So, this Tweet showed up all over my Twitter feed, was turned into a meme and showed up all over my Facebook feed. I feel a need to reply.
Rape jokes are a difficult subject for me. For one, I run a campaign to create a a national safe word to help fight rape and rape culture in the United States. I have worked closely with people seeking to address and end rape in the U.S. Military. I know way, way to many people who have been raped. It is a crime that leaves a long trail of damage for years after it happens.
I also think some rape jokes are funny. Mx. Justin Vivian Bond (in her Kiki persona) has the line, “If you weren’t molested as a kid, you just weren’t that cute.” I laugh every time. Sarah Silverman’s bit about needing more rape jokes in her We Are Magic special is one of my favorite bits. And Amy Schumer’s reply to “What is the hardest part of being a female comedian?” question, “Its the rape,” I think is brilliant.
The reason I like Schumer’s and Silverman’s bits are that they call attention to rape culture in a way that I think some people can hear it. Rape is hard to address in the first place. Outside of comedy, when a woman brings up rape, she is dismissed as a “raging feminist” or a “man-hater.” People are not particularly open to talking about how prevalent rape is in America.
Statistics are hard to pin down since so many people don’t report rape. Further, in California, there are more than 30,000 back-logged rape kits, so even if we wanted to identify attackers, the state won’t pay to get the evidence to address the issue. Finally, many people who have been raped don’t actually frame what happened as rape. We forgive our attackers, blame ourselves, and make excuses why it happened. Generally, it is assumed roughly 1 in 4 women will be raped. Men it is harder to guess, but we know almost 20,000 men were raped in the military last year alone.
Rape persists because we allow rape culture to flourish. Rape jokes are part of encouraging this culture. We minimize the impact and threat of rape through comedy and turn it into something acceptable. Jokes that encourage our acceptance of rape are not funny and I take great issue with them.
Comedy has power. I do think comics with well thought out rape jokes that address the problem of rape in our culture can make a difference. This is why the Silverman and Schumer bits have power and I like them. So, yeah, rape jokes can be funny. It just depends on what the motivation is, what they are normalizing, and how they work to dismantle the current environment where it is acceptable to rape.
Mx. Justin Bond’s joke does not do this. Its tasteless. And I admit, sometimes I like tasteless humor. It fits with the Kiki persona and worked in the overall act. However, Kiki is just a small part of what Mx. Bond does. If your entire persona is one of open hostility toward any group and you continually seek to make rape and other horrible things acceptable, you aren’t funny.