An Open Letter to People Who Tell Rape Jokes

Rosalie Goldberg, Campus Life and Opinions Online Editor

“Women shouldn’t have mouths—oh wait, yes they should—for blow jobs,” a friend of mine said in a text message I received at approximately 1 a.m. on a Monday.

“My answer is that the girl always wants it,” one of my first-year hallmates said during a Speak UP presentation. The comment received a few uncomfortable giggles in the silent room.

“It’s just a joke, though,” they said. “You’re taking it too seriously.”

This rhetoric is a common tactic to silence people who speak out against such rape jokes.  

Cruelty is still cruelty even when it’s wrapped in a bow and called a “joke.”

I am a survivor of sexual assault, so when I hear a joke that insinuates that I deserved it, or that my only value is sexual—yeah, I can’t help but take it personally. I can’t just laugh it off as a joke when millions of other women like me are having their traumatic experiences trivialized and called humor.

Comedy is supposed to be funny, and sometimes that comedy is off-color. But that doesn’t mean that it has to kick a group of people who are already down. One litmus test to check whether a joke is cruel is to see who laughs. Who is the butt of the joke? Are you making abusers and rapists laugh, normalizing their bad behavior?

Being a good comic is difficult, but being hurtful is easy. That’s why many people resort to this sort of humor to get a quick laugh. When people make jokes referencing the degradation of women, it normalizes these inequalities and lived experiences.

There are plenty of jokes about women and rape that are not offensive, but women are never on the receiving end of these jokes. Rape jokes that work often poke fun at the system of norms that allow for this sort of behavior to persist. Those are the things that are truly absurd and laughable–not a woman “always wanting it” or women only having mouths for blow jobs.

You do live in a free country. You can say whatever you want, but jokes that degrade women differ in very specific ways from “dead baby” jokes. Women are consistently blamed for being victims, and are shamed, objectified, and reduced to commodities in non-humorous ways in our culture.

I received that text from a friend because he knew that it would upset me. Well, congratulations. It did, and it hurt.

The next time you are about to make a joke about women, please think about the audience you are trying to reach. Think about the one in three women who are sexually assaulted on college campuses each year, who are being forced to hear these jokes that normalize and trivialize their trauma.

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