8 thoughts on “How to tell a rape joke

  1. I didn’t manage to get through all 200+ of the comments, but I was surprised not to see any recognition there (or in the article itself) of the fact that the vast majority of rape jokes (and the least objected-to rape jokes in “polite company”, at that) – made in stand-up routines, television, film, etc. – are at the expense of victims of male prison rape. This ought to be front and center in any serious discussion of rape humour.

  2. I’ve no idea of the relative numbers of jokes, Nemo, but you’re absolutely right that male prison rape jokes are an issue which needs to be taken seriously. It’s way too often not recognised as such.

  3. Jessica Valenti also made a post about what makes a good rape joke over at The Nation http://www.thenation.com/blog/168856/anatomy-successful-rape-joke#

    He examples are slightly different, though. Jonathan Bernstein, in linking to it from his A Plain Blog About Politics, wrote “the obvious analogy would be what makes a good Nazi joke. “Springtime for Hitler” is funny; telling someone that you hope the Nazis slaughter you and your family would generally not be funny.” from, http://plainblogaboutpolitics.blogspot.com/2012/07/read-stuff-you-should_13.html

    I don’t have anything smart to add to the conversation, just wanted to expand the sources.

  4. Well, I confess to not knowing the relative numbers precisely either of course. Yet think of how prison rape jokes are a staple of, say, the cop drama or any dramatised situation where the prospect of a man being incarcerated comes up.

    When Betty White made her celebrated 2010 appearance on “Saturday Night Live”, one of the sketches (where she played a jailbird giving one of those “scared straight” lectures to delinquent teens) basically consisted of nothing but comical riffing on prison rape. The audience loved it:


    Jokes about raping women are, in my experience, relatively rare (though not rare enough), I think a chief reason for this that the culture as a whole is not disposed to be particularly receptive to them, thank goodness. (I have difficulty imagining a SNL sketch about, say, a personal safety consultant vividly lecturing a class of women about how thoroughly they might be ravished if they don’t avoid such-and-such behaviour or habits.) But jokes about prison rape seem to be another matter.

  5. Totally agree with Nemo. Male prison rape jokes are treated as routine and just mildly chuckle-worthy in a way that is totally shocking if you think about it, or if you switch out the victim for an unimprisoned woman. It’s some creepy cocktail of homophobia, victim-blaming, the association of criminality with homosexuality, and misogyny (what’s ‘funny’ is that the prisoner will be emasculated) that I don’t fully understand.

  6. One of the things that future generations will look back at with shame and horror is our treatment of prisoners, especially those in the US penal system. It is truly one of the great horrors of our times.

    I think I disagree with Prof. Kukla’s analysis of the source of prison rape jokes. A simpler explanation is US citizens have in general accepted as fair punishments for crimes that are in fact grossly disproportionate to their offenses; I don’t believe that any other Western democracy has such a harsh penal code. Being raped in prison is simply taken to be an accepted part of the punishment for the crime. Maybe some of what she cites is a motivating factor in some cases, but I doubt much more is needed. It’s sick.

  7. I was going to post about the almost ubiquitous jokes about male rape. I have tried to sensitize my friends and collogues to how cruel and disgusting these jokes are.

    I am the president of a local science fiction club, each year the chapters of these clubs all around the world host affiliated events to raise money for Equality Now, an organization designed to protect women around the world. My counterpart in another city showed me a parody video in which one of the male characters was kidnapped and repeatedly gang-raped (while being forced to watch a bad movie-which was supposed to be even funnier than the rape!!). I told him while the 10 minute film had amusing aspects I thought it was highly inappropriate to show because of that “joke”. He didn’t see a problem showing this, even though we were raising money to defend women against rape and human trafficking. He showed it to his audience, and they enjoyed it, he did not report any complaints.

    I was disgusted that someone that seems to be a good person would be excited to show something that makes light of something so awful.

    I think in some ways male victims of rape have it worse than female victims. There is very little social support for men who have been raped and their victimization is common topic of humor. More support needs to be offered and the cultural approval of jokes about male rape should end.

    But on the topic, Tosh’s joke was in poor taste, but what he said to the woman heckling him was disgusting and there is no excuse for comments like that on any occasion.

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