I want to preface this post by saying everyone messes up. We all say things without thinking. We say things that are hurtful, offensive, or just plain stupid. To me, what’s important is what happens next. Do we try to listen and understand and decide whether or not to be more mindful in the future? Do we get defensive? Do we go on the attack?
Last week, Tarol Hunt (creator of the Goblins webcomic) posted on Twitter:
As most anyone could have predicted, there was backlash to the idea — even in jest — that gosh, wouldn’t it be nice to have sex without having to worry about that silly old consent business? Because a disgusting number of people genuinely believe consent is nothing but an obstacle to be overcome by any means necessary.
Hunt followed up by explaining how it was just a joke, and you can’t really hypnotize someone to force them to have sex against their will. Also, “…hypnosis + sex = rape. This is true in the same way that killing NPCs in WoW = murder.”
My clueless. Let me show you it.
The thing is, pretty much everyone got that this was meant as a joke. I don’t think anyone believed Hunt was seriously planning to become a hypnorapist. The fact that it’s a joke isn’t the point.
From what I can tell, he did start listening and trying to understand. He apologized to anyone he offended in a blog post a few days later, and acknowledged that he was being insensitive. But he also kept up the defensive “no person on the planet has ever been forced into sex via hypnosis” bit, and brought up questions like why his hypnosis joke was triggering but not the rapist character from his comic? (Answer: the rapist character doesn’t make rape into a joke, or feed into the attitude that consent is an irksome obstacle to be overcome.)
His second blog post suggests, to me, that he’s working on it. He’s still stumbling, but I think he’s trying to listen and understand.
Penny Arcade posted a comic last August in which they referenced slaves “being raped to sleep by Dickwolves.” Once again, there was backlash. Once again, the immediate response was, “It’s just a joke,” with an added helping of “You’re stupid to be offended” as seen in their follow-up comic: It’s possible you read our cartoon and became a rapist as a direct result…
They didn’t get it. Unlike Hunt, Penny Arcade had zero interest in understanding why people were upset. Instead, they promptly turned around and began selling Dickwolves T-shirts and pennants. Essentially, they declared open season on those who felt offended by humor about rape, and their supporters gleefully jumped into the fray.
Folks like TeamRape on Twitter were upset that the mean people were trying to censor Penny Arcade’s Freedom of Speech. (A PA blog post notes that this is bullshit. “[S]he is not censoring us, she has not stripped away our freedom of speech.”) DickWolvington (account now deleted) attacked rape survivors, demanding proof they were really raped. PA continued to make a joke of it all, on Twitter and elsewhere. There’s more. Timeline here if you’re interested.
I don’t believe PA intended to offend or hurt anyone with the original comic. But once people began saying, “Hey, this isn’t cool,” PA’s response was a big old “Fuck you.” Having been told that people were upset by the comic, PA deliberately set out to do it again.
Everyone messes up. Everyone, sooner or later, says something that offends another person. When that happens, you have choices. You can assume that person is an idiot who just likes being offended, and mock them for it. Or you can try to listen and understand why this person took offense. Maybe you’ll agree with them, maybe you won’t.
Personally, I find Hunt’s “joke” more distasteful than PA’s original comic. But PA’s response has been despicable, ignorant, and deliberately hurtful.
If you’re talking about rape, even as a joke, and someone confronts you about it, you might consider:
- Rape is one of the most common and most underreported crimes.
- Most people don’t choose to take offense just for the fun of it.
- Our society treats rape survivors like shit.
To Penny Arcade, I say no, your comic did not magically transform readers into rapists. But your actions did encourage people to mock and disbelieve rape survivors. You encouraged people to joke about rape, about the concerns of people who have been raped and people fighting to end it. You belittled people who are damn tired of rape being treated as nothing but a joke.
Thanks for making things that much harder for rape survivors, and for those of us doing our damnedest to try to put an end to rape.