In the U.S. every year, 207,754 people are raped, so there are also a whole bunch of people committing those rapes. What that means is that any comic who regularly performs in front of an audience is likely to spend at least some time telling jokes to someone who’s raped someone. And when he hears a joke like Tosh’s, that starts with “How can a rape joke not be funny?!” and goes on to say that a woman who interrupts him deserves to be raped – or a joke like Morril’s (“My ex-girlfriend never made me wear a condom… She was on the pill: Ambien!”) – he’s probably going to feel pretty comfortable in that room. When he hears the laughs in response to Morril’s joke, he’s not liable to feel shame about the night the girl from the bar passed out when he got her upstairs; he’s probably going to feel like he’s surrounded by a bunch of people who agree that what he did wasn’t really a big deal. He’s going to be reassured that he’s not in a society that takes it seriously.
I’ve been following the Internet Rape Joke Wars for a long time, and the latest entries — especially the brilliant work Lindy West has been doing on Jezebel (and, last week, on Kamau Bell’s show), and Sady Doyle’s reporting from Sam Morril’s show (and how psyched must that guy be these days to be mentioned in the same breath right now as the more successful defenders of rape jokes) — have made a lot of really great points.
When West was on Kamau Bell’s show last week, she kept talking about the women in the audience who’ve been raped, and how these jokes sound to them. And that’s obviously a relevant question, but I think it’s probably not the sort of thing that resonates the way it should with a lot of male comics, because I think a lot of them are actively willing to accept that triggering a woman who went to a show to laugh as collateral damage in, like, some bullshit pursuit of the edge in comedy. Empathy is hard, and a comedian’s ego can hear “I really upset someone with my joke” with a caveat of “because it’s too real for her!”
But for every rape survivor, there’s also a rapist. And what that guy thinks of your joke is a lot harder to treat as a badge of outlaw cred. Ruining a rape survivor’s night might be acceptable collateral damage; telling jokes that make a rapist feel like everybody thinks he didn’t do anything wrong, though, is a tougher one to swallow.
I’d like to think so, anyway. In any case, I’m really glad that The Frisky gave me the chance to add my take on something that’s been discussed in really thoughtful ways by a lot of smart women and men. Others have probably made this same point before, but I can’t remember who or when, so I thought it was worth making here.