I’ve met a surprising amount of people who are willing to fight for their right to tell rape jokes. From the near-constant refrain of “Oh, lighten up, I was obviously just joking,” to the friend of mine from school who legitimately argued that he was helping survivors feel more comfortable to share their experiences by making horrible rape jokes loudly and in public, people seem to feel entitled to make light of rape.
I’m of the personal opinion that rape jokes are almost never funny. I agree with Melissa McEwan at Shakesville – there is no reason to strive to be the person who triggers a rape survivor. There is no reason to think it’s funny to make light of something that the American legal system and popular culture do not take seriously enough. Also, rape jokes are legitimately just not that funny. As someone who prides herself on her sense of humor, I can guarantee that there are funnier ways to get a point across than to joke about sexual assault.
Amanda Hess at The Sexist wrote a post last week detailing The Onion’s 5 best and 5 worst uses of rape humor. The conclusion she comes to is that jokes mocking the system that makes rape acceptable in modern culture are usually hits, but jokes at rape victims’ expense or that use rape as a cheap laugh are not. Her piece is worth a read, because I think it really does find five examples where rape is used in a joke, and it ends up being funny.
Feminists walk a fine line responding to, and even making rape jokes. I've almost always tried to stand up for myself and let people know when I think they're being out of line, but I'll admit sometimes, when it's a good friend of mine or just a little comment I'll let it go. Rape is already a joke to a lot of people. When it's your buddies at a bar, it may not seem like that big of a deal. When it's a judge who sentences a man to one year of prison for raping a 4-year-old girl, it is a big deal. Perpetuating a culture where rape victims are the punchline makes it easier for powerful people to minimize rape.
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