So You Made a Rape Joke

So you made a rape joke and now people are, like, really, really mad at you.  I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt; maybe you were at a party and the booze made your common sense slip away from you or maybe you were making what you viewed as a flippantly humorous remark on Facebook.  Either way, you probably didn’t mean any harm, right?  So what’s the big deal?

Okay, let me break it down for you in the gentlest way I know how.  (Lorde, give me strength!)


“I obviously think rape is wrong!   It was only a joke!  Cut me some slack, I’m one of the good guys.”

Most people don’t go around literally thinking, “Rape’s okay by me!”  I think I can muster enough faith in humanity to stand by that claim.  The problem is, even though most people don’t think rape is okay, so many people are still raped.  There’s obviously got to be some kind of disconnect happening here, most likely having to do with what people think consent looks like (if they’ve considered it at all).  When it comes down to it, I have no idea if rapists intend to rape, but in the end, the result is the same regardless of intention.
To clarify, I am in no way saying making a rape joke is the equivalent to raping someone.  I’m saying, as I’ve said before, I have no way of measuring your intentions; I can only observe the impacts of your actions.  Whether you meant to hurt someone or not, you did.  And you need to take a moment to grapple with that before you try to defend yourself.  If you’re really the good person that you claim to be, you will take that into consideration before you proceed.  If you want to be one of the good guys, show me, don’t tell me.


“Stop trying to censor me!”

This person is likely not trying to violate your First Amendment rights in any way, shape, or form.  More often than not, they are probably trying to inform you that you are doing something harmful so that you won’t do it again.  This is actually good because A) you won’t hurt any more people and B) you won’t look like a jerk in the future.  If they do get angry or frustrated with you, it’s probably because they’ve had to have this conversation with so many people over and over again; it can be quite exhausting and take an emotional toll on someone, especially if they’re survivors.

But if you really want further explanation, here it is: the First Amendment gives you the right to say pretty much whatever you want (with limitations that don’t necessarily apply to this particular situation).  The First Amendment also gives your peers the right to tell you to shut up, to shout over you, and to blow a kazoo in your face, if they like.   Now, if they try to arrest you and make a political prisoner out of you, that’s a clear violation of your rights and probably about a dozen other Federal laws, but I imagine it is likely that whoever you are arguing with does not have that kind of power.

“Language only has the power we give it!”

Yes, language is constructed.  We get that.  But meaning-making (and unmaking) is much more complicated than simply disregarding the power that decades and sometimes centuries of use have given to certain words.  Also, you also might come off as slightly pretentious for assuming that your (likely contrived and unoriginal, sorry) rape joke is somehow contributing to dissolving the power behind the word.  I’m not saying that to be mean! I’m just saying that you’re gonna look foolish, not just to the feminist that you’re likely arguing with, but also to semioticians.


“You’re just a humorless feminist!”

C’mon, dude, I was trying to be nice!  Here’s the deal: I love a good joke.  Follow me on Twitter; I’m pretty hilarious, if I do say so myself.  I use humor to cope with all kinds of things in the world that I think are fucked up; I would probably lose my mind if I didn’t crack jokes constantly.   Humor can not only be self-healing, but it can also be used to commiserate, uplift, and show solidarity.  It can be used to show pain, and it can even be used as a weapon against those who seek to oppress people.

But humor loses all potential for redemption when it is used in a way that makes marginalized, victimized people feel unsafe, unwanted, and invisible.  That is how I feel when you make a rape joke.  You made the worst, most heart-breaking, most disempowering trauma I have ever been through, and you made it into a joke.  You made my suffering into a punch line.  I hope that was not your intention, but those are the impacts of your words that you could have just as easily kept to yourself.

So what would I like you to do now?  I’d really appreciate an apology.  I’d really like for you to do your best not to do it again.  And if you’re a really brave person, I hope you speak up the next time one of your friends makes a rape joke.

This post was partially inspired by Judie’s awesome piece It’s Okay That You Said Something Racist and by a lot of the ongoing conversations many of us at OK4RJ have about rape culture.  If someone has had similar interactions with me online or in “real” life, don’t feel targeted.  I (sadly) have this conversation all the time.

I’m Sandra.  I’m a rape survivor.  I would really like you to stop making rape jokes.

11 thoughts on “So You Made a Rape Joke

  1. I think I’ll print this out and put it in my wallet so I’ll have it at my disposal the next time some bro says “God, it was just a joke, dude.”

  2. “[Humor] can be used to show pain, and it can even be used as a weapon against those who seek to oppress people.”
    So, is it not possible to make an empowering joke about rape where the rapist (as opposed to the victim) is the butt of the joke?

  3. Your monkey and you:
    theoretically, I suppose this hypothetical is possible, but I for one just don’t feel comfortable making or hearing jokes about something that society takes already takes too lightly, and could be triggering no matter how it is worded. When it comes to making jokes about sensitive issues, I usually leave it for the people effected by it and rarely choose to joke about them on my own, even if the survivors do, because it’s simply not my experience to make light of. Humor CAN be a coping mechanism, but if the person making the joke isn’t effected by it (i.e. a survivor), then it can’t really be used as coping, since the person making the joke isn’t using it to deal with their experience.

    (No animosity is meant by this comment, by the way! We probably don’t know each other irl so I’m sorry if my tone comes off as supa snarky. I DON’T MEAN IT LIKE THAT!)

  4. Your right, its true rape occurs and that its a horrible thing to have happen. your right, rape jokes make survivors uncomfortable and alienate them. When I flip on comedy central and I see a black man making fun of everything a white person does, I don’t hear an outcry of hate because the black person is alienating white people. I don’t see the audience crying racist and throwing rotten tomatoes at the comedian. I hear laughter and I see whites laughing along with the jokes. Because a man did the inconceivable and raped you or another survivor doesn’t mean that the next man is going to rape you or has any such intentions. If the joke is funny take it as it is and don’t read into it. thats sexual profiling and I won’t stand for it.

    If it wasn’t funny it wouldn’t be a joke and they wouldn’t be telling it to you so don’t react like they’re going to attack you. If you don’t find it laughable then don’t laugh at the joke and leave it at that, he or she will get the message.

    • Nowhere in this post did I indicate that I thought every man I ever ran into was going to rape me. That is completely absurd. So I wasn’t “sexual profiling” (whatever that means?).

      “If it wasn’t funny it wouldn’t be a joke and they wouldn’t be telling it to you so don’t react like they’re going to attack you.”

      Let’s break this down, shall we? You seem to be conflating “jokes” with “funny.” This is just not true. Knock knock jokes? Not funny for anyone under the age of 7. Gallagher, that dude that smashed watermelons? Not funny to anyone born after 1970.

      Black people making fun of white people? ACTUALLY hilarious and also, not racist! Why? Reverse racism = not a real thing. You can’t be racist against the race which benefits from the oppression of other races (that’s white people, for anyone who needed clarification). Conflating black people making jokes about white people to a rape joke is pretty absurdly offensive.

      Also, I think I was quite clear about not thinking that people who told rape jokes were going to rape me: “To clarify, I am in no way saying making a rape joke is the equivalent to raping someone.”

      So… yeah.

  5. Thank you, Wes. That is a really great comparison. It must take so much strength and courage for you to not get mad when a white joke is told. Reward yourself with a nice hot bath, you deserve it.

  6. For anyone else as socially inept as wesley: rape jokes aren’t okay no matter who tells them, male or female. There are so many cases that go unreported, you wouldn’t believe it. It’s not about what you “should” be allowed to joke about, it’s about knowing how many people you could hurt and send into a whirlwind of emotions when they hear you joking about it, and caring enough about other human beings enough to not joke about it again. Let me add that being white isn’t a life-altering, traumatic experience that changes you forever. Rape is.

    • Your comment reminds me of something Judie said in her post about racist comments:

      “They’re trying to help you be nicer to people! Being nice is the goal, right?”

      I think it applies here too. I love it. It’s good to keep in mind anytime someone says that we’ve hurt or offended them. Yeah we probably have the right to say whatever was said, but should we if being nice and caring about human beings really is the goal? I would hope no one wants to unnecessarily be a jerk to strangers, acquaintances and friends.

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