CW: Discussion of rape jokes, rape, domestic violence, and DV jokes.
Please note, this is being written by a survivor of both domestic violence and rape. This is not a blanket statement for ALL survivors, this is specifically speaking from the point of a survivor using dark/gallows humor to heal from traumatic events.
EDIT: Yes, this can be viewed as a way of upholding rape culture, and can cause issues, but at the same time we need to focus on how people heal and how they overcome situations, not blanket responses to everything.
When I was first recovering from the horrors that my rapist put me through, I would have readily agreed with anyone who said that rape jokes aren’t funny. Just the word ‘rape’ was enough to send me into a panic. Hearing someone talking about sexual assault could leave me catatonic. I would even verbally attack people for using the word rape. It wasn’t until I chose to take control and take power over the words and concepts surrounding my rape that I began to heal. I had no real support, my family didn’t believe I was raped when I started becoming vocal about it, and people accused me of just making it up. All because I could talk about what happened to me. So what did I do? Did I shut up? Did I go silent, like people said a “real” rape victim would actually act like?
I started speaking out even more, I started working towards bringing attention to what happens to victims who were unable to successfully prove their rapes. I voiced my disdain for the authorities that believed they knew what a real rape victim would look and act like. I voiced my anger at their dismissal of my claims, I voiced my anger at those who shamed me and tormented me over the repeated sexual assaults I went through. I also started telling rape jokes. Yes, you heard me right. I started telling rape jokes. I also started using the word when I was gaming, talking about how the guy I just beat into the ground was raped by my sword. It was a way for me to heal and to distance myself from the trauma I had endured.
If you are someone who has gone through a traumatic event, and are looking for a way to heal that is a little less…drastic, I would suggest checking out the book The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk M.D.
Now then, where were we? Ah yes, the rape jokes.
Before you go and clutch at your pearls in horror, let me explain something. I don’t just run out there and belt out rape jokes. I understand the concept of context. If I’m around people who I know won’t be comfortable with the jokes, I keep them to myself. I’m not going to walk into a support group for survivors and shout, “Who wants to play the rape game?” Do you know how many people I would have to dry hump if I did that? All of them would either shout “NO!” or freak out on me, and then I would have to play with all of them!
You see what I did there? Yes, I slipped a rape joke into my writing. I’m assuming that my audience would be able to understand that rape jokes would either appear or be talked about in this article due to the title! CONTEXT! As weird as it sounds, the jokes and taking over the word for my own usage helped me heal much faster and more effectively than the years and years of therapy that I went through. Perhaps it has to do with the chemicals my brain released when I made a joke that allowed me to stop viewing the topic with fear, and began being able to put little steps between myself and those events. I honestly don’t know.
I have used humor to heal many different times, and each time I’ve healed much faster than when I tried to keep a somber attitude. When I was trying to overcome the abuse I went through with my ex-husband and with a later ex-boyfriend, I joked about what happened; I put a humorous spin on the events.
“Well honey if you wanted the phone so badly you didn’t have to grab me by the hair and throw me to the ground, you could have just asked! Use your words, you’re a big boy!”
“Sure I’ll clean the house, take care of the newborn, cook dinner, and tend to my surgery site while you sit there and play video games , would you like me to slip into a little maid outfit with frilly panties as well?”
Granted, the humor was very sarcastic, but you can see how I started twisting events so that I could look at them with humor instead of pain and horror. But again, I’m not going to just go into a battered women’s shelter and start making these jokes, I look for the context of what is going on and who I’m dealing with. Sure, I could say fuck them and do what I want, but there are some things that I do like to be polite about….sometimes.
Ask them if they’ve ever laughed at an inappropriate joke.
So when someone tells you that rape jokes or jokes about domestic violence are never funny, no matter what the context, ask them why they feel that way. More than likely they will tell you something like how it spits on the victims of those crimes, how it belittles survivors. You know what you can ask them then? Ask them how many survivors they have discussed it with. Ask them if they’ve ever laughed at an inappropriate joke.
If they say they are a survivor and they don’t find them funny, then just leave it be, obviously they aren’t ready to distance themselves from the blanket of pain that they have wrapped themselves in. I can guarantee you though, that they have at some time laughed at what would be considered an inappropriate joke. If they say they never have, they are either lying or have been living under a rock their whole life.
Just because they don’t like the jokes that I tell, doesn’t mean that I should silence myself and stifle my way of healing. That is why I will continue to make the jokes, and why I will continue to use the terms and own them. It’s also why I will tell people who are complete assholes to bite the pillow, because baby, I’m going in dry tonight.