Yet Another Blog Post about Rape Jokes

by Hannah Green

Today I had the exact same argument that blog readers and comedy central watchers have been having all over the country, according to Louis CK. The argument about whether or not Daniel Tosh should have apologized for allegedly suggesting that it would be hilarious if a female heckler got raped by five guys right there in the club.* My position was that he should have (and he did, so good for him.)

If you disagree with me, this is where I’m coming from. Women in this country are taught to be scared of rape all the time, and it’s really annoying. We think about it when we decide what to wear, where to go, when to go there, who to go with, who to trust. While men can also be the victims of sexual assault, I find that in general their lives tend to be less restricted by the attempt to avoid it. Whether or not this is rational doesn’t change the fact that it’s inescapable because we’re socially programmed this way. And a lot of us have experienced situations where we really do feel directly threatened, and these are terrible. They make you afraid to even go out, and then they make you angry at yourself because you feel weak. I understand that my position and that of other women in this country is far from the worst in the world. But still, in this aspect of life my male friend and I, at least, are pretty unequal

So the first reason I got mad, while slightly unfair, I think is also understandable. I got mad because my friend, being a dude who’s spent his whole life living in the same safe place, never even had to think about this stuff. Not his fault, I guess, but also not fair. I told him this. He apologized sarcastically, “I’m so sorry you were born into a male dominated society,” he said, “I was born into it too, by the way. I didn’t choose it.” So the second reason I god mad, which I think is fair, is that when he hears about this woman and how she felt threatened at the suggestion that five guys rape her, and when I say that I know I would feel the same way, his first reaction is to talk about how irrational that woman was. I’m telling him all this stuff about my life that I would never have even thought about telling him, and he doesn’t even shut up to try to understand why, or reflect on the fact that his perspective comes from a place of privilege. He tells me he doesn’t believe I would really feel threatened, because that’s such an irrational idea. She was in a comedy club, obviously no one was going to rape her.

I know I would have reacted the same way. I know because my reaction to embarrassing sexual comments from strangers is pretty strong even if they aren’t violent and even if they’re not said on stage through a microphone in front of a room full of people laughing at me. I get scared, and I want to cry while at the same time thinking that crying would be the worst possible thing to do, because I need to show this guy that I’m tough and that nothing he says or does can threaten me. You get all hot and red in the face, and you also want to crap your pants.

I can see how this argument gets spun to make it look like women/feminists/whoever are getting all up in arms about their feelings while men are observing the situation with cool rationality. “She was in a comedy club. She should have expected it.” And it is true that, in general, this argument stirs emotions in women that men don’t have to feel. (Although my friend did seem awfully emotional as he defended a comedian’s right not to get interrupted.) I don’t like this spin on things because some men, including my friend, make it sound like we react this way because these women are just more irrational than they are. But we don’t get emotional about it because we’re naturally more emotional creatures. We get emotional about it because we’ve spent our lives dealing with this, and they haven’t.

The outcomes of these arguments aren’t going to have any effect on rape statistics, and neither, for that matter, do Daniel Tosh’s rape jokes. I guess, when I think about it, the point of arguing at all is to try to get people to recognize and acknowledge the societal advantages that they have. I want my friend to see that Daniel Tosh can jokingly threaten rape only because he has no idea what it feels like to be threatened with rape. (Otherwise, I hope, he wouldn’t do it.) I want my friend to own up to his position of white male privilege and use it for the good of mankind, rather than acting like he’s being victimized when I try to force him to recognize a different perspective. My optimistic side says that Daniel Tosh may have done some good by getting women all over the country to bitch at clueless guys about topics that they’ve never really taken that seriously. My pessimistic side says that our bitching and this post will be written off as another episode of feminist hysteria, and that he and all these other dudes will go on until the end of time without thinking or caring about the fears that guide women’s lives.

*There are different stories about what exactly happened. This doesn’t change the point of this post, which is about my argument with my friend.

Hannah Green recently graduated from Northwestern University with a B.A. in history. She is currently learning Urdu at the University of Wisconsin and will continue her Urdu studies this fall in Lucknow, India. She is also working as an intern at The Progressive magazine.