Why Are These Men Joking About Sexual Assault?? - URBANETTE: Lifestyle Magazine & Blog

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Why Are These Men Joking About Sexual Assault??

Because, well, shut up, feminist!


I recently spent a wonderful week in France with my son and his wife (yup, #HilaryRowland). Wanting to watch television one night, and finding – surprise, surprise- that most of the programs were in French, we started watching some stand-up comedians on Netflix. All good – talk of relationships and their challenges, presented with lots of humor and insight. And then we happened on a comedian (Jim Jefferies) whose act veered quickly into jokes about rape. Trying not to be an “uptight” female, I found myself struggling to laugh at the jokes until it hit me that my struggle wasn’t because I was uptight, but because rape is just not funny.

Really, “rape joke” is an oxymoron, and making light of such a serious issue just serves to normalize rape in our culture. Rape jokes aren’t funny. They’re traumatizing.

Harvey Weinstein is not a lone wolf. Sexual aggression against women has been around for a long time in a culture that winks at “boys being boys” and laughs about “locker room talk.” Repeated scandals, and the public’s response to them, makes clear why we should push back against male comedians making jokes about rape. When a man can joke about sexually assaulting a women, get caught on tape, and subsequently be elected president, you know there’s something seriously wrong.

And who can forget when Daniel Tosh, during a standup comedy set about rape, told a woman in the audience that it’d be “hilarious” if she was gang raped right then and there. Yes, he really said that. Out loud. Seems he assumed his fans might also find watching a women get held down and gang raped in front of an audience would be “hilarious”. (I can neither confirm nor deny whether they did.)

She walked out when he said that, of course, and asked for a refund, which she was refused because — well, shut up, feminist! Now, this is the guy who’s famous for saying stupid sh*t on TV, but in the fantasy world in my head, this would have been a “Who’s with me?” Jerry Maguire moment where the entire audience exited and left Tosh.O just standing there with his (ahem) mic in his hand.

Why Are These Men Joking About Sexual Assault??

Hopefully the floodgates are opening and societal exclamations of horror and condemnation will mark the beginning of a more enlightened understanding of how harmful unwanted sexual assaults are to individuals and to society as a whole. Such assaults are not ever, ever funny, and comedians who use rape jokes to get a quick easy laugh from the “bros” should be told clearly by everyone, but especially by those “bros”, to STOP. #notfunny

“Cavalier jokes about domestic violence and rape (jokes that target victims, not perpetrators) feed that aura of feeling unsafe and unwelcome—not just in the comedy club, but in the world.”Comedian Lindy West

There is no “social value” in sexism or jokes about sexual assault. Jim Jefferies uses this material because it sells, makes him seem cool to a certain demographic, and it puts money in his pocket. It offers no insights, no solutions, no empathy. He peddles this material like a drug dealer peddling drugs, rationalizing that he is simply giving people what they want. But some topics are simply not funny — especially to the victims. It can be incredibly triggering for a survivor to hear a rape joke.

I know that men get raped in prisons and institutions, and children get raped in convents and families, and it is an awful, sickening thing to know. But that wasn’t the subject of this man’s jokes. He was joking about men raping women, insinuating that rape isn’t a big deal, and encouraging his audience to laugh along with him. I assume this man’s audience is predominantly young males whose minds are very susceptible to hints about what is masculine and what is funny. Telling them that rape is funny is not just obnoxious, it is actually dangerous. It encourages less sophisticated male minds to think that rape is really not that big of a deal. In this way, the comedian who promotes this attitude bears some similarity to a rapist himself, and responsibility for rape culture.

Why Are These Men Joking About Sexual Assault??

Having been attacked myself many decades ago on a London street when walking home at around 1:00 AM from a jazz club, I was shocked by what my attacker said as he covered my mouth, lifted me like a bunch of twigs and threw me on the ground. “I don’t want to hurt you, I just want a bit of the other.” As though that wasn’t a big deal, and I should just go along with it so he could relieve himself.

When I was rescued by some folks who heard me screaming, and the police were called, they in turn suggested that walking home alone in the wee hours would make any juror think that I was “asking for it”, so I should probably not ask them to go looking for the guy who had run off into the night. I still think about their casual indifference to my distress. I was too young and unworldly to challenge them then, but I would have a very different response today.

Why does so much comedy (and specifically the comedy promoted by young male comedians) have to be so ugly? When Jerry Springer came on the scene back in the early 90’s, he didn’t present his show as comedy, but we were actually invited to laugh at people (most often young black people) who were encouraged to attack each other with profanity and sometimes physical abuse. It represented one of the lowest forms of entertainment and yet continues to be successful to this day. I think that’s when many people who wanted to make a living making jokes saw the light – that vicious, ugly material had a big audience and could bring fame and lots of money.

Why Are These Men Joking About Sexual Assault??

We all understand why the “N” word belongs exclusively to black people to use if and when they choose. After years of having the word hurled like a weapon loaded with humiliation, contempt, casual cruelty, subjugation, insult, they have earned the right to own it, and to use it in some strange way to take the sting out a word that has trapped them in the past as surely as slavery did. Any white person with any intelligence, understanding, class or discretion knows the word is off limits for them. The same should be true of rape – that the subject cannot be used by men in a casual, misguided, sophomoric attempt to look cool or to mock women for being uptight.

I understand freedom of speech, and sometimes it is helpful to joke about dark subjects to bring them into the light and into people’s consciousness. That’s not true with rape. We already know what rape is, and how it damages women for decades, maybe for life. Freedom of speech is a valued ideal, but is making jokes about the physical and mental devastation of women the best we can do with that right?

Frederica Pellman was born and raised in London, and educated at a private convent in Notting Hill Gate. She moved to the West Village, NYC with one of her sisters - they had no jobs, no contacts, no place to stay and virtually no money! After a brief but memorable stay at a hotel, they found jobs, friends and an apartment, and eventually husbands. She now she lives in Southampton and spends her time writing, walking, and working as a life coach.

Reader Discussion: 138 Comments

  1. Kristen Wright

    This is a great article, I hope a lot of people can read this for social awareness. This article can help also people to reflect on how they react to rape jokes they hear around.

    • Sara Washington

      Right. I am guilty of this because sometimes maybe unconsciously I laugh when I see memes on social media even for serious topics.

  2. William Dean

    With all these rape jokes I have heard and read in the past, I am more concern for the people who make a joke and laugh at them. It can be a revealing symptom of questionable underlying views socially ingrained in those who tell and laugh at them.

  3. Lori Savage

    When a guy harassed a girl, they would only say that “boys are being boys”. They try to validate their action because of their gender and they even say it is masculine that way. I would punch in the face when I hear someone says that when I am around.

    • Kenya Cordova

      This is nice! It is good to be brave and stand up for something like this.

  4. Betty Martinez

    People do not realize that every time they make jokes about this serious rape issue is they are making these lunatic rapists to feel like it is not a big deal and it is acceptable. We need to step up our game and be more supportive to the victims and condemn this evil act by not supporting comedians who make fun of this. And we should at least speak up when we hear someone make jokes about rape. So they would know and feel that it is not cool.

  5. Judith Jones

    Recently, a friend of mine with an extreme sense of humor made a joke about an anal rape of one of the men in prison. And then he showed he these memes that are circulating online and a lot of people made fun of it. With all honesty, I didn’t find it funny, because I have a father and a little brother, and rape isn’t funny at all even for a prisoner.

  6. Cheryl Cox

    I have not found a comedian who didn’t use any serious topics or issues as a subject for jokes for the audience to laugh about. They didn’t even think about being sensitive. What if there are people in the audience who experienced that tragic moment you are all laughing at? We do not know how that specific moment can affect his/her life. We wouldn’t want to cause more harm than good because of those jokes.

  7. Shirley Flores

    I do not call myself a Feminist, but I am obnoxious about dirty jokes, not only rape but any jokes that sexualize women and giving men the validation that harassment and rape are not a big deal. These pervs comedians are not worth watching and supporting. I hope people would be more aware and pick carefully on who they watch.

  8. Diana Scott

    The media plays really dirty and it is getting ugly. It is sad that there are a lot of shows and even movies that give this idea that rape is not a big deal. If you are a man with a shallow mind, you wouldn’t even think that it is a crime because it can still be used as a funny subject. These are some of the things why I think Feminism is still relevant.

  9. Betty Whitmer

    If I were the lady who was used to that gang raped joke, I would slap him hard in the face and hit his balls with all my power before I walk out. That was rude and inappropriate. The fact that rape is a serious topic, it should be used for anything funny because there is no fun in that. Such a dick!

    • Jonathon Swift

      If that was my girlfriend, that comedian would have borrowed a face in a monkey. I would beat him until he can not use his mouth for anything nonsense like his jokes. Totally unacceptable!

  10. Jane Simmons

    Media plays a big role in peoples life. It can be influential to the point of making or breaking someone’s life. Using rape as a subject to laugh about isn’t funny and cool at all, but often times still being used because there are people who accept and laugh at it. I just do not get how people stomach to laugh at someone’s nightmare. Truly sickening!

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