How to Handle a Rape Joke

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ve been aware that there has been controversy over rape jokes.  Which ones are funny, which ones aren’t.  The question of what makes a good rape joke has been debated ad naseum this summer, in light of the Daniel Tosh routine.  The feminist conclusion seems to be that jokes that use rape as a punchline aren’t funny, while jokes that make fun of rapists or rape culture are.

Unfortunately, given the number of staunch defenders of rape jokes, we can still expect to hear jokes that use rape as a punchline.  So here is some advice from Divorce Divorce on handling rape jokes.  I was especially surprised to hear that Divorce Divorce’s author is a 33 year old man.  He is Daniel Tosh’s target demographic, but he is writing with advice on how to handle a rape joke.  Allies come in all shapes and forms.

I think the best response to a rape joke is this:

I don’t get it.

Persist until they explain, explanations always being the death of any joke, funny or otherwise. Persist until they reach the point where they have to say “she got/gets raped”.

And nod, slowly, looking a little confused.

This method works for all methods of offensive jokes.  Avoiding confrontation may change minds in a way that direct activism might not.

Any other advice on how to handle offensive jokes?  Leave suggestions in the comments.

Motivational Mondays-Reverse Psychology

I’m amazed by this.  As someone who loves libraries and public literacy, this project is awesome.

Words to Ignore

Have I mentioned how much I love Rosie of Make Me a Sammich?  Last week, I reblogged one of Rosie’s posts about   how to change behavior in a social setting.

This post is also fabulous; it reminds you that you can be an ally, an activist.  These words are silencing mechanisms, not actual criticisms of what you’re saying.  This post was intended for women and feminists especially, but there are many other brands of activism that are silenced by shaming words.

Words that other readers suggested include

  • Sexist
  • Intolerant
  • Misandrist
  • You’re taking this too personally!
  • Slut/Whore
  • Whiny
  • Any diminutive word for women, (Princess, pet, love)
  • Typical
  • White Knighting

Non-gendered silencing words include

  • Bleeding heart liberal
  • White guilt
  • Stereotypical
  • Reverse Racism
  • Virgin
  • Neckbeard
  • Naiive
  • Loser
  • Do-gooder

Are there any other words that are used as silencing mechanisms rather than attempts to discuss problems?

List the ones you’ve heard in the comments.

Motivational Monday-Stop -splaining and Start Listening

For People Who Like to Explain Things

I’m particularly fond of the word priv-splaining.  It is a useful term describing a wide variety of communication problems.  In short, it means someone with privilege speaking to someone with less privilege, and they assume the other person ignorant.

I have been guilty of priv-splaining, to a boyfriend.  I’ve probably priv-splained more than I can remember, but this particular incident stays in mind.  We were at an awards ceremony and I assumed that he didn’t know about classical music.  I told him something that turned out to be wrong, and I found out when he revealed that he knew more than I did.  Oops.  I felt weird at the time, but I couldn’t put a finger on what I had done wrong.  I priv-splained.

So, that’s why I found this checklist particularly useful.

1. Do you know how much the other person knows about the subject?

If you don’t know how much they know about the topic, you should find out first.

2. Are you using your supposed expertise to prove something?

If you’re out to prove something, find a more subtle way to talk about the subject without turning into a college lecturer.

3. Are you actually listening to what the other person is saying, or are you already formulating your response?

You have to listen to the other person and then figure out what you’re going to say.  Or else you’ll miss information.

4. Are you talking about your own experience, or are you universalizing about how everyone feels? Are you explaining an experience of theirs to them?  

  Actually listen to the other person’s words, and don’t explain their experiences to them.  They have no doubt thought of your very insightful criticism before.

5. And most importantly: Do you actually know what you’re talking about?

If you don’t know what you’re talking about, you shouldn’t pretend you do.

So here you go.  Simple guidelines for having a polite, productive, and positive conversation.

On Anger

I’m angry.

And I’m angry that I’m angry. And I’m angry that I’m angry that I’m angry. Why such convoluted phrasing?  Because I’m a woman and I therefore cannot be angry.

If I am, there are articles for the man in my life to “handle it.”  Apparently, according to the editors at Menshealth, I’m supposed to be placated by a massage, him doing housework, or some other inane thing.  And for some anger, that helps.  Elizabeth Stewart writes about this in the Daily Mail, how angry she is that she has to take a disproportionate share of the household chores.

No disrespect to Elizabeth Stewart, but not all anger stems from inequitable distribution of chores. My anger is supposed to be placated by small, trivial things, as if my anger is small and trivial.  It never occurs that I may be legitimately angry, angry at things larger than my nonexistent man for checking out the waitress.  And because society cannot fathom me being legitimately angry, we have no way of dealing with it.

I having internalized these expectations do not know how to be angry.  I don’t think I can even scream.  I’ve tried.  I’ve opened my mouth and no sound comes out.  If someone holds me up at gunpoint or tries to rape me, I don’t think I could even scream for help, for fear of being a disturbance or unladylike.  And that is the most terrifying aspect of all.

Like a good lady, I’ve tried to handle my anger in silent ways.  I’ve written angry letters.  I’ve thrown a tshirt across the room when no-one could see.   As it crumples when it hits the floor, I am ashamed.  I am horrified that I am capable of such nonexistent destruction.  And that sheer anger terrifies me-what’s wrong with me that I throw things?  Good God, I am such a barbarian!

But anger, expressed in private, is a legitimate emotion.  Why is it that as I a woman I can skip in giddiness, jump for joy, cry during that really annoying Sarah McLaughlin commercial with the sad animals, eat chocolate on a broken heart, snap because I am irritated and label it PMS, but I cannot be angry?  I can be irritated, sad, happy, annoyed.  However, I cannot be angry.

Possibly because these words, these emotions are light, insubstantial and temporary.  Anger on the other hand, is a strong word for a strong emotion.  Anger implies permanence.  Anger implies change.  Anger is legitimate. Perhaps that is why the Myth of the Angry Feminist is such a deterrent.

Anger from a non-dominant social group is a threat to the status quo.  Angry women are shamed into keeping sweet, often holding back resentment until it boils over, leaving the ones around them clueless, asking, where did that come from?    Angry black men are the threats to the dominant racial hierarchy.  Angry black women are doubly shamed.

Men get angry too.  Cis-bodied, straight white men can be angry.  But very few articles deal with angry men.  It is seen as an emotion, something they go through when something goes wrong, not a derogatory character trait.

Men are angry when a woman insults them, when their significant other cheats, when they get fired.  If they are angry because of traumatic experiences in their past, we, as a society understand this.   We understand and sympathize with Vietnam Veterans or veterans of old wars when they break out offensive stereotypes and colorful profanity.  “It’s just how he grew up,” we say.  “He doesn’t mean it, but the war changed him,” we say, ignoring the racist comments.

Angry men are angry because something happened to them, and we treat their anger as an emotion, not a defining character trait.  In contrast, angry women are angry because something is wrong with them.  Even if they have been abused, being angry at their abuser is labeled as allowing the abuser to retain too much power over them.  It is not considered healthy.  Angry victims are supposed to forgive and forget, and stop being so loud and so there.  We, as a society, want to go living our lives without the unpleasantness of rape and sexual assault, of child abuse, of discrimination, domestic violence and prejudice.  Anger forces us to acknowledge that these problems occur and that we can’t ignore them away.  No wonder it scares us so much.

But anger is real, and anger is a healthy response to injustice.  If women are people, then we as a society should allow women the same freedom to be angry that we allow men.  Anna Holmes at the Washington Post wrote, [anger] “is regularly used to discredit and dismiss serious and real frustrations by women.”  It is time that we allow women to start screaming out loud, and to acknowledge their anger as a valid emotion, not an undesirable character trait.

The Myth of the Angry Feminist

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    I’d love to know where these angry feminists are.  You know, the ones that you deny any relation to, the ones that men fear.  I’m starting to wonder if they even exist, or if they are no more than boogie-men of the conservative imagination.

Look up the stereotype.  Google “angry feminist.”

The most extreme feminist I ever met didn’t believe in shaving and identified as trans.  H* is a vegan eco-feminist, who fights for all oppressed beings.  H is the most extreme feminist I know, and yet, H has never once became  the angry feminist stereotype, no matter how much I inadvertently annoyed her.

I suppose that I could be considered an angry feminist, given my penchant for feminist speeches, or my inability to see past the sexism in a commercial.  Or my addiction to reading feminist blogs, where the women speak out, uncensored.  But I don’t hate men.  I’m a cis-bodied straight white female, who is interested in getting married and raising a family.  I love working with men, I love being friends with men; I just happen to be a warrior against the patriarchy.

But even I defer from the “angry feminist” label.  I still shave my legs and my armpits, hating myself and the process as I do.  I shy away from using the word patriarchy, and I try to preface my feminist beliefs with examples, so that my cis, able-bodied, white male friends will listen.

Instead, they criticize my technique, saying that I don’t get to the point quickly enough.  It is another variant of the tone argument.  These boys can play Starcraft for hours on end, build robots from scratch, and can deconstruct all of the current political speeches, but they cannot listen to a three minute explanation of why something broke sexist norms or expectations.

We eschew the angry feminist label, as if we can make our opinions more legitimate and more palatable to outsiders.  As if distancing ourselves from the mythical demon makes us a more reliable source.

Instead, the very presence of a mythical “angry feminist,” serves to discredit all of us, even the most mild-mannered of us.  The presence of a mythical “angry feminist” forces us to distance feminists from anger, forces us to hold our tongues, forces us to be polite to the men who insist that we have achieved equality, that the real reason for pay discrimination is that women’s childcare interferes with the quality of their work.

The mythical “angry feminist” teaches us that no matter how furious we are, that no matter how wrong the injustice we are fighting, no matter how abhorrent the rape joke or rape apologist is, we still cannot be angry.

Cloaked in the language of power, we avoid anger at all costs.  We believe that if we remain rational, if we remain calm and devoid of emotion, then we will be taken seriously.  That our words will matter.  If we scream and shout, pounding our fists to the ground, we will be dismissed as hysterical, or asked the ever insightful, “Are you on the rag?”  As if women don’t have legitimate reasons to be upset.

If we scream and shout, we become the irrational “angry feminist” the thing to be avoided, feared and made the subject of endless jokes.  If we scream and we shout, nobody will take us seriously.  But even if we speak calmly, devoid of emotion, presenting the facts, does it make a difference?

On days like today, when I’ve just finished listing all of the latest news in the War on Women, I wonder if it makes any difference if I present Paul Ryan and the GOP and their supporters with a detailed list of facts, statistics, and scholarly research on rape and pregnancy.  The information has been presented, taught, explained to them again and again and again and again.  And still they don’t hear us.

If everyone is deaf, it doesn’t matter if you scream for help or ask nicely.