Womens Issues

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?

Avatar of Frederica Pellman

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: 208 Comments

  1. Avatar of Hannah Banana

    Hannah Banana

    From popular hip hop lyrics we’ve become a society that turns rape and violence into jokey throwaway lines.Asking a woman who’ve they had casual sex with or scolding them for having casual sex after they’ve been sexually assaulted or raped is the same as saying what did you wear implying they were asking for it.
    We should be teaching men they never have a right to force sex.

  2. Avatar of Geoff Nugent

    Geoff Nugent

    We have to laugh at it. If we don’t laugh at jokes then what have we become as a society? We need to learn and understand that comedy is just an out. They make fun of everything and everyone. The moment anything is off limits is the moment we have lost the ability to laugh at ourselves.

  3. Avatar of Dianne Copeland

    Dianne Copeland

    We all need to be sensitive. When a comedian makes a rape joke, he’s hurting someone in the audience. He’s not offending, he’s HURTING an audience. He’s bringing up some really, really dark shit.

    • Avatar of Justin


      Shut the fuck up. Don’t go outside if you’re that easily HURT by words.

  4. Avatar of Shawna Henry

    Shawna Henry

    There’s no rape joke funny enough to make me laugh ?

  5. Avatar of Melba Harrington

    Melba Harrington

    The thing about rape in (good) comedy that I’ve noticed is that it doesn’t try to paint it as an okay thing, or something inherently funny.

  6. Avatar of Sheri Chapman

    Sheri Chapman

    Reality check!

  7. Avatar of Lillian Arnold

    Lillian Arnold

    I think the reason people react so strongly to the subject of rape jokes is because it is too common. The sad fact is, we as a society can’t afford to trivialize it when we still haven’t even begun to resolve it.

  8. Avatar of Brandy Warner

    Brandy Warner

    Rape culture is about rape, but also about the other ways you can have your safety or body violated.

  9. Avatar of Margaret Palmer

    Margaret Palmer

    Might be the feminist in me, but I firmly believe that RAPE IS NOT a JOKE and should not be joked about. It’s a serious issue to be addressed.

  10. Avatar of Dixie Castro

    Dixie Castro

    What I noticed about new breeds of comedians is that it doesn’t matter if the topic of the joke is offensive or inappropriate; if it can make people laugh, then the joke will be said and done 🙁

Load 10 more comments

Join in the Conversation! Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Urbanette moderates and edits comments for grammar and to facilitate an informed, substantive, civil conversation. Abusive, profane, promotional, misleading, incoherent or off-topic comments will be rejected. Please use your full name. Moderators can only approve comments written in English.

All content is strictly copyright. Contact us for permission.