Sunday, April 18, 2010

On confronting rape jokes: one approach

[Trigger warning.]

In response to Panthera's post below: this was the first example that comes to mind. In a post rather than comment, because it was getting long and unwieldy.

One week, my Violence Against Women professor passed around an article from an online "humor" "magazine" written by students at my university, as a "This Week in Rape Culture" thing. I can link on request, but that would require looking at it again, which I really don't want to. The headline was something like "Female student sues school after being raped by chemistry test," and the article was just as idiotic as you can imagine. Bonus: mocking the campus rape hotline! Super bonus: not even remotely funny! Like, as far as stupid "humor" articles about rape go, it was pretty bad. I was shaking and distracted through a good portion of class just from having skimmed it.

Well, I happen to know the guy, T., who founded and edited the magazine--we're in a writing workshop together--so I ambushed him at our next meeting and Confronted. T is a Nice Guy (sort of), and I did have the advantage of having a nearby ally, who helped me out. T was defensive at first, but later talked to our mutual (ally!) friend R. about it, and concluded the article was "in bad taste," said he understood why I was upset, and felt bad. (I only know this secondhand, through R; T has never talked to me about it again.) So... there.

Anyway! A few points that worked, in this one context:

1) Joking about rape contributes to rape culture (insert brief definition, such as "a culture that condones and encourages sexism, objectification, and sexual violence, through jokes, attitudes, etc., so that rape is not an abnormality, but the logical extension of a misogynist society").

(Predictable response: What, so you're saying that my joke about my exam makes people commit rape? That's ridiculous.)

2) No, saying, "My test raped me!" doesn't mean that someone is literally going to hear that and immediately go out and rape someone. However, it does minimize rape, implying that it's no worse than struggling on an exam, which certainly doesn't discourage perpetrators, and definitely minimizes real survivors' real experiences. It can be extremely upsetting for a survivor or friend of a survivor to hear someone talking about rape in a such a minimizing way. In the long list of things that Aren't Helping...

(Well, yeah, but it's not like I would joke about it in front of someone who had actually been raped.)

3) There are more survivors than you think. "1 in 4 women" is a real statistic, repeated in study after study. Odds are, you know a survivor.*

(No, I don't! I would know if one of my friends had been raped!)

4) Look, you're the kind of person who says "My test raped me," who believes that an extreme form of personal violation is the same as getting a C on a chemistry exam, and who, when confronted about this very upsetting belief, prefers to rationalize their douchebaggery rather than listen to someone else's thoughts and feelings. Do you think your friends who are survivors of rape and sexual assault are going to tell YOU?


*Note that the responses are phrased so that one can remain cagey about whether or not one is a survivor oneself. Naturally, just by confronting this kind of shit, there's a possibility of being asked flat-out, like Panthera mentioned in her post. If you're comfortable doing so, you can bring up "friends" or "people I've talked to," which seems to pre-empt and therefore discourage the "How would YOU know?" question (in my experience--I confront this stuff on a semi-regular basis, and no one has ever directly asked me if I've been raped). Sometimes I say, for example, "Many of the people I've talked to who are rape survivors have mentioned feeling upset when..." or "Some people who are rape survivors report..." That way, you're appealing to real people's experiences without outing yourself or friends.

On the other hand, I'm very open to comments and revisions to make this a more viable confrontation strategy for all people, survivors and allies alike, because (again, in my limited experience) it CAN work. Thoughts?


  1. I'm glad this worked for you! When I've used this, it has failed. The stakes are a little higher when you're working with a publication, though, which is helpful, because it gives the author/editor/publisher/wev greater ownership of what was said, which gives you a platform to try to hold them accountable. Also, a douchebucket can argue "I don't make these jokes around survivors!" more easily than he can argue "No one who reads this publication has ever been raped!"

    Not that that works in actual publications, but in college, you know the folks who are writing, which means they're more likely to care about what you think. So when you get a situation like that, that you can really get a hold on, it can be a real point of access in working with them to figure out why they might not want to go around triggering their friends (and acquaintances, and everyone else) all day.

  2. Z: Oh, man, if somebody said 'I don't make these jokes around survivors' I know what I would do. Start laughing, then give the one-in-four speech. It's NOT nice to laugh at people. However, I *know* it's what would happen if someone spouted such an absurdity in my presence.

    Z's got a point regarding the fact that he probably only bothered to listen because he's Magazine D00d, thus required to hear all sides! Because everyone else just sort of slimy squids away when confronted, or, y'know, openly mocks you. That said, it's still an approach worthy of a try or five.

  3. Haha, I wouldn't say Magazine D00d (an accurate characterization!) felt particularly obligated to listen, as he started in with, "Aw, come ONNNNN" and general dismissiveness. But apparently he thought about it later. So maybe dudes that you confront think about it later? Maybe? Am I being too optimistic? This guy hasn't said stupid/dismissive things about rape since then, at least not in front of me. Nor has the rest of the workshop, who witnessed the exchange. Progress...?

    What do your particular douches tend to say? So that we can brainstorm responses! Or punch them over the Internet! With WORDS.