Tuesday night, a new Facebook friend of mine posted a link to a website called “Is Rape Funny.” It’s a simple website which proclaims that it is “DEFINITELY NOT.” I immediately rolled my eyes.
For quite some time I have had major issues with the way that our culture has decided to deal with rape and rape survivors. Being in college and knowing several women, men, and transgendered persons whom have experienced a sexual assault of some sort, has allowed me a unique insight into the issue from many different angles. From all of that experience, as well as my work in the field of sexual education, I have concluded that no, rape is not funny. But who cares, let’s laugh about it any way.
Rape is an unfortunate part of our culture. It has been for a very long time and if I was a betting man, I’d wager that it will be for many years to come. Thus far we have dealt with rape in a fashion that I consider to be appalling.
It used to be that women, homosexuals, and transgendered people were so powerless that there was no one to protect them. Not only would they be sexually assaulted but they would be forced to hide their experience for fear of backlash. It’s sad but today isn’t much better. Recently I read a news report about a Canadian police officer who told a university class, “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” While that may seem like a fringe idea or isolated event, slut shaming and victim blaming is still very common.
Today there are lots of resources where rape survivors can find help and support post attack. Those resources are rather anemic for men, as well as homosexual and transgendered persons, but they exist. What doesn’t exist, however, is the social permission to laugh about it.
Laughter serves great purposes to humans. According to a 1997 psychological study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, “laughter facilitates the adaptive response to stress by increasing the psychological distance from distress and by enhancing social relations.” This is a sentiment that I would think most people would not need much external proof to believe.
Laughter is fundamentally good for humans. Sure it can be used to hurt other’s feeling, but, in general, it’s a healthy activity that helps us deal with stress and connect to one another. I have never been raped, but I have been physically assaulted several times for being gay. If there was ever a time where I needed help dealing with stress and connecting with other humans it was after I had been chased, knocked to the ground and kicked mercilessly while lying in the fetal position, for being a “worthless fat ass cock sucking faggot.”
For that seven year long period in my life where I hated school and was too scared to tell anyone the extend of the bullying that I endured, laughter was one of the few things in my life that kept me from committing suicide. I was and continue to be lucky that I had friends who could make me laugh and keep me smiling so that I didn’t have to wallow in the sadness and depths of the despair that my life truly was.
Living life after a rape can be the darkest period in a person’s life, if you don’t have people around you to whom you can talk, feel safe around, and laugh with it. It doesn’t help anyone or anything to hold those emotions in. Laughter can help us all unpack those hugely complex and overwhelming feelings that comes from that sort of traumatic experience.
I see many similarities to how we react to the traumatic experience of sexual assault and how we reacted to the events of September 11, 2001. On the day it happened, most of the country called for a fast on jokes about the situation or anything close to it. But on September 11, 2001 in New York, there were people sitting in comedy clubs and bars laughing through the fear and uncertainty of the day.
While there hasn’t been any research on that particular segment of the population, that I could find, I would guess that they have dealt with the trauma much better than those who cried all night, alone. I think it is unfortunate that most people in our culture fail to acknowledge the benefits that laughter can bring to rape survivors. I think it’s even more unfortunate that people like me get berated and verbally assaulted for suggesting that a joke about rape may do more good than harm.
There is a fine line between providing social commentary through humor and perpetuating the so-called American “rape culture” with a tasteless joke. No, she didn’t ask for it. No, raping a clown is not funny. No, raping a sex worker is not shoplifting. But, maybe, just maybe we can try to find some humor to help survivors see the light in the darkness of the night.