Trigger Warning. This post contains discussion of rape “humour” and threats of sexual violence. Please exercise self-care when reading this post or skip it altogether if you prefer.
The debate about rape jokes has resurfaced. Le sigh.
A friend of the blogger at Cookies For Breakfast posted her account of a run-in with comedian Daniel Tosh this past weekend at The Laugh Factory in L.A. By her account she was part of the audience when Daniel Tosh started a bit about rape jokes being funny. She did not agree. She interrupted the comic’s flow by shouting out, “Actually, rape jokes are never funny!” To which Tosh reportedly replied, “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like, five guys right now? Like right now? What if a bunch of guys just raped her…”
The blog post went live on Cookies For Breakfast on Tuesday. In the hours since, social media has been blowing up with outrage against both Tosh and his accuser. Some people have come out in defense of rape humour, while others denounce it entirely. Other’s still take a more moderate approach. Then there are the lowest breed of mouth-breathing troglodytes who have responded to the accusation of rape threats by making rape threats!
As I said…Le Sigh.
I really don’t want to get into the debate about whether or not rape jokes are funny or not. Sufficed to say that personally, I don’t like them. I doubt I’d be sad if I never heard one again. But the larger issue for me stems from Daniel Tosh’s so called “apology” on Twitter and subsequent justification for “raped by five guys” comments.
First Tosh tweeted:
“all of the out of context misquotes aside, I like to sincerely apologize [shortlink to Cookies post]”.
followed immediately by:
“the point i was making before i was heckled is there are awful things in the world but you can still make jokes about them.
First of all, the apology? Not really an apology. An apology is saying “I screwed up. I’m sorry.” Tosh is basically saying, “Other people screwed up and they don’t get me. I’m sorry…THAT OTHER PEOPLE ARE SCREWED UP.” So low points on the weaksauce facsimile of remorse, Daniel Tosh. Then there’s his follow-up explaination that he was trying to say something and then he was cut off and this is where I get super-agitated.
I don’t really agree with with Tosh’s statement about making jokes about awful things. But let me try to walk a mile in Daniel Tosh’s shoes for a moment…
I’m on stage doing my stand up thing. I’m presenting a pithy and well-constructed argument about how there is comedic merit in poking fun at terrible things, like dead babies and being raped. I’m on stage, trying to work, to entertain, to earn my living. And in the middle of all this, an anonymous woman from the audience disrupts the whole scene by shouting “Actually, rape jokes are never funny!” Not only is this woman being rude by interrupting me, I also disagree with her entirely. The nerve! I’m gonna…
And the shoes are off! Because up until this point, I can relate and accept Tosh’s actions, even if I disagree with his statement. What I cannot abide is the implication that his retort about gang-rape is justifiable, because she upset/disagreed with him.
It is exactly that response that makes me wary of rape humour in the first place. Yes, I understand it’s standard practice to get heckled a comedy shows, especially if you draw attention to yourself. But telling a woman it would be hilarious if she were gang-raped isn’t funny! It’s mean. If some dude said that to me in a room full of strangers I’d feel scared and humiliated. Not embarrassed, but really ashamed and gross.
I’ve read several counter-arguments along the lines of, “It wasn’t a real threat. No one was actually going to rape her.” Unfortunately, that’s not an assumption many women feel they can make. As a woman, I don’t get to move through life secure in the knowledge that my sexual safety is all but assured. When people say things like “wouldn’t it by funny if that girl got raped?” I kind of have to take that seriously, because there’s no way for me to discern between the dudes who say it would be funny and the dudes who actually think it would be funny.
Tosh’s rationalization, in essence, that “Yeah, I said rape stuff to her but she upset me,” ironically illustrates why his response was awful. Rape is sexual violence used to control/subjugated another person. This woman said and did something that Tosh disagreed with. Rather than offering a response to her statement or her behaviour, Tosh invoked the specter of rape to shut her up.
This is similar to the recent backlash Anita Sarkeesian experienced from members of the gaming community when she launched a Kickstarter campaign to create a series of critical videos about female tropes in video games*. Sarkeesian’s campaign message was little more than “I have some thoughts and I would like to explore them” and the floodates of ire opened up. This poor woman has been bombarded with evil messages, drawings and even a game telling her she deserves to have terrible violence inflicted upon her…simply for having expressing an idea!
Hey if you’re going to be a woman and get all visible and vocal with your opinions, you gotta expect that people are going to want to rape you.
So in the end, I don’t care if rape humour is funny or not and I don’t care what Daniel Tosh was saying before he was interrupted. What he said afterward was unjustified, awful and completely unfunny.
*Thanks and hugs to Trevor for bringing this to my attention!