On Rape Jokes and Normalizing Assault
A few people have commented on this part of yesterday’s blog post about sexual assault and excuses:
And then you have the guys who say they’ve never heard such things. Really? Never? As common as sexual assault is in this country, you’ve never heard anyone boasting about a problematic encounter? Never heard anyone glorifying assault, talking about what they could do, what they could get away with? Never heard the jokes about getting women drunk in order to
get them into bed rape them?
I have no problem accepting that most people aren’t as blunt, vulgar, and obvious about such remarks as Trump was in that video clip. And I’m obviously not in any position to point out examples in people’s real lives. So instead, I figured I’d list some examples of this kind of boasting, glorification, and normalization from shows most of us are probably familiar with.
Let’s start with Avengers: Age of Ultron, wherein Tony Stark jokes, “I will be reinstituting prima nocta.” For those unfamiliar, prima nocta is the historical right of a lord to
have sex with rape any woman he chooses on her wedding night. But it’s not like Tony’s actually boasting about sexually assaulting women, right? It’s just a gross, sexist joke, isn’t it?
So how about the Big Bang Theory, where we see this “hilarious” scene of Howard using a remote control car with a video camera to look up Penny’s skirt. (This is one of many, many problematic examples from that particular show.)
Going back a little further to Friends, there’s an episode where Joey realizes his tailor has been sexually abusing him for years. Laugh track is included to make sure you know how hilarious this is. (There are plenty of other messed-up bits in this show as well, including the “Taking care of a drunk naked woman sounds like a job for Joey” line, followed by Joey starting off to do just that, only to be stopped by Chandler.)
The Harry Potter films never question the fact that Fred and George are selling what are, in essence, a magical date rape drug. When Ron is drugged by a love potion, it’s once again played for laughs, and never challenged or confronted.
How I Met Your Mother had Barney struggling with a Very Serious Problem: “How Can I Have Sex With Robin Again?” His solution? To get her drunk at Ted’s wedding. (This is one of many shows where, if you’ve watched it, then yes, you have heard the jokes about getting people drunk in order to
get past their unwillingness to have sex rape them.)
None of these are as blunt and vulgar as Trump’s quote. All of them normalize and minimize sexual harassment and/or assault. They suggest it’s normal for guys to not worry about pesky things like consent. They teach that the proper response to being sexually harassed is laughter and maybe mild, quickly-forgotten annoyance.
I can’t say what people see and hear — or don’t — in their day to day interactions with other people. Some of us are less social and outgoing than others, and hopefully we’ve mostly tried to surround ourselves with decent human beings. But as common and prevalent as this stuff is in our media and our culture, it’s hard for me to imagine never hearing any of it in real life.
October 14, 2016 @ 12:37 pm
Thank you. That prima nocta comment bugged the crap out of me, and shows how the line between, “kind of a jerk, but basically a good egg” and “creep creep not funny, creep” lands in very different places for (some) men than it does for (a lot of) women.
October 14, 2016 @ 1:08 pm
It extra bothered me because they used a different line in the trailers. The trailers of that bit had him saying something like “I will be fair but firmly cruel” which I liked. And then in the movie it’s a rape joke instead? Whut.
October 14, 2016 @ 1:51 pm
For me lately it’s been all the forced kissing. I don’t think anything is more normalized than the idea that you can just grab someone and kiss them, especially a woman. It still happens constantly in t.v. shows and movies, and the recipient is almost always happy about it in those fictional stories because it’s supposed to indicate passion and love instead of what it is — sexual assault. There was even a car commercial with a teen doing it. So a lot of women’s sexual assault stories are some guy, on a date or not, grabbing them and kissing them. It’s still about power with sex as the by-product — the person must accept your kiss and physical hold — but it’s the one that has been turned into the ultimate natural romance idea.
When I see older movies, you just have to shrug at forced kissing because nobody culturally ever brought the issue up. In fact, don’t re-watch some of your favorite old movies because wow, there are a lot of rape jokes. But nowadays when it occurs in something modern, I just wince. It’s not romantic, it’s not sexy, it’s just an attack and it ruins whatever love story is on-going. The mutual consenting kisses are easy to do and way better. But there still is this idea that it’s exciting when someone gets grabbed instead. And that just continually reinforces the idea that women particularly should not object to being grabbed and kissed if someone wants to do it to them. That there is no right to control your own body and what somebody does to it sexually.
And that’s really why so many are trying to normalize Trump’s stuff. Because how is it different from a movie scene where the man pushes the woman up against a wall and kisses her and she just melts, they think.
October 14, 2016 @ 2:14 pm
You know, I don’t even mind the Tony Stark joke, because it’s about a hypothetical that is so farcical, nobody can possibly think he’s serious. The other examples you give, Jim, are about things that actually happen, abuses that actually occur and are then treated as if they’re funny rather than serious. I can deal with ironic joking about sexism where we’re clearly supposed to hear it as a joke.
October 14, 2016 @ 2:26 pm
One example that horrifies me is the movie “Get Him to the Greek.” Jonah Hill’s character is sexually assaulted at least twice and it is played for laughs each time. One is when Russel Brand’s character forces him to hide illicit drugs in his ass, and then forcibly removes them when Jonah Hill refuses to give them back. The other is when a woman (she’s drunk, I believe) sticks a dildo in his anus. In that scene, he actually screams something like “Why does this keep happening?” The answer to his question: rape culture, that’s why.
October 14, 2016 @ 3:28 pm
But it’s not really funny, either.
Like, here’s a rich white dude we’re supposed to think is the ultimate cool guy saying that if he were king, he’d take up raping virgin women. Fine, we don’t believe it (I guess), but I’m… not sure how that’s a party.
October 14, 2016 @ 3:41 pm
I hate how women assaulting men is almost always laughed off because either:
a) Men must want the attention, right? All men want sex all the time, so any woman touching them must be good. (Awful example of this in Buffy where Giles is molested by a group of female vampires, clearly finds it upsetting, and the only follow up is a laugh line from Xander about how lucky Giles is.)
b) The woman is not conventionally attractive (usually old and/or fat, as in not 22 and size zero), and isn’t it hilarious that she still wants to have sex with anyone, poor guy who gets groped by gross people! (Where the angst is not the unwanted touching, but the unwanted touching by someone unattractive.)
And, yeah, all those getting women drunk jokes, and all the sneaking around to see women naked scenes (and sometimes men, but not as often).
Movies that have not aged well, but I’ve been thinking of: Crocodile Dundee, where he’s hit on by a trans woman (? Man in fishy drag? Unclear?), and then wanders around grabbing women between the legs to make sure that real women are hitting on him. It’s the kind of thing I’d hope wouldn’t fly in movies today, but trans people are depressingly fair game still.
Basically everything Jay from Kevin Smith movies says, ever.
October 14, 2016 @ 4:16 pm
I want to follow this up with by mentioning a series which, as far as I see, handles these issues in a much better way. It’s the YouTube webseries “Most Popular Girls In School.” Yes, the show is incredibly crass and crude, but as far as I have seen (two episodes into the third season) it does not make a habit of characters violating others’ consent and making it into a joke. Two examples come to mind.
In the second episode, a boy and girl are making out, and the girl repeatedly says “Stop!” AND THE BOY STOPS. INSTANTLY. EVERY TIME. It’s always followed up with her saying “Go!” or something, and they resume kissing, but that right there sets the tone for how the show will handle consent. One person says “no,” and the other respects that. Those two characters are complete idiots and earn a lot of laughs as a result, yet never by sacrificing their sexual agency or consent.
In another scene one or two seasons later, a character is struggling to figure out whether or not he’s gay. He has, on multiple occasions before this particular episode, been really pervy with other male characters, and gets called out on it each time. This time, he takes it a step further and forcibly kisses another gay male character. The other guys are initially stunned, but when the guy who was forcibly kissed shoves the aggressor away and calls him out on his disgusting behavior, the other characters back up the victim. One straight up says “Hey, that’s assault!” to the aggressor. They also don’t shame anyone for their sexual orientation, which is so refreshing. (There are one or two stereotypical, effeminate gay guys, though. I’m not sure how I feel about that portrayal.)
Anyway, if this crass show doesn’t violate its characters’ consent for the sake of a joke, yet still be hilarious, surely more “refined” entertainment can do the same.
October 14, 2016 @ 6:09 pm
I can think of numerous examples in movies and TV I consumed while growing up, even in lighthearted comedies like Young Frankenstein. That was a while ago now, but I’m sure it had an impact on how people of my generation thought about rape and consent. Sadly, modern movies and television continue this tradition without identifying it as sexual assault or examining the impact or consequences.
October 14, 2016 @ 6:12 pm
I watched Police Academy again recently and was annoyed by the fact the ‘good guy’ Mahoney is casually standing watching the women in the shower and drinking a beer and it seems he only gets punished because Captain Harris was embarrassed to have been caught watching the women – not because he was violating the women’s privacy.
October 14, 2016 @ 11:11 pm
Really good point, and also, excellent use of Black Widow quote. 🙂
October 15, 2016 @ 6:04 pm
Thank you for this discussion over both posts.
October 15, 2016 @ 10:44 pm
Yuck. I can still remember the scene in Porky’s where the guys were spying on the girls in the shower (through a hole in the wall). Definitely creeper behavior, though people tend to think it’s harmless and silly when teenagers do it. It’s not like teenaged boys ever actually commit rape and post it on You Tube or anything (sarcasm intended here).
October 16, 2016 @ 12:43 pm
Hotel Transylvania, a movie for kids, basically has a long-running “joke” about how invisible people can get away with sexually assaulting people at will, and it’s really funny. I hate it.
October 17, 2016 @ 9:55 am
Male-male rape isn’t usually presented as a bad thing either, usually. It’s either a learning experience (look, the sexist discovers that Rape Is Bad and Rape Culture Is a Thing) or justice (he’ll only do six months for that crime, but at least he’ll be raped in prison a lot). Or there’s Hot Tub Time Machine 2 in which public anal rape is presented as wacky comedy.
Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little
October 17, 2016 @ 1:53 pm
The shit icing on that particular sexual assault cake is, the forced kissing is often perpetrated while the victim of it is speaking. It is literally using sexual assault to silence a woman.
“Shut up and kiss me” can be a romantic thing to say, because, however “rudely” it may be phrased, the speaker is explicitly granting permission for the kiss. (And the person they’re speaking to can always say “no” to either the “shut up” or the “kiss me.”) Forcibly shutting up a woman by kissing her without her consent is another beast entirely, and should never, ever be considered romantic
Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little
October 17, 2016 @ 1:59 pm
And then the people who have no sympathy for the guy who got raped in prison because “he got what was coming to him”–they imagine this makes them Tough On Crime, but they forget that, for prison rape to exist and be condoned like that, there are convicts in the prison who are given free reign to rape people. So how are the designated abusers “getting what’s coming to them,” Mr. Tough On Crime?
(Setting aside for the moment the real possibility that some of the rapists are prison staff rather than inmates; it’s male-on-male inmate-on-inmate violence that the public approving the rape as “what’s coming to him” are imagining.)
October 21, 2016 @ 9:21 am
Bit of Latin nerd pedantry: it’s jus primae noctis (right/law of first night.) (Just plain “first night” would be prima nox.) Wikipedia has more and says there’s no evidence that it actually existed in medieval Europe.
But, yeah, it’s a creepy, especially from someone who is (in the movie, at least) rich enough and powerful enough to actually do something like that and get away with it.
FWIW, I always found Tony Stark (in the movies) kind of repulsive, anyway. Arrogant and conceited and a spoiled brat. Sort of like Trump. Were viewers supposed to like or even identify with him?
October 21, 2016 @ 5:25 pm
Jonah Hill uses this a LOT — that movie where he’s sent to kill Kim Jong Un, he has to stick something plot-important and giant in his butt and crawl across land mines and tigers with it there.
It’s always unfunny even by the “standards” of this type of “humor”.
October 21, 2016 @ 5:26 pm
Or was that Seth Rogen? I can never tell those two apart.
October 30, 2016 @ 3:38 pm
This, exactly. I cannot understand why anyone would think that’s romantic. It is silencing AND sexual assault. It is like someone tried to come up with the most offensive, disgusting combination of two crimes commonly perpetrated by men against women.
And we are supposed to think it’s romantic.
I totally get why many people say they hate everything “romantic”.