I don’t think there was anything funny about the rape joke that Daniel Tosh told, nor about his response to a heckler. “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like 5 guys right now? Like right now? What if a bunch of guys just raped her…”
I don’t find this funny, because the threats of sexual violence, of guys just raping me, are all too real in my life. Every time I have left my house this summer I have been harassed on the street (and this is not exaggeration, this has seriously been every day).
“Smile for me, honey.”
“That is a seriously nice ass for a white girl.”
“Baby, I’d love to hit that.”
“Walk in front of my car again, I want to watch you move.”
Last week, a man who thought I couldn’t understand his lewd comments because he spoke them in Spanish threatened to rape me when I yelled back at him, and he grabbed at my ass.
This is my reality. So when Daniel Tosh and his supporters try to argue that it was only a joke, I don’t buy it. Was Tosh being serious when he made those comments? Probably not. I obviously don’t believe that he actually wanted men to attack that woman. But what if a man or two in that audience did think that?
And would they really be so wrong to think that invitation to rape was sincere? After all, there are thousands of boys and men on Twitter going on and on about how funny it was, how that bitch deserved for those things to be said to her. Deserved to be threatened with violence and violation, for standing up for herself and for the at least 25% of women who will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.
But it was just a joke, they say. None of us would ever rape a woman. We, ourselves, aren’t rapists. But how can they be sure that the man next to them isn’t? How can they be sure that while they’re laughing at Tosh’s “jokes” the man next to them isn’t thinking “right on. That bitch needs to be put in her place.” How can they be sure that the man next to them isn’t one of the 6% of college-aged men who will admit to sexually assaulting a woman, so long as it’s not called rape? So long as it’s just “having sex with a woman who is inebriated” or “having sex with a woman who has consented to certain sexual activities but not to sex.”
And how can they know that the adolescent reading their tweets isn’t going to learn from their words that threatening a woman with rape is acceptable?
This is the rape culture. That we have normalized threatening rape so much so that it is considered a joke to a segment of the population, almost entirely male but by no means exclusively, is the rape culture.
This is why there have been a few posts online in the last day or two that point out how a rape joke can be humorous if it is used to make fun of the societal ills that lead to this rape culture, namely the posts by Lindy West at Jezebel and Jessica Valenti at The Nation. None of us want to censor you. By all means, make funny jokes, make light of terrible things like genocide or racism or, using Tosh’s example, dead babies. Go right ahead.
But make sure those jokes have some sort of social awareness to them, and that the sole purpose isn’t to mock rape victims or to threaten violence against someone. And make sure that the jokes you make, or the jokes you defend, don’t tell women and people who interact with women that women are less than, that they are deserving of rape, that the proper response to a woman asserting herself is violation. Make sure that these jokes and defenses of jokes don’t trivialize rape or make it acceptable.
Because I believe you when you say you’re not a rapist. But some people out there are, and they get permission every time you laugh at a joke like that.