What A Rape Joke Really Means

I was 14 when I first heard a rape joke. It was from a book called 101 Rugby Jokes or some such, the idea being that people who played rugby also liked the kind of smutty humour the pages provided? I’m not sure, but this joke appealed to my love of wordplay so I smiled without knowing what I was smiling at. Here it is:

A woman runs into a police station, screaming and crying. “Help!” she says, “I’ve been graped!”
“Madam,” says the police officer, “Don’t you mean you’ve been raped?”
“Yes,” says the woman, “But there was a whole bunch of them!”

I bet this is particularly hilarious in our post Nirbhaya world. So funny! Fighting off so many men!

Here’s another joke:

When is a joke not funny?
When it’s a rape joke.

What? Are you not laughing? Where’s your sense of humour, man? Why do you have to be so serious about everything? What are you… some sort of feminist?

Recently, the president of the Philippines, a man named Rodrigo Duterte, who should really know better by now, made a rape joke in a public speech. This is Duterte’s second rape joke, his first was about being first in line at a 1989 riot in a prison where an Australian missionary was killed and raped. This time he assured soldiers that he had their back and they could rape up to three women if they wanted to.

In 2012, comedian Daniel Tosh responded to a female audience member who objected to his rape joke by saying, “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like five guys right now?” Later, after a deserved and inevitable backlash, he took to Twitter, saying, “The point I was making before I was heckled is that there are awful things in the world but you can still make jokes about them.” He ended his tweet with the hashtag: dead babies.

Not so long ago, there was a YouTube “prankster” called Sumit Verma who uploaded a series of videos on YouTube. In them, he darted up to unsuspecting women, kissed them forcibly and ran away. I don’t know whether you’ve seen the video, because if you search “kissing prank India Youtube” there are so many results by so many different men (and it’s always men), and by now the original has long since been taken down, with Verma admitting, “Not every idea works.” Gee, you think?

Male comedians, here’s a thought. Instead of stooping to sulky-faced defences such as “women don’t get it” or “feminists are humourless”, try searching your brain for other material. A rape joke is the lowest of the low, it’s your shock-value joke, it’s your “let me prove that I don’t care” cool guy joke. It’s not funny though. Next time you make a rape joke, I want you to imagine yourself as a victim, I want you to imagine someone forcing you to do something you don’t want to do. Still funny? Maybe there’s a vague gallows humour in it, but very rarely is a rape joke done well, and I don’t think you’re the exception to the rule.

I’ll tell you why it’s not funny if you’re still having a hard time figuring it out: you’re at a party. You’ve been raped. You’ve either never reported it, or reported it and not had much luck, have told some people and have forever become the “rape victim” or haven’t told anyone. Doesn’t matter, you’re out, you’re in a safe space, you’re drinking your drink, having a good time, laughing along, when boom, out comes a rape joke. You watch everyone’s reaction. People are laughing, the person who told the joke is smiling to themselves, smug at their own good humour. Maybe they notice you’re not laughing, maybe then they turn to you and say, “Why so serious, yaar?” Maybe you force yourself to laugh a little, so you’ll fit in. But, for what it’s worth, the evening has gone from being you out with your friends having a good time to reminding you of the worst event of your life. And again, with another joke. And again, until you’re bowed down, reeling under the force of it. And again, when you realise no one is on your side.

That’s what a rape joke means.

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