"It's just a joke!"

April 8th, 2017

Content Warning(s): Rape Jokes, Triggers

Day eight! April is Sexual Assault Survivor Month! This post will contain sensitive material; please exercise caution if you see a topic that could be upsetting to you. A final caveat: these are written from my limited perspective as a bi woman who was raped. I don't have all the answers and I'm still working through my own journey. There are many other kinds of sexual assault and abuse that are relevant this month. Take time to consider the needs of your diverse fellow survivors. Speak up for them when they can't speak up for themselves, but don't speak over them. Thank you!

I wonder how many of you have been in this scenario: minding your own business, listening in on a part of a conversation, when suddenly someone makes a very inappropriate joke. This is another October date, the 8th, referencing a New York Comic Con story. I was working as a cosplayer at the Bandai Namco booth, generally chatting people up and getting them to play the demo for Tales of Berseria. Suddenly I hear someone behind me start laughing and talking about how so-and-so was just "getting raped" in some (likely) gaming context.

I felt time stop for a moment as I processed what was happening. If you read yesterday's story, you know why I was there in the first place: a survivor representing a game about survivorship. And some youngish guy behind me decides to tell a rape joke out of nowhere? This is exactly the kind of low-key rape culture that gets a pass too often at conventions, the exact kind of misogyny that I strive to fight. I spun around faster than, perhaps, I ever had in dance class and gave him an earful about why that was inappropriate and told him about the fact that I was a survivor. He got sheepish and shut up; that was all it took. But he couldn't undo the damage of the rage I felt at the meaning behind what he'd done, and the fact that he'd certainly do it again because society doesn't encourage learning from such an experience for that type of male "nerd."

Beyond this particular joke, I know a lot of people tell jokes about sensitive topics (see day 2: triggers for more on this). When I see them on my feed or dash or what-have-you, I allow myself to feel what it makes me feel: invisible, unimportant, objectified. Then I fight back with whatever words best serve the situation, whether they're public or messaged. It's not easy. Some days I feel the sting of being the punchline more acutely, but others I'm more motivated to speak up about it. Choosing which battles to fight often means choosing between being silenced or fighting extreme and willful ignorance of the pain that rape jokes inflict.

Before I close out, I wanna talk briefly about comedian culture. As a lifelong fan of SNL and standup, I know as well as anyone in the industry that "women aren't funny" seems to be a mainstay. The public majority acts as though women comedians only tell jokes about being a woman, such as being raped or experiencing periods, and that that's "icky." If you can support real women comedians whose jokes you agree with, that's a big help. Maria Bamford is a favorite of mine who often discusses how her mental illness affects her life in the industry. I also recommend watching Mike Birbiglia's latest Netflix special, "Thank God for Jokes" (at one point, he calls out a man in the audience for participating in rape culture; he handled it better than any other comedian I've seen yet).

There CAN be good ways to create jokes involving rape (but not making light of rape itself), particularly if it shines a satirical spotlight on the hypocrisy of rape culture or helps a survivor experience catharsis. But I wish everyone would treat it much more seriously, and I don't know how it's supposed to start other than calling out those whose jokes are inappropriate.

Thanks for reading! Tomorrow's topic will be about a horrifying "informational" table I found while I was working at my job.


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