Monday, May 20, 2013

Rape isn't a Joke: How Comedy Reinforces Rape Culture

Comedy is an arena largely dominated by white men, who have developed a stranglehold on what our culture perceives as being "funny". Since they make up the large majority of successful comedians, they have the power to define what is funny and to tell others that if they do not agree that they need to "loosen up" or that "it's just a joke".

There has been a disturbing trend of white male comedians dictating to women and people of colour what they should find funny, and it is largely accepted as being appropriate to excuse racism and sexism as long as it is within the context of "humour". Now this brings us to the subject of rape in comedy.

Rape is a serious criminal offence which leaves victims traumatized and shaken. Rape is not a crime about sex. It is about power and taking bodily autonomy from its victim. Rape is not a joke, and never should be. Yet increasingly young men are being told that rape is not only something trivial, but that it is humorous. Violence against women and the "right" for a man to make jokes about it has taken precedence over common decency and sympathy for rape victims, who are framed as having deserved their assault.

Young men who were raised in the Family Guy generation; where misogynistic and violent contempt for women is veiled under the cloak of humour or entertainment are now fighting for their right to laugh at the brutalization of rape victims. We have to ask ourselves about how this sort of humour manifests itself in our daily lives. Steubenville is a good place to start. 

Events like Steubenville are the result of young men having so little respect for the dignity of a young woman that they thought posting video and pictures of her rape was funny. They thought it was funny because they didn't think it was rape, and they didn't think they'd be punished. She was drunk after all, and if she cannot say no, that means yes. And afterwards it would be her fault.

We cannot divorce the messages children and teens receive from the world around them with the violence they commit later in life. A society that teaches young men that they are entitled to the attention and affection of all the women around them, and that makes light of violence ultimately breeds criminals. Girls are constantly bombarded with mixed messages that inevitably allow men to frame the cultural discourse about rape to one where the victim is at fault and not the perpetrator. Is this what we want to teach our children? That rape is just a fact of life for women that can be made light of?

Rape jokes, although problematic in their own right are a mere symptom of a much more troubling societal problem. A world where it is okay to be dismissive of horrific sexual violence against women. That talks a good talk but ultimately shrugs its shoulders and moves on when we see cases like that of Rehtaeh Parsons or Steubenville.

We have to be weary of a culture of increased glorification of sexual violence, and a world where teen boys often have access to violent pornography that distorts their perceptions of what healthy sex looks like. Parents need to have truthful and open conversations with their sons and daughters about what consent is, and take a stand against rape apology in our criminal justice system and media. 

When rape stops being a joke, then we can tackle the serious issues of sexual violence and the media. But little is likely to change until public perceptions are altered and young men are brought up to recognize that women are human beings that exist outside of their personal sexual wish fulfillment. When young women are violated not only by their rapist, but also by their peers and the authorities we know that we have a serious problem with how our young people perceive rape, and that has to change.

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