Rape “Jokes” Are No Laughing Matter

This post in particular is addressed to men, not because women don’t rape and women don’t make/laugh at rape jokes and not because men can’t be raped, but because, by nature of the existing gender disparity, men are in a unique position to be taken seriously when they raise objections to casual language and humor regarding rape. Men are also in a unique position to prove to rapists that not all men rape or take rape lightly by being able to embody living proof of that fact.

To all those men who don’t think the rape jokes are a problem:

I get it—you’re a decent guy. I can even believe it. You’ve never raped anybody. You would NEVER rape anybody. You’re upset that all these feminists are trying to accuse you of doing something, or connect you to doing something, that, as far as you’re concerned, you’ve never done and would never condone.

And they’ve told you about triggers, and PTSD, and how one in six women is a survivor, and you get it. You do. But you can’t let every time someone gets all upset get in the way of you having a good time, right? Especially when it doesn’t mean anything. Rape jokes have never made YOU go out and rape someone. They never would; they never could. You just don’t see how it matters.

I’m going to tell you how it does matter. And I tell you this because I genuinely believe you mean it when you say you don’t want to hurt anybody, and that it’s important to you to do your best to be a decent and good person, and that you don’t see the harm. And I genuinely believe you when you say you would never associate with a rapist and you think rape really is a very bad thing.

Here is why I refuse to take rape jokes sitting down…

Because 6% of college-aged men, slightly over 1 in 20, will admit to raping someone in anonymous surveys, as long as the word “rape” isn’t used in the description of the act—and that’s the conservative estimate. Other sources double that number (pdf).

A lot of people accuse feminists of thinking that all men are rapists. That’s not true. But do you know who think all men are rapists?

Rapists do.

They really do. In psychological study, the profiling, the studies, it comes out again and again.

Virtually all rapists genuinely believe that all men rape, and other men just keep it hushed up better. And more, these people who really are rapists are constantly reaffirmed in their belief about the rest of mankind being rapists like them by things like rape jokes, that dismiss and normalize the idea of rape.

If one in twenty guys (or more) is a real and true rapist, and you have any amount of social activity with other guys like yourself, then it is almost a statistical certainty that one time hanging out with friends and their friends, playing Halo with a bunch of guys online, in a WoW guild, in a pick-up game of basketball, at a bar, or elsewhere, you were talking to a rapist. Not your fault. You can’t tell a rapist apart any better than anyone else can. It’s not like they announce themselves.

But, here’s the thing. It’s very likely that in some of these interactions with these guys, at some point or another, someone told a rape joke. You, decent guy that you are, understood that they didn’t mean it, and it was just a joke. And so you laughed.

Or maybe you didn’t laugh. Maybe it just wasn’t a very funny joke. So maybe you just didn’t say anything at all.

And, decent guy who would never condone rape, who would step in and stop rape if he saw it, who understands that rape is awful and wrong and bad, when you laughed? When you were silent?

That rapist who was in the group with you, that rapist thought that you were on his side. That rapist knew that you were a rapist like him. And he felt validated, and he felt he was among his comrades.

You. The rapist’s comrade.

And if that doesn’t make you feel sick to your stomach, if that doesn’t make you want to throw up, if that doesn’t disturb you or bother you or make you feel like maybe you should at least consider not participating in that kind of humor anymore, not abiding it in your presence, not greeting it with silence…

Well, maybe you aren’t as opposed to rapists as you claim.


Note: A quick and simple rule for language and behavior if you want to be a decent person: Ask yourself, “who is more likely to be made to feel comfortable around me based on whatever I’m about to say/do? Rape survivors? Or rapists? Who is more likely to be made to feel uncomfortable?”   If you’re doing something that is more likely to make rapists feel comfortable and/or rape survivors feel uncomfortable, then don’t do it!

This post originally appeared on Shakesville.


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Photo from ma.co. via flickr


Voice O.
Voice O.4 years ago

This is a ridiculous statement, for the following reasons:
1. You cannot under any possible logic be arrogant enough to assert that ANY topic is universally unfunny. The arrogance required to make such a statement is staggering. It is no different than saying "You cannot like Doug Stanhope because I don't like Doug Stanhope, and you cannot dislike Ricky Gervais because I find him hilarious". There are no universal rules to humour, it is ENTIRELY subjective, so if you don't find rape joke funny, that's fine! That is your RIGHT. But don't attempt to force your humour on others.

2. Addressing this post SPECIFICALLY to men, no matter your intention, is both unnecessary and MINDLESSLY sexist. If rape isn't funny (again, see point 1), then it isn't funny for everyone, and calling out only men is about as unequal a claim as you can make.

3. Attempting to make people assume they're "not as opposed to rape" because they laughed is the cheapest, thinnest, weakest straw man I've ever read. You cannot make up rules to life, although bless you, you're trying hard. If a man chooses to laugh at a joke that is mildly racist, he doesn't suddenly condone slavery. If he laughs because someone falls over, he doesn't want everyone to fall and hurt themselves. Humour is used to make light of serious issues because, y'know what? We NEED that. As a society, we find it very hard to deal with serious issues without at the very least using humour to comfort the blow. It isn't "justifying" or "ch

Jackie Agusta
Jackie Agusta5 years ago

Thanks for this, I didn't know that rapist see all men as being the same as them (rapists that is), I just thought that they were all like minded in how they see women. 1 in 20 is a very scary number considering I work with about 30 men and then there are all the men that I know outside of work as well. Very interesting :-(

Lori E.
Lori E5 years ago

Thanks for this article!

Sarah Metcalf
Sarah M5 years ago

Thank you for the article. It is disturbing to see that by the poll there is still a significant percentage of people who apparently condone such behavior and in turn condone rape--it's infuriating and heartbreaking at the same time.

Maarja L.
Maarja L5 years ago

This is a good article. Thank you.

Annmari Lundin
Annmari Lundin5 years ago

Good article. I will forward it to all my male friends and my female friends too so they can share with their male friends. Hopefully it will be like rings in the water, spread as far away and to as many people as possible. Rape and other sexual assaults are never a laughing matter!

Hugh W.
.5 years ago

Good article, can't say that would ever be something joke about. I also don't think that the author can generalize and say that all rapists believe that other men do it too. That is on the same line of logic as saying all murderers believe that everyone else would kill too. Most people know that they are doing something wrong, they just think they can get away with it or that the rules don't apply to them.

Anne G.
Anne G5 years ago

Joking about rape is just unacceptable.

Tatjana C.
Tatjana C5 years ago

I couldn't laugh about it...

Miranda Lyon
Miranda Lyon5 years ago

My husband will call any other man, in any social or work situation, on making a rape "joke". I'm sure he's not the only man who does this...and if more and more men become willing to do so, it will make a difference...not just in rape "jokes", but in deeper attitudes which many men have simply not explored in themselves or in their male friends and relatives.