Despite the number of times that jokes degrading women have been masqueraded behind laughter and the defense that “it’s just a joke”, these jokes are not just jokes. Whether conscious or not, each time someone – man or woman – says we should “just enjoy the joke,” there is an underlying implication that men are superior to women that comes with the quiet acceptance of rape humour.
Whether it comes from people I follow on Twitter, Facebook friends, or even the closest people in my life who I know mean no harm, it’s been hard to ignore the casual perpetuation of misogyny found both online and in person. Perhaps rather than an issue of misogyny, it’s an issue of ignorance or misunderstanding- but whichever it is, it deserves some much needed attention.
With that, here’s the unpopular opinion of the day: rape jokes are not okay.
That said, there are a few things that made me uneasy (to say the least) about speaking out on such a controversial issue. First, of course, is the risk of writing on a sensitive topic that almost everyone has an opinion on. Second are the social consequences – on being called oversensitive when I express defiance, or humourless when I refute jokes. Lastly, what bothers me most is that this article is the toughest to write because of the first two reasons: this article is the most difficult to write because I’m worried about being impolite for being insensitive to the weight of this topic, or careless of what I might say.
But the thing is this: rape jokes regarding your exams, about our school, and jokes with any implication of force over a woman or a man are not okay. These jokes create a culture that perpetuates a belief that hey, it is just a joke and it is okay. By reinforcing a gender inequality that men and women alike have worked decade after decade to abolish, these jokes exemplify an ignorance of the implications and important consequences of simple words.
Earlier this month I came across this tweet:
Posted by an account that has over 1, 600, 000 followers (and counting), this particular tweet was retweeted and/or favourited by hundreds. Prior to this incident, someone told me a pick up line that had been funny when it was told in his team’s locker room: “do you know how I know we’re going to have sex tonight? Because I’m bigger than you.” Both of these jokes inappropriately condone the use of physical power or size to exert dominance and reinforce gender inequality in our society. (While I’m fully aware that rape is inclusive to both genders, over 80% of sex crime victims are women www.sexassault.ca/statistics.htm). However, no matter who the target is, these jokes simply are not acceptable.
These jokes have led to a culture that believes that it’s the people who take the jokes “too seriously” that are wrong, not the jokes themselves. This silent acceptance, and even approval, of crude humour has resulted in situations such as my own close friends telling me, “well, that’s reality” when I express frustration in not being able to walk down my own street after a certain hour. The men who stand on the street corner to leer lewd comments asking me (and I’m sure other women) if I’d like to “have some fun” shouldn’t be reality. However, the acceptance of rape humour has acted as a catalyst to desensitize the importance of this issue, and left people feeling both apathetic and shortsighted.
Recently as I was telling someone about this particular blog topic and my personal frustrations towards the “well, that’s reality” sentiment, he surprised me in his agreement that there was nothing that could be done about our circumstances. His apathy both angered and saddened me: in front of me stood a well-educated, knowledgeable man who comes from a family with more women than men, who believed the mistreatment of women could not be stopped. As our society fights to achieve equality in race, ethnicity and class on the one hand, it teaches acceptance of gender inequalities on the other. And while our society continues to preach against bullying, women are continuously marginalized even by those who love them.
Because I am a girl, I have been catcalled at almost every single day for the past semester on our own campus, and laughed at if I walk away quickly – because fear is funny when you’re on the other side of it. I have felt vulnerable and exposed walking outside despite being covered head to toe. I have been followed – by men walking and in cars – and I have avoided my own home to prevent leading them to my place.
I have had my house broken into and I have both come home to a man sitting outside the door of my third story house, and woken up to a man watching me sleep. And so this is important to me, and it should be to you.
Because if these behaviours aren’t acceptable, then why are the jokes that inadvertently approve of them tolerated? Rather than a quiet submission, we all need to stop making these jokes, and start telling people around us that it isn’t okay. Because this shouldn’t be anyone’s reality – not mine, and not your mother’s, your sister’s, your grandmother’s, your cousin’s, or your niece’s.
I wrote earlier that I was uneasy (and nervous and scared) about the opinions and the debates that this piece might cause – but I hope it is a big deal. I hope it is talked about, and I hope that in our College (and University) that stands for equity, this piece doesn’t go unnoticed for its controversial topic, but rather is discussed and shared.
And as far as my original unease about being called oversensitive or humourless… well, I’d say that’s a fair trade for getting this post out there.