Rape Jokes Are Never Funny (But Rape Culture Jokes Are Another Story)

by Annie Reneau
Shutterstock / arindambanerjee

Roses are red

Violets are blue

We’re having sex

Cuz I’m stronger than you

Hahahahahaha! Get it? Cuz I’m stronger than you? Isn’t that just hilarious?!

Yeah, no. It’s not.

Rape jokes are not the least bit funny, and most days, I can’t believe we live in a world where anyone actually thinks they are.

However, we have a whole month dedicated to Sexual Assault Awareness. One in five women will be raped in her lifetime. And more than 60 million Americans voted into the White House a man who, depending on how you viewed his infamous bus video, either blatantly admitted to sexually assaulting women or callously joked about sexually assaulting women. Clearly, this is the world we live in.

I have a great sense of humor, and I enjoy comedy. I just hate when it gets hijacked by misogynistic a-holes or comedians who are so untalented that they feel the need to cater to the lowest dregs of society.

Enter the funny female comedians — as well as some men-whom-all-men-should-emulate — who turn rape jokes on their head by making fun of rape culture.

How is that different, you ask? Well, there’s a world of difference between ridiculing a victim and ridiculing a perpetrator or a culture that protects perpetrators. A common standard for smart comedy is that it punches up, not down. In other words, poking fun of those who abuse power works much better than poking fun of the people being abused. (I want to say “Duh” here. But again, the world we live in.)

The key is that rape culture jokes are anti-rape in their nature. Rape jokes, even if they aren’t intended to be pro-rape, certainly come across as such. I know the people who share them probably don’t see it that way, but they also don’t see why people are bothered by them. Rape jokes are a part of rape culture — they make light of serious pain and normalize attitudes that embolden rapists. They ostracize, alienate, and shame victims.

Rape culture jokes, on the other hand, work like all good satire does — by highlighting the absurdity of the mindsets and cultural norms that allow the Brock Turners of the world to walk without justice. They reclaim power from those who abuse it. They utilize the unique ability of humor to change the serious narrative from “What were you wearing?” to “Why are you raping?” and from “Don’t get raped,” to “Don’t rape.”

Last summer, the website Reductress filled their entire website with rape culture satire pieces, with headlines such as “I Anonymously Reported My Rape for the Anonymous Attention,” and “‘Most Women Lie About Rape,’ Says Man Lying About Rape.” See, now that’s funny. If you enjoy (and understand) satire, you’ll appreciate these “articles.”

It’s an uphill battle in the comedy world though. Dave Chapelle’s new Netflix stand-up special has some rather disturbing references to rape. I read an article about those jokes, then made the mistake of reading the comments. No shortage of men came to Chapelle’s defense. “It’s 2017, everyone makes rape jokes,” one commenter said.

No, they don’t. And that kind of attitude also feeds rape culture. Why is this so hard, people?

If you think forcing someone into a sexual activity against their will is something to laugh at, you need some perspective, stat. There’s a reason people don’t joke about molesting children in a way that makes fun of the victims. There’s a reason people don’t joke about the people who were killed on 9/11. Some topics are simply too terrible to joke about, and being raped is — or should be — one of them.

Rape culture, on the other hand? With all of its ridiculous justifications and normalizations and trivializations? That’s something I’m willing to laugh at, especially when it’s done well. Have at it, comedians. Keep taking rape culture down, one joke at a time.