Let’s Talk About Rape Jokes

28 Jul

This blog is fairly young yet, but you’ll learn quickly that my ass is still quite sore over what I generally refer to as “The Dickwolves Debacle.”  If you missed it, you’re lucky, but I’ll summarize it thusly: everyone acted like a butthole.  Everyone acted like a dirty, smelly butthole.  Basically, the guys over at “Penny Arcade” drew this comic, which was meant to be a comment on how morally uncomfortable it is in an MMORPG like World of Warcraft to be sent on a mission to rescue five slaves… except, because you’re in the same universe as like, a gajillion other players who might be on the same quest you’re on, those slaves will keep respawning so that other players have something to rescue, meaning that you’re inevitably going to be leaving slaves behind.  And in the course of making this point, the “sixth slave” says, “Every night we are raped to sleep by the dickwolves.”

And then online feminism exploded.  It happened first at Shakesville, which is like, the fuse or something – the fuse on the bomb which is online feminism.  Do you see how consistent I am being about my metaphors?  Also, do you know how awesome explosions are?  This is why this is a fantastic analogy.

Anyway, “Penny Arcade” broke the feminist internet, because it’s not okay to use rape as a punchline!  And you know, I agree with that (for the most part).  Problem is that rape was not the punchline in that “Penny Arcade” comic.  That comic was about all of the things I just said it was a few paragraphs ago.  And I guess Gabe and Tycho felt the same way I do, because they responded to the feminist internet… and acted like big butt-munchers about it.  Not cool.

So, either there is a sector of the feminist internet that doesn’t understand the anatomy of a joke, or there is a sector of the feminist internet that says that is it never okay to talk about rape unless it’s in the literal, scary sense.  I’m guessing it’s the latter, because when I used to read Shakesville on a regular basis, I frequently found myself snorting into my coffee.

You want my personal opinion on the dickwolves?  I liked the comic.  I thought it made its point nicely, and I didn’t find it triggering or offensive.  That’s not to say that my reaction is the right one, and it’s not to say that rape jokes don’t exist in a larger culture.  Denis Farr, writing for The Border House, said this of the comic:

Personally, among the reasons I find rape jokes much more problematic than murder jokes (and I don’t necessarily let off the hook the latter), is that this is the response to rape in the real world. Murder, unless sanctioned by a government, is quite often condemned. Rape is often more murky, even if we theoretically believe it wrong.

Yes, rape jokes exist in a larger culture that systematically trivializes rape, and perhaps reading “The Sixth Slave” might have been triggering for some people… but it wasn’t really a rape joke.

This is a rape joke.

This is the final panel in today’s installment of “Truth Serum,” a comic I read weekly on The Rumpus.  So why is this a rape joke, when it doesn’t even reference literal rape?  Let’s break it down, shall we?

This two-part strip has Malory Watkins approaching Flying Man, and asking him to autograph her breasts.  Flying Man doesn’t want to do it there, in public, because there are kids around, and he might get into trouble.  And in this final panel, Malory Watkins says to him, “Do it or I’ll blow my rape whistle and then you’ll really get into trouble.”

The difference between this strip and “The Sixth Slave” is that here, rape actually is the punchline.  Or rather, not even rape – the idea that a woman would use the threat of a rape accusation to get a man to do what she wants him to do.  I mean, that’s nasty.  That relies on all kinds of stereotypes about how women are manipulative, and it pushes the (false) cultural meme that tells us that men accused of rape are actually the victims.

Okay, I recognize that all of this is kind of a matter of opinion, and it all depends on what you’re willing to put up with.  You know, I’m going to continue reading “Truth Serum,” because I think it’s funny most of the time.  I would, however, like to point out that this particular strip relies heavily on harmful cultural memes that directly trivialize rape.

So!  There’s my opinion.  You should leave yours in the comments!

[Image 1 Source] [Image 2 Source]


5 Responses to “Let’s Talk About Rape Jokes”

  1. Bilinda July 29, 2011 at 8:42 pm #

    I’ve had friends and family commit suicide. I make suicide jokes.

    I have been beaten up by a man. I make wife beater jokes.

    I’ve been raped. I make rape jokes.

    I have been in a loving relationship with a person of the same sex. My brother and sister are both gay. I make gay jokes.

    Since I have lived through these things, are my jokes okay? Is it fine that I choose to trivialize things in order to make my past easier to deal with? Probably not, but I won’t stop.

    The difference between me and a comic? My jokes are not (always) made in front of people who may get offended. They are normally not posted on the interwebs. That shouldn’t matter…should it? When faced with something truly horrific, something incomprehensible, we may make light of it to take away its power. If I made a joke and it truly offended another person IRL I would of course apologize to that person, but it wouldn’t stop my behavior. We all deal with things in different ways; don’t try to take away my power.

    Isn’t that what rape feels like? Someone took your power from you. By censoring myself due to someone else’s sensitivity, my own power and my ability to cope with something has been stolen from me. Of course rape is serious and of course it is scary….and this is how I deal with that fear.

    I will always make the choice, by whatever means necessary, to not let that fear overpower me.

    • Megan King July 29, 2011 at 9:47 pm #

      First of all, I’m pleased to death that you saw fit to visit me on my feminist interwebz space. I’m blushing, for serious.

      Second of all – yes to everything you said – especially:

      The difference between me and a comic? My jokes are not (always) made in front of people who may get offended. They are normally not posted on the interwebs.

      Context matters so much.

      And I’d never advocate telling people that they aren’t allowed to tell rape jokes. I like my speech to remain free, because I like lording over my own little corner of the internet where I can say whatever I want. :)

      If you can’t tell, the rape joke is an issue that I have a lot of trouble with. On the one hand, I believe in rape culture (I am so tacky that I’m linking to myself – THAT’S how tacky I am!), and I believe that when we trivialize rape or talk about how women (or men) could have prevented what happened to them by dressing different or hanging out with different people – that is harmful. And mean, too. And shitty. Shittily mean.

      And on the other hand… everything you said. Reclaiming things that hurt us can be really powerful – it’s why I identify as “fat,” because like, holy shit, growing up as a fat kid – that sucked. But now it’s something that I appropriated for myself, and in doing so, I stripped it of its power to make me feel like ass. So there’s that.


      Also, I’m glad you’re digging on your avatar. I thought the little monster dudes were a nice touch. :)

  2. Bilinda July 29, 2011 at 8:43 pm #

    Btw, I love the little guest avatar on here. It makes my opinion more valid.

  3. Pashford August 12, 2011 at 10:46 am #

    I think if nothing else, The now infamous Dickwolves Debacle can be viewed as an overall educational experience, despite being a painful one. The fact that the internet, of all incorporeal beings we could be discussing mind you, with all of its relevant information, had The Dickwolves making the loudest noise is nothing short of astounding. This is keeping in mind, that a rather massive exchange of ideas was springing froth, from a one off joke done by guys, as Gabe pointed out, who feature an actual rapist as a re-occurring gag.

    How could that not be considered some kind of progress in the grand auditorium of social interaction?

    A lot of debate has been generated around the idea of rape culture, long before the term Dickwolves was ever invented…they just added a whole list of people who may take it into effect as “something more“ with the fallout from all of this.

    I think that the joke at least helped to frame the idea that gaming culture itself is evolving right along with regular social ideas. Being imbued with the lifestyles of others, conflicts of interest, and contradicting philosophies. When a group considered so prolific, and in this case, not even venturing into new territory with an over the top joke are held liable for offense, one obvious point of interest is clear and focused.

    At least we talked about it.

    Something which, if done about this very same thing, happened more often, not just on the internet, would yield the same kind of results.

    A second thought.

    • Megan E. King August 12, 2011 at 11:13 am #

      I think you brought up something here that I may have forgotten about, or at least ignored or downplayed. The actual Dickwolves strip didn’t bother me, and I found myself kind of annoyed that other people were bothered by it. Of course, it exists within a larger rape culture, but it also exists within a gaming culture that is often misogynistic, or even dangerous for women.

      Perhaps it’s not the joke itself that’s really offensive, it’s the context in which it was told – who told it, and to whom it was told – that make it problematic.

      Thanks for reminding me about gaming culture! I identify as a Geek Lite (TM… kidding), and most of my geekery revolves around fandoms and internet memes, so it’s easy for me to forget what often happens when a bunch of gamers start interacting with one another.

      In essence – good point!

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