An earnest letter to guys about the problem with rape jokes; It’s not about being PC

A letter to “all those men who don’t think rape jokes are a problem” has been circulating on Tumblr. I think the point it makes is brilliant and critically important, but it’s not really written for the men it needs to reach. It’s written using the classic style of self-affirming snark commonly found on feminist blogs. Don’t get me wrong. I love the snark. But it’s not the most effective way to talk to people who don’t already agree with you. So here’s an earnest letter to men who don’t get why rape jokes are a problem, snark-free.

Dear guys,

I’m writing to tell you why joking about rape is a bad idea, and it has nothing to do with being PC or offending anybody.

I know a lot of guys feel like feminists are hyper-sensitive or quick to take offense, especially when it comes to off-color or edgy jokes. I don’t entirely blame them for feeling this way. The reality is that people embrace feminism in their own way and some are more likely to be offended than others. Unfortunately, much of the “work” of feminism is done within the context of offense, written in the language of outrage and accusation. While I don’t begrudge anyone the right to be angry or express their rage (I do it myself) I don’t think it’s always the most productive way to create change. Especially when we’re asking you guys to join us and become our allies in preventing rape.

The reason rape jokes are a bad idea has nothing to do with offending feminists or rape victims (although purposefully offending a rape victim is a pretty shitty thing to do). It’s not about how women react to the joke; it’s about how other men react.

The sad truth is that some men really are rapists. And they aren’t just the crazy serial-rapist-killers you see on Law and Order SVU or Dexter; they’re just guys. According to Robin Warshaw’s I Never Called It Rape8% of men admit committing acts that meet the legal definition of rape or attempted rape, but they don’t usually think of themselves as rapists. Other studies report this number is as high as 15%. This shit is happening, and the guys doing it aren’t freaks or psychos. They’re your classmates, they’re on the football team, they’re in your WoW guild, they were at your last party.

The problem with rape jokes is that these guys — these guys who seem normal but are actually rapists — hear the jokes and interpret them as a secret wink and nod that you approve of what they’re doing and that you would, or are, doing it too. Via Organon:

Virtually all rapists genuinely believe that all men rape, and other men just keep it hushed up better. And more, these people who really are rapists are constantly reaffirmed in their belief about the rest of mankind being rapists like them by things like rape jokes, that dismiss and normalize the idea of rape.

That is why you shouldn’t tell rape jokes. That is why you should stand up and call out your friends when they do it. Not because you need to worry about being PC or offending feminists, but because you’re actually helping prevent rape. By changing the “culture of rape” from one where rape is something normal and/or expected to one where rape is treated like the crime it really is, you can make a difference.

And it’s not like I’m asking you to be hyper-sensitive about every single joke. I think there’s a difference between jokes that make fun of rape, or rape victims, and jokes that make fun of rapists. I even made a handy flow-chart to help you figure out which rape jokes are validating rapists and which are shaming rapists. But those jokes that do validate rapists, those are the ones you need to do something about.

I know it’s asking a lot to expect someone to stand up to their friends or strangers. It really is, and it’s usually not fun. But think about it. Do you really want those guys out there — those secret rapists who look just like everybody else — to think you’re on their side? That you support what they’re doing? That you’re doing it too, or would be if you could get away with it?

A lot of guys say they would step in and stop a rape if they saw it happening. Heroic as the idea is, it doesn’t happen very often because rape doesn’t usually happen directly in front of you. But the rape jokes that encourage rapists to think that all guys think rape is funny or okay or not a big deal? Those do happen in front of you. And you can do something about that.

And if you do, it’s not because you’re the “PC police.” It’s not because you don’t have a sense of humor. It’s because you actually care about preventing rape, protecting women, and letting rapists know that you are NOT their comrade, their ally, or their bro.

***Edit 12/2/11: Please check out the follow-up post: Why we need more earnest letters to men, and women, about the problem with rape jokes.


  1. It’s too bad that “Because I will hate you for making a rape joke, and in theory you don’t want to be hated since you’re trying to joke to me” isn’t enough but if this makes someone think twice, hey, great. Men need to take some responsibility for rape culture!


    1. Positive motivation is far more powerful than negative motivation because it comes from a places of building relationships rather than fear or resentment of losing them.


    2. I disagree. Men don’t have to take responsibility for rape culture. i am a man, and I don’t rape people. Therefore, I am not responsible for the actions of rapists.

      I would argue that for anything to get done regarding this important issue, women need to take responsibility for what they choose to say about men as a whole. It’s called talking to people, not talking AT them. It’s demeaning, irresponsible and prejudiced to assume that men as a whole bear blanket responsibility for something that the vast majority of them would never do.

      I liked the article because, unlike most of the online talk about rape and rape-culture, this author made an attempt to be fair-minded. I might disagree with her about the article, but she’s not condemning people for disagreeing with her, which is one of her main points. It’s respectful, and that’s a start on how to begin a conversation to find a solution regarding this important issue. Because we need to have a conversation about how to prevent sexism. We don’t need a shouting match.


        1. There is one enormous problem with your theory that men who do NOT rape don’t need to claim any cultural responsibility.

          The people who are taking responsibility, standing up and saying rape jokes cause harm, please join a ‘mile in her shoes’ etc are the victims of rape. People who are struggling with living with what has happened while also trying to prevent as many possible future victims as we can.
          We face death threats, more rape threats, online bullying and severe misogyny. We get called misandrists and feminazis for merely mentioning that it is possible to create a culture of consent.

          If we are afraid of the judicial system because it is a case of one persons word against another, and we don’t want every consensual sexual act made public, dont want to talk about what clothing we were wearing, makeup we were wearing, every flirtation we ever made, if we dont want to refer to a traumatic experience as love making while being forced to give a blow-by-blow account and re-living the horror over and over again in a room full of strangers at the questioning of a person who is paid to discredit, humiliate and undermine us… then we are accused of lettinv it happen to someone else and maybe countless someone elses. The responsibility of every future rape is apparently ours.

          Is that really fair? Is it really unbiased and logical? Is the anger and where it is being directed really justified? Is asking good, decent, respectful men to stand up and do something really that unreasonable?

          Because, from where I stand male rapists (who account for 92% of rape perpetrators) dont give a darn what women think. They dont respect women which is why they rape in the first place. They do care what their peers think and how their peers react though.

          Now, I do understand that it is very difficult to respond to a person who is angry and blaming with compassion and understanding. It is difficult for all of us. For this reason, I will say, defensive responses are understandable. Its also understandable why someone in the aforementioned position is angry. Every rape survivor had to go through a stage of not just anger, but absolute rage. Its part of the healing process. Rape-threats and rape jokes along with the silence of good people, can trigger all that grief and rage again.

          So, I say, every non-rapist, male and female both, have a responsibility to stand up and make a difference.

          “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends”. Martin Luther King Jr

          “If you are neutral on issues of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Desmond Tutu


      1. “I would argue that for anything to get done regarding this important issue, women need to take responsibility for what they choose to say about men as a whole.”


        “Men don’t have to take responsibility for rape culture. i am a man, and I don’t rape people. Therefore, I am not responsible for the actions of rapists.”

        anyone else notice a ton of problems with this reasoning?

        go ahead, don’t take responsibility for culture. i’m not sure who is telling you that individuals are really directly responsible for the actions of so many others. we just say that maybe it would be nice to do something about cultural problems. that there are cultural problems, that rape jokes can indeed be a problem. but mostly here note that “I am not responsible for the actions of rapists” is irrelevant, particularly in response to the content of the article you are commenting on.

        and somehow you comment that women have a responsibility. but not you. you can just assert that, but it’s not very convincing. it kinda makes it look like you don’t know how to use the word “responsibility” except as an excuse to point fingers (at women, in this case).

        you are the one talking AT us. (at least in part of your post)


  2. I think the biggest issue here is that rape is considered just a male to female problem, when in reality, the sword swings both ways. As a stand up comic, I think everything is open season. People joke about death and murder every day, these things are equally, if not more, harmful to society. I don’t ever condone rape or even pretend to. I think that it’s important to try and veer away from such subject matter unless it’s handled delicately and with wit. However, I do think that starting to mark certain topics as taboo just because they’ve hurt people is a narrow minded idea. There are lots of awful things that can happen to people and frankly, we can’t start to create a spectrum of what’s joke worthy and what isn’t. The true source of this problem is that rapists believe that other people commit rape, not the jokes. They should never see a joke as an affirmation. Instead, let’s educate more, as a male culture, call out your buddy when he talks about sleeping with that girl who was blackout drunk at a party instead of your other friend when he makes some joke off hand. Fight the disease, not the symptoms.


  3. First off, I am not in support of rape, however , I don’t believe that a rape joke is “a wink or nod of approval” of the act of rape.” The belief that joking about something tacitly approves of it is a foregone conclusion; those who rape were not driven to this by laughing at rape jokes and are intransigently beyond the opprobrium of their peers with regard to their attitude thereof. Other forms of violence which are integral to comedy and other popular forms of entertainment but that do not deal with such a touchy subject do not invoke such sententious backlash , even though they represent a mountain to a molehill respective to their broader societal implications: people are subjected to hours of ghastly violence on a daily basis through television and movies , which may or may not make them more likely to act in such a manner, yet the populace on a whole understand that the acts of violence on TV are a fantasy and somehow by sheer anomaly manage not to run madly rampaging in the streets. I understand that rape constitutes range of behavior beyond clear-cut violent acts perpetrated by died-in-the-wool social aberants and that a casual attitude about a serious matter such as rape may be considered distasteful by some. Nonetheless, I believe that the supposed moral authority to censor the speech and thought of others on the unfounded belief that doing so prevents rape indicates a supercilious contempt for the freedom of speech of others. This being said, I find jokes about rape very gauche and largely inappropriate, nonetheless it is the right of every individual to joke about whatever he wants; to do otherwise is to arbitrarily making others do one’s will, just the callous attitude a rapist has about his victim.


    1. Though you touch on this briefly, your comparison of rape to other violence does not do justice to the fact that other violence (take murder for example) is pretty difficult to confuse with or pass off as non-violence (non-murder, or at the very least non-killing). Rape has only recently historically become a crime, it is not in the 10 commandments, it is not seen as equally wrong in all cultures and it was recently even legal to perform within a marriage in the U.S.A. Rape is a vague but silently damaging crime that is devastating to the daily function of victims and their families — male and female. It causes suicide, disrupts daily life, and usually goes unreported. Also, as opposed to, say, murder, sexual violence reaches as many as one in three women. Also, other forms of violence that act in similar ways ARE causing an outrage, bullying is one great example.

      Truly, I want to agree with you that it’s not okay to censor. It isn’t. But my hope for our society is that there should not be a need to censor jokes about sexual violence. Quoting freedom of speech is always a great card to play but you should ask yourself not only “freedom from what” but “freedom FOR what?”


      1. Rape is not recently a crime. Since you mention the Torah, look at Deuteronomy 22, it does actually contain laws against rape. And so do many other ancient law codes (e.g. Code of Hammurabi). The idea that rape has only recently been deemed illegal by many in the world is not true.


        1. If you reread the comment they said “In MARRIAGE it was recently still legal to rape your spouse in USA.”


    2. Expecting women to be thick skinned about their own rapes because a male comedian is too thin skinned to face the consequences of his own chosen words is pathetic. This is not an issue of freedom of speech! Even less so, if rape victims voiced concerns of being marginalised, deeply wounded and concerned for future safety are being silenced! Citing Freedom Of Speech to silence me? Free Speech my ass. Furthermore, the white, male voice is hardly suffering freedom of speech issues, being reflected as the dominant norm in the news, advertising, every tv show & movie, science, politics and even grammatical language structure. If anyone needs free speech it is marginalised and silenced groups. Not more white guys making light of other people’s very real pain and fear.

      Women are treated like a niche group which is ridiculous given that we are 50% of the population. Theres nothing niche about us. Violence towards women has been singled out by the UN as a “worldwide epidemic”. Comedy does not exist in a bubble with no societal interaction and interptetation. Words spoken on a stage do not have some exclusive pass from culture. If anything, quite the opposite, they carry more weight not less.

      Violence against women will not go away while attitudes of disrespecting, isolating, humiliating, violating and harming are considered normal, ok, funny, risqué and no big deal. It will be conquered when empathy, mutual respect and human dignity are of higher importance than a cheap laugh at the expense of victims of cruelty.


  4. Rape is not a female problem — it’s a human problem. Most of human humor is centered around human problems. What do you think about male-on-male prison rape jokes?


    1. I think the same concerns apply. We, as a culture, usually do think of rape as a “woman” problem, and the consequences of that misunderstanding are severe. Just look at Sandusky and how difficult it is for male victims to speak out. Rape jokes of any kind (about men and women) accomplish the same ultimate purpose – normalizing and trivializing the act of rape, which knows no gender.


      1. I call bullshit. By that logic, jokes about wanting to kill someone normalize murder, and I’ve never seen an audience at a comedy show stand up and leave the building to go on a killing spree. Or even a “Vague approval of casual murder” spree


        1. DEej, the difference is that everyone agrees on what legally is murder while a lot of people disagree on what is legally rape. The point is that 8% to 15% of men in anonymous surveys (Warshaw) admit to rape and attempted rape but don’t call it rape. This is about awareness and not normalizing what is considered a “gray area” in crime. Naturally, the no rape jokes applies to women and shouldn’t simply assume that women are the only victims and men are the only perpetrators. That being said, men are the majority of perpetrators and women are the majority of victims. This is not the only way to stop rape and educate about rape but it is worth being aware about.


          1. I wonder, does that definition include some technicality like “girl has had some alcohol”? I think in college I heard that it’s considered rape if you have sex with a girl who has drank any alcohol. This is pretty ridiculous… In combination with the thought that fewer guys would admit to raping someone even in an anonymous survey, I call bullshit on this 8-15% number.

            Do we have a link to the survey / definition?


            1. The laws concerning alcohol exist and are important because you can not make responsible decisions under the influence. Having sex with a girl or woman you just met who can’t say your name because she’s drunk IS rape because she is not in a mindset to clarify her wants. I have never heard of a law saying “any” alcohol but there are absolutely laws in place about being legally under the influence. It’s simply being responsible: you don’t drive drunk, you shouldn’t have sex drunk. In reality do lots of people have sex drunk and it’s ok? Yes. Do lots of people drive drunk and it’s ok? Yes. But I would happily give up some ‘drunk sex’ if it meant I would know I’ve never raped anyone who was too under the influence to express not wanting sex, or if I was too under the influence to comprehend they didn’t want sex. I know several women who have been raped under the influence (I can guarantee you do too) and it never would have happened if we lived in a culture that drank responsibly and respected sex and women for what they are.

              P.S. I am a man just in case it wasn’t clear. Also rape laws are different by state, possibly even by city in some places that have local laws. Like most laws it’s complex depending on where you are.


              1. There consistently seems to be an onus placed on men to not have sex with a girl who is drunk. The reason, because they are drunk and are not fully responsible for their actions and therefore cannot give proper consent. But I am curious as to why for men the same argument does not apply often. If a man who is equally as drunk as the women ends up having sex with the women, why is it that she can claim rape on the grounds that she was not able to offer consent due to being drunk, but the man can offer no such offence. In fact it seems that the fact that the man was drunk seems to be a reason for guilt because often they should have “known better“. I am sure there are many men who woke up next to a women who had coerced him while drunk into having sex, while if he was sober he never would have consented.


                1. Well, the onus rest on whichever sex pursues the sex that is lying passed out somewhere unable to give consent. If a woman mounted a man and he was too drunk to consent, she just raped him. And vice versa for men. Men are the majority of perpetrators so it’s logical to direct the message to them. Your confusion is one result of living within a rape culture where there’s misunderstanding about what rape is (not someone’s ability to say yes, but their ability to say no to sex clearly).


  5. I enjoyed this article, as well as your flow chart from February. I’ve dabbled a bit in stand-up comedy, along with some friends of mine, in the past year. And it is SO PAINFUL to watch new performers struggle through a joke about rape or other sexually risque subject matter; it’s more painful to be that new performer.
    Even if a joke seems funny and well-constructed in isolation, or in recounting it to a writing partner, that joke becomes something altogether different when it’s put in front of an audience.
    My second time on stage, I experimented with a joke based on a real-life experience. My day job took me to a Chamber of Commerce meeting. During the meeting, a speaker was talking about raising money for a fund for sexual assault survivors. In the middle of her speech, I get a call from a hook-up with a custom ringtone: My Neck, My Back by Khia.
    The punchline is that I unwittingly come off like a complete insensitive dick. But on stage, before I could even get to what I hoped was the funny part of the anecdote, the set-up had made the audience uncomfortable enough that the only break in the silence was someone who said “Ugh… please don’t joke about this.”
    Instead of joking about looking like an insensitive jerk, I had become the insensitive jerk in the audience’s eyes. Now I stay away from that level of risk in my material unless it’s very, VERY well-polished.


  6. An interesting but unpersuasive case. Rape is self-evidently an evil act and any even somewhat moral person, male or female, can see that clearly. But I honestly do not believe that rape jokes have any, and certainly not a significant, impact on actual rapes taking place.

    I also think it is a bit overstated to say we live in a ‘rape culture’. There are about 28 rapes per 100,000 population, compared to a 122 robberies and 255 aggravated assaults (FBI UCR statistics), the number would likely raise to account for under reporting but under reporting occurs for other crimes as well, even if not to the same extent. All this is just to say that while rape is clearly a moral scourge fully evil in each individual act, it is not a plague sweeping across america enveloping all on its way, as your letter would seem to imply.

    Also that I don’t believe I’ve ever heard a rape joke that glorifies rape. I have heard many jokes at the expense of rapists (mike tyson, DSK as the examples that come to mind), that seems to be the crux of the medium. But I agree with the comic above, there is not a single topic that should be off limits when it comes to humor, from murder to the holocaust to 9/11 and yes even to rape.

    When it comes to comedy my philosophy when asked if everything is a joke to me, the answer is always, only the things that matter.


    1. “Rape is self-evidently an evil act and any even somewhat moral person, male or female, can see that clearly.”

      IMO, this is where you are not understanding the reality of rape and sexual violence. That FBI statistic is just ludicrously false – look up information from any organization that actually studies sexual violence and you will see that. On my college campus of 4000 I knew of nearly that many women (and men – assaulted by other men) who survived rape or sexual assault. That statistic is just plain wrong.

      People do not know what rape is. Most of the rape victims I have known did not know they were raped. Most of the rapists I have spoken to (far less than survivors) did not think they had raped anyone. In all these cases they fit the legal definition of rape. We do not understand rape in this country at all because rape is a joke, women are a joke, sex is a joke. We do not respect each other. We do not treat each other sympathetically. We do not respect each other’s individuality. The vast majority of rape involves drugs/alcohol and someone the person knows. Everyone I know who has been raped was raped by a current boyfriend, ex boyfriend, family member or on a date and not a single one of those people ever went to jail. This is reality in the US and throughout most of the world. Men don’t stand up against rape – if we did, there wouldn’t be so much rape and assault. Harassing women in the street, treating women poorly in relationships, talking disrespectfully to our male friends when women aren’t around and when they ARE around, all these things (and more) discredit women and make them less human in our eyes – and that lack of respect for women is what leads to the pervasive rape that exists in our society. At college I went to (a progressive, liberal one with a large gay population, large feminist population, etc.) a girl was raped in front of 20+ people at a party who all thought it was funny or just didn’t say anything. I knew her and I wasn’t there and no one did anything because they thought it was funny that someone fingered the drunk girl who was unconscious on the couch – guess what? That’s rape. People don’t see it as rape, but it is, and that’s the kind of rape that exists on a daily basis in the US. The ‘funny’ kind that people tell funny jokes and stories about later. And that’s exactly why it’s just not funny. I can give you the names and whereabouts of at least 5 rapists right now who don’t think they’ve ever done anything wrong and there’s nothing either of us could do about them because society doesn’t care about rape – people want to joke about it, instead of creating a culture where it’s just not funny. Racism is not funny – do people joke about race? sure. But racism is not funny. Neither is rape, neither is homophobia – the topics can, of course, be joked about it and always will be, but being cruel to people is not funny and never has been.


    1. It’s just more histrionic bullshit, showing again that Feminists just aren’t logical. Of course logic is a tool of the patriarchy so it can be dismissed!


  7. As a male survivor, I have to disagree with the assumption that only men make rape jokes. I cannot count how many women I’ve seen laugh along with male rape jokes both on TV, movies or in the work place.

    I was raped by a woman. Search for “female rapist” on Twitter and you will find many women tweeting rape jokes all day long. Don’t even bother with prison rape as women are also some of the worst offenders in that category too.




  8. >Virtually all rapists genuinely believe that all men rape

    Now wait a bit. Do they truly believe all men risk doing things that can land them 10 years in prison and destroy their lives? What?

    Certainly not all thieves believe everybody steals, not all murderers believe everybody murders, not all drug dealers believe everybody deals in drugs – I think they usually think most people are just too cowardly to do so, don’t have the nuts.

    So why would rapists be different?

    I mean I can perhaps accept that criminals believe non-criminals do equally immoral stuff, but I don’t think they believe non-criminals do equally dangerous things (from a getting imprisoned point of view).

    And especially the rapist, who thinks of himself as a super-macho, would think other people are as “courageous” as themselves? Really?


    1. I think the issue is that people don’t often know what rape means, or what constitutes rape. The study the author is referring to asks participants about specific situations without labeling it “rape”, and 8% of them tacitly admitted to rape, even if asked “are you a rapist” most would probably say no. Thieves know they are stealing, and know that most people don’t. Many rapists don’t really believe that their behavior is rape because it’s so normalized.


  9. This is a really nice explanation of this point of view, however as far as I can tell, the idea that rape jokes “dismiss and normalize” the idea of rape is far from established. (If there is some kind of study which establishes it, please point me to it!) It seems to me that a rape joke hinges on rape’s unacceptability to be funny: if rape was normal then such jokes would not work.

    I would argue that rape is a lot more common than most people realise, and it’s something that society should be talking about in as many ways as possible — including through humour.


  10. First of all, WTF rape jokes? That’s weird.

    To the person who bought up the FBI UCR – it’s a response based statistic and majority of women (and men) will NOT report sexual assault/abuse/rape because of a variety of reasons including they don’t believe the person responsible will be found and/or be found guilty. Hence the numbers are ridiculously low. The National Violence Against Women Survey (NVAWS), conducted in 2000, found in surveying thousands of men and women that annually 876,064 women and 111,298 men were raped/in an attempted rape. This means that in a lifetime (~75 yrs), 17.6% of women (~18 million) and 3% of men (~3 million) were sexually assaulted/abused/raped.

    The same survey found that victims were 85.8% women, 14.2% men. The perpetrators were, overall, 97% men, 3% women and 99.6% men (where victims are women) and 85.2% men (where victims are men).

    The point is that the UCR is, at best, a highly conservative statistic. And promoting rape culture is disgusting anyway you look at it.


  11. “8% of men admit committing acts that meet the legal definition of rape or attempted rape, but they don’t usually think of themselves as rapists.”

    50% of women do that, when feminists stop covering up female on child and male and female abuse, I will start caring about offensive jokes.

    ” Rates of sexually aggressive behaviors among women vary from one segment of the United States to another, but the evidence presented here shows that as many as 7% of women self-report the use of physical force to obtain sex, 40% self-report sexual coercion, and over 50% self-report initiating sexual contact with a man while his judgment was impaired by drugs or alcohol (Anderson, 1998). Given these numbers, it is appropriate to conclude that women’s sexual aggression now represents a usual or typical pattern (i.e., has become normal), within the limits of the data reviewed in this paper. ”


  12. show me the stats to back up your claims that men are more often the perpetrators and women the victims…i know many men who have been abused by women but don’t go to the police because the response would be laughter (because women beleive men are always ready and willing 24/7)


  13. I like telling a good rape joke as much as the next guy. I certainly enjoy hearing them and those who claim they don’t ever find them amusing are just keeping quiet about it. However, I am afraid that some of my jokes in the past were pretty offensive. Fortunately, since I’ve found your flow-chart and started using it religiously (and, I think, correctly), I’ve not only been able to avoid jokes that might validate rapists, but the chart itself seems to have given me new inspiration in concocting rape jokes. Thank you very much.


  14. I think the problem isn’t so much reinforcing the idea of rape or racism or anything else being ok (anyone who truly believes those behaviors are appropriate lacks the empathy to see anything anyone says as doing anything but confirming their own beliefs), but rather supporting the underlying belief that it is alright to objectify people.

    I think that is what Leah tries to get at with her flowchart, but doesn’t quite nail. Certainly a joke that satirizes the view that non-consensual sex is ever ok is different from one that marginalizes that position. But what is really the difference between those jokes? Is any joke really able to promote something that is inherently a violent act? Jokes about murder don’t seem to promote that sort of violence, so what’s the difference?

    I would argue that the biggest problem our society promotes is that it is ok to deny the personhood of anyone, and that can be done through many types of jokes, and very subtly. Take joking about race, for instance. There is a huge difference between poking fun at the fact that most people of Latin American descent talk with their hands, and building a caricature that includes that stereotype. It’s the same difference between recognizing that a woman (or man) is sexy and seeing them as a sex object. In the former, you are addressing an attribute of the person, and even if you exaggerate that attribute, it’s like doing an impression, you are necessarily referencing the person or people and, as such, acknowledging them. In the latter examples, you are categorizing the people in a way that is convenient to you and denies that they have any value beyond their effect on you (amusing/annoying or arousing, respectively).

    The reason this is so important is because for harm to come of the attitudes that accept rape or racism or sexism or anything else of the same vein, there must first be a lack of empathy with the person. Someone who is sharing sex with someone, not just taking it from them, wouldn’t be able to help wanting to know how their partner felt about it because that is part of their experience, just as sharing any activity with someone is. Humans are naturally empathetic, it hurts us to see someone in pain and it pleases us when someone else is happy. But that level of connection also makes us vulnerable, so it’s easier to turn that off, to just let those around us be part of the scenery, to reduce them to objects. This goes beyond just ethical views. I’ve known genuine racists who, while misguided, saw every person they met as their own person, performing mental gymnastics to explain why they were exceptions to their stereotype. While that’s still not right by any stretch of the imagination, there is no potential for violence or harm in their general beliefs, at least not on an individual level.

    If I’m correct about the true root of the harmful behavior though, then the problem extends beyond rape jokes, or even racist jokes. I contend that the same urge that would have us see the server who brings us our food as no more a person than the oven that cooks it, is the same base fear of vulnerability that allows us to see others as no more than their race or sex or use to us, and in that is the potential for treating others in a way that allows for rape without even realizing that’s what we’re doing. I think that is something we must combat as a culture, and comedy can play an important role in winning or losing that fight.


  15. From my perspective, it is precisely those elements of the human condition which are most heinous that most need to be mocked. By addressing such things directly, even in jest, we erode the culture of silence that surrounds sexual assault. Rather than rape being ‘that thing which must never be mentioned’, we elect to maintain a policy of direct confrontation – an unabashed and shameless illumination of rape in the common vernacular. And, yes: Sometimes this unwillingness to stigmatize rape is going to manifest as jokes about rape. But if we could eliminate the negative social esteem associated with rape maybe more people would be willing to speak out against their attackers.

    Just as no subject lies beyond the scope of an author’s pen, so too must humorists be granted full access to the depths of human depravity. The result will almost certainly never appeal to the victims, but as you said – that isn’t really the audience that needed to be reached in the first place.

    I understand, of course, that I am not likely to have any effect on your opinion. It is, however, my earnest hope that you will consider the possibility that there is more than one way to spread a message. Not every man who wields a punchline (even a potentially offensive one) does so without a consideration and benevolence of purpose.


  16. “The problem with rape jokes is that these guys — these guys who seem normal but are actually rapists — hear the jokes and interpret them as a secret wink and nod that you approve of what they’re doing and that you would, or are, doing it too.”

    Uh, what? This doesn’t make any sense to me: they’re actually “rapists,” but apparently the use of the word “rape” in a completely unrelated context (and they know it’s unrelated, don’t insult a man’s intelligence) somehow enables their propensity to rape people? I don’t get it.

    If they’re going to take advantage of a girl at a party, or slip a girl some roofies, they’re going to do it. Playing Irelia and killing that Ashe and saying “raped nooblords” won’t influence that decision. And if it does, the burden of proof is on you to prove it,


  17. I’m sorry, but the notion that there’s a correlation between the number of rapes and rape jokes sounds absolutely ridiculous to me. Rape existed before traditional stand-up comedy, in numbers dramatically higher than what they are now. Humor doesn’t change behavior. If you are inclined to rape you will do so whether you receive that comedic “wink-wink, nudge nudge” from your favorite dirty comic or not.


  18. This is a wonderful post. Thank you! It eloquently explains what is wrong about rape jokes, and I know you didn’t mention women doing rape jokes etc., in this particular article but writing is a tricky balance to incorporate both truth and fact.


  19. My prom date joked about raping me a few days before prom. He said “You’re lucky your sister is here (she was in her room and we were alone in the living room) because I could just throw you down *made a motion of throwing my head down* and rape you” It was a shock to me but I ignored him and turned the other way. I didn’t know what to say at the time. Now I would say “That’s not funny, you’re freaking me out” but I didn’t say anything. He is a bit weird so I just brushed past it but I didn’t think of ditching him. Prom day rolled around he treated me well, and I ditched him at the dance to dance with a guy that actually wanted to dance. We don’t talk anymore. (not that I care)

    Do you think it was just a joke gone sour or that he meant something by those words?


  20. I just think that maybe men don’t consider or maybe can’t understand how rape can feel to a woman. It’s violation of your own body and not just that it turn something that we do for pleasure and/or love into something of pain and anguish.


  21. Following the logic here, then we should never make any joke about anything real. No nazi jokes, because that encourages nazis to be nazis. No sex jokes at all because that encourages any pervert to think about sex. No public fart jokes, because that encourages people to fart more in public.

    Let’s go even further: no killing, raping, badmouthing, burping, etc. in movies, television or music. Because according to this logic, any representation of a bad thing, will encourage more people to do this bad thing.

    That’s the major problem and paradox with political correctness. It’s an extremist way of avoiding the extreme.

    Humor is one of the best ways of taking the horror our of horrible events. I would never make a rape joke in the face of somebody who’s just been raped, but that’s not the point. The point is that there so many horrible things taking place in this world, that you need to take some kind of distance to them. Humor is a great tool for this. Another tool would be completely ignoring the bad things. I prefer humor, don’t you?


  22. I see Men and Women laughing at Rape jokes. Everyone has fallen into the trap of how society is. I think you can absolutly joke about whatever you want as long as it dosen’t glorify something bad as a good thing.


  23. The vast majority of rape humor in popular culture involves male-on-male rape. Women laugh at movies and TV shows that portray this type of rape in a humorous way, especially prison rape. I appreciate the non-accusatory approach this author is trying to take to this issue, but the fact remains, many women laugh at jokes involving male-on-male rape and there’s nothing I can do to stop that. This letter needs to be addressed to women as well as men.


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