No One’s Sexual Assault is Funny

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Nico Lang insists that despite the fact that we’ve been desensitized to gay jokes and making fun of prison rape, nobody’s rape is funny. 

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A few months ago, a stand up comic friend of mine told me a story. We were having coffee and discussing her experiences in the scene, and she told me about the ways in which women are accidentally marginalized in male-dominated comedy spaces. Recently she had performed at a show with a male comic who told rape jokes throughout his entire set, while the audience guffawed and played along. While he was on stage, she wondered whose rape was funny. Was her rape funny? She asked herself if he had bothered to connect the two, his jokes with her daily realities as a woman.

That question would be quickly answered.

After his set, they began to talk while she pictured politely beating him with a sledgehammer. He mistook her kindness for camaraderie and when she later went to leave asked if he could walk her to her car — because it was dark outside. She declined, and he asked her if she was sure. “Do you feel safe?” he wondered. “Are you going to be okay?” She just blinked at him, mystified that he couldn’t do the math.

She got to her car by herself.

I thought about this moment when I saw This Is the End, a movie that premiered in theatres a few weeks ago. Starring Seth Rogen and James Franco, it’s a frat pack bonanza of the Knocked Up variety, ditching the romantic comedy subplot for a post-apocalyptic bromance featuring demons and the rapture. (Obviously.) With some notable exceptions, I actually really liked it, finding it sharper than your run-of-the-mill stoner comedy. The film is a brassy satire of Hollywood life and a sly commentary on celebrity, lampooning the public images of stars Rogen, Franco, Jonah Hill, Michael Cera and Emma Watson, who steals the show in a small supporting role.

Emma Watson’s been featured heavily in promotional materials for the film, headlining the memorable bon mot, “Hermione stole all of our shit!”

However, that buries the lead: the film’s most memorable scene, which stands as the only effective use of rape humor I’ve ever seen in a film. As Lindy West has long argued, rape jokes only work when they do not make victims the butt of the joke but instead are effective when they are “about the way that rape culture, which includes rape jokes, makes women feel.”

That’s exactly how this joke operates. In the scene in question, Emma Watson is staying in a house with Rogen and co. as they hide out from the end of the world. Watson finds refuge with the gang after attempting to battle off post-apocalyptic demons (yeah, it’s a weird movie) but finds it not much better inside than amongst the rapture. While they presume Watson to be sleeping, the menfolk discuss the fact that Watson is the only female in the house, while may make her uncomfortable. As they say, it’s a little “rapey.” This quickly devolves into a debate about which of the men in the house looks most like a rapist.

Before you get upset, hold up. This set piece is much smarter than the average bear.

The joke works so well because it’s not about the fact of Watson’s rape but about their inability to create a safe space for women. Although they are attempting to be mindful and offer her comfort, they’re so deluded and self-absorbed that they haven’t the slightest clue how to be affirming — which devolves into the blame game. This only serves to make Watson feel even more uncomfortable when she wakes up and believes that her housemates are having a discussion about which of them gets to rape her. Watson rightfully freaks out and leaves the house, but not before Hermoine Granger beats the crap out of them (with the butt of an ax) and robs them, hence the quote.

Instead of being the butt of the joke, the scene makes Emma Watson the victor, but in a way that’s particularly notable for it’s commentary on gender. In order to win at the rape humor game, Watson has to out-masculine the men around her — by being decisive and taking action. This observation might seem like an aside but it’s extremely important to the film’s comic universe, as the film will make a callback to it later. This is where the rape humor becomes a mixed bag.

Whereas This Is the End showed a mindfulness toward Watson’s sexual assault, that is later tossed aside in a scene that deals with Jonah Hill’s rape, when he is attacked by a demon. In the scene, Hill is going to sleep when a demon climbs on top of him in bed. The scene would have been effective without the sexual undertones (as being attacked by a harbinger of annihilation is scary enough), but screenwriters Roger and Jonah Goldberg depict the demon with a giant, engorged black cock.

It doesn’t take a Women and Gender Studies PhD candidate or a dick genius to figure out the implications. However, if there were any doubts, these are cleared up for us in the next scene, when Hill confesses to the camera that the interaction was “so not chill,” an obvious euphemism for rape.

What’s troubling about the joke is that it’s so quick and tossed off, whereas Roger and Goldberg previously showed so much care on the subject. However, Hill is unworthy of the same courtesy, precisely because he’s shown throughout the film to be prissy and effeminate — an image-conscious, new-age type. Demons aside, Hill is This Is the End’s implied antagonist, a force just as nefarious as the apocalypse; he and Jay Baruchel (the film’s anti-hero) butt heads as Baruchel attempts to expose him for being a pretentious priss. Thus, the Satanic assault acts as a kind of corrective rape, a punishment that leads to Hill’s ultimate demonic possession and, later, death.

This scene isn’t the only instance of male rape humor in the film and is surrounded by jokes about prison sex and the like. However, I’ve become so desensitized to hearing gay sex jokes in bro comedies that I didn’t pay attention. As West once joked, “Pass the cheese.” But Hill’s assault made me hyper-aware of the real world implications of these jokes — because men are raped every day. I was raped six years ago. I insisted that I had a boyfriend and I couldn’t. He told me to “stop acting like a pussy.” When I woke up in the morning, I found him crumpled up on the floor like a discarded hanky.

Was my rape funny? I doubt Seth Rogen would make the connection. After all, he doesn’t know me.

A friend of mine, blogger Miri Mogilevsky, once pointed out that it’s easy to brush male rape jokes under the rug, as one can push the “it’s satire!” argument, but that only works in a world where cases like mine aren’t sadly commonplace and 1 in 6 men aren’t raped in their lifetime. Mogilevsky wrote, “Blindly regurgitating problematic crap is not satire, and it’s not any other kind of humor, either.”

We could easily stop here at the assertion that, “Hey, men are raped, too,” as many MRAs do when we discuss sexual assault. It’s often a tool that delegitimizes female experiences — as if to say “you aren’t special so stop whining.” However, the case of This Is the End shows why no one’s rape is funny — because rape is explicitly an act of gender and power. It asserts roles and hierarchies of dominance, and when we make a world where it’s easier for Jonah Hill to get raped for “acting like a woman,” we create a world that perpetuates female sexual assault. We continue to demonize femininity and promote the exact toxic masculinity that This Is the End, at it’s best, wants to satirize.

Rape culture hurts all of us, even those who aren’t the butt of the joke. Emma Watson’s rape isn’t funny, and neither is mine. It’s about time we start doing the math.

 

Originally appeared at Thought Catalog

Screen Shot 2013-07-13 at 10.44.36 AMNico Lang is an Producer at Thought Catalog, as well as a correspondent and blogger for WBEZ (Chicago’s local NPR affiliate), the Co-Creator of In Our Words and a graduate student in DePaul University’s Media & Cinema Studies program. Lang is the Co-Founder of Chicago’s Queer Intercollegiate Alliance and a columnist for HEAVEMedia. At HEAVE, Nico writes a column on film called Found Footage and talks about nerd stuff on a weekly podcast called Pod People. Elsewhere in podcasting, Lang hosts Broad Shoulders, a monthly podcast for Chicago’s Live Lit community. Nico is also a contributor at Thought Catalog and the Huffington Postand has been featured in the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, The L.A. Times, The Guardian, IndieWire, The New Gay, on NPR and their mother’s refrigerator. Follow Nico on Twitter @Nico_Lang or on the Facebook.

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Comments

  1. Great post! I feel like male rape jokes are made so often even in the LGBT community and no one does anything to combat it. After reading this I will be more conscience about speaking up against the rape culture.

  2. Your info-graphic has omitted the % of women that commit rape in their life time and included the % men that have, which has the effect of making a generalized informal false accusation about rape.

    • It may be such a small number that it isn’t relevant to the infographic. I know a man who was raped by a woman. I’m not saying it never happens. It’s just incredibly uncommon. It is a lot more common for women to rape other women. In fact…it is seriously under-reported.

      • Actually the majority of rapists of me are women, and the majority of rapists of women are men in the U.S according to the NISVS 2010 by the CDC. Female perpetrated rape against males is not “incredibly uncommon”, it’s in fact 16% of the rapes for lifetime that they found and 40% of rapes in the 2010 1 year period.

  3. Rape jokes can be funny to the victim, it’s part of the healing process for some people to make fun of tragic situations in their life. I’ve laughed about various abuses I’ve been through, made jokes of it, made jokes of my cancer, etc as a way to deal with it. Doesn’t mean cancer or rape is funny though, that is the hard thing about humor in that laughing at a rape joke is probably nothing to do with finding the act of rape itself funny but could be nervous laughter, or laughing at the sillyness of a situation (elmer fudd rape joke for instance).

    People laugh about all kinds of messed up stuff from rape to other forms of violence, divorce, death, loss, etc. Some people laugh at jokes of violence against babies which offends most people BECAUSE they find the offensiveness funny, that someone would go so low.

    Wanna know what’s interesting about the stat you say of 1 in 20 reported rapes is false? Based on some very tired math of 150M women, 1 in 4 being raped so 37.5M rape victims, 1 in 6 of those report it so 6.25M, 1 in 20 of those is false which leaves 312,500 possible fake reporting females. that’s 312,500 innocent people (or more if there are multiple victims?) whom may get their name dragged through the mud at the very least, and may end up jailed. Of course the issue of rape has more victims but THAT IS A FUCKING HUGE AMOUNT OF VICTIMS OF FALSE ALLEGATIONS! That is 2x the population of my local city/town, it’s what…10 stadiums of people? Even if only 5% are jailed that means what, 62,500 potentially innocent victims? Something sounds pretty off.

    Rape is a far bigger issue, but false allegations are still VERY serious and when people try to act like it’s nothing major I find it very strange, if that math is even correct for 1/10th of people I listed that is still 6250 souls whom get jailed for something they don’t do. I hope the justice system is far more credible than that, but do that portion of women (or men) get jailed or punished for it? I think proven false rape accusers should cop an equal jailtime, and go on the sex offender registry. If you are a real victim that accuses the wrong person out of mistake, no punishment (but that person needs adequate compensation to fix their life), if you purposely accuse someone as a way to protect the real abuser then some jail is needed but not as heavy as someone who accuses purposely yet there was no rape. Real victims need help, and false accusers need to be punished without making real victims feel under threat.

    “We could easily stop here at the assertion that, “Hey, men are raped, too,” as many MRAs do when we discuss sexual assault. It’s often a tool that delegitimizes female experiences — as if to say “you aren’t special so stop whining.” ”
    Did it ever occur to you that the reason they say it is because there are severely low levels of care given to male rape victims? Go ask a victim of crime to care about your cause when you’re cause has ignored them for so long and the crime was the same type, why the hell would they wanna listen when they’re ignored? See it as a cry for help, they’re saying “PLEASE someone listen, someone show care to male victims AS well as female”. Because far too often women’s issues are taken with so much authority that it absolutely smothers male voices and the care given to them. When a disproportionate level of awareness is given to the suffering of one gender whilst blatantly ignoring the other, you will get a problem. Do you think 1/3rd of anti-rape awareness caters to men? Cuz that’s roughly the portion from that statistic image. I would bet that it’s barely a 1/10 ratio. Hence the derailing comments. Maybe people should stop ignoring men so much and they might find those comments disappear? The major problem is gendered campaigns that focus solely on who gets hurt worse, if we took that same approach to violence in general then we’d ignore violence against women because that is the statistical minority.

    • Rape jokes are usually not funny to women. And child rape is never funny. The fact that we laugh at rape and molestation indicates not that we have “reappropriated words and ideas” and that we rose above it, but that we are so incredibly misguided and immature as a culture. Pain like that is not funny. I don’t need to join the mob culture who calls me uptight for thinking for myself.

  4. Mr Supertypo says:

    I agree Archy, I you have a good point.

  5. Archy.

    Saying the number of false accusations in 1 in 20 is like saying the number of rapes is the number that end in conviction. We have no way of know how many false accusations there are, we just know roughly, how many happen to come out as false during an investigation.

  6. Okay we are shown a graph at the start of the post that illustrates the numbers on men and women who are sexually assaulted in their life time followed by small stats that focus on how man women are false accusers and how many men are rapists.

    Demons aside, Hill is This Is the End’s implied antagonist, a force just as nefarious as the apocalypse; he and Jay Baruchel (the film’s anti-hero) butt heads as Baruchel attempts to expose him for being a pretentious priss. Thus, the Satanic assault acts as a kind of corrective rape, a punishment that leads to Hill’s ultimate demonic possession and, later, death.
    Hold on, priss? Wasn’t Jay of the mind that Hill was a jerk (and even called Hill a prick behind Hill’s back)?

    It asserts roles and hierarchies of dominance, and when we make a world where it’s easier for Jonah Hill to get raped for “acting like a woman,” we create a world that perpetuates female sexual assault.
    Okay maybe its me but I didn’t see Hill as “acting like a woman” in that movie and I’m starting to wonder if that impression is being forced for the sake of being able to once again make the sexual assault of men something that is really about women.

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