This is a little late, but it’s been bugging me.
Earlier this week, Louis C.K. went on The Daily Show and spent the interview analyzing the Daniel Tosh rape joke controversy. It’s great to have comedians discussing this issue, but unfortunately C.K.’s analysis missed the point. C.K. concluded that he can see where women are coming from, but still enjoy a good rape joke. (Everybody wins!) That’s just the thing. A pro-rape joke is not good. It’s very, very bad. It’s dangerous and it perpetuates rape culture. In fact, “wouldn’t it be funny if she was raped?” barely qualifies as a joke. By suggesting that the rape of that woman in the crowd would be amusing, Tosh used his power and influence in that moment to put her in an unsafe environment.
However, as Feministing has masterfully pointed out this past week, for many people–feminists being some of them–there is such a thing as a good rape joke. A good rape joke at its core condemns rape. It makes a point about the way our society deals with rape. As Feministing noted, even Dane Cook can make a good rape joke. His joke drew attention to the fact that we do not respect the seriousness of rape when we attach the word to trivial things. That’s a good point. See the difference?
But this controversy does open a space to talk about the merit of rape jokes in general. One of my first reactions to this controversy was, “It’s important for us to affirm that we are O.K. with anti-rape rape jokes, because otherwise we seem rigid and humorless.” Upon further reflection, I say fuck that. (Actually my first thought was: this is not surprising from the guy who recently asked people to touch women’s bellies without their consent and video tape it.) Although one may personally enjoy an anti-rape joke, we must understand why some women (people) cannot bear attaching humor to the topic of rape. The fear, horror, and scars of rape, for some, make it the opposite of funny. This is clearer to me now as I’m currently on a sola road trip across the country. It’s been a wonderful journey, but because I’m on my own, my personal safety is an ever-present concern. Every evening, whether couch-surfing, or staying at a hostel or hotel, I have to closely check my surroundings and analyze the behavior and attitude of any man with whom I interact near bed time. I worry that the tank top I’m wearing because it’s a million degrees outside (and I have no A/C in my car!) will be interpreted as provocative. Not to close down the conversation, but the mental taxation rape demands of women is something men can never understand. Can you see now, people who insist “anything can be funny”, why some women simply cannot get on board with rape jokes? I haven’t even discussed the horror and scars rape inflicts. I don’t know if we should continue or cease rape jokes, but either way we need to respect that for some people, the topic of rape is outside of the realm of humor.
The thing that really bothers me is that, as a famous person, Louis C.K’s words have authority, especially when speaking on a very popular show that people look to when forming their opinions. Especially on its first night back on T.V. in two weeks. Louis C.K. spoke from a position of power, but provided an analysis that missed the point. Analyses that pointed out that a pro-rape joke is never funny struggled to get on the radar in the mass media. I don’t think Louis C.K. is a bad person or anti-women, but I wish he would have considered his analysis of the Tosh rape joke incident more carefully before offering it to the world on a high profile platform.
So, no, Louis C.K., women will not “shut the fuck up” in the face of rape incitement. Even after we’ve made our point, we will make it again and again because that’s the kind of persistence it takes to dismantle rape culture.