Can Rape Jokes Help End Rape Culture?

By Kaeley McEvoy 4-27-2015
Sarah Silverman, Photo by Jeff / Flickr.com
Sarah Silverman, Photo by Jeff / Flickr.com

Silverman makes a startling pronouncement: “We should have more rape jokes,” she says.

And if they're done within the right framework, she’s totally right. Though rape jokes have traditionally been made at the expense of victims or used to normalize rape (for example, Daniel Tosh’s stand-up routine in which he imagines a rape victim laughing while being attacked), Silverman recognizes that humor can be a powerful tool for dismantling rape culture.

Silverman recently demonstrated the power of jokes aimed at rape culture when a recent photo she posted on Twitter went viral. The photo captured a list of “Rape Prevention Tips” for potential rapists. The list included lines like: “Carry a rape whistle. If you find you are about to rape someone, blow the whistle until someone comes to stop you.”

Of course, what makes this photo powerful is how it challenges the dangerous idea that the best way to prevent rape is to teach individuals to avoid getting raped; as Lyndsey Christofferson explains in “Blaming the Victim” (Sojourners, May 2015) this idea has weaseled its way into how Christians interpret biblical passages about sexual assault (Bathsheba, anyone?) as well as how we teach young people about modesty. Instead, Silverman’s photo points out that the best way to avoid rape is to teach people not to be rapists.

And Silverman isn’t the only comedian who is proactively using humor to deconstruct rape culture.

This recent TEDx talk from actress Clementine Ford had me laughing out loud with its refreshingly honest construction of rape culture.

Editor’s Note: Video contains explicit language.

In the middle of the video, Ford challenges the normative concept that “reinforces to young girls that they don’t have the right to feel safe.” Ford begins to joke:

“Rape culture is people telling women that protecting themselves from rape is like property theft. ‘Well, it's not that I believe that rape is OK, but if you're going to leave your car parked on the street with the keys in the ignition and walk away, can you really expect that someone is not going to come along and steal it?’”

But Ford continues:

“I say to that the two things that I think when I think of people calling property theft into account for this is that one, my vagina isn't a car. … Secondly, we're not disembodied from our bodies. Our vaginas aren't cars that we can walk away from and leave. The only way that that analogy works is if I'm sitting in the car, and you come and you open the car and you drag me out of it, then you steal my [expletive] car. Your vagina is not a vehicle, but this is what rape culture looks like.”

And possibly my favorite expression of humor to deconstruct rape culture is found in the voices of these two young New Brave Poets. (Editor’s Note: Video contains explicit language.)

Rhiannon and Belissa use the perfect amount of honesty and hilarity to furiously reclaim their trauma and challenge rape culture. They forcefully end the piece by saying: “Humor helps trauma. [But] We just want to know that you’re laughing with us. We can joke about it because it’s ours to joke about, similar to how our bruises are ours to poke at and yours to keep away from.”

I’ll admit: It seems uncomfortable to joke about rape. The line is very thin, and the repercussions can be dangerous. However, as Clementine Ford so brilliantly remarked in her TED talk: “Rape is uncomfortable. This is why we need to keep talking about it, and we need to keep disrupting people's comfortable lives with it, because the result of that is that they actually do start to change.”

And that’s the ticket. How do we get things to change? It’s not that all music, film, or jokes are bad. It’s when these mediums are used as tools to perpetuate a world in which rape is normalized then they become bad.

Is humor the only tool we can use to end the pervasive destructive force of rape culture? Of course not. But I do think humor has a power that hasn’t yet been fully cultivated.

Do we stop watching movies or do we start demanding media that refuses to use rape as a “ go-to plot twist?” Do we stop telling jokes or do we start using the tools of oppression to deconstruct violence?

I’m not sure, but I do know that the insidious normality of rape culture can be ended within the next generation. And that’s no joke.

Kaeley McEvoy is Campaigns Assistant at Sojourners.

Image: Sarah Silverman, Photo by Jeff / Flickr.com

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