Founded in 1974, the Women’s Center was established to:
Dismantle, from a feminist perspective, all forms of oppression, including but not limited to those based on ability, age, class, ethnicity, gender, race, and sexual orientation.
Advocate for an equitable environment free from violence and harassment based on gender, race, and sexual orientation.
Create an anti-racist, non-sexist, queer-affirmative space where all people can feel valued and safe.
Facilitate and strengthen connections among people across lines of difference through programming and educational campaigns.
Integrate an appreciation of Women's Gender and Multicultural Studies across the disciplines.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Rape is Not a Punchline

Last Thursday the Women's Center Ramapo held our annual Take Back the Night Speak-out & March. For those of you who aren’t familiar yet, Take Back the Night is “an internationally held march and rally intended as a protest and direct action against rape and other forms of violence against women, originated by the feminist movement.” People gather together in a room on campus and one by one survivors walk to the front and share their stories – once everyone has shared (we go until two minutes passes after the last speaker) we take to the streets (or in this case, the campus) to let out all of the anger and sadness and hope that the speakout causes us to feel in the form of chants.

I left that speak out feeling empowered; that is, until I logged onto facebook and saw that someone on my friends list had made a tasteless joke (”Take Back the Night? Sounds more like Rape Me Tonight!”) and, even worse, other people on my friends list were actually pressing the like button (the new online equivalent of laughing along with the joke.) Needless to say, I was pissed. How could this person make a joke about an event that means so much to so many people? What if one of the survivors who spoke that night saw this too? Would they feel as deflated as I felt right now? How could people be so callous as to laugh at a rape joke about rape survivors?!

And then I realized: this outrage that I’m feeling right now is outrage that I should be feeling more often – I should be feeling it every time hear someone make rape into a punchline. I don’t know why or when this started but recently I feel like I’ve been hearing a lot more jokes about rape as well as hearing the word rape thrown around in a causal manner (ie. One friend, jokingly, saying to the other “I’m totally gonna rape you later tonight” or “I raped that exam today”) and I haven’t known what to do about it.

Yes, I’ve felt upset every time I hear rape being trivialized in this way but, until last night, that feeling manifested itself in discomfort rather than full on anger. I would sometimes try to say something to my friends making the comment but I was never quite confident enough to own what I was saying and so, it always ended up with people apologizing and then promising not to make those comments in front of me anymore. That’s not enough.

This really hit home with me last night as a friend who I called out for approving of the disgusting status apologized and told me that she had liked the status only because she didn’t know what TBTN was. While I appreciated the apology, at the same time I was still pretty upset because, at the end of the day, my friend laughed at a rape joke. The fact that the joke directly mocked an anti sexual assault event was a big part of its offense, yes, but even without an understanding of that part – its still a rape joke.

These types of comments are harmful; not just because a rape survivor might hear them and feel victimized (and with statistics like 1 in 4 the chances that you’re speaking to/near a rape survivor are pretty damn high) but because they add to a culture that doesn’t see rape as something that big anymore. Aside from hurting individuals, every rape joke told is just another drop into the bucket that allows our society to stop taking rape, and its victims, seriously. This is a problem.

The kind of culture we’ve created with these jokes is the kind of culture that can look at a self-admitted child rapist, Roman Polinski, and say something like:

“It’s bad a person was raped. But that was so many years ago. The guy has been through so much in his life. It’s crazy to arrest him now. Let it go. The government could spend its money on other things.” (Feminist Majority Leader, Peg Yorkin)
No, just, no. This man is a rapist. He drugged and raped thirteen year old child, fled the country, and got away without serving jail time (he did spent 46 days in psychiatric treatment, but that was it.) What I want to know is this: how did we, as a community, get to the point where so many of us can look at the rape, the absolute betrayal, of a thirteen year old girl and not want to see her rapist in jail? Did this happen at the same time we started to find rape funny?

The only way to take back both the night AND the day from those who commit and trivialize sexual assault is to stop making rape joke and stop laughing at them.

I, for one, am not laughing anymore – not even to be polite – and I hope you’ll join me.

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