This post got so long, I knew I was going to forget something.
As always, on pretty much every post, trigger warning is in effect.
You Probably Know a Rapist
Usually when we talk about rape, our focus is on the victim. What shall be done to keep yourself from becoming a victim? What shall be done to keep from triggering victims? What shall be done to help victims acquire justice? What shall be done to help victims move on? What shall be done about all the blessed victims?
One could be excused for thinking that rape is about women.
But rape takes at least two people, and in the majority of those cases, the victim is going to be female and the perpetrator is going to be male. Certainly there are rapists who rape multiple women, just as there are individual women who have been raped multiple times, so it would be hard to come up with a statistical one-to-one, but for simplicity’s sake, let me put it this way:
Whenever you hear about the epidemic number of women who are raped, bear in mind that there is an equally epidemic number of rapists.
It’s very possible that you know one. It becomes increasingly more possible the more offended you are by being told rape jokes are not okay, or if you become apoplectic at the idea that you probably know a whole bunch of rape victims. It becomes more possible because you start to look more and more like the kind of person a rapist is going to feel safe around, because you share some common values about how big a deal rape is.
I know that’s even scarier, even more horrifying than the possibility that you are surrounded by rape victims. The implication that there are so many rapists vaguely out there is bad, but the implication that you sometimes have a beer with one is worse. It’s scary in its own right, and it’s scary for what it might do to your image of yourself as a good person.
When you make rape jokes, bear in mind that you’re not just making them around potential rape victims. You’re making them around potential rapists. You are making a joke that tells the women around you who have been raped that you think their rape wasn’t serious, and you are making a joke that tells the men around you who have raped that you think what they did is not serious.
You are telling rapists that they have an ally in you.
And as long as you defend making jokes about torturing women as appropriate and fun, I don’t think they’re wrong.
Jokes Are About Relieving Tension
So I’ve got this friend, let’s call him Jewelbeard. He likes to role-play. I like to role-play. Sometimes we role-play together. But we can’t anymore, because the last few times we role-played together, he was unable to stop himself from a constant stream of sexual innuendo bordering on rape jokes and “bitch bitch bitch is a fun word.” Outside of role-playing, he does this only rarely, and very weirdly; that is, he is polite to women, but calls female animals whores. I know. Awkward.
Jewelbeard is extremely liberal. He wants to help people regain their civil rights. He is pro-choice, he is pro-gay, he professes a unremarkable and unverified affinity to anti-racism. But he cannot stop calling his cats filthy sluts, or acting like a fucking asshole in D&D.
The last time we played together, I put a stop to his constant grotesqueries by stabbing his character, and then refusing to directly address him the rest of the game. The bear gave him a stony face and frequently asked him during his sexist tirades, “Are you done?” Afterwards, I told the bear that I would not be playing with Jewelbeard anymore, because he can’t stop acting like an asshole in-game.
The bear confronted Jewelbeard with his zany douchebag antics, and Jewelbeard offered the excuse he always does: “It’s to relieve tension.” He went on to explain that he totally isn’t sexist — I mean, he’s pro-choice and everything! — and he completely respects women and sexism is wrong like definitely totally, but gaming is his place to cut loose and so that’s why he acts that way when he games.
There is nothing wrong with having a place and a time to relieve built-up tension. But by shifting the argument thataways, Jewelbeard neatly sidestepped the question of why there is a tension build-up in the first place. He is basically admitting that not getting to call women bitches and whores and treat them like he hates them on a daily basis creates an intolerable tension within him, and it must be let out somehow. But as long as he votes for Obama and only treats cats and imaginary women like shit, he doesn’t have to investigate the part of him that finds treating women as equals difficult.
This is the thing, for me, with this argument. I get that there’s a tension built up around awkwardness and evil. I work with social workers — I get this. I get that there are times and places where you are confronted with something so horrible that you feel you have to laugh at it just to keep from drowning. I also get that sometimes giggles creep up in the least appropriate places, like funerals.
If, say, Mickey and I had had a long conversation about rape, and had gotten ourselves very depressed, and then he made a gallows-humor joke about rape, I would (probably) not have found that offensive, because he would have been relieving the tension that had grown while talking about a very painful subject.
But, Mickey launched into a joke about how rape is fun and awesome at the very first instance of the word “rape” in conversation. I think he was relieving tension. I think it was the tension of having to talk about rape as a real and serious topic. I think he, and people who make rape jokes like that, walk around feeling that it is intolerable that they are not allowed to mock women and other minorities. I think they find it intolerable because there are sexist and racist thoughts roiling around in their heads, and yet no 100% socially acceptable way to let them out. And that tension has to get relieved, and it comes out as a joke. And then when somebody says, “Hey, man, rape joke, not cool,” the conversation becomes about whether or not it’s okay to make a joke to relieve tension, instead of a conversation about why it makes you tense when you aren’t allowed to treat rape as a joke.
I don’t mean to say that people walking around with racism and sexism in their heads are bad people. We are all being raised in the same racist and sexist country, with the same racist and sexist bullshit being pumped into us. We didn’t ask for it, but it’s there, and has to be dealt with. And, usually, it makes people feel pretty shitty when they recognize that it’s there and has to be dealt with, because that contradicts their idea of themselves as good people. That’s the tension. I have to deal with my deep-seated feelings of resentment towards women and I really don’t want to, or, I have to deal with the fact that being around black people makes me really uncomfortable and I don’t want to. And I shouldn’t have to. And nobody should get to make me. Because.
So when you call somebody out on a sexist behavior, and they say it was just blowing off steam, what they’re saying is that feeling like it’s a major struggle to treat women as human beings is a normal and natural feeling. They will probably, especially if they are like Jewelbeard, be perfectly willing to list off all the ways that treating women like they aren’t human beings is wrong. But they’ll stop short of admitting that feeling like refraining from sexist treatment is a really big hassle that you shouldn’t have to deal with or at least should be thanked for dealing with is just as fucking wrong.