Last summer, I took an Intro to Women’s Studies class. While this was the first course required for my Women’s Studies minor, it was by no means the first time I dealt with gender studies; many of my English classes were tailored toward gender studies. I also spent over a year working in Lock Haven University’s HOPE Center, a safe haven on campus for students who had been sexually assaulted or raped. While we were not trained to counsel victims, we were trained to get them the help they needed.
During my Women’s Studies class, I had to write a research paper regarding a hot topic in the world of gender studies. Around the same time, comedian Daniel Tosh got himself into trouble for joking about rape during a show. I ended up using this incident as a basis for my paper, entitled “Not a Laughing Matter: Putting an End to Rape Jokes and Victim Blaming.” To summarize the situation, I wrote:
[Tosh] crossed some boundaries with one female audience member in particular when he poked fun at rape jokes. Tosh declared that he thinks rape jokes are hilarious. The audience member stood up and confronted Tosh, saying “rape jokes are never funny.” Tosh’s response, according to the audience member, was “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like, five guys right now? Like right now? What if a bunch of guys just raped her…”
Thanks to social media (especially the audience member’s blog), word of the incident spread like wildfire. Eventually, if I remember correctly, Tosh was made to apologize. But, as I wrote in my paper, the incident opened up some bigger issues: why is our culture still making rape jokes?
I have seen the effects that rape has on victims. I have seen the sadness, anger, frustration, pain, fear, and self-loathing that comes from rape. I have seen victims who are afraid to speak out about what happened (mostly because of victim blaming, which is another problem entirely), and I have seen victims who are so outraged that they want everyone to know about their case.
What I have also witnessed is the jokes made about rape. Countless times, I have heard things like “oh man, I just got raped by that test.” And now, I can’t scroll through my news feed on Facebook without seeing people posting the “rape sloth” meme. The people who find this meme funny are probably not victims of rape. But they also don’t think about the effects that posting these funny jokes can have.
If nearly 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men in the U.S. report being raped, chances are there is someone on your friend list who has been raped or sexually assaulted. Imagine if they were scrolling through their feed and saw rape being joked about. Yes, you have every right to post what you want on your Facebook. But again, I ask, why is our culture still joking about rape?
In my paper, I also mentioned the following:
Although it is unlikely that any form of crime, including rape, can be completely obliterated, a good start towards a better understanding of rape and its physical and emotional consequences would be for our society to stop treating it as a joke, or as something to which a stigma is attached. Even Tosh’s Twitter apology to the woman who walked out of his show was not without a joke. The second half of the two-part Tweet said, “the point i was making before i was heckled is there are awful things in the world but you can still make jokes about them. #deadbabies.”
Rape is a serious problem, in our country and others, and joking about it is doing much, much more harm than good. Intense trauma (which rape definitely is) is not something to joke about. Ever. And yet, this “rape sloth” meme (and countless others) are spread across the Internet every day. Put yourself in a victim’s shoes. One of the most terrifying moments of your life is being trivialized. How do you feel?
Readers, I can’t tell you how to run your social networking pages. I’m just asking you to think twice about what you post. If you really want to share something like that with a friend, consider a private message. Victims should not have to worry about triggers every time they log into social network sites, nor should they feel ostracized for what they went through.