I wrote this a while back – May 2013 it was published in America’s Comedy, but now America’s Comedy is no more… so I’m reposting it here.
Here are six of my thoughts about rape jokes:
1. To me, the offensive part of a poorly written rape, misogyny, or domestic violence joke is that somebody thought it was cool to subject all of us to hacky, shitty material. (Here is a link to an article by feminist Kate Harding, who is a rape survivor, and who lists 15 genuinely funny jokes about rape – 15 Jokes About Rape that Work) *(add this link to the bolded title http://kateharding.info/2012/07/13/15-rape-jokes-that-work/)
2. The point of comedy is to be funny. If you want to talk about something offensive, go for it, but be hilarious. Why tackle a dark topic a lot if you’re going to fail? That’s boring and depressing.
3. I find it insanely irritating when someone writes brilliant satire about rape / domestic violence and somebody with no sense of humor flaps their face about it. (Onion article entitled “Heartbroken Chris Brown Always Thought Rihanna Was Woman He’d Beat to Death” is funny for example.)
4. A lot of comedians who are misogynistic or discuss rape or domestic abuse are very funny. To me, the problem is not so much that we have these jokes, the problem is that we don’t make enough space for other types of jokes. You can’t solve being offended by telling people to be quiet. What you can do is allow space for more perspectives. And I think that’s starting to happen.
5. To me the real tragedy of anti-woman material is that it’s such an easy laugh point, that it encourages people to deny their voices. People want the laughs and they go for the anti-woman joke instead of their unique perspective. If someone really has a point on this topic (and we all do, there’s always going to be some woman that irritates us, the same as there will be some man that irritates us) go for it, but don’t go for a cheap laugh.
6. Frequently I find rape jokes cowardly because comedians never have to acknowledge rape victims and the effect their jokes may have on them. Rape victims often stay silent about what has happened to them. We have all seen the comedian who has a ton of racist jokes that he/she doesn’t have the courage to perform if that particular race happens to be in the room. And that to me is the test of whether a comedian is comfortable with what he/she is doing. Would most comedians with lots of rape and woman hating jokes feel comfortable performing their material for a room full of women who openly acknowledge they have been raped or beaten? If the answer is no, then maybe the material shouldn’t stay in a comedian’s act. 1 in 6 women survive attempted or completed rape so if you’re performing for a crowd with a bunch of women, you’re probably talking to a few rape victims.
I guess the closing point on this for me is that people seem to think calling a topic offensive and then asking for censorship fixes problems and it doesn’t. Also, once you start telling people to be quiet, where do you draw the line? You can’t. Be less sensitive about jokes you don’t like, or don’t support people who make jokes you don’t like. Support people who make jokes you like. And if you are a performer, create art that successfully presents a different perspective.