Why We Should Stop Laughing at Rape Jokes

[This post is inspired by a quote I recently read on Tumblr.]


When I got a tattoo on my collarbone, just about every guy friend and/or coworker I have acted… well, bizarrely. The responses were all over the board, from, “There’s something on your chest” (to which I said, “Yes, they’re called breasts,”) to saying absolutely nothing at all and making a face to explaining that it caused their eyes to wander where it shouldn’t and that I was causing them to stumble. I started to wonder why my decision about my own body was causing so much odd behavior to surface in the men around me. I started to feel guilty. I was worried they were labeling me as something I wasn’t: trashy, slutty, immodest. I started to think I should not have gone with collarbone. Maybe I was asking for negative attention.

But I wasn’t asking for negative attention. I know I wasn’t. I got the tattoo there because I wanted to because I think they’re beautiful, and I wanted to be able to see it every day. And I don’t need to feel guilty for that. I actually am very intentional about dressing modestly and presenting myself respectably to others. My tattoo doesn’t change that.

It reminded me of the victim-shaming that happens whenever a young woman is raped. People ask what she was wearing, how much she’d had to drink, if she was flirty or had a bad reputation, etc.

As if any of those things justify someone being raped. As if a woman who was wearing a low-rising short skirt that revealed a lower back tattoo or a v-neck that revealed a collarbone tattoo or had a couple of beers was “asking for it.” As if a woman who says, “No,” is just playing hard to get. As if rape wasn’t really rape at all.

Perhaps I have just become more aware of the world as I have grown older, but I have discovered that the world around us can be pretty misogynistic. And I’m tired of it.

The truth is that women are raped whether they are “asking for it” or not. In fact, 1 in 5 women have reported being raped in their lifetime. That’s a lot of women. That’s a lot of rape. That’s a lot of disrespect toward an entire gender. (I am, of course, aware that men are raped as well, and I want the reader to be aware that I realize that women aren’t the only ones who are taken advantage of, but for the sake of this post, I am focusing on women.)

The above statistic—that a whopping 20% of women have been raped—irks me. It saddens me. So when I hear rape jokes on TV, in skits on SNL, in regular conversation among friends, my heart just drops. Why, when 20% of women experience something as horrible as rape, are we still telling rape jokes? Why?!

My husband and I often talk about how much I despise rape jokes. I’ve never found them funny. There are many reasons why, some personal and some based on principle. They propagate a misogynistic rape culture while wearing the mask of, “Come on, lighten up, it’s just a joke.” Anything that masquerades under that guise usually merits a second look at the damage it could be causing. You honestly never know what stories the people around you have, which means you never know what sort of horrible memories or traumas you are triggering for the sake of a good, ol’ rape joke.

My first encounters with rape jokes came from overhearing my brother his friends “raping” their opponents while playing Call of Duty or Halo or some other video game. Not exactly a rape “joke,” per se, but the damage it causes is much the same. “Raping” is the colloquial equivalent to a great victory–totally destroying the opposing team. To rape was to win, and to win well. When my brother’s team “raped” another team, it was cause for celebration, or at least a fist bump.

But rape is real. Rape happens. And yet people use the same word “rape” as a way of communicating just how greatly victorious they have been? Not only did they win, but they raped the other team, and now they get bragging rights and high fives.

They came, they saw, and they conquered, and the word people are choosing to use for that is “rape.” Let that sink in for a second.

You might say that using the word “rape” to communicate a win in Call of Duty is really not a big deal, or that rape jokes are just jokes. But hear me when I say: you’re wrong.

We can believe that real rape is completely different, and we cannot compare colloquial language and humor to a tragedy like that, and we can believe that young men understand the distinction and know very well that rape is wrong. We can also believe that young men know what rape even is and that no means no, that they understand that consent is. (We can also stupidly think that a song called “Blurred Lines” is not about rape, but then you’re taking your ignorance to a whole new level.) We can fool ourselves to believe all that.

We all want to believe that.

We all want to believe that rapists do not get high fives or fist pumps after taking advantage of a girl. We all want to believe that the average male and a rapist are completely different people–that rapists are anomalies,  just dark, unstable individuals with issues that move them to behave the way they do. But then we hear about things like the Steubenville rape case, in which what appeared to be average, decent young men raped a young woman, and then they actually bragged and fraternized about it via YouTube videos and texts and honestly did not understand that what they had done was actually, seriously rape. They treated like some sort of Call of Duty round and didn’t realize the severity of their actions. Now they’re living with the consequences of their arrogance and ignorance, and a girl will have baggage and trauma in tow for the rest of her life, and (I hope) we realize that perhaps equating rape with victory could be more subversive than we originally thought.

Now, hear me clearly: I don’t believe that every man is a rapist. I don’t believe that every man condones rape. I don’t believe that the average decent guy is intentionally encouraging or propagating rape by telling rape jokes or laughing at them.

But, yes, all women. #YesAllWomen.

I do believe that these decent men have blinders on. They don’t understand what it’s like for women to live in a culture where sexually assault is the brunt of a joke. They don’t realize that maybe 200 yards away from them, a guy might actually believe rape is okay. The Steubenville rape case is evidence enough that some men don’t even understand what rape is; they’re so clueless that even when it happens, they announce it as if it were some great accomplishment to be proud of. So we laugh at rape jokes because, hey, it’s funny, and it’s not like he is actually going to rape or hurt someone, and we’re all good guys here. It’s just a joke. Besides, you don’t want to be that guy–the wet blanket who is overly sensitive and “has no sense of humor.”

But that’s just propagating the ignorance.

Considering that about one in five women report being raped–and that’s JUST the reported incidents–chances are these funny rape jokes are told well within ear shot of someone who either has been raped or knows well someone who has been raped, and to them, it’s not funny. Furthermore, a reported 1 in 6 college-aged men admit to raping someone (as long as “rape” isn’t actually used in the description of the act–which again, shows that men do not actually understand what rape is even when they’re doing it–ignorance and arrogance. Need I mention Steubenville again?).

Statistically speaking, if you are laughing at a rape joke in a group of 6 of buddies, one of them will actually, seriously, in-real-life rape someone, whether they call it rape or not (and let me clarify: rape is rape whether the rapist calls it that or not). One of the friends you’re laughing with may actually take advantage of or has taken advantage of another real human being. In real life. Not just as a joke. And you’re laughing with him, and in so doing, you communicate that rape isn’t serious. It’s just another term “totally annihilating and destroying” an opponent (don’t believe me? See the UrbanDictionary.com entries for “rape”). Suddenly rape is as ho-hum or casual as winning a Call of Duty match or joking about the funny thing your dad said at Christmas last year.

And chances are, when you turn around or walk home, you walk by a woman who has been victimized. Chances are, to her, rape is so much more than a joke. Rape is real to her. Chances are, she was taken advantage of. Chances are, she was at one point in her life stuck in a place where she had no control, couldn’t fight back, couldn’t escape, and her no’s fell on deaf, uncaring ears. And chances are, she fights off the demons and repercussions of that one event every single day.

That alone should be reason enough for you to be that wet-blanket guy who sucks all the funny out of a rape joke. Because there really is not anything funny about it, and the world needs to know that.