Why we need more earnest letters to men, and women, about the problem with rape jokes

Let me start by saying that I am tickled by how many people have shared and commented on my letter to guys about the problem with rape jokes. I am humbly grateful for all of the feedback and I wanted to address a major criticism about why my letter was directed to guys, even though women also tell rape jokes, and even though men can also be victims of rape.

James Landrith, like many others, called out my letter and the original Organon letter as sexist because of the choice to focus on men who tell rape jokes. Landrith argued that the letters were based on the assumption that only men promote rape jokes. He also argued that the letters minimized the importance of male survivors compared to female survivors. It’s tough to read that because I consider myself a fighter-of-sexism and I actually do agree with Landrith and support everything he is saying.

It IS important to recognize that women also tell rape jokes. It IS important to recognize that men can be victims of rape, and not just prison rape. It IS important to call out woman-on-man rape jokes, like in the movie Horrible Bosses, as despicable. It is so important because so few people recognize it as a serious issue and because we, as a society, have way too many fucked up ideas and misconceptions about masculinity and male sexuality. I hear that and I’m with you. But I still chose to write my letter to guys who don’t see the problem with rape jokes.

The goal of the letter was to reach a particular audience. It wasn’t written for every male-identified person in the world. It was written for a certain type of guy: the kind of guy who doesn’t get why rape jokes are a big deal — the guy who thinks that the only reason people don’t want him to tell rape jokes is because they don’t have a sense of humor or because they’re just prudes who are trying to make everybody “PC.” These are guys who actually might want to fight rape (or who are probably against rape, at least) but don’t yet recognize or understand the connection between rape and rape culture.

The letter wasn’t intended to be a manifesto on rape or a report on rape statistics. It wasn’t meant to cover all bases or speak to all the issues or players involved in the perpetration of rape culture. It was a letter, to a certain type of guy. It was designed to try to open his mind by presenting an argument that has nothing to do with political correctness, which he would most likely dismiss as over-sensitivity. I think what’s so powerful about the letter is that it reframes the issue by saying it’s not about “offending people,” it’s about unintentionally validating and normalizing the actions of rapists.

It was also written to address a certain aspect of guy culture — the kind of “bro on bro” socialization that’s all about demonstrating your masculinity, virility, whatever. It was directed towards men inhabiting the kind of all-male cultural spaces identified by Jessica Bennett and Jacob Bernstein in the Daily Beast that, like the Catholic Church and Penn State football, seem to promote or at least tolerate abuse. It was meant to appeal to the side of masculinity that’s protective and heroic, to say: “You guys have the power to shut down rapists, kick them out of your circles and protect the people around you who may be more vulnerable.”

That was what my letter was about. But we need more letters.

We need letters to all the different kinds of women who make rape jokes, as well as letters to all of the other kinds of men who make rape jokes. We should ALL be writing letters — personalized letters to our individual friends, brothers, sisters, parents, cousins, teachers, coworkers, classmates, local representatives, and anyone else who doesn’t get why rape jokes are a problem.

I just wrote one letter.

To whom will you write yours?


  1. Excellent response. There is no single letter, article, poster, slogan, or tactic that will address all areas of rape culture since it is so vast and manifests itself in so many ways and affects different communities differently insofar as their areas of privilege/ oppression/ cultural values, etc differ.

    I’m gonna write *my* letter. Not sure to whom just yet, but I’ll let you know when it’s ready.


  2. Leah,

    I think the reason that I and several other people had problems with the letter was the subject line. It seems to call out all “guys”, not just those who tell rape jokes. Further, the OVERWHELMING VAST MAJORITY of call outs on this type of thing are directed solely at men. After a while, this seems quite near-sighted given just how many women LOL and HA-HA at men being raped or women committing rape. Its very old being told that men need to be taught not to rape, need to stop telling rape jokes and stop promoting rape culture.

    As a man raped by a woman I’ve seen more than my fair share of all of it and quite a bit of it from women – to include some feminists. I’m tired of the one-sided nature of the call-outs. At this point, I think I’ve earned the right to be angry.

    As far as who I may have called out in my own “letter”, I’ve been quite vocal about rape jokes – to men AND women on my blog (syndicated into several content services) and all over Twitter.

    Everyone involved in such ugliness needs a good whomping with the clue bat.

    Thanks for listening.


    1. Hi! I call out women a lot on rape jokes! It’s not a feminist concept to laugh at men who get raped — rape is a manifestation of misogyny, whether it happens to men, women, or people who don’t identify with either!

      I’m an anarchofeminist, by the way, so maybe that means I let less women slide with this shit?


      1. Aimee,

        I doubt very much that the woman who drugged and raped me was doing so based on misogyny. Rape is an act of force against another, misogyny is not always involved, although sometimes it is part of the equation.

        That sick woman did so because she liked doing it.


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