“Dude, that teacher sucks. She should get raped for giving me a C on that essay!”
How I wish I had just made that line up in my head for the purpose of this post. But I didn’t. This is one of many rape jokes I’ve overheard in my school hallways. I often hear my male friends laughing along when their peers joke about drugging a girl, or raping a teacher they find attractive. The fact is, these jokes aren’t funny. Not now, not ever. And here’s why.
Making sexual assault a punchline detracts from the seriousness of the matter. By cracking jokes, we normalize it. We tell victims and survivors of assault that what happened shouldn’t upset them, because jokes aren’t designed to upset people- they’re meant to draw laughs. Rather than laughing, we need to talk about the issue seriously. Sexual assault is becoming increasingly pervasive in our society. The Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs reports that somewhere in America, a woman is raped every 2 minutes. Of these rapes, 54% of them go unreported. Why do so many women choose not to report what is, by law, a violent crime? Perhaps part of the reason is the prevalence of rape jokes.
When someone who has been sexually assaulted hears a rape joke, it further enforces the culture of victim blaming that they have no doubt already been exposed to. Rape jokes are a way to perpetuate the idea that men are entitled to a woman’s body, and if she doesn’t go along with his desires, well it’s her fault for whatever happens. After all, he’s a man, he just couldn’t help himself. This ingrained belief of sexual entitlement is part of the problem. When you tell a rape joke, you add to this belief. You tell women that you getting a bad grade on an assignment is the same thing as being assaulted and physically harmed. You tell survivors that what they experienced is a laughing matter. You tell them that rape is funny…which it clearly isn’t.
Oftentimes, the person making the joke doesn’t actually understand why it’s wrong. That’s because this type of “humor” is so deeply entrenched in our society that many people overlook it. It’s in the television shows and movies we watch, the magazines we read, the songs we listen to… Just look at some of the lyrics from Blurred Lines, one of the most popular songs of summer 2013: “I know you want it/But you’re a good girl/The way you grab me/Must wanna get nasty.” It seems innocuous when you hear it on the radio, but when you really listen, Robin Thicke is singing a song that encourages male entitlement- since the girl is grabbing him, she clearly wants to have sex. Although listening to songs like Blurred Lines won’t turn a man into a rapist, it normalizes the issue of sexual assault. Society surrounds us with media such as this, constantly inundating us with messages that tell us women are less than men, and sexual assault is something to laugh about.
The fact is, rape jokes aren’t funny. Instead of laughing, we need to stand up and say something. So the next time you hear a rape joke, stop the person and ask why they think sexual assault is funny. Vice President Joe Biden said, “It’s not good enough not be an abuser.” It’s no longer good enough to say you’re not committing the crime, it’s not your problem- it is your problem. It’s everyone’s problem. It will continue to be everyone’s problem until there are no more victims of sexual assault. So use your voice to let people know: Rape jokes are not ok.