Think You’re Funny? Think Again: Joking about Rape | by Shena Kaul

Today I did not wake up realizing I would begin my week listening to a friend justify sexual assault, let alone in the comfort of my own university.

The day started normally enough: I met two of my classmates, Amy and Mike* for coffee before class. Mike has a preoccupation with buying us coffee. And calling us “sweetheart”.

This bothers me, so I asked him after he initially said it to not to refer to us as “sweethearts”. Later at the bar, I questioned him on how he felt it was appropriate to refer to his female colleagues as such. His response, “because you’re sweet”. I pointed to a male colleague, and friend of ours, and said, “well, he’s sweet too”.

That night, Amy mentioned that I shouldn’t take Mike so seriously – he’s younger than us and just has some growing up to do. I agreed.

So we began discussing our weekends and I asked Amy how the Chinese New Years party she attended went. She explained “it was fun, but I drank quite a bit”. Here’s what happened next:

Mike: How many ounces of alcohol can you handle?
Amy: In ounces? I don’t know, I’ve never really measured that.
Mike: (looks at her) You can probably only do 2, maybe 3 ounces.
Amy: I know I’m smaller, but it’s not really dependent on size. Sometimes I drink a lot, but I only do so with reliable friends.
Mike: So at least you won’t get raped! (laughs)

I was appalled, sickened. Did he just say that?

Me: That’s really not funny, Mike. Even as a ‘joke’.
Mike: What? (smiles) Yes it is.
I mean, it’s not the rapist’s fault if a girl is that drunk.

Sirens went off in head. Big, ugly, wailing sirens. My ears got hot and started pounding. I felt my face flushing red. I was shaking. Sweating. Disgusted. I wanted to cry and scream at the same time. I was absolutely livid.

I retorted angrily. I told him to shut up, that I wanted to just kick him for saying that. How could he think that? I was so furious, I wanted to say whatever I could to wipe the smirk off of his face. In a moment of anger, my otherwise extensive knowledge and research on the subject floated away and I was left with steam coming out of my ears and a reaction I regretted, one that devalued my own integrity and intelligence.

In that moment, I wish I had a clever, succinct response to give Mike after he had justified rape. I wish I could have pulled out a giant pie chart reading “causes of rape” with the category “rapists” filling the entire circle. I wish I could instantly make Mike realize how awful of a statement he just made. I wish it didn’t affect me like it did, that it was as easy as listening to Amy’s advice and ignoring him altogether.

But I couldn’t. Because this wasn’t a stranger. This wasn’t an ignorant or malicious individual coming from a place of hatred, or to purposely anger me. This wasn’t a bad person. This was my classmate. My friend. Someone I trusted. And these were his honest thoughts, or equally as disturbing, his sense of humour.

It disturbed me beyond measure. I wondered if Mike had ever spoken to a victim of sexual assault. Making light of a traumatizing crime only proved how disconnected he was with the very tangible and horrifying reality of rape and of its devastating results.

What did it say about the values advocated in university culture if someone could get away with thinking this was acceptable, let alone saying it aloud? How many other students share his sentiments?

Mike may have been serious or just ‘joking’, but he is far from alone in his views. University campuses across North America perpetuate sexism, female degradation, and rape culture. We’re familiar with the infamous (and vile) “Don’t Be That Girl” campaign that circulated University of Alberta’s campus last year. We’re aware of the rampancy of rape culture, of the 55% of gang rapes associated with fraternities. For Delta Kappa Epsilon, this chant caused Yale’s chapter to be suspended for five years. U of A’s branch was similarly sanctioned as a result of harassment and abuse. A frat was suspended at the University of Vermont in 2011 after it asked the question, “if you could rape someone, who would it be?” in a survey. Meanwhile, Miami U circulated a flyer entitled, “Top ten ways to get away with rape” in 2012. UBC has experienced 6 accounts of sexual assault within the last year.

On campuses, rape is unashamedly and unendingly everywhere.

Even worse, instead of nearing a positive change, we seem to be moving in the opposite direction with social media, and its ability to ensure anonymity and gain support while sharing disrespectful attitudes. For instance, the case of Facebook’s ‘Spotted’ pages for various universities; although they’re created with the purpose of posting funny and/or noteworthy happenings on campus, these groups tend to assimilate into a forum making misogynistic comments about females that are spotted on campus. This normalizes the performance of obscene sexual acts and rape.

In our millennial generation, it’s not only about blatant, old-fashioned sexism anymore. Rather, the everyday microaggressions can be just as harmful but more subtle.

Last year, a coworker asked me how my program was going. He’s in the same department as me, but a year below and interested in graduate studies. His seeking of my advice established that he respected me academically, however he followed it with, “Wow, you are so driven, you are going to be one of those working women who is 40 and her eggs have dried up hey!”


In the case of sexual assaults, microaggressions are just as rampant:

“Well you did kiss [your perpetrator]…”
“Why did you wear that outfit if you didn’t want attention?”
“You liked [your perpetrator] anyways so who cares, you were drunk!”

Microaggressions are the subtle, and sometimes automatic, responses that manifest through unwarranted and derogatory stigmas. Rape microaggressions place the blame back on the victim while driving the discussion further away from real sexual violence awareness and education. As Maggie Crain, counselor at Fredericton Sexual Assault Crisis Centre put it, “Universities are petri dishes for both rape culture and sexual assault” – “they’re a microcosm of the way society teaches people how to party and treat women.”

I don’t know about you, but that petri dish seems really icky. Let’s abolish the notion that  victim blaming and shaming is okay. And the first step in doing that is by refusing to condone rape jokes on campus.

As slight, automatic, and unintentional they may be, we’re smarter than that. We should cultivate positivity, respect, and kindness at the U of A. Let’s change the dialogue.


*Names changed to protect the identities of individuals.

Image courtesy of Melissa Brewer on flickr.

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  • joe

    If you leave an Aston-Martin in the Bronx with the keys in the ignition and go off for 30 minutes, don’t be surprised if you don’t find it when you return. Yes, it is absolutely the thief’s fault for stealing your car, and no, nobody deserves to have their car stolen, but there is such a thing as forethought. No one should be getting black-out drunk, especially women, given the seemingly omnipresent risk of rape that everyone talks about. There is such a thing as self-control.

    Also, the “Don’t Be That Guy” poster campaign was just as insulting as its parody counterpart. It directly suggests that the viewer is a potential rapist, and needs reminding in order to not rape a drunk girl. This issue could have been approached in a completely different manner and still made its point, without resorting to, as you put it, a microaggression.

    • Shena

      Dehumanizing and trivializing a rape victim by a comparison to an inanimate object as a sexual assault analogy? You’re proving my point already.

      Let me humour you for a moment and pretend your example isn’t vastly distasteful, and follow along. The Aston is the victim, the Bronx, a high crime area. “Keys in the ignition”? Here’s where your argument disappears faster than a Vanquish ’14 going 0 to a 100 on the freeway. An unconscious or heavily inebriated person does not possess the ability to consent. No secret door, no master key. As crazy as this may sound to you, people simply rely on the basic human right that they maintain autonomy of their own bodies at all times. The solution for rapists? Well, as you put it so well, there is a such thing as self-control. Or as I like to say, don’t rape.

      Re: Don’t Be That Guy campaign. “It directly suggests that the viewer is a potential rapist, and needs reminding in order to not rape a drunk girl.” Yes, your point? Rapists aren’t faceless monsters lurking in a dark alleyway at night. In 85-90% of sexual assault cases that are reported by university students, the victim knows her/his attacker, and 50% occur on a date. This campaign is geared directly at these perpetrators.


      • johnthebaddest

        You misunderstand the analogy. First, it’s an analogy, so by analogizing the crime of rape to the crime of theft, no one is “trivializing” rape victims. The analogy exists to analyze the relationship between the various elements within each scenario.

        The Aston is not the victim; the driver of the car is the victim. The car is what is taken. In the case of rape, the woman’s body is taken. You then point out that a heavily drunk person does not possess the ability to consent but don’t acknowledge that neither does a car, and neither does the owner of the car who left it in a bad neighbourhood with the keys in stop relying on the basic human right that they maintain possession and ownership of their car at all times. They are the same. In both cases, no one has given up their rights and yet had their rights violated.

        No one is saying it’s the rape victims fault. Yes of course they have every right to be as drunk as they want and not get raped, as do car owners have the right to not have their car stolen no matter where they park it. But we live in a troubled world where we can’t just rely on idealism while being blind to the reality. The reality is people violate each other, whether by rape, car theft, murder, assault etc. And the point is that women can protect themselves from those rapists by being vigilant, just as car owners can protect their property by not leaving it unlocked in a bad neighbourhood etc etc.

        Yes of course rapists shouldn’t rape. That goes without saying but still needs saying. People shouldn’t rape and that’s an important message. But we can have that message at the same time as having a message which encourages women to not make themselves vulnerable to the opportunity of rapists. These messages are not mutually exclusive but you seem to imply they are. They aren’t: Men, don’t rape. Women, be careful when in situations where rape occurs more frequently. That’s entirely sensible advice.

        You point out the propensity of sexual assault occur by people the victim knows and half the time on a date. So be careful when on a date! Be careful in those situations where the likelihood of being raped is markedly high. This is just common sense. And women who get black out drunk are more likely to be victims of rape that women who are not black out drunk. This is a fact. So when you go to the next party/club/date, be careful, and maybe don’t get blackout drunk because we live in a world where assholes rape. And if you go to the Bronx, don’t leave your Aston Martin unlocked with the keys in the engine because we live in a world where assholes steal. And also, to the assholes, don’t rape or steal cars.

        • m

          “The Aston is not the victim; the driver of the car is the victim. The car is what is taken. In the case of rape, the woman’s body is taken.” So your analogy makes the woman’s body into an object to be taken? This is trivializing rape and objectifying the victim.

          • johnthebaddest

            Yes, from the perspective of the rapist, the body is objectified and taken. That’s why it is offensive. It’s odd that I’d have to explain this to you.

            Why don’t you try addressing the discussion instead of quibbling with non-issues?

          • mm

            I think this is relevant to the discussion because your analogy represents rape incorrectly by confusing bodies with property. Women can’t choose to leave their bodies at home. A crime against someone’s body is different than against their property. Your analogy assumes women should understand and treat their bodies as objects. This provides logical support for the view that women are responsible for preventing their own rapes

          • johnthebaddest

            So many logical fallacies…

          • joe

            Are you seriously denying that there are actual steps a woman can take to decrease the likelihood of rape? That whatever might happen to her is entirely out of her control? It sounds like you want women to think that they’re utterly powerless to improve their own safety, which is frankly disgusting.

      • joe

        As johnthebaddest has pointed out (and succinctly explained), you’re completely misunderstanding the analogy. I didn’t choose my words carefully so you could start strawmanning your way around my argument. When I said “it is absolutely the thief’s fault for stealing your car…nobody deserves to have their car stolen”, it meant, in the context of your article, “it is absolutely the rapist’s fault for raping you..nobody deserves to be raped”. What is it about that statement that screamed “rape apologist”?

        As for the Don’t Be That Guy campaign, would you find it acceptable for a similar campaign to be run in low-income neighborhoods, targeting young black and latino men and reminding them not to steal cars, rob liquor stores, and shoot innocent bystanders in gang wars? After all, statistically speaking, they are in the top demographic for criminal activity in the US. Of course you wouldn’t, because you are accusing an entire group for the actions of a few. If you don’t see this kind of campaign as insulting and offensive to regular, non-rapist men (who are the majority), then I question the level of “equality” you’re trying to preach.

    • kittenCorn

      “No one should be getting black-out drunk, especially women, given the
      seemingly omnipresent risk of rape that everyone talks about.”

      This sums up everything that is wrong about what you just said. Rape culture perpetrates the idea that not only is the woman’s fault she is raped but it is also her responsibility to not get raped. You wanna talk self-control? Where is the man’s self-control to keep his bloody penis to himself when in the presence of an inebriated woman?

      • joe

        By definition, rapists and other opportunistic criminals don’t give a shit about your rights. Writing articles won’t stop them any more than writing laws stopped murderers. The most effective way to prevent rape in the real world is to avoid situations that are conducive to it, and be able to defend against it if it starts happening. When someone is blackout drunk, male or female, they are both physically and mentally vulnerable. That state of vulnerability is a CHOICE. The person has willingly put themselves in a position where they cannot effectively defend themselves against any rapist who starts getting ideas.

        I’ll say it again, since this emotionally-charged topic seems to have robbed everyone of their reading comprehension; everyone has a right to get as plastered as they want, and everybody has a right not to be raped or assaulted in any way. But simply saying that won’t make it happen. YOU are the last line of defense. There are concrete, logical steps you can take to prevent rape. In an ideal world, you woulnd’t need to. But we don’t. Raising awareness of rape culture and taking steps to prevent rape are not mutually exclusive; doing both will improve things much faster than only doing the former.

        • johnthebaddest

          Exactly. And if a passed out woman at a party gets raped, the man should have the book thrown at him and the woman get support.

          This whole discussion has lost common sense. When I part my car at the shopping mall and there is a sign saying to lock my doors I don’t scream “theft culture!!” and then leave my doors unlocked because, you know, thieves shouldn’t steal.

    • dmnr

      Disgusting response!

      • leslie

        joe what you’re saying makes perfect sense. articles such as don’t do anything except trivialize real rape, and by that I mean physically having sex with some against their will. That’s absolutely disgusting and on the same level as murderers and no one is arguing against that.

        BUT ON THE HAND, I know better to go to a ghetto neighborhood with a gold rolex watch with diamonds and pearls at 2 am and walk into a group of thugs. If I get mugged in this situation or killed for my goods I’m not going to be like damn “well this is a free world and I can walk wherever I want and flash all the cash I have in this run down neighborhood and walk in between a group of thugs because they shouldn’t take my stuff. I’m not asking for it!”

        sure i’m not asking for it but I’m putting myself in a situation where I’m increasing the odds of meeting someone who doesn’t give a shit about the law and is going to steal my luxury goods that I’m flashing.

        except this crazy lady shena is placing the blame on the regular old college kid who is trying his level best to get his dick wet. And it just turns out that girls who are drunk are easier to get with than girls who aren’t. he isn’t using an excessive physical force or coaxing her today anything; she’s just falling for his lame lines. that’s not rape. that’s called making a bad decision that you might or might not regret the next day.

        if anything shena you’re now polarizing people because you can’t accept reality. if someone told me to not carry my gucci purse in a dark alley in jamaica because I might get robbed I’m not going to start crying about it and lose my shit.

        but thanks for posting your ignorance for the world to see.

        • joe

          “he isn’t using an excessive physical force or coaxing her today anything; she’s just falling for his lame lines.”

          That’s assuming she’s drunk, but still conscious. People have drunk, consensual sex all the time; I don’t think Shena was arguing against that specifically. The objective cutoff is when the individual (male or female) is passed out; unless they specifically gave their partner permission to have sex with their unconscious body (unlikely), any sex act by the conscious party is by definition rape.

    • dmnr

      Also, there are many nice places in the Bronx, where your car will not be stolen. You have just stereotyped the Bronx.

      • joe

        I did not suggest that there is a guarantee that your car will be stolen if parked in the Bronx. I was using it as an example of a high-crime area, where the likelihood of that would be higher than average, just as the likelihood of a woman being date-raped is higher if she’s blackout drunk. You’re tilting at windmills.

  • Mrs. Dobiggle

    the reason why men joke about women’s rights is because it is a joke.

    You want us to take you seriously but according to the law if a girl is drunk and she hooks up she can call rape on the man the next day even if the guy was drunk too. Why would we take a person who can’t take responsibility for her actions drunk, seriously?

    Rape is obviously a terrible crime and I’m not discounting that. I’m taking you and your dumb rant as a joke.

    • Graeme

      Oh good, the MRA brigade is here.
      In the scenario you describe, what are the actions that the drunk girl needs to take responsibility for? Being a victim of a crime? Women have every right to get as drunk as they want, and there is no onus on them to ensure that they do not become a target for sexual assault. That responsibility falls solely upon the assailant.
      It’s mind-boggling how difficult it is for so many men to grasp this concept.

      • mrs dobiggle

        ok does it apply to men too? what if im drunk and a fat girl takes advantage of me. can i call rape on her the next day because i was too drunk to know what i was doing?

        • nav

          Yes. If someone was to force themselves on you, without your consent, then that is rape.

        • dmnr

          The girl does not have to be fat to rape you!

        • joe

          Rape is rape, dude. Doesn’t matter if the rapist is male or female.

          Just because the justice system has discriminatory practices, that doesn’t discount the message that feminism is trying to bring across.

      • johnthebaddest

        You confuse legal rights with tactic choices. No one is saying that a woman who gets way too drunk deserves to be raped or loses her right to not be raped. Got that part? I’ll repeat it because you need to understand it. It’s very important: No one is saying that a woman who gets very drunk deserves to be raped or loses her right to not be raped. If a man raped a drunk woman it’s 100% the rapists fault and the woman is 100% innocent.

        What we’re saying is that it is a matter of FACT that drunk women are more vulnerable to those who don’t give a shit about a woman’s autonomy and as a tactical choice you’d be wise to not place yourself in such positions. We make similar tactical choices to minimize our exposure to risk in every single area of our life but if it is suggested in this area it somehow is minsogynst. There’s a difference between being at fault and being naive.

        It’s mind-boggling how difficult it is for so many women to grasp this distinction

        • Wetheone

          Well said.

      • johnthebaddest

        It’s amazing that in a situation where a man and a woman are both drunk, the man is an assailant and the woman is a victim. If drunk means there is no consent then in the above situation both sides are victims. If you can’t see the sexism in that then there is little point to discussion.

        • Graeme

          Whoever intiates and continues the action when it is unwanted is the assailant, regardless of the gender. The assailant should be brought to justice.
          Unfortunately, 9 times out of 10 this is done by a male. Doesn’t mean all men are rapists or that the system is stacked against men, its just the reality.

  • joe

    On a side note, how are feminists not all anarcho-capitalists or voluntarists? If interactions between people ought to be consensual, and there is no such thing as implicit consent (ie. it being rape if a girl flirts with a guy in the bar, blacks out, and the guy has sex with her), then it stands to reason that the any other interaction in life must also be based on explicit consent. I don’t see many feminists protesting the imposition of a government’s rule on those who did not consent to it, despite the fact that this injustice affects a good deal more people, and occurs a good deal more frequently than date-rape. Just a thought…

    • john

      You should write about this topic and submit it on this site. It’s interesting and it will be a nice change.

      • Anonymous

        I think it’s important to understand that rape culture is not an attack on men. It’s a critique of the patriarchal system that we are all a part of. Yes, women are disproportionately survivors of rape–this needs to be continually acknowledged to raise awareness to all people that unknowingly participate in ways which further oppress these individuals. This is not only men, but as the article exemplified, women also. We can of course easily say to women: “don’t drink to much, so you aren’t vulnerable to rape”, but I’d prefer a world where rape does not have to be a part of it. Rape is not inevitable–it is an outcome of a particular system that perpetuates domination over others. It is about power. Its disappointing that a lot of the language used in these comments insinuate or state blatantly that rape is reality. It does not have to be. So instead of having a conversation about men vs. women, and men feeling attacked, or rape as inevitable in our culture, let’s have a conversation where we all look at ways of mitigating the oppressive nature of patriarchy.

        • joe

          “Rape is not inevitable–it is an outcome of a particular system that perpetuates domination over others.”

          This is patent nonsense. The only way that our current cultural views of rape promote rape rates is in instances incorrectly seen as ambiguous, ie. when a girl is drunk and no violence is used. There, the rapist is able to convince himself that she gave implicit consent, so it’s not actually rape. And a significant portion of society condones this.

          But when someone is violently raped by a dedicated rapist, that rapist not thinking “it’s ok, I’ll rape because the patriarchy has by back!” The overwhelming response against violent rape is that of condemnation, by that very patriarchy you’re fighting.

          Similarly, getting rid of “thief culture” or “murder culture” will not stop theft or murder from happening, because there is no such culture. You might point to gang culture, but that is merely conducive to those crimes, not the fundamental cause. They are crimes not inspired by any culture, but by personal gain.

          We can have a conversation about mitigating all that oppression you’re talking about, but at the same time, take real-world precautions that achieve instant, tangible results. Changing a culture is much more difficult and time-consuming than simply not drinking so much and having situational awareness.

        • johnthebaddest

          ahh yes, idealism is great. Imagine there were no bad people.

          We should also get rid of cops because it implies crime is inevitable. With enough dialogue people just wouldn’t do bad things.

  • Aditya Rao

    That pie chart the author references? Here’s a variant I lifted off the interwebs.

    I hope this helps clear things up among those inclined to pontificate.

    • joe

      That’s cool. Except nobody here has suggested otherwise.

    • johnthebaddest

      You refuse to be aware of what the discussion is about and instead prop up straw men to knock down. Well done.

  • Raguel

    Hey babe, how much booze can you handle? I hope you don’t get raped. Such a smooth line, I’m sure it works every time.

  • Duke Ellington

    “Today I did not wake up realizing I would begin my week listening to a friend justify sexual assault, let alone in the comfort of my own university.”

    This was my other least favourite part of the article. ‘Comfort of my own university’? The university should be thee place where you hear alternate viewpoints and different ways of thinking, knowledge, debate, etc, especially viewpoints that differ from your own, be they good or bad. The silent comfort and homogeneity of opinions should be the last thing a fruitful university provides–including that from the people who go there. Mike sounds like a douche and he wasn’t funny.

    But, ANYTHING in the world can be funny. It’s true. That’s the beautiful and elusive nature of humour in itself. I can’t get over the nerve of someone (or group) telling me that [insert hot topic here] ISN’T funny. It’s a very stubborn [and naive] thing to say. Anything can be funny given a certain context [which actually funny people can give, not Mike]. It may not be funny to you, but it’s funny to some one.

    I’m not defending rape, I’m defending humour. Big difference.

  • Srosh Hassan

    Fantastic, informative, relevant, very well written.