I’ve spent half an hour staring at a blank screen, trying to work out what I’d say, should I ever come face to face with someone who made a rape joke. Luckily, the only rape jokes I’ve ever encountered so far have been made through the internet.
2010. A sociology class I was taking had somehow turned to the issue of rape. At the time, I didn’t associate either of my rapists as such. I didn’t realise I’d been raped; I just thought my issues with sex was my subconscious being stupid. But a classmate commented that women joining the army were “asking for trouble”. I’d hardly slept the night before. I’d been sleepily half-participating in the discussion, but the man’s comments woke me up. He was greeted with a “what the f…”, coming from my direction.
“Shit, no, I didn’t mean it like that!”
“It sounded like you were blaming women who joined the army for being raped.”
“That’s not what I meant…”
“Your words were ‘Yeah, but women joining the army are asking for trouble, really’, weren’t they?”
“Yeah, but I meant, y’know…”
“You were blaming women who get raped whilst working in the army for being raped…”
He apologised, blamed a poor choice of words. But he began mentally kicking himself the moment the words he’d carelessly thrown into the air were pointed out to him.
That evening, the man in question, John*, apologised to me. We’d been friends for a few weeks, despite an initial, mutual hatred of each other. But he’d been horrified when he realised what he’d said. Even more so when I’d pulled him up on it. This is the difference between decent men and rapists. Decent men recoil in horror should they ever carelessly blame a rape survivor. I still remember the horror on his face, and the profuse apologies when he’d text me that evening. “I didn’t think what I was saying,” he’d said that evening.
Another ex sat reading a blog post over my shoulder; It had been one that pointed out rape was no laughing matter. “I can’t believe some people find shit like that funny,” he’d said. He’d seen his older sister dragged through a rape trial in her teens. The fact anyone could joke about that abhorred him. And rightly so. But this is the difference between decent men and rapists. Decent men abhor the idea of laughing at violence against women. Rapists, and men who commit violence against women applaud men who joke about violence against women.
Here’s a little fact for you. A recent survey found that around 23% of women in London had been made to have sex they didn’t want. That is rape. Around 1 in 4 London women have been raped, and I suspect the numbers don’t vary that much around the globe. Gather ten women, alone. Tell them your old rape jokes, and await the applause. Some women will laugh. “Massage men’s egos,” we’re told. “Let them think they’re funny, even when they’re not.” But gather those ten women, and tell them your rape jokes. Watch how one or two genuinely find the joke funny, because we’ve been conditioned to think rape IS a laughing matter. But for the most part, the laughter you’ll receive from a group of women hearing a rape joke will be one of discomfort.
“Wouldn’t it be funny if she was raped…”
Tell this to a rape survivor, Tosh. Rape is a laughing matter? Why is that? And yes, I doubt the chances of Tosh reading this are small, minimal. But I would appreciate hearing how he could justify telling a rape survivor to stop whining, and laugh about rape. Rape survivors know that, should they report their rape, the chances of seeing their rapist jailed are small. But let’s joke about raping women. After all, it’s hardly a wide spread issue.
1 in 4, Mr Tosh. 1 in 4…
Tell a rape survivor, the one who sits up night after night, unable to sleep, because every now and then, one of her rapists creeps into her dreams. Tell her to lighten up, Tosh. After all. It’s just a joke, right? It’s hardly a wide spread issue, right?
1 in 4…
Tell the rape survivor who breathes a sigh of relief that her child looks nothing like the rapist who took away her choice to have that child that she should lighten up, Tosh. After all. If her son has the same wash of freckles over his nose as her rapist did, it’s no big deal, right? Rape’s hardly a wide spread issue, right?
1 in 4…
Tell the women who’ve never spoken out, the women who’ve cried themselves to sleep, the women who flashback and hear their rapists words flashing in their ears… Tell the to lighten up, Tosh. It’s not like they make up a large number of your audience, Tosh. Tell the woman who overdosed, hoping to end the suffering, that she should lighten up and listen to your rape jokes.
Tell the women who counsel rape survivor after rape survivor that they should put those stories behind them, so you can joke about rape. Tell them how they should be able to face the survivor they’re counselling, after letting a rape joke go unchallenged.
And tell the children, who find out they were the product of a rape that they should be able to laugh about the violence inflicted upon their mothers.
When you tell us to STFU and accept your rape jokes, Tosh, you tell us that the pain of rape survivors and those who support them doesn’t matter. You’re telling us your right to joke about rape, and tear open those wounds for those survivors is more important. You joke about an issue that, I’m guessing, you’ve never been directly involved with. When you hear a rape survivor tell you that you’re the first person they’ve told about their rape, remember your words.
“Wouldn’t it be funny if she was raped?”
I mean, what does a rape survivor’s pain matter anyway, Tosh?
1 in 4, Tosh. What’s so funny about that?