Hate by any Other Name : Rape Culture

by on March 14, 2011 · 20 comments

in Civil Rights, Culture, Education, Popular, San Diego

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt / Excuse Me, I’m Writing blog / March 14, 2011

Of the many things I’ve learned since traipsing off with my book bag and lunchbox to return to full-time studenthood, none is quite as dismaying as the persistence of the rape culture that pervades U.S. media and, hence, the daily lives of media consumers.

Rape culture is so pervasive, it seems innocuous to many and is ignored by most, except some in academia and alternative news media — and, of course, those in rape and domestic violence programs. Oh, and in the psyches of the culture’s victims.

Rape culture was first named 35 years ago, when I fancied myself invincible and, hence, dismissed it. But rape culture has continued to provide succor to attitudes that condone rape and violence against women and girls (and, actually, any perceived minority), that promote the normalcy of rape and violence, that contrive humor from rape and violence, that all too often result in blaming women and girls for their rapes and the violence perpetrated against them.

If you think this particular cultural phenomenon is simply a figment of feminist imagination, take a gander at the article I found in The New York Times March 9 edition, while waiting for my Chemistry for Idiots class.

The article reports that 18 males have been charged in the rape of an 11-year-old girl in Cleveland, Tex. The suspects are 27 years old to middle-school age. Some of them apparently were so enamored of the alleged assault that they taped it and distributed the video, which ultimately led to the charges — and, one would think, makes them difficult to refute.

Yet The New York Times article, by James C. McKinley, Jr., with reporting by Mauricio Guerrero, poses the question: “If the allegations are proved, how could [the neighborhood’s] young men have been drawn into such an act?”

“Drawn” is an odd choice of words for the journalists to have used and for their editor to have approved. Odd, because the word suggests that the suspects did not make the decision to rape the 11-year-old girl, but, rather, were somehow compelled by an external force to rape her.

In essence, The New York Times has suggested that, even if any of the suspects are found guilty, they are not responsible for the 11-year-old girl’s rape.

If not the suspects, who then is responsible?

Well, the article goes on to report that “[r]esidents in the neighborhood … said the victim had been visiting various friends there for months. They said she dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s. She would hang out with teenage boys at a playground, some said.”

The paper does not mention that the vast majority of television shows, advertisements and magazines targeting the victim’s age group — from Hannah Montana to Teen Vogue — encourage such behaviors, representing them as the norm.

Nonetheless, with this deft reporting of unattributed hearsay, the paper has provided the answer: The New York Times has implied it is the victim’s fault.

An 11-year-old girl, using the force of her appearance, her makeup and dress, her choice of companions, “drew” a gang of men and boys into raping her. That’s rape culture.

But it is unacceptable to blame a victim for her or his rape. Blaming the victim is never OK. Ever.

If you find this article dismaying, write to The New York Times ombudsman, Public Editor Arthur S. Brisbane, at public@nytimes.com and let him know. Although he found some fault in the article, he only went so far as to say that it “lacked a critical balancing element.”

The "comedy" of Daniel Tosh promotes rape culture on Comedy Central.

In a similar but more insidious vein, I learned in a Women’s Studies class about Comedy Central’s attempt to capture the 16- to 35-year-old male audience by promoting  the comedy of Daniel Tosh. Here are a couple excerpts for your edification:

Excerpt 1. My sister’s off the charts. I play practical jokes on her constantly, though. I got her so good a few weeks ago. I replaced her mustard spray with silly string. Anyway, that night she got raped. And she called me the next day going, ‘You son of a bitch. You got me so good.’

This riff was well into a Tosh routine, a point at which, if he had exposed his penis to pee on someone in the front row of his audience, plenty of people would have laughed. A skilled comedian can elicit a laugh from some folks at just about anything.

Including rape.

But there is nothing funny about rape. Rape is never funny. Ever.

Excerpt 2. ‘There’s no excuse for domestic violence.’ It sounds like a challenge. I mean does everything have to be so black and white in this Kindergarten country of ours? ‘There’s no excuse for domestic violence.’ What if you go home from a long day of work, and your wife has drowned two of your kids? She’s about to dunk the third one. Can you run over and pop her then? ‘Unfortunately no; there’s no excuse. You’re gonna have to let her drown that third one.’

Now, Comedy Central is home to such progressive comedy as John Stewart’s The Daily Show, and the juxtaposition of Tosh and Stewart is certainly a contrast — enough to cause whiplash.

But there is nothing funny about domestic violence. Domestic violence is never funny. Ever.

If you find Tosh’s humor dismaying, send Comedy Central President Michele Ganeless an email and let her know: michele.ganeless@mtvn.com or michele.ganeless@comedycentral.com. While you’re at it, copy Steve Albani, head of corporate communications, at steve.albani@comedycentral.com .

And if you find yourself sitting with someone who laughs at a joke about rape or violence against women and girls, consider telling him or her it’s not funny.

I find being an old student is mostly a blast, but watching young people accept hate as humor — hate that targets most of them — that is heartbreaking.

Note: The Associated Press has reported multiple instances of Cleveland residents’ clearly blaming the victim here and here .

Daniel Tosh image from comedycentral.com. Baby doll image by needoll {away}/Natasha via a Creative Commons license.


{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Abby March 15, 2011 at 6:53 am

I’m sorry, you had me until you said “Rape is never funny”. I don’t think anything should be out of bounds for comedy.

I’d rather live in a world where I sometimes hear an offensive joke rather than one were some topics are just forbidden.

I don’t like there are places in the world where people think death threats are an appropriate response to being offended.

Thankfully, we live in America, where you have the right to offend and be offended. You may not think something is funny, and you may be right, but that’s the 1st amendment for you.


Frank Gormlie March 15, 2011 at 9:13 am

Tell that Abby to Goddfiend the comedian who just got fired by Aflac for his unhumorous tweets about the disasters in Japan.


Shane Finneran March 15, 2011 at 9:30 am

Gilbert Gottfried was also the first to make jokes about 9/11 after that tragedy. Seems like it’s kind of his thing.

I’m with Abby on this one… nothing off limits for comedy. I look at humor as one of our mechanisms for dealing with the suffering in the world.

And it’s just my opinion, but I don’t think comedians like Tosh, with their off-color jokes, are contributing to the unfortunate culture described in the article. Instead, I’d say that the jokes are just a reflection of that culture, proving it does exist. And maybe even another way to look at it is the jokes are calling attention to that culture and signaling it’s wrong.


Frank Gormlie March 15, 2011 at 9:36 am

Okay, maybe a generational divide here, but I don’t think making jokes about screwing little babies (Tosh O.) is funny nor has a place in our culture.


Abby March 15, 2011 at 2:27 pm

I don’t think it’s funny, but you have the right to say it. I have the right to not support comedians who offend me.

But we can’t pick and choose what speech is covered by the first amendment.

Besides, I may find raping babies offensive, but this cartoon about rape whistles is very funny, http://www.explosm.net/comics/2354/

It’s totally safe for work, btw.


Frank Gormlie March 15, 2011 at 3:33 pm

It was a Frenchman who once said: “I may disagree with what you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it,” or words to that effect.


Frank Gormlie March 15, 2011 at 3:33 pm

Abby, BTW, I have begun to collect my old ties for you.


Abby March 15, 2011 at 3:47 pm

Thanks! I really appreciate it!


Hannah July 10, 2012 at 8:35 am

You are being obtuse and completely missing the point. Nobody is saying, “MAKE IT ILLEGAL TO MAKE RAPE JOKES RAWR”. This article is saying that rape jokes aren’t funny. That it contributes to rape culture. That we blame the victims of rape. That it’s making it seem like rape is ‘not that bad’ or that it’s ‘okay’. That it blurs the lines of consent in our culture. Your first amendment protects all sorts of speech, and so it should, but we are not the government. Your speech is not protected from the people.


annagrace March 15, 2011 at 12:18 pm

Kristen Schaal on the Daily Show certainly calls attention to the culture when she talks about rape and rape-rape and rapish.


annagrace March 15, 2011 at 12:06 pm

When the KKK marches, we boo them, out number them and offer support and safety to the groups and individuals they target. When Westboro Church turns out, we boo them, out number them and offer support and safety to the groups and individuals they target.
When legislators, the media and comedians present rape as something humorous, or assume that the woman was asking for it, then we must boo them, outnumber them and offer support and safety to the groups and individuals they target.
That’s how the 1st amendment works- in a democracy.


Shane Finneran March 15, 2011 at 2:26 pm

After reading more comments and thinking about it for more than 30 seconds, I changed my mind on this one. I mean some people attempted to justify that no-class sticker from The Black as humorous, and some people really did find it funny, but the sticker still struck me as crass and unfortunate. So I can understand if people get upset about the “jokes” in question here.

Now you all have got me torn about Tosh. His comedic style is all about being offensive — and I must admit I find him funny, in a cringe-inducing way. He seems like an equal-opportunity offender — plenty of sass for everybody. Does any of that soften the potential impact of his jokes?


Goatskull March 21, 2011 at 7:52 am

That’s a tough one to answer but really it’s a matter of personal choice. I honestly find an “equal opportunity offender” different than someone who targets specific groups. Ultimately, we simply have the choice not to watch or listen to the offender. Personally, I don’t care for Tosh. To me he’s just not that funny but not because he’s offensive. I loved Sam Kinison, who my wife at the time hated and had issues with me for liking him. Again, just a matter of personal preference. How about Sara Silverman who is Jewish and unapologetically makes jokes about the Holocaust despite the fact that she has ancestors who were in concentration camps? Back in the late 70’s early 80’s I was heavily into punk bands like Fear, The Dead Kennedy’s, The Angry Samoans who were so good at making so many people upset and wore that as a badge of honor.


Shane Finneran March 21, 2011 at 8:05 am

Nice call on Sarah Silverman… what if she made rape jokes? Does she get extra leeway, as a woman? Interesting.

After thinking these questions over for awhile, I think it’s all about context. Tosh’s act is all about offensiveness, so to me, this softens the social impact of his jokes, and makes it somewhat unfair to quote them out of context.

In other words, when I hear Tosh make a rape joke as part of his repertoire of offensive jokes, I don’t think interpret it as Tosh condones rape. But if I heard the same joke from a friend in passing, depending on context, I might very well be alarmed and say something like “whoa… uncomfortable joke alert…”


Goatskull March 21, 2011 at 8:31 am

I agree. If you really listen to how over the top he is, and read interviews with him, you would realize he does not in fact actually condone the things he says. Quite the opposite. He’s really a very PC guy in an un PC sort of way if that makes sense. Look at his jokes about midgets. Does anyone really think he believe they are not real or that they are responsible for GW becoming president? Come on.


K-B March 15, 2011 at 10:14 am

When we “humorize” rape, violence, loss of life, we render it invisible, giving permission to the audience to abandon the human experience for the constructed fantasy of a laugh.

Nonetheless, I never suggested squashing anyone’s rights: Rather, I suggest we exercise our right to free speech, to say “Rape is not funny,” “Pedophilia is not funny,” “Domestic violence is not funny.”

Failure to counter hateful speech condones and encourages it.


Sarah March 15, 2011 at 12:21 pm

I recently heard a ten year old child using the word “rape” in nearly casual conversation. I think he was referring to something in a game of some sort. As in “man, he was raped!”.

So many thoughts ran through my head, but the number one thing that came to the surface was to ask him if he knew what “rape” meant. He didn’t not. (does now…)

When my oldest son was being “courted” by the frat houses in college he stated that he did not want to be part of a group that needed to hold classes on what is and is not rape. I love that guy.


Christopher Moore March 16, 2011 at 8:44 pm

Frankly, you can cry your heart out, but sick humor is goddamn funny.

Humor is the best method we humans have for dealing with tragedy and horror.
It’s a sanity safety valve.

Also, frankly, women prefer vastly abusive “alpha” types, us men who treat women with respect might as well be Ken-doll neuters, frankly :P
Being decent and kind to females is something they find to be a huge turn-off.
Welcome to the friendzone ;)

One of the funniest people I know is a Jewish guy that constantly makes Holocaust jokes – “we European Jews don’t have relatives, we have KILNfolk!”

Is he an insensitive bastard mocking the deaths of his family members, or is he coping with incomprehensible abysmal horror in an entirely human way – by making jokes?

What else can you do?


Goatskull March 18, 2011 at 1:55 pm

This is one of my favorite punk rock bands from the 90’s. Many of their lyrics are sexist, homphobic, and even tinge on racism yet their drummer is a lesbian feminist of Asian decent (Julia Kwong). Who know what people think. I belive you have a good point with the Jewish Comedian (who ever he is).




Sarah March 18, 2011 at 8:10 pm

I have so much to say in response to this post that it’s rendered me, well… silent.


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