Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Slut-Shaming vs. Rape Jokes

As a prelude to this blog post, I should probably mention that through interning with the Feminist Majority Foundation, I've been reading a lot of feminist blogs, in order to write more educated blogs. Since my formal education has been primarily focused on International Political science and Anthropology, reading all these blogs is doing wonders for my knowledge of matters of importance to women.

I've always considered myself a feminist, ever since that boy in first grade told me I couldn't crush a milk can like he could, and suggested using violence to prove his supposed male superiority, but I've generally pursued feminism from my personal--and what I know now, rather uninformed--vantage point. I think describing all the things I've learned would involve reposting all the blogs I've read in the last few months, so I'll let it suffice to say that I've become aware of some of my handicaps in understanding, and will be more actively pursuing understanding a wider variety of vantage points/types of feminism.

There are a few new terms I've learned. first: "Slut-shaming;" that is, publicly or privately insulting a woman because she expressed her sexuality in a way that does not conform with patriarchal expectations for women. Slut shaming re-enforces the virgin/whore myth of female identity--women are either virgins and, like their virginity, are worth protecting; or, they are whores, and because their hymen has already been broken its okay to break their spirit or their bodies through psychological or physical violence. Slut-shaming is pretty much everywhere (even on twitter), but the two most prominent examples I can think of recently include attacks of Carrie Prejean for a masturbation tape, a disgustingly prominent response that Rhianna deserved to be beaten by Chris Brown, and the weird belief that somehow Miley Cyrus is the worst thing that happened to Hollywood

Another new term I learned was, "Rape jokes." I.E. creepy attempts to find humor in one of the most horrific violent acts against women.

I'd never heard a rape joke before--and while reading various blog posts about rape jokes and getting angrier, frustrated and confused trying to figure out in a distanced, intellectual manner how rape jokes can be accepted and how as a society we can stop rape jokes, an acquaintance of mine posted a rape joke as his facebook status.

To be shocked by reading about something that happened somewhere over the rainbow is one thing; to see a rape joke appear in my facebook feed was another thing entirely. (I'm still shaking with rage and probably won't get any sleep tonight due to the adrenaline.) The question that pounded in my skull was: How could anyone feel so confident and proud of a rape joke that they would post it for all their friends and distant acquaintances to see? How is society conditioning them to believe that such a comment is funny?

I quickly posted "Not funny. Repulsive," and debated whether I should immediately defriend him or if I ought to wait to see if there were any follow-up comments that would need to likewise be shot down. While debating, the posts I've read about slut-shaming came to mind, and the stark contrast between the two events infuriated me even more.

When a woman enjoys her sexuality without hurting anyone else, but someone finds out about it, the response is to insult her, shame her, bring her down and make sure she never does it again. But the response to rape, and "jokes" about rape, which trivialize and normalize violent, traumatic and sometimes life-threatening acts against women is--somehow--to laugh?

We need to change the way our society responds to these occurrences. Its time we start reacting to rape jokes for what they are--as affronts to the dignity of human beings and as the unveiling of a potential danger to society. Its time we start shaming rapists, people who make jokes about rape, people who strike those they claim to love, and those who commit the betrayal of posting private sexual experiences on the internet, INSTEAD of the people they vicitmize. (Do we even know the name of the person who posted Carrie Prejean's video online? Why isn't he being attacked instead of Carrie?)

In the end I decided it would set better precedent to defriend (and thereby ostracize) rather than wait for follow-up comments. The decision was partially influenced by the desire to shame, but also the sinking feeling that its probably safer to stay as far away from but also the sinking feeling that its probably safer to stay as far away from anyone who thinks rape is funny, because he is probably more likely to be a rapist.

How do you fight back against rape jokes and slut-shaming?

Photo Credit: malec slomas on flickr.com

7 comments:

Sav said...

I commend you for immediately posting something on the person's profile. I see rape jokes way too often as well, usually in the form of "That test raped me", or whatever. I definitely always say something like you did that discourages the person. It's hard to strike a balance between helping people see the message and not having them immediately pin me as a radical feminist (and discount my thoughts entirely).
Anyway, it's an uphill battle. Keep fighting the good fight (nonviolently, of course).
-Sav

Razor said...

I'm not sure if I'd consider the backlash against Prejean "slut-shaming," moreso exposing her hypocrisy. The beauty pageant contestant has become something of a hero to the conservative "family values" movement after her attacks on gay marriage, but a series of tapes featuring her masturbating directly conflicts with the political forces that she's aligned herself with.

I'm sure there are some folks out there who just want to attack her (the link you provided isn't working, at least not when I clicked), and that's wrong, but I think the majority of people laughing about it is because of Prejean's own hypocrisy.

Kat said...

You definitely make a good point about Carrie Prejean´s hypocrisy. She certainly is homophobic and not the best of speakers, and can´t say I condone basically anything she says. However, a lot of the remarks I read in response to the video weren´t focused on the hypocrisy--they were focused on the masturbation itself. Sorry that the link didn´t work, here it is again: http://www.womanist-musings.com/2009/11/carrie-prejean-masturbating-is-no-no.html. Here are a few more links that deal with the subject: http://evilslutopia.com/2009/11/carrie-prejean-was-palin-ized.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+EvilSlutopia+%28Evil+Slutopia%29 Was it just that link that didn´t work or was it all of them?

Karen Rayne, Ph.D. said...

I teach comprehensive sex education classes, and one of my middle school classes last year had a group of four young women who were constantly making rape jokes. I responded to each one with the statement, "Rape is not funny, it is not something to laugh at. Rape is an extremely painful experience. If you would like to talk about that today, we can change our topic. I had planned to discuss it in a few weeks, but I am always happy to address your immediate questions about any topic." Every time they seemed embarrassed and stumbled through apologies, but the next class they would be back with the jokes. I think these jokes were so much a part of their daily lives that a couple of hours a week of attempts to counter the joking was just not effective.

I always have an anonymous question jar where students put their questions for the next class's topic. When it came time for the class on non-consensual sex, I was unprepared for the question, "If you force a prostitute to have sex, is that rape or shoplifting?" But I was glad that I had a few days to prepare my answer.

I found first-person accounts written by sex workers of rape experiences and I read them aloud in class. I found one particularly poignant one written by a 14 year old that left the students literally gasping and crying. After each story, I asked the class, "Rape or shoplifting?" and made each student answer out loud.

It was a heavy-handed approach, to be sure, and one I could only recommend in extreme cases. But I didn't hear another rape joke during the remaining weeks of class. The group of students who had kept at these jokes even came and apologized to me and my co-teacher.

Thad said...

Look, I made a rape Joke here.
Tis one's acceptable though right?

http://doodiepants.com/2009/09/21/rape-store-ramdass-worst-marketing-idea/

Kat said...

Nope, that's not funny either, just an example of language insensitivity. In Spanish, the word "violar" is used to describe rape, not "rape"--to complain about their using a word that does not match our own set of meanings is just imperialistic.

Miss Andrist said...

Against rape jokes, my immediate reaction is usually to reply with "HAHAHAHA. RAPE IS SO HI LARIOUS." If I say it out loud, I say it loudly and obnoxiously, while staring at the offender unblinking, with the straightest possible face. I do this unless I think I might be taken literally.

In Sav's situation, the rape-as-normal rape jokes, I make references to men being exclusive offenders, victim-blaming and the reactions women get when we raise allegations of rape: "It's not a man and nobody's blaming you for what happened, so I doubt it raped you."

As for slut-shaming, I usually reply with sarcasm: "If she wants to get away with acting like that, she should have thought of that before she chose to be born with a vagina."

And against other hate jokes and bigot bullying, I make up counter-(non)-jokes which are just as un-funny for the exact same reason.

I just made this one up in response to the two-black-eyes joke (you know which one I mean) and it can also be used against evo-psychs:

"What do you call a dead man with his guts wrapped around his neck?

Cured."