Feminism | Posted by Nellie B on 12/10/2009

That’s Not Funny

They’re everywhere, it seems. Polluting my conversation, tainting my first impressions of people, causing me to seriously question my feminism. I’m talking about rape jokes.

Family Guy: A Rape Joke Perpetrator

Family Guy: A Rape Joke Perpetrator

This culture has legitimized rape jokes. On TV, especially on the shows aimed at 18-24 year old males (I’m looking at you, Family Guy), rape is a noun, verb and adjective followed with a round of hearty guffaws. It doesn’t look like it’s going away soon, either. Once a certain crass attitude invades pop culture, it doesn’t fall away. “Dude,” the media tells us. “Rape is, like, totally funny. Lighten up.” This attitude has inevitably seeped into the minds of my peers.

In class, I am treated to the mind-numbing discourse of the guys who sit behind me, who use “rape” in such contexts as “This test is gonna rape me.” I don’t whirl around, leap across the room and rip him a new one for the hateful, tasteless thing he just said. I grit my teeth, start the calculus test, and convince myself I’m not a bad feminist for picking my battles.

The useful social functions of people who make rape jokes, however, are not to be discounted. Within five minutes of meeting a friend of my sister, this new acquaintance lets one slip. I’m at the perfect brink of pissed-off and fiery that moment, so I manage to compose myself, look her in the eye, and say “rape isn’t funny” before walking out of the room and weeding out yet another person from my social spectrum.

Last night, hanging out with another acquaintance, this time male. I’m with some of my best girls. We’re talking about recent local rape in a public park. Suddenly, the topic is on a woman who was raped twice on a Metro train. Guffaws. Cracks about it being a “twofer.” He says, with a straight face, “Rape isn’t that bad, you know.” I stand, speechless. A fellow feminist leaps to my defense. “I think rape is a worse crime than murder,” she says. Another one of my friends agrees. I would launch into a lengthy lecture, but I’m tired and picking my battles again. Another acquaintance, gone.

Would that I had the energy, the guts, and the right situation every time, I would lecture every single person who made the mistake of joking about rape. Sometimes, I don’t–to salvage a social scenario, because it’s not the right time or place, because I need to protect myself. Launching into speeches is tiresome at both ends. A simple “that’s not funny/okay” usually requires an explanation if one doesn’t want to be laughed at or brushed off. Letting it slide is, I suppose, being a “bad feminist.” But sometimes, it’s difficult to muster even a snarl of disgust when the dominant culture–and the youth who uphold its values–doesn’t care what you think.

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  • K8 AH @ at 11:29 am, December 10th, 2009

    Let me first start by saying I think Family Guy is one of the most irredeemably idiotic shows that caters to the lowest common denominator. Also, Rape is a worse crime than Murder. Thanks for writing this blog, explaining does get tiring! I might have some sort of solution… Perhaps you/we need a canned response so to speak. One thing that absolutely exhausts me is explaining to people the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. Invariably when people find out that I have diabetes they say… “But you are too skinny to have diabetes!” Exhausting! I have after several tiring years come up with a standard response explaining that I don’t have the metabolic disease (Type 2), but rather an autoimmune disease (Type 1). When they still don’t get it I have an entire science lesson that I typically have to launch into… In any case it keeps me much more sane and less frustrated to have something prepared that I can say rather than being caught off guard and dumb founded that people can be insensitive… Remember, when people say stupid and ignorant things it can often be a good opportunity for education and awareness, tiring as it may be.
    p.s. You are not a “bad feminist!”

  • Zoe @ at 1:53 pm, December 10th, 2009

    I second what K8 AH said. I’m a type 1 diabetic and I have to explain it to damn near everyone.

    I worry, sometimes, that I’ve been too lenient about rape jokes. I grew up in a town where calling someone “gay” was a common insult. And now I say these things out of habit, even though I support gay rights and I know rape is a terrible, terrible thing. I need to work on my old habits so they reflect what I really think.

  • Ruth @ at 3:05 pm, December 10th, 2009

    You shouldn’t feel bad for not speaking up at the time, sometimes there’s just no time or it’s not the right time. Also I’m now feeling even worse for recently laughing at a rape joke (it was more of an attemped rape joke, but still) has anyone else ever done that?

  • Steph @ at 4:07 pm, December 10th, 2009

    Ugh, thank you so much for writing this. The way our culture treats rape is the real joke.

  • Alex Catgirl @ at 6:03 pm, December 10th, 2009

    Rape isn’t worse than murder,I’m not dead =/

    Which is just one of the reasons *why* rape jokes are not funny, there may be a rape survivor within earshot and it may just trigger them.

    I think it would be hilarious if they made a Family Guy(which I never watch) episode where he is sodomized with the hammer head that was used to nail his testicles to a restraining device.

    I’m sure all those 18-24 year old boys would find the depiction of their animated hero prying himself free halarious as well!

    They could call him a pussy and all kinds of other names, ridicule him for not being manly enough to fight off his attackers, and suggest that he “Just get over it” once he’s released from the hospital.

    Oh wait, they wouldn’t be laughing, they would be cringing in horror at the thought.

  • Katie @ at 9:07 pm, December 10th, 2009

    I agree with you 100% that rape jokes aren’t funny in any way. However, I’m appalled by the statement that rape is worse than murder. Both are heinous crimes but I would much rather be raped than murdered. And, really, I’m very concerned about anyone that would say otherwise. It is entirely possible to move on from being the victim of a sexual assault to live a happy and fulfilling life. Obviously, the same can not be said about murder.

    Having someone say that rape is worse than murder makes me feel, as someone who was raped, that he or she is saying I would be better off dead. That is horrifying. I am not shamed or ruined or broken in any way. And while I was traumatized once, that is no longer the case. Please do not reinforce the belief that a woman (or man) is irrevocably damaged because they were assaulted sexually.

  • dawn @ at 7:12 am, December 11th, 2009

    rape is worse than murder and should be treated as such. no question.

  • dawn @ at 7:15 am, December 11th, 2009

    but both are equally horrible.

  • ACW @ at 9:03 am, December 11th, 2009

    1. Agreed: Rape is not funny, and the term should not be thrown around in casual conversation.
    2. Several years after an assault, one can see that murder is worse, but in those first few months, one certainly wonders.
    3. Family Guy is horribly vile. Will someone please explain to me why I had to spend a month defending my choice – on a weekly basis – not to allow my eight year old daughter to watch it?… when her peers claim they *are*!? I’m desperately hoping that this is just a case of classmates talking big, and that their parents *aren’t* breeding a new generation of obnoxious sexists.

  • Amy CT @ at 12:02 pm, December 11th, 2009

    I cannot abide Family Guy. On any level. >.<

  • Penhaligon @ at 12:30 pm, December 11th, 2009

    Thank you for writing this.

    I’ve grown up with mainly guys as friends, and whilst I realise that many of them use the term in the same way that people use “gay” as an insult, not as deliberately attacking homosexuality or real rape, but these words have taken on a new meaning in slang.

    And this gives them less weight when we need to use them seriously.

  • K8 AH @ at 12:37 pm, December 11th, 2009

    This is of course all semantics, but in terms of “criminal acts” in my opinion it is at the very least equal to murder in heinousness and should be punished by the law in a way that reflects that. My statement that Rape is worse than Murder is in no way a reflection of how I feel about the survivors predicament but rather the violent act of the criminal.

  • Katie @ at 1:56 pm, December 11th, 2009

    K8 AH, the devil is in the details and that goes for semantics, too. I think it’s a very important distinction to say “Rapists are worse than murderers” rather than “Rape is worse than murder.” And I think you’re more likely to open up a dialogue than be immediately shut down or perpetuate certain ugly myths like a woman’s worth being tied up with her chastity.

    Rather than talking about the victims, shouldn’t we be talking about the criminals? That’s one of the biggest problems with rape culture. Everyone wants to focus on the victim. If I was murdered people wouldn’t be asking how hard I fought to live or sorting out the private details of my life to judge if my murder was deserved. They wouldn’t be trying to figure out how much of the murder was my fault for not protecting myself enough or being abundantly clear that I did not consent to die.

    The same thing goes for theft. If someone broke into my house and stole my laptop and television, the conversation wouldn’t be all about how I didn’t have enough locks on the door and what was I doing with those fancy electronics anyway? Clearly I was just trying to get someone to notice my goods and take them!

    The conversation needs to not be about the victim or even the details of the act. Rape prevention programs shouldn’t be targeted toward women and girls, telling them how to dress and act. They should be targeted at potential perpetrators from an early age (middle school?), educating them on how the first requirement for sex be that it be entered into enthusiastically by both parties. And that women don’t exist for your viewing and touching pleasure. And that women have every right to have sex with whomever they choose for any reason without being shamed or dirty or dishonored. In turn, because they are free to make the decision to be sexual without recrimination or judgment, there is no reason for a man to “pressure” them into doing so. (Hint, fellas: If your a lady needs to be “convinced” that she wants to be sexual with you, she’s not that into you. Back the eff off.)

    The focus needs to be placed on the rapists and them alone. We need to get to a point when society looks at someone who rapes either by brute force or coercion as a sick unacceptable deviant. People should be questioning the rapist and asking what the hell is wrong with him that he’d ever want to have sex with someone less than willing.

  • Toongrrl @ at 2:04 pm, December 11th, 2009

    I watch “Family Guy”(Bad Feminist Alert!) and I mostly laugh at most of the jokes, but when it gets to the topic of rape and other vile topics used as jokes, I just feel like someone just…well you know the old saying “wake up and smell the coffee”? I just end up smelling the coffee and someone just threw it in my face, that’s how I feel. It’s no laughing matter for me, I have two aunts, they’ve been in abusive situations. My floridan aunt had been in a abusive marriage for over 30 years and she had divorced years ago and has made a good living cleaning model homes (makes a good amount of money, BELIEVE Me) and lives well with her daughter. My other aunt’s second husband had physically abused her until my mom gave him an ultimatum: that she would kill him if he lays his hands on her sister. The abuse has just turned emotional and mental, we are just there and she has, understandably, gotten very angry only that she takes her anger out on her family and she wasn’t the only one he was torturing: one of her kids from a previous marriage, as soon as he turned 18, moved to his sister’s house, since my “uncle” had been alienating him and was acting cold and my aunt has gotten unbearable with her kids. We can’t seem to do anything about it but just be there for support, I always wish she would flat out leave him. Rape and assault are that savage in my eyes. According a dictionary, the word “Rape” comes from the latin word “Rapere” which means “to seize or steal” a description which describes Rape perfectly. It’s to seize one’s happiness and life and security.

  • Maren @ at 7:32 pm, December 11th, 2009

    Thank you for writing this!
    All of this is part of Rape culture, and completely marginalizes the heinousness of the act.
    Considering that 1 in 6 women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime and and 1 in 12 already have by the time they graduate high school there is a VERY VERY good chance there is a rape survivor in the vicinity.
    On a personal level, I am a rape survivor and suffered from PTSD. The word rape itself was a stimulus, and sent me into flash backs of the attack and left me very very uncomfortable. Considering the general public did not know about my attack, and that this rape culture is so prominent I had a hard time being around most people.
    I’m glad that I have healed a lot since then, but I find a simple, “rape isn’t funny” helps loads. If everybody said that, people would stop thinking it was.

  • Sasha @ at 10:06 am, December 12th, 2009

    At parties lately, I have been hearing women taking a sexually aggressive role described as “rapists” as a joke. Is anyone else out there experiencing this??

    Now, hitting on a person you find attractive and actively flirting with them is most assuredly not rape, and it seems ironic if not outright cruel to me that people would start frequently labeling the gender that commits only 2% of rapes as rapists. I’m not sure if men are trying to relieve some of the heat they receive for their gender’s disproportionate number of actual rapes, but it is not ok. They are taking the old and thoroughly tired technique of portraying women’s sexuality as threatening and abnormal and giving it a whole new hideous twist. It is not “weird” that a woman would have a sex drive and sexual needs; what is weird is labeling the healthy expression of those desires as rape attempts. This sort of verbal condemnation only serves to further repress women’s bodies and keep men in the comfortable role of sexual dominance.

    So yeah, this kind of language makes me really uncomfortable. I really dislike the misuse of the word rape, particularly so casually in a social setting when you don’t know who may have been seriously impacted by this crime. Seriously guys (I’ve only heard men initiate the use of this label), why do this? The girl who you say this to just laughs awkwardly and is then forced to play along with your labeling her a rapist for hitting on another cute guy at the party. Then the group grows uncomfortably silent and someone makes a valiant effort to change the subject. Why do men not get how inappropriate that is to say??!

    So yeah, isn’t that weird? Is this a fluke or is this now common (and disturbing) terminology?

  • Ben @ at 11:50 am, December 12th, 2009

    It seems poignant that this is seen as a Feminist viewpoint. This is a human viewpoint. We live in cultures that hide from the Horrible by plastering it in bright Technicolor on every available surface. If we laugh at rape, it is without thinking of the reality. We giggle with discomfort, or guffaw to hide our own disconnection with reality. The producers of these jokes are devoid of the talent, or soul, required to work without them. They have run out of good ideas. The poor individuals who tumble over in laughter have never grown beyond the desire to laugh at an injured friend on the playground. They are wrong, yes, because they know no different. Have pity, if you can.

  • Mae @ at 8:46 pm, December 12th, 2009

    Rape isn’t just a “feminist” issue. Many young men are raped every year. It’s a human issue.

    I like to point that out to the men that say, “This (situation) is going to rape me.” I say, “Really? It’s going to rape you? So, you’ll need me to drive you to the ER for physical damage like anal tearing or scrotal rips? And I suppose your friends will drive you to your counseling for the permanent emotional damage that could interfere with your ability to gain an erection ever again in your life, right? … No? Yeah, RAPE ISN’T FUNNY.”

  • Maren @ at 9:19 pm, December 13th, 2009

    What’s even worse and more disgusting, is the use of rape with a positive connotation. Like; “Oh man you totally raped that debate/hockey game/spelling bee”
    Its the continuation of rape culture, seeing it as success. I hear this all the time in my high school.
    And yes this isn’t precisely a feminist issue, but feminists are often the most outspoken about it because it’s an issue that affects mostly women. Although there are lots of men who are rape victims, and I wish them peace and healing. But, fear of rape has been plaguing women since the beginning of time and reenforces mens sexual dominance over women.

  • K8 AH @ at 9:08 am, December 15th, 2009

    @ Katie…. “Rapists are worse than murderers” – Thank you for clarifying how I feel. Oh, And can we please stop using the word victim? Survivor really does feel better.

  • Vanessa @ at 9:21 pm, December 15th, 2009

    It’s nice to feel I’m not alone.

    As a survivor of a sexual assault, it really bothers me when people joke about rape. Like Maren mentioned, many times these “jokes” have served as a terrible reminder. For a while I couldn’t summon the courage to say anything about it, but I would become obviously uncomfortable. Now, I usually say something like “Rape is real funny until it happens to you”. It tends to get my point across.

    I agree with Katie. The focus should be on the perpetrator, not the victim. Prevention should start with the possible perpetrators, which are of every gender. Just as male are victims, women can be perpetrators. Instead of indoctrinating women with ways to keep themselves safe, we should be teaching everyone the importance of consent. In fact, I think that should be a staple of sexual education.

  • Alessandra @ at 10:42 pm, December 15th, 2009

    Rape is worse than murder? Really?

    The damage done by rape can never be fully prepared, but through a supportive atmosphere and other help both internal and external, rape victims can heal. Mind you, not be healed fully, but the pain can be lessened and life can become easier to cope with.

    As far as I know, murder victims seldom have any avenues through which counseling and time can help make their tragedy less impacting or painful… Just throwing out there.

    Also, for what it’s worth, regarding the comments concerning how male fans of family guy wouldn’t laugh if their “hero” (…?) were sodomized etc. for laughs in the show, I can think of two instances just off the top of my head where the male “protagonist” being raped was doled out as a cheap joke… and another several where his being sexually abused in other ways was put forward as humorous. I’m sure if I were to research it, there’d be more, but I have desire to this as I’ve (clearly) pissed away far too much of my life watching TV.

  • Rory @ at 10:30 pm, December 16th, 2009

    As the person Nellie B is quoting as saying “Rape is worse than murder.” i want to clarify. In the context of the situation, I wanted to make clear to the male who made the statement that “rape isn’t that bad” that his comment and joke were totally inappropriate. Though i now understand why those may not have been the most apt words, and I know that wasn’t the best response, at the time I was so horrified at what he said i wanted to make clear to him that it was NOT okay and that was what came out of my mouth. I apologize, reading these comments has really made me rethink what i should have said and will say in the future.

  • Alessandra @ at 1:35 am, December 17th, 2009

    Suffice it to say that the important thing is that rape not be trivialized, and that murder is really irrelevant to the subject at hand.

    Then again I suppose it is relevant to one degree, in that “this test is going to kill me” or “I totally killed assignment” are used in much the same way as “raped” are. So unless rape is worse than murder, should this be considered even more offensive/trivializing.

  • Garen @ at 9:04 am, January 6th, 2010

    I agree with the trivializing comment. I really hate the way people use ‘gay’ these days. The first time someone said ‘facebook-rape’ to describe hacking, I was genuinely shocked. Language is far too casual these days.

  • Samuel W. @ at 11:28 am, May 10th, 2010

    As far as I know, the core base of those who use rape as an ordinary word consists of a lot of immature young males who would know better if it weren’t for dumbass shows like Family Guy, which seemingly derives its humor from being the big ‘politically incorrect’ show, which is for some reason the most annoying TV concept in the world from seeing it myself.

    There’s Peter’s cloying, irritating, ear-shuddering voice, the stupid Stewie hates his mother jokes, that pedophile old guy (funny as I thought he was at some point, he now just seems like another annoying character), and just a ton of other things that make the show really idiotic a lot of the time.

    At least South Park, stupid as it can sometimes be, has a lot more social commentary behind its goofy guise, Family Guy only took one episode out to address the real issue of censorship with good humor. Most of the time, it makes you almost start to agree with its ultra-conservative Christian critics.

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  • Daniel S. @ at 12:40 pm, July 15th, 2010

    Ok, first off, the entire goal of family guy is to offend. So getting offended by some stupid little braindead joke made on the show just works into their hands. There really isn’t any point. Just ignor them and hope one day they will go away.

    Secondly, thankyou. I have made rape comments in the past without a significant thought about it. I will watch myself more carefully from now on. I would hate to make a comment that would hurt someone just because I am not paying attention. Though I don’t think this has much to do with being a good femmisist, I think it has everything to do with being a good human.

    But Really, how can anybody say that rape is worse than murder, or rapists are worse than murderers. Rapists are vile scum who should suffer immencly for thier deeds. And rape is the only crime that makes me want to suspend our laws against cruel and unusual punishment. But a rape VICTIM has their whole lives in front of them to heal and enjoy. A deadman, does not. Plus the reprecussions of murder spread out to a wide circle both emotionally and financially beyond the person who was killed. I know people who have been raped and know how deeply it can effect them, but it is not worse, or the same. Not even close.

    Again, thanks for the article! lots of good things to think about.

  • Kristin @ at 7:19 pm, August 10th, 2010

    Thank you so much for posting on this subject. I was molested and raped for a period of about 10 years by a family member, and am just now beginning to confront that aspect of my past. I still have a long way to go before I am even close to being healed, and it’s extremely discouraging when people throw around the word “rape” so casually.

    As far as equating rape to murder, I’m not sure they can be compared. At least in my experience, it was a form of murder, as it killed several aspects of my being that I can revive. Perhaps I’ll feel differently as I’m further along with the healing process, but at least for now I place rape on the same level as murder.

    Like one of the commentors above, simply hearing the word “rape” can be enough to paralyze me. It’s shocking that anyone can turn one of the worst violations of a human body and soul into a mere joke.

  • Kristin @ at 7:24 pm, August 10th, 2010

    **killed several parts of my being that I can never revive.

    I apologize for the mistakes :)

  • Sara @ at 7:30 am, August 20th, 2010

    Curious, what joke did FG make about rape?

  • firefly @ at 10:30 pm, April 7th, 2011

    Okay: both rape and murder are horrible crimes. Debating which is worse will never lead to a satisfactory conclusion. Murder is permanent, but once you are dead, you can’t feel anything. Rape might not kill you, but often will leave lasting effects such as trauma (both physical and psychological/emotional), shame, and depression.

    I would rather that both are considered utterly unacceptable in any form.

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