Humor, Feminism, and Sexual Violence

By OUSAP GA Corey Stevens

I am a feminist and as we all know means that I am a humorless spinster. Just ask singer songwriter Nellie McKay, Mark Twain Prize winner Tina Fey, creator of the hit sitcom Rosanne Rosanne Barr (http://bit.ly/mfZRtw), or any of the other countless frigid feminists out there.

However, when I saw this PSA by Florida State University’s Men Advocating Responsible Conduct (http://youtu.be/shIjkXpf-e4), I’ll admit I laughed out loud. I thought it was a clever way of promoting men’s advocacy.  Reading the comments on this video, there are a lot of people criticize this video for trivializing and mocking sexual violence. However, I disagree with these critiques. I think humor can be a powerful tool for ridiculing dominant ideas. In this case, the video turns the question “what can/should women do to keep themselves from being raped?” on it’s head.  It exposes this idea for what it really is: a form of victim blaming. No matter how well-intending the people who advise women not to walk around alone at night or to monitor her drinking may be, in the end the implication is that if women get raped it was their fault for not doing the endless list of things women are supposed to do to prevent their victimization.  Instead of putting all the pressure on women to protect themselves, we need to start holding the people who choose to commit sexual violence accountable.  Simply put: “Don’t Rape Her!”

Now, lets contrast this to some of the sexual violence jokes you may have heard around campus.  For example the “Hey, are there any bitches in there I can rape?” comment quoted in the Post Letters last week (http://bit.ly/kLBNGE). Even some of the rape jokes consistently portrayed in shows like Family Guy (whose creator clearly lacks the subtly and whit to understand the difference between edgy and just plain offensive) and SNL. These jokes DO trivialize sexual violence and often serve to enforce the ideas about sex, violence, and gender that support rape culture.

This begs the question, when is it ok to use humor to talk about sexual violence and when is it not?  There are a few things to take into consideration. First of all, does this joke in any way trivialize rape? Is the joke mocking the ideas that promote rape culture, or is the butt of the joke rape survivors? Also, when making jokes about rape you have to consider that many people in your audience might be rape survivors. Considering that 1 in 6 women and I in 33 men experience attempted or completed rape (Rainn.org) the likelihood is sadly quite high. Many survivors may still be dealing with the trauma of their assault and having this painful experience trivialized or mocked could be potentially damaging.

In the end, the best way to address sexual violence is to realize that it is very unfunny. So, make sure to check yourself before you make a joke about sexual violence and if you hear someone you know trivializing sexual violence or mocking survivors let him or her know that this is really uncool. Simple things like this can help to change the culture of rape at Ohio University and ultimately make this a safer place for us all.

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About Ohio U Women's Center

The Ohio University Women’s Center serves and responds to the needs of OU women students, faculty, and staff, as well as members of the community. Founded in 2007, the center is dedicated to creating an inclusive and welcoming campus climate for all members of the community through programs, resources, referrals, advocacy, and education. Located in Baker University Center 403.
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