In a really fantastic post at Shakesville, Time Machine argues that rape jokes are problematic, even when uttered by people who would never assault anyone, because they signal to actual rapists that their behavior is acceptable and normal.
A lot of people accuse feminists of thinking that all men are rapists. That’s not true. But do you know who think all men are rapists? Rapists do.
So, when someone drops a rape joke and people laugh, the small percent of men who are rapists think that they’re surrounded by like-minded friends. Speaking to the joke-teller:
That rapists who was in the group with you, that rapist thought that you were on his side. That rapist knew that you were a rapist like him. And he felt validated, and he felt he was among his comrades.
What’s interesting about this observation is that it reminds us that we need to be more aware of the impact of our words not on victims (as the usual argument against the rape joke goes), but on perpetrators. This is a much-needed re-framing of the problem that we call, passively, “violence against women,” but should really be called “men’s violence against women and men.” While both men and women are victims, the vast majority of interpersonal violence is committed by men.
The need for a shift in frame — from the survivor to the perpetrator — is also a theme of this TedTalk by anti-violence educator Jackson Katz. He uses another really interesting way of showing the linguistic erasure of men in this discussion (at 4:08).
He also dismisses “sensitivity training” because it, too, centers the survivor of the violence instead of drawing our attention to the perpetrator (sensitivity to who?). Instead, Katz argues, men need to step up and be leaders in the fight against men’s violence against women and men. Because violence is not a “women’s issue,” it’s a men’s issue.
Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.