Rape is no laughing matter
When I first started writing this piece, I was fuming, I wanted to name names, I wanted to show these rape apologist fuckers up for who they are, and I wanted to use the word “fuck” a lot more. But I’m not going to, I’m not giving them the unwarranted attention they no doubt crave. But if you don’t know who the guilty parties are and want to, I’m not going to have any problem spilling the beans in person.
It all started at the Punx Picnic, where a superficially inoffensive, ultimately average punk band were dropped from the lineup after it transpired they had a song called ‘The Rape Song’, prominently featuring the line “I’m not sorry I raped you”. I stood behind the decision to drop them entirely, and would have thought less of the hard-working organisers had they not done so, I have no doubt in my mind that it was the right call. Inevitably, it was a subject that came up several times throughout the day, and I was stunned by the ignorance and defensiveness that was on display. Even though the decision was nothing to do with me, I was personally accused of stifling free speech, not having a sense of humour, taking the fun out of punk rock, that it would have been OK if they just dropped that song from the set and I was told over and over again that it’s “just a joke”. Bullshit.
I’ll start with the accusation of stifling free speech; how is not wanting to hear a band with such an abhorrent disregard for humanity denying free speech? Following this argument through to its logical conclusion leads to various other prejudices - would it have been OK to include a white power band on the bill? Or how about a vocally homophobic one? Clearly not, so how is it acceptable to let a misogynistic band that glorifies rape onto the stage?
As for the accusation of not having a sense of humour, maybe that’s true, I can’t see anything funny about rape, and struggle to see how anyone could. Does this make me a bad person? Fuck no, it’s no laughing matter. As I write, Colonel Gaddafi is handing out viagra to his forces to use rape as a weapon of degradation, control and war in Libya. Iranian prison officers are issued condoms for the same purpose, and given orders to rape female political prisoners. Is this funny? No! So it’s a different context from the song’s subject, but rape is still rape, anyone can see that, and I don’t see anything to laugh at there, I just want to cry.
Am I taking the fun out of punk rock? Again, no! I’m not denying that punk should be fun, but to expect that to be the case above all else is undermining the movement. Punk should be about fighting for social change, for equality, and destroying prejudice and oppression in all its forms. Buying into misogyny is not only contrary to these ideals many people have fought so hard for, it is an insult to them too. Punk was never about the fun, that’s come from the sound being co-opted by capitalists and big record labels to sell it back to us under a fluffy, mainstream approved facade, if that’s what you want from punk, then fuck off and see whatever flavour of the month is at your favourite corporate sponsored big festival, don’t come to a DIY anarchist punk weekender.
I’m pretty sure I don’t need to explain why simply dropping one song from the set would solve the problem, but I will anyway. If a band hold those beliefs, and those prejudices, then it will permeate throughout their whole set, regardless of the individual songs they play, the people on stage still hold these beliefs, whether they are voicing them at that precise moment or not. Not all Skrewdriver’s songs were racist, but that doesn’t stop them being a racist band.
Finally, there’s the ‘just a joke’ argument, perhaps the most ignorant of all of them. I won’t repeat myself, but I will explain why I just don’t think rape jokes are funny, and moreover, are a damaging force in themselves. You see, rapists don’t identify themselves as rapists, they probably don’t even see themselves as doing anything wrong, which is why if anyone is asked outright if they have raped anybody, the answer is always “no”. However, in an anonymous survey (source to the right) from the US, it has been found that 6% of men (that’s 1 in 20, though some studies have found as many as 13%) will admit to it if the question is phrased without the trigger word ‘rape’. Studies have proven again and again that rapists assume their behaviour to be normal, and that their behaviour is only reaffirmed when the idea of rape, with or without using the word, is normalised and considered acceptable through jokes and the dismissal of its impact. If 1 of every 20 men is really a rapist, then chances are there could be a rapist in your company without you or them realising it, and you are legitimising their behaviour. It could be the friend who sometimes gets a bit carried away, or someone you’d never suspect, you might never know until it’s too late for someone you care about. That’s quite a responsibility when you think about it right?
Let’s turn the tables and talk about the victims too. As many as 1 in 4 women (25%) have been victims of of sexual assault, a truly shocking and terrifying statistic I’m sure you’ll agree. Even if you can’t or won’t believe in the potential for someone in your circle to be a rapist, how about the far higher probability that one of them is a victim? How do you think these jokes will make them feel? Is it worth making a victim feel that humiliated, or to trigger possible Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder just for a tasteless laugh?
I realise most of the arguments I have been making are based on the assumption of men raping women. I realise this isn’t always the case, even if it is the most prevalent. This is not to dismiss other rape scenarios, but is down to the trigger for this piece, and the availability of studies related to it, hence my focus, but the point remains regardless of gender, and certainly regardless of sexuality. As described previously, rape is a weapon of control, sexual desire has little to do with it.
I have no problem with jokes about controversial topics, where would comedy be without them? There would have been none of the great comics who have given us so much pleasure, and we’d be stuck with an endless conveyor belt of Michael McIntyres. But it is about how these jokes are handled, and the context of the joke that’s important. A joke that holds a mirror to society’s shortcomings and makes you think is a beautiful and very powerful thing. On the other hand, being prejudiced for cheap thrills is dangerous, hateful, and most of all, not fucking funny. So please, not for me and not for the sake of ‘political correctness’, check yourself before making rape jokes, because they hurt everyone.
6% admit rape: Repeat Rape and Multiple Offending Among Undetected Rapists by David Lesak and Paul M. Miller, published in Violence and Victims, Vol 17, No. 1, 2002 (Lisak & Miller 2002).
13% admit rape: Reports of Rape Reperpetration by Newly Enlisted Male Navy Personnel by Stephanie K. McWhorter, et al., published in Violence and Victims, Vol, 24, No. 2, 2009 (McWhorter 2009).
25% victim rate: Assessing sexual aggression: Addressing the gap between rape victimization and perpetration prevalence rates by Elizabeth D. Kolivas and Alan M. Gross (Kolivas and Gross 2007).