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.

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Bears, Sharks and Vodka Tampons, Oh My!

It’s Not Rocket Science: Unless Your Name is Todd Akin

For my non United States readers, Todd Akin was the conservative Republican Senator who sits on the science committee, who proudly professed the belief that women cannot get pregnant from “legitimate rape” because the body has mechanisms to shut down unwanted pregnancies.

Todd Akin was, of course, wrong about pregnancies resulting from rape.  In the United States, 32,000 pregnancies a year result from rape.  But Todd Akin is far from alone in his ignorant beliefs about the female reproductive system.  I’m not going to go into great detail of all the ignorant things that have been said about rape in the US Election cycle, because that’s three posts on its own, and Todd Akin lost his re-election bid.

Instead, I shall talk about the other demonstrations of ignorance about women’s bodies.

  • Stephen King: The Infamous Locker Room Scene in Carrie.
    • Nobody bleeds that much.  Unless you’re miscarrying a baby, having your internal organs sliced to pieces, or in a Stephen King horror movie.  Who came up with this notion that women bleed buckets and buckets of blood?
  • If you’re emotional, it’s because you’re PMSing so you’re clearly “on the rag.”
    • PMS means PRE, pre as in before.  Before your period, you are not using “the rag.”  Semantics, people.
  • Shark Attacks:
    • Seriously, we can’t swim in the ocean because the shark will smell the blood on our tampons and eat us?  Who comes up with this?
  • Bear Attacks.
    • So we can’t swim because of Jaws, but we can’t go camping either, because our periods might attract a bear.  Why leave the kitchen?
  • Vodka Tampons
    • This had to be designed by a man.  Because whoever designed this has no understanding of how tampons actually work.  Tampons expand when they absorb liquid.  If they have absorbed liquid, they are too big and lose their insertability.  Also, alcohol burns.  Who wants to burn one of their most sensitive organs?
  • PMS and Mood Swings:
    • No we wont’ kill you.  We’ll just be a bit more moody than usual, although whether or not PMS is real is the subject of academic debate.
  • Women don’t poop or fart.
    • Sorry to bust your illusions, but we’re human beings first, women second.
  • HPV/Plan B makes women, especially teen girls, sex addicts, hosting orgies.
    • High on fantasy fodder, but low on evidence.
  • Women only take oral contraceptives because they’re having sex and don’t want to get pregnant.
    • Ovarian cysts, irregular bleeding, acne, …there are a myriad of reasons women take birth control, none of which are your business.
  • Asprin between the knees works as a contraceptive.  (Seriously?)

It’s not just women’s health that many people fail to comprehend.  Many people conflate statistics to justify fears about autism and vaccines, call evolution a “theory,” not understanding that the scientific and vernacular uses are different.  A large proportion of the United States population believes that President Obama is not a United States citizen.

Where is this culture of ignorance coming from?  Why is innumeracy and illiteracy so common?  Shouldn’t it be a source of shame, rather than pride?  I read somewhere that in business, there is such a stigma on not knowing something that people are compelled to make up information, sometimes with disastrous results.  But this doesn’t seem to be the case in politics.

This culture of ignorance is especially tragic when the resources to gain this knowledge are so ubiquitous.  I understand that not everyone has the abilities to spend hours pouring over Machiavelli and mathematical theories.  However, when these ignorant statements come out of those with platforms of speech, platforms where people take their word as truth, and have the ability to get the correct information, this ignorance is just sad.

Seriously, it’s not rocket science.  Unless you’re Todd Akin.  In which case, you really should resign from the House Science Committee.

Tell me, Readers, what other baseless beliefs have you heard?

Dear Men, I’m Sorry for Thinking that You’re Rapists

alone at night

alone at night (Photo credit: Michael Speed)

Note: I want people to hear what people honestly think about rape culture, but overly aggressive attacks are not welcome here.  You are free to debate comments however much you’d like.  No ad hominem attacks and personal threats.   No cursing.  Keep it civil.  Check my comment policy for full instructions.  

I wrote a follow up piece, addressing some of the criticisms.  In Response to Dear Men.  In response to some of the responses I got, I decided that I needed to make this piece more approachable and more inclusive.  

Stop me if this sounds familiar.

You and another male friend are walking out of the movie theater.  It is late, nearing midnight, and most of the cars have left the parking lot.  You are walking by yourselves, talking about the plot and the mind-blowing ending of the movie.  About thirty feet in front of you you see a lone girl, walking back to her car.  She hears your voices, looks back, clutches her purse close to her, and walks faster toward her car.  Perhaps she pulls out a phone and starts talking loudly about where she is and that she’ll be home soon.  While walking as quickly as she can, she keeps shooting you nervous glances until she gets in her car and drives away.

You look at her and realize-she thought that you were going to rape her.  To you, this is ridiculous.  You would never rape anyone!  You respect women!  Rapists are evil, awful creatures!

You are livid that she could profile you as a rapist.

Why is that?  To put it simply, women are socialized to avoid rape and it is an issue that women are constantly, vaguely aware of.  We live in a rape culture, that blames women for their own rapes, asks them why they were alone, why they trusted that friend, weren’t their eyes saying yes, aren’t you sure that this wasn’t legitimate rape , why didn’t they watch their drink, what kind of pants they were wearingwhy were they drinking in the first place, why were they out at night, why were they therewhy were they out of the kitchen in the first place?

 We live in a world where we are seen as sexual objects first and human beings second.  So forgive us for being hyperaware of the threat of rape.  

Before you say that we’re overreacting, dress too provocatively, blame the media, use the word “feminazi” or ask how you are supposed to get a date, stop and listen.  We are taught that one in four women are raped or suffer an attempted rape in their lifetime.  Commonly cited statistics reveal anything from one in four to one in six.  A 2003 study by the United States Department of Justice found the number to be one in six.

The same study revealed that one in thirty-three men will be raped in their lifetime.  Yes, rape can happen to men, as well, and this is a case of our current system hurting men and women.  This system benefits nobody.  And that is a subject for another piece.  But this piece is about why many women profile strange men as potential rapists.  Because rape, at least according to the FBI, is a highly gendered crime, with 90% of victims as female.   In other studies, twelve percent of men will admit to what amounts to the legal rape, as long as you don’t use the “r-word.”

On the streets, going about our daily lives, women are often subject to a myraid of sexually charged micro-agressions known as street harassment. We are told to smile, we get sexually inappropriate looks, horns honked, catcalls, approving whistles, a glimpse into the special bond between street harasser and his hand and a series of invitations to examine various stranger’s anatomy.  If we refuse to engage these would be suitors, we become ungrateful, too-good, entitled, stuck up princesses.   These conversations go from, “Hellooo, sweetheart!” to “@#$% you, you @#$%^ing !@#$%!”  in about three seconds.  It is not a pleasant experience, nor is it a rare one. Many women have been dealing with street harassment since they hit puberty. There is no time that we are safe from street harassment.  We can’t even go to the grocery store without being harassed. While walking alone at night, in a potentially vulnerable situation, the presence of another, larger person may trigger these memories and existing anxieties.

In short, women, homosexuals, transsexuals and other persons of relative disadvantage have been dealing with sexualized threats and violence for many years.  They may know stories of friends and neighbors who have suffered rape, abuse, stalking, etc.  They have often taken self defense classes, and admonished to carry a whistle and a weapon.  But, in the end, each person chooses his or her own risk tolerance.

From a mathematical perspective, we know that you pose no threat to us, that you are statistically unlikely to rape us, mug, us or beat us up.  We know that men are the recipients of more non-sexualized, violent street crime and muggings.  We know that you are good men, who really have no intention of harming us.  And we certainly hate being uneasy or worrying about rape.  But we still are socially conditioned to be afraid.  Rape is a pervasive fear for women in our society, and even though we know that we will most likely know our rapists, it is easier to pin the nebulous fear on a stranger at night than those you trust.

Because we are in a position of discomfort and at a relative disadvantage, we are more likely to be at perfect ease with you in public.  You are bigger and generally more physically imposing than us.  Also, we are not socialized to fight, so fighting is not a natural response to a threat for us, and we are not always confident in our abilities to defend ourselves.  So you have two options.  You can choose to say, “Not my feelings, not my problem” and continue on your merry way.

Or you can realize that you don’t live in a vacuum, and your presence impacts other people.

Fortunately, this is easy to do.

1. Be aware of the space around you and the other person.  Is he or she alone?  Think, if I was a dangerous man, would a woman be safe with me in this situation?

Here’s how you determine that.  Assume that you suddenly were replaced with your evil twin, who immediately attacks the other person.  Is anyone around to come for help?  If the other person screams, will anyone hear them?  Are there any lights around, open stores which he or she can flee into?  If the answer is no, don’t label yourself as a threat.  Don’t invade the other person’s space.  Don’t stare at him or her.  Don’t try to hit on them.

2. Keep walking, just shuffle your feet to make them aware of your presence.  It would be frightening to see a person fifty pounds heavier and seven inches taller just appear behind you, seemingly out of nowhere.  You can also hum quietly, shuffle your feet, or say “excuse me.”  As a child, you were taught to say, excuse me so that people would move out of the way and not get hurt.  It was simple manners, to make the other person aware of your presence.  The same rules still apply.

3.  If you are waiting somewhere with a stranger.   Polite converstion is just that, polite conversation.  If you are making polite conversation with someone you are interested in pursuing a relationship with, read the other person’s body signals.  If they are merely being polite, it is not an invitation to flirt or a form of foreplay.   If your conversational partner is giving curt, one word answers and looking away or at his or her book, headphones, phone, etc, back off.

4. Be careful with elevators.  Elevators do not have an escape route, because if they break, you are trapped in a small metal box.  If you and another person are sharing an elevator at night, read the other person’s body language.  If she is not engaging you, don’t engage her.  Just get in the elevator, press your floor button first, and let her press the button for her own floor.  Or if you feel like being polite and pressing both buttons, push yours first.  Entering your floor first signals that you won’t follow her.

5. Some people are more afraid of elevators than others.  So observe the body language of the other person.  If they are abjectly terrified of you, of the elevator, of the whole environment, let them go first.   For a women who looks two steps away from a panic attack, let her go first.  I know that it’s not egalitarian, but she will spend the next minute or two waiting for the elevator alone, eyes frantically skimming the area surrounding her, headphones in, music off and keys jammed between her fingers, ready to attack the next person who invades her space.  The elevator will come and she will breathe a huge sigh of relief, hitting the close door button as fast as humanly possible.  The sooner she gets home the sooner she feels safer, so be a compassionate person and let her get in the elevator first.

Most women are really not afraid of elevators.  Most of us are as caustious in an elevator as we are walking down the street.  The only reason I’m writing about elevators is that there is no exit hatch, so a bit more awareness is called for.  We just want you to be aware that elevators have the potential to strand us in between floors with a stranger.  So, I’m not asking for chivalry, to protect the delicate, defenseless woman.  I’m asking for manners, to show some compassion for a person who looks like he or she will have a panic attack at any moment.  It goes both ways, I promise.  In the same way, if you are obviously frightened and I seem to be scaring you, I’ll be happy to let you have the elevator.  There is nowhere that I need to be so badly as to induce a panic attack in another person.

6. Don’t be that guy, that drunken aggressive jerk who harasses women at night.  We are already edgy, we already don’t know you, you’re acting really aggressive and horny, and the drinking has stripped your self control.  You are doing a really good job of convincing us that you might indeed rape us.

7. Don’t make sexually charged comments to a woman alone at night.  Just don’t.

8.  Tell your male friends that they too can avoid being profiled as threats if they show basic consideration for personal space and don’t act predatory.  Explain that all they “Heeey baby’s” make women less likely to trust men, and that how much that impacts you.  Tell your male friends off when they are drunkenly harassing people.  A simple, “knock it off,” goes a long way.

9. Don’t laugh at a rape joke, or make comments that a woman was “asking for it.”  These actions perpetuate the culture in which rape is trivialized, not taken seriously by law enforcement, and hurts both male and female victims.

Dear men, I know that you are not rapists.  I don’t want to think you’re a rapist, I hate every second of wondering if you’re a rapist, and I know that statistically, you are no threat to me.  I hate feeling guilty for having what my left brain knows is an irrational fear.

But at the time, it does not seem irrational, in the context of millions of sexually charged micro-agressions, and a culture that accuses me of asking for it.  With this framing my thoughts, I still feel a twinge of uneasiness when I see you pushing boundaries, especially when I am in a vulnerable situation.  If you follow these guidelines, you demonstrate yourself as non-threatening, and a good man.

Final Words: The statistics and critiques do not invalidate the emotions that people feel, especially in vulnerable situations.  This piece is about how to cope with the fact that for both real and legitimate and media induced fears that real people have.  It’s extremely rude to invalidate people’s feelings, to insinuate that they should feel differently than they do, based on a noramative model of what society “ought to be.”  I would like a society where I don’t fear rape, where I make equal pay to a man, where people don’t get beaten up for loving an adult with the “wrong” genitals.  I am fighting to make that society, and part of the way to become that society is to examine our current society, to figure out what needs to change.  That means, we need to talk honestly and honestly listen.    

So let’s fight for a fairer society, and in the meantime, as a part of that transformative process, please be aware of the impact your presence has on others.  

Thank you.

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Landlord and Tenant: Explaining Bodily Autonomy to Conservatives

I am the landlord and tenant of my own body.

Respect that I both own and inhabit my own body.  I am the landlord.  I can grant access to the building.  I can change the wallpaper, drill holes in the wall.  I maintain the well-being of the building.

Simultaneously, I am the tenant of my own body.  I inhabit the physical space, but I am not always mentally present.  Sometimes, landlord and tenant disagree.  The landlord occasionally wants to let guests in, but the apartment is my own space.  As the tenant, I control access to my own space.  Somedays, I want guests, and I open up my home to friends.  Other times, I wish to be left alone, or do not wish certain people to enter.  That is my prerogative.  As landlord, I can physically grant them access, but as tenant, I have the final say in who gets to enter.
I am the landlord and tenant of my own body.  Respect that.

An Unfortunate Experience

Trigger Warning: Discussion of Rape Culture

      I recently made the mistake of venturing out of the safe haven of the feminist blog-o-sphere, with its trigger warnings, politically correct terminology and made a foray for the mainstream media.  Recently, I read an article on the Amherst rape case at Time Magazine, and was disappointed in the equivocal nature of the article.  Now, I used to like Time.  It suited my liberal sensitivities and I thought that way I could avoid the MRA’s, racists, classists, and ignorantly privileged that tend to cluster around more conservative news sources.  I expected genuine, smart, nuanced discourse that respected the victims, and would examine rape culture and the systemic response.

Was I ever wrong.

The comments were mainly, college students are children, college is too expensive so students should only be studying, sex is a bad thing, and what did you expects?  Posters smugly toted how they had watched their drinks and nothing bad had happened to them.  How rape was a miscommunication, that guys couldn’t help themselves if they misread the situation.  How this fuzzy sexual consent was an unfortunate experience for the girl involved, but given the rate of false accusations, this culture was terrible.

An unfortunate experience.

It’s an unfortunate experience that you can do everything right.  You can go in groups, you can watch your drinks, you can be sober, and accept an escort to walk you home, to keep you safe.  And you still can get raped.  All these steps do is give an illusion of protection, an illusion of control.  It is a distancing mechanism from this unfortunate experience and the one in four women who deal with this unfortunate experience in their lifetime.

Seventy-five percent of the comments were negative, victim blaming, and assuming that rape was a miscommunication, and that the victims should have known better.  I expected more from the people I assumed were my liberal allies.  I expected that these informed liberals who pride themselves on nuance, sensitivity, and inclusiveness to treat rape and rape culture with all the seriousness it deserves. Not as an unfortunate experience that only happens to sluts who can’t communicate.

I know that I can change minds, one rant at a time, but it is so difficult sometimes.  The lack of compassion shown by the people I trusted as allies makes me want to cry.

Dear Men, 12 Pieces of Advice for the Men in Our Lives

Film still from the famous restaurant scene

Film still from the famous restaurant scene (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Update: I thoughtlessly posted this, not realizing how heteronormative it is.  My apologies.  The piece was intended for the clueless daters of any gender who prefer to date those that identify as women.

  1.  Aretha said it best; RESPECT.  Respect us, our bodies, and our opinions.  Also, remember that we are more than the sum of our reproductive organs.
  2. Women do not communicate directly.  We communicate in a more round-about way, designed to allow for disagreement without conflict.  So when we say, “Gosh, it’s late and I’m exhausted,” we mean that it’s time to call it a night.  Take the hint.
  3.  Learn to read body language; if you try the sneaky overarm movement (and believe us, we know you’re faking that yawn,) and we slide away, take the hint.
  4. Don’t call us crazy.  Unless we’ve torched your car, shaved our hair into designs of goldfish, or attempted to eat the cat.  Those are crazy actions.  Yelling at you because you’ve been dodging our calls and we just found out that we’re pregnant does not give you the excuse to say “B****** be crazy.”
  5. The exam did not rape you.  You are not going to have forced sexual intercourse with the other players in xbox live.  All you are doing is enabling rapists to get away with rape.  So stop.
  6. Our periods do not invalidate our emotions.  They just diminish our ability to tolerate things.  Besides it’s not like men don’t have hormonal cycles, either.  Ironically enough, PMS is an influx of testosterone.
  7. Women are not monolithic entities.  What makes one woman happy may not work for another woman.
  8. Women do not owe you their attention, time or affection.  Even if you have been her friend forever, you are NOT entitled to her love.  So stop whining about the Friend Zone.
  9. Women generally like sensitive men.  That does not mean, whiny spineless symphocant.  It means a man who stands up for himself, is respectful, and understands how to communicate.  The whole whiny spineless slob versus the puppy kicking, womanizing jerk is an arbitrary binary.
  10. Some women don’t want to have sex with men.  That does not mean that they just need the Right experience (aka with you.)  That does not mean that they will fulfill your fantasies.  So stop asking them that.
  11. The same goes for women who do want to have sex with men.  If they have not expressed any interest in sex with you, don’t ask them.
  12. Saying something offensive is like stepping on people’s toes.  Sometimes you did it intentionally.  But most of the time, when you step on someone’s toes, you didn’t mean to.  But you apologize anyway because regardless of your intent, you hurt them.

What do you think?  Is there anything else I missed?  Leave advice in the comments!

Motivational Mondays- Success, One Man at a Time

Talking To A Brick Wall

Talking To A Brick Wall (Photo credit: Joriel “Joz” Jimenez)

I have a classmate who has a tendency to say stuff that is really offensive.  Once he told the story of when he came to the United States, he expected brilliant professors, gold roads, and beautiful women.  According to him, these things only exist in movies about the USA.  (He then ended up sandwiched between the author and her roommate, for the rest of the car ride.  My roommate asked slyly, “Shame about that lack of beautiful women, eh?”  His face got ashen and we just laughed to ourselves, as he quickly backpedaled.  Needless to say, he isn’t known for his deft cultural sensitivity.  I had long since figured that he would never understand feminism.

Fast forward to a year later, and I have been telling him off every time that he used the word “rape” to describe exams, schedules, video-games and non-legitimate rape.  After the third time I called on him, he asked why it mattered to me.  And as I talked about rape culture, one in four, the twelve percent of men who inadvertently rape, he just sat and listened.

He said, “I had no idea that it was like that.  I never thought about it that way before.”  And he stopped using the word.  Sometimes, those that we believed to be opposed to us are merely ignorant.  They can be taught.  Keep going, because you may not have made an impact the first, second, or even third time.  The good ones can eventually be taught.

What is Rape? By Jessica Valenti

English: Profile picture of author Jessica Valenti

English: Profile picture of author Jessica Valenti (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What is Rape? By Jessica Valenti

In this Nation article Jessica Valenti discusses our cultural ignorance of what rape is and its diminished definition.  Valenti discusses how the diminished definition impacts women and its significance in a larger context.

Full disclosure, Jessica Valenti’s books made me a feminist.  Keep ’em coming, Jessica!