not language but a map

writer, reader, eater of bagels. cracking inappropriate jokes to cut tension since 1989.
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let’s call this one the why. [tw: rape]

Okay, so I’m seeing a lot of things floating around on my dash today, but what I’m especially seeing is fights about whether or not rape jokes are funny. And, of course, I’m seeing this story, about a comedian responding to the suggestion that rape jokes aren’t funny with the words “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like, 5 guys right now? Like right now? What if a bunch of guys just raped her…” tangled up in the center of a lot of these discussions. And it occurs to me, with all this anger going around, that there are some things that maybe aren’t being said that, I think, need to be said. Am I saying the anger isn’t deserved? Of course not. Am I saying the anger doesn’t have it’s place, or doesn’t need to be acknowledged, respected, and heard? Of course not. Am I saying that I am, myself, not angry? No, I’m really not saying that at all. I’ve got a lot of anger in my heart about this topic, both in the abstract and in the upsettingly specific; however, I have had to learn to separate from that anger, because it makes it difficult to live my life. 

So this is not an angry post; this is an explaining post. This is a post where we just talk. And what we’re going to talk about is what “rape jokes aren’t funny,” really means. Or, to put it another way: this is a post about why rape jokes aren’t funny. 

So, first and foremost, let’s have some full disclosure: I, gyzym, writer of this post, have been raped. I have also been sexually assaulted, both as a child and as an adult, and a sizable amount of my sexual awareness has been shaped by these events. And I’m not telling you that because I want to guilt you into listening to me, or because I want attention, or because I am crying out for help, or because I think it’s a card I can pull to get me out of difficult situations, or because I define myself by it, or because I’m angry and thus want everyone else to be angry too, or because I’m a liar. I’m not even telling you that because I think it gives weight to my argument. I am telling you that because everything I just listed is something that culture has taught me to expect to hear upon informing people I have been raped. I am telling you that because even in writing the last sentence, I had to delete “upon admitting to having been raped” and “upon confessing to having been raped,” and that’s after a significant amount of time in therapy for these issues and actively working to deal with them. I’m telling you that because I am not ashamed to tell you that, but the world has spent a lot of time trying to convince me I should be. 

That’s the first reason rape jokes aren’t funny. Rape jokes aren’t funny because a comedian who says “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped right now,” gets a laugh, but if I, as a rape survivor, wish to simply inform someone of my experience, I am breaking a social taboo. Rape jokes aren’t funny because, the way things work right now, it is more acceptable to crack wise about rape than it is to talk honestly about it. Rape jokes aren’t funny because a traumatic thing that happened to me is something that I am expected to keep to myself to avoid discomfiting others, but that same traumatic thing has been deemed entirely acceptable for people who have not experienced it to throw around. The first reason rape jokes are not funny is that they are not fair. They’re just not. 

Secondly, I want to talk about the most common argument I see in favor—or, perhaps more accurately, in defense—of rape jokes: the idea that humor is subjective. I will be honest here, because honesty is very much my goal, in this and all conversations about rape: that’s true. Humor is subjective. The idea that rape jokes aren’t funny doesn’t—or, perhaps more accurately, shouldn’t—mean that using the word rape in a joke automatically negates the humor of it. For a lot of us, it does. For a lot of us, hearing the word rape negates the humor of the rest of the day. But humor is subjective, and there’s no arguing the fact that there are people who find rape jokes funny. Lots of them, even. They wouldn’t be told so often, if that wasn’t true—they wouldn’t be told so often if they didn’t get laughs. 

That’s the second reason rape jokes aren’t funny. Rape jokes aren’t funny because people laugh. Rape jokes aren’t funny because when a comedian jokes about the gang-rape of a member of his audience, that audience member is guffawed at as she exits the room. Rape jokes aren’t funny because, for a lot of people, due to the fact thatthey have been deemed more socially acceptable than honest conversations about rape? Rape jokes are the only time they ever hear the word rape. Let me repeat that: for a lot of people, the word rape is heard ONLY in the context of something to laugh about. As a survivor, that is scary as hell. As a human being, it’s even scarier. I’m not going to talk about how belittling rape is dangerous, because smarter people than me have done that before, and I’m not going to talk about how belittling rape hurts people, because I’m hoping you can take my word that it does. But I want you to consider, when you’re wondering why people get so angry about this, the last time you heard rape used casually versus the last time you used it used honestly, seriously, or in the context of dealing with the actual real life issue of the fact that people are getting raped a lot. Because people are. Getting raped a lot. People are getting raped a whole lot. Look it up. 

The third reason rape jokes aren’t funny? Is because rape—and I mean the actual, real life experience of being raped—is not funny. Believe me. It’s not. It’s a lot of other stuff—painful, terrifying, haunting, violent—but it is pretty damn short on hilarity, let me tell you. And the aftermath of rape? The part where you don’t know who, if anyone, you can trust? The part where you are forced to struggle with the shame society has taught you to feel, by teaching rape as something you are supposed to avoid, instead of something you are not supposed to do? The part where you are scared all the time? The part where you are not supposed to talk about it, but people can joke about it on TV? That part is not funny either. 

I am sure, in response to this post, that I am going to be told by at least one person that I am oversensitive, humorless, or both. That’s okay with me (me personally, I should specify; I am not saying it’s okay for other people, or, really, okay for you to say) for two reasons. The first reason is that it kind of proves my point: rape jokes have an audience, but honest conversations about rape are discouraged, dismissed, or denied more often then they’re not. The second reason, which I am always surprised is not more obvious in these discussions, is that it simply isn’t true. If I were humorless, by definition, I wouldn’t have any idea what was or wasn’t funny in general; I would have no opinion on rape jokes, or indeed any jokes, because I would not be possessed of the ability to comprehend humor. And oversensitive? Is a word that…kind of doesn’t make sense to me, in this context. Having been through it, I can tell you with great certainty that you cannot actually be too sensitive to—or, since that’s a loaded word, let’s say aware of—how much rape sucks. And if you haven’t been through it? While I’m genuinely glad for you, and sincerely hope that continues to be the case, you can’t, uh, actually know what you’re talking about vis a vis how sensitive is too sensitive to be about how much rape sucks. You can’t know that, because you haven’t been unfortunate enough to find out. And seriously, I’m very, very glad for you! But seriously, sit down. 

In conclusion: I am not here to tell you what to laugh at. I am not here to tell you what to feel. I am not here to judge you, or yell at you, or tell you right from wrong. I am not, personally, very good at that, and honestly, I get it—I get that we did this, as a culture, because rape scares us and makes us uncomfortable to think about, because it’s easier to handle in the abstract, because it’s so horrible that we’d rather joke than talk openly about it. I am not here to make you feel guilty about that, or about anything, really. That’s not my job, and I wouldn’t want it to be. I am only here to tell you the truth: in the world we currently live in, in the social constructs between which we are currently operating, rape jokes are not funny. They’re not funny because we can’t talk about rape honestly, and they’re not funny because they make people laugh at rape (and assume rape will be laughed at), and they’re not funny because rape is not funny. They’re not funny because the reason we distance ourselves from rape with humor in the first place—to wit, the abject hideousness of rape—is something that that very distance allows people to forget. And that’s not fair, and that’s scary, and I, for one, am not laughing about it at all.