Why I Stopped Laughing at Rape Jokes

Content notice for sexual assault in the section called “Life Lessons” and ableism in the section called “Losing the Lulz”

I revisited a part of my past of which I am anything but proud in order to shed some light on why some people might laugh at rape jokes. What got me to stop finding downward-punching rape jokes funny was a process rather than any sort of a-ha! moment of sudden enlightenment. The process involved reading a lot, living a bit more, reconsidering my love of the Darwin Awards, and de-centering male desire in terms of my understanding of my self-worth.

Frozen Peach resin necklace available for sale on Etsy
I own a Freeze Peach, and so can you, thanks to Etsy.

Examining the Arguments

Reading arguments against that style of rape joke helped, but so did reading arguments in favor of it. What struck me about the pro-rape joke arguments is that they tended to be generic Freeze Peach arguments rather than anything addressing any actual concerns about rape jokes. No one of note was seriously arguing that comedians should not be legally permitted to make rape jokes, yet pro-rape joke arguments almost invariably hinged on “freedom of speech” without addressing anything else.

The few that went further compared making a rape joke to making a joke about any other violent act, which would be fair if sexual assault were treated the same as any other violent act (it is not). A lot of the pro-rape joke crowd fancies themselves defenders of liberty and justice by “daring” to joke at the expense of victims of a crime that often puts the victim on trial.

Life Lessons

Within 6 months of having declared my apostasy, I entered into a 18-month monogamous relationship with an older man. This meant that I didn’t do much in the way of dating, hooking up, or college partying until 2 years after I’d left Islam. After my breakup, I went on dates, hooked up, and partied quite a bit. I found myself shocked at just how little some men seemed to care for my consent, let alone my pleasure. These weren’t scary strangers jumping out of bushes, but everyday men who not only cavalierly disregarded my agency and my sexuality, but also couldn’t seem to comprehend why I would have a problem with that.

On the extreme end, through an attempted sexual assault by a guy I would have probably hooked up with had he simply asked me, I learned that such situations weren’t the result of a man desiring me so much that he couldn’t help himself. Instead, this was a man who found a woman in a position where he thought she wouldn’t or couldn’t say no. I didn’t feel special or wanted. I knew that had I been some other co-ed in the same situation, he would have done the same. It was chilling, to say the least.

Nevada Falls at Yosemite National Park

Losing the Lulz

I used to love the Darwin Awards. When I had the opportunity to purchase a used copy of the boxed set, I jumped on the chance. I eagerly devoured the books over the course of a few days. Partway through, I stopped cold. I had recognized one of the stories. It was of a family friend who had died of a freak accident at Yosemite. I had been to his wedding and I had attended his funeral. At the latter, I had witnessed the weeping of his widowed wife and the frightened confusion in the eyes of his orphaned children. Suddenly, at least some of the stories seemed like tales of tragedy rather than gleeful recountings of “stupid” people who “took themselves out of the gene pool”.

Not long after I’d read the books, I attended Skepti-Cal. Wendy Northcutt, the person behind the Darwin Awards, was one of the speakers that year. During her Q&A, I was to find that there is a reason the Wikipedia entry for the Darwin Awards lists “sadism” as a related topic (if only ableism were as well). I had asked something along the lines of “Some of these seem like freak accidents rather than acts of stupidity. Do you check to see if they were?” Her response indicated rather callous indifference, and I officially lost my taste for laughing at others’ misfortune and perceived lack of intelligence.

Hate Patriarchy, Not Pretty Girls

My resentment of attractive women came from centering male desire and approval in my life as a primary source of self-worth. I hated that the hotties seemed to garner male desire and approval without even half the effort I put into getting men to barely like me as a friend. I was caught up in what I thought of as a competition for a limited and precious resource, an unfair fight that was clearly stacked against me.

Slowly, over time, I stopped caring so much for the general approval of men and started caring more about earning the approval of valued friends and myself. What helped was having close female friends who taught me about genuine camaraderie and sisterhood, learning about my own desirability so that I wasn’t so desperate, and coming out as queer which meant that even if no man ever desired me ever again, I would still have options against Forever Aloneness.

After years of work on myself, I still have flashes of self-doubt as well as loathing both of myself and of attractive women, but I’m able to deal with them and let them affect my life far less than before.

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Why I Stopped Laughing at Rape Jokes
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9 thoughts on “Why I Stopped Laughing at Rape Jokes

  1. 1

    Damn. I’m sorry to hear about the Darwin Award one–that’s damn rough.
    And I’m glad that you managed to get away from that guy.

    But yeah, I stopped for similar but less personal reasons–it was damn hard to find rape jokes funny once I realized that that shit happened to people and they get treated like shit for it.

  2. 2

    Sorry, I have to disagree. Rape jokes aren’t personal. Should all tragedy be taboo to joke, or do rape jokes hold special status? A comedian can joke about getting shot in the head, a car accident, punting a baby who’s crying to loud, or other terrible things, but only rape jokes can cause people to accuse you of actually being a bad person if you laugh at it. It’s comedy. Terrible topics can be part of it.

    1. 2.1

      How very promising, someone whose very handle is “Disagree”.

      Of course terrible topics can be part of comedy, but jokes at the expense of rape victims feed into a societal bias against rape victims. No one immediately blames someone for getting shot in the head, getting into a car accident, or a baby for getting punted. Talk about sexual assault, though, and the victim is immediately blamed.

      And there are other kinds of jokes people will think you’re a bad person for laughing at. Holocaust jokes, for instance?

  3. 3

    Ah, yes, those heady days when we were in some boys’ club or other, and we felt special. It feels totally cool for a while, but as boys get older it becomes apparent that, at least some of them aren’t on our side. I chose my own self-respect, and respect for my fellow women, and I’ve never regretted it. In fact, I’ve found that it’s good to make sure the guys you hang out with know you have boundaries. They won’t like it. A couple will bitch and moan about your boundaries. But the ones worth hanging out with will respect them, and you, eventually.

  4. xyz
    4

    I really appreciated this post and the one that came before it.

    “My resentment of attractive women came from centering male desire and approval in my life as a primary source of self-worth.” – yep, this is exactly why I used to say things to tear other women down. I had to learn to value women more and value myself independent of men in order to get over it.

  5. 5

    Just out of curiosity, does anyone have information on where this notion, that one’s self-worth is dependent on the opinions of another, comes from? I struggled with it too, in the sense of being jealous of studly men because they seem to attract women so easily. I did get over it, mostly, but began to wonder what gave rise to that condition in the first place. Wanting to please my parents? Being told I was bad for some minor transgression? I dunno, but it’s worth some effort to figure out because it is a huge source of pain in the lives of many, many, people.

    As for rape jokes in particular, I wonder if they are less objectionable coming from women. I imagine such jokes differ in some way from those told by men. In part, I suppose it could be a coping mechanism of some sort, though I imagine the joke itself would signal that intent.

    Obviously, I am a man trying to give some thought to these matters. But, I readily admit, I’m pretty stupid.

    Thanks.

    EoRaptor

    1. 5.1

      I think it comes from human nature. We are a social and interdependent species. Caring about others’ opinions is generally a good thing overall. It only gets bad when others’ opinions are arbitrary and tyrannical.

    2. 5.2

      I know this is from several months ago, but I have a specific answer to your question. I as a woman have occasionally found rape jokes funny, whether made by women or men, when they ridicule the rapist. But only then. Anything other than sympathy and/or compassion for the victim ruins it.

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