A version of this originally appeared as a comment on a Facebook post by Miri. Content warning for what it says on the tin.
Someone on Tumblr made a great point about this: I’m tired of trying to explain why rape jokes* aren’t funny. Why don’t you explain to me why they are?
* By which I don’t mean “jokes that reference rape in some way”; I mean “jokes in which the rape victim is the one being laughed at”
I can still remember the first time I heard a rape joke told aloud. It was when I was first getting to know a classmate of mine. At one point, he decided to ask me what the difference between sex and rape was. The answering punchline was “patience.” I not only laughed heartily, I made a show of how funny I found it.
I once was a loud-and-proud supporter of rape jokes because I was fresh out of fundamentalism, enjoyed “fail”-type humor, wanted men to approve of me, and despised attractive women.
It’s no coincidence that I most heartily laughed at and advocated for rape jokes within the first year or two post-apostasy from Islam. I was into all kinds of questionable “humor” at the time. I was, for example, obsessed with South Park and Drawn Together. Laughing at all off-color jokes, including rape jokes, felt like a way to unshackle myself from the very affected prudishness by which I had conducted my life as a practicing Muslim. Refusing to laugh at any of it felt like what I had to do as a Muslim and I wanted to be free of my past prissiness.
For the Lulz
On a basic level, I used to laugh at rape jokes for the same reason people laugh at “fails” that could (and often do) lead to serious harm and injury, even ones where it wasn’t at all the harmed person’s fault. Laughing at a rape joke seemed yet another way of laughing at someone else’s perceived misery. Someone getting “pwned” is inherently funny to a lot of people and has been even before the Internet (America’s Funniest Home Videos, anyone?).
I was always the fat ugly girl who was trying to be one of the guys in order to receive some — any — male attention. Laughing with them at rape jokes was a way to get them to like me and think I was cool, unlike those other women, which I hoped would eventually lead to romantic interest from them (it didn’t). I didn’t want to be like the women that men complained were too touchy or otherwise annoyingly feminine. I wanted to embody the Cool Girl personality-wise since, according to the men I heard, I wasn’t attractive enough to merit male attention based on that alone.
Part of why I laughed was that I was extremely bitter about pretty women who complained about what I saw as desirable displays of male attention. They seemed like yet another pretty girl problem, like when women half my size complained about being “fat.”
I seethed when extremely hot women complained to me about getting hit on by men not up to what I perceived to be rather sky-high standards. Thinking of attractive women as ungrateful snobs spilled over into the ways about which I mentally framed sexual assault. I understood stranger rape, rape as a tool of warfare, and drugged rape, but I didn’t understand situations where the victim was sober and knew the rapist. I felt that they were complaining about men wanting them so badly that they couldn’t help themselves, or men not up to their sky-high standards wanting to have sex with them. Laughing at a rape joke seemed like a way to get back at what I saw as a bunch of hotties complaining about what I, very much as nottie, would have killed to get.
This is part of me I am not proud of nor am I proud to revisit it. I can only hope to shed some insight for the benefit of those who cannot understand why someone would find a rape joke funny.
Laughing at rape jokes was a way that I could feel better about not being attractive while simultaneously garnering favor from men by not appearing “uptight” and thumbing my nose at my prudish religious background. There was nothing to lose and everything to gain for a socially-isolated young person with few non-male friends.
As for the guy who told me the rape joke, he ended up betraying me and my trust quite repeatedly and horribly. He has since apologized and I’ve forgiven him, but I wish 18-year-old me had listened to her former hero: “When people show you who they are, believe them.”