Do “Nice Guys” Contribute to Rape Culture?


by  in Ms.Magazine

Daniel Tosh makes jokes that support rape culture and he’s defended as a “nice guy” while feminists are threatened with rape for pointing it out.  Joe Paterno is accused of participating in a cover up of child rape and his “legend” legacy is defended while Sandusky’s victims are slandered.

Misconceptions about sexual and domestic violence persist, despite feminists’ best efforts to educate the public. Rapists are assumed to be scary-looking strangers in a bush with a knife, not somebody you know and trust who uses coercion and alcohol. Batterers are assumed to be unshaven, drunken criminals, not the charming person you fell in love with.

Feminist women have taught me many things. One is that sexual/domestic violence can’t occur without sexism (racism, homophobia, etc.). Sexual violence is supported by a “rape culture” that glorifies objectification and male ownership of girls and women. Sexual coercion is painted as romantic–men are not only expected to use coercion to “score,” they are pressured and punished as “unmanly” if they don’t.

Benefiting from “rape culture”

It seems the stereotype of rapists has a counterpart–the stereotype of those who perpetuate and benefit from rape culture.

Daniel Tosh tells jokes that trivialize rape and his apologists explain that it’s our fault if we are “offended,” citing free speech as his defense.  But the feminist women and men who have spoken out against Tosh’s “jokes” were not simply “offended” – they were alarmed that his actions made women unsafe. They were concerned that the “jokes” perpetuated (and benefited from) rape culture. Jennifer Pozner draws a “difference between the hilarity of jokes that undermine rape culture and the cruelty of those that normalize rape and demean victims.”

I’m less interested in the “did he or didn’t he” of this particular example of rape culture perpetuation, more the systemic effect of rape culture on rape victims, and the permissiveness and forgiveness that rape culture brings to guys like Tosh–and me.

Are men going to run out and rape women, having listened to Tosh? Probably not. But those who do rape are let off the hook by a culture that treats rape as a joke. Rape culture allows those who do rape to escape arrest, prosecution, jail time and social sanction.

Actually, men accused of rape and abuse are often vigorously defended. “He was the coach of the team–he was a pillar of the community” too often dominates media coverage of sexual and domestic violence. As if “pillars of the community” don’t rape and abuse.

The stereotypical images of rapists and batterers hurts victims. If a person’s rapist or batterer doesn’t fit the stereotype, why come forward at all?  For this reason, feminists have worked for years to tell the truth. Rapists and batterers often present quite well in public, while committing violence in private.

The stereotype of men who perpetuate and benefit from rape culture hurts victims, too. Joe Paterno did not report Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse, yet media coverage often focused on Paterno’s “legacy” and his coaching accomplishments. Daniel Tosh told jokes that trivialize rape, yet his defenders focus on him being “one of the nicest people in the world.” (Although the media tide is turning, particularly on Paterno).

If they can be defended by just saying, “but he’s a nice guy,” the defense becomes easy. But if someone can conceivably be seen as a “nice guy” and commit rape (and/or abuse), that defense becomes meaningless and more victims will be believed. And if a “nice guy” does things that support and perpetuate rape culture, we can insist that those behaviors be changed.

Once the “nice guy” defense is eliminated, we can look at how all men are socialized in a culture of sexism. Jay Smooth and other anti-racist activists have already urged us to look at someone’s racist behavior, instead of focusing on “is someone a racist” or not. The conversation should be about the behavior, not the person.

Men, we have a crucial role to play in this. We benefit from male privilege every moment of every day. We may not ask for it, but it’s there. So let’s use it to confront rape-supportive behavior, rape jokes and rape culture whenever we can. Let’s listen when we’re told we’ve done something that inadvertently supports rape culture, rather than getting defensive. Let’s learn from feminist women who speak and write about sexual violence and rape culture. Let’s support our local rape crisis center and state sexual assault coalition. Let’s be “aspiring allies” to feminist women, as together we work to create a world free from sexual violence.


Related Stories:

Daniel Tosh Wishes Rape on Heckler

Rape Jokes? Tosh Has Plenty of Company (Video)

Dispatches From The War On Women: Rape Jokes From Tosh And Were Surprised


Photo from Comedy Central

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Past Member 8 months ago

Some people need a better definition of "nice guy".

David K.
David K.2 years ago

Any guy who'd make light of something so serious couldn't possibly be a "Nice Guy" in my book. Get real, Tosh.

Ben Oscarsito
Ben Oscarsito2 years ago

"Nice guys"???..."Rape jokes"...??? Holy CRAP!!!

Charmaine Gonzalez

Which is why I do not like Daniel Tosh at all.

Allana Dutchak
Allana D.2 years ago

Which is exactly why I feel more threatened by the seemingly nice guy than I am of the guy that seems to be a douchebag!

Margaret Garside
Margaret Garside2 years ago

When any of my husband's coworkers makes a comment or tells a 'joke', he tells the idiot off. He's a big man, my Joe; guys back down when he gets on them. I wish more men would do that.

lucy H.
lucy H.2 years ago

As long as men and women continue to conform and socially subjugate others with demeaning, devaluing attitudes and behavior, we will not get outselves out of the rut spawned by 'tradition,' education, socialization.... Violence is not only directed at women, DV,porn , sexism, rape, but also toward each other AND our selves, presenting in depression or anxiety?!. The ingrained beliefs and outrageous behavioral choices of perpetrators and the shame and self-hatred felt by the recipients create emotional havoc in our society. There are no 'winners' in this struggle as we inappropriately express our frustration/anger...also in the guise of bad comedy... or continue to jockey for control and power.

Debbi Ryan
Deb Ryan2 years ago


Penny C.
Penny C.2 years ago


Cathy C.
Cathy C.2 years ago

On more than one occasion I found myself in a sexually tinged situation that was awkward, confusing and scary, and had to get help and seek advice from guys. On most occasions the conversation would veer towards, what were you wearing? What did YOU say first? What time of day was it? Then they would say things like, "well we don't want to make a fuss. He might get punished and he doesn't deserve it." Or: "Just forgive him like Jesus wants you to do."

Honestly, and they wonder why I can't trust them afterwards.