs off any responsibility (for himself and society) as far as rape goes.
Perhaps this comedian has never felt the need to cross the street while walking home alone late at night to avoid a potential situation. Perhaps this comedian has never had to question if the clothes he’s wearing might give somebody the wrong impression. Perhaps this comedian has never had to repeatedly tell somebody no because they just didn’t get it.
Beyond frustrating me to no end, our little Twitter conversation also drove home a story that had been shared with me earlier that day. A friend of mine recounted something that recently happened to her . She’s spent some time this summer hitting up a bunch of concerts for a popular jam band – one we both happen to love and have seen many, many times over the course of many, many years. At one of the recent concerts she attended an incident occurred. My friend had been enjoying herself, dancing up a storm and getting into the groove like she tends to do. You know, the normal enjoying a show type thing a person usually does. And then…
I was walking up the hill […] post show with my friend and someone grabbed my ass. I turned around to see who it was but it was super crowded. I turned forward again and someone (I assume the same someone) pulled me back around and kissed me full of the mouth. I like tried to get away but it was over quick. He then asked “You wanna make out?” It was way not fun.
The incident rested heavy on her mind and she couldn’t shake in. Later on, she was telling her brother-in-law about it and his response was, in my mind, a huge example of this so-called, “specific idea” of rape culture. He said…
Well, sometimes you act like a schwilly* girl and not that you were asking for it but it can give guys the wrong impression.
Schwilly girl? Because every guy at every concert is always 100% sober? Because girls are expected not to have fun, enjoy a beer or two, lose themselves in the music, because why? Otherwise it’s deemed open invitation to cop a feel, initiate a kiss, or… what? Well, excuse me, but fuck that noise.
Her brother-in-law’s comment caused my friend to question herself. Was she giving off “those kinds of vibes” while enjoying a show?
Here’s the thing. Situations like my friend’s isn’t all that uncommon. Her story prompted other friends to chime in with similar tales. These weren’t stories specific to a concert venue either. Others had stories that occurred at work, on the street, in everyday life. So, to tell me that rape culture is a made up concept propagating by a small percentage of the population, and that it’s not your problem or society’s problem? I don’t think so.
THIS is why “jokes” like Tosh’s are unacceptable. They normalize rape. They excuse “casual” sexual assault. They cause laughs, making situations like my friend’s less surprising, and cause others to talk about “wrong impressions.” They put the focus on the victims when we need to be ripping into the perpetrators and focus on them, and how our society has allowed them to get away with this bullshit. It’s no coincidence that I am constantly reminding my son about body boundaries…both his own and others. I want him to grow up with a healthy understanding of bodily autonomy, human sexuality and the over-used but never unimportant phrase “no means no.” To have to also contend with a very real rape culture that both excuses and defends jokes like Tosh’s? It just makes my job as a mama bear that much harder.
Thank heavens I have friends that truly get it.