Sorry Not Sorry: Why I’m Not Laughing at Your “Just a Joke”
A lot of the articles I’ve written for Feminspire have revolved around rape culture and its recent manifestations, but I’m not going to apologize for continuing this conversation. I have one thing to say, and while I have referenced this concept and seen this concept referenced time and time again, I need to say it and have it clearly be heard: It’s not just a joke.
Everything we talk about on this website, in our social circles, in our arguments, and beyond – it’s not just a joke. In patriarchal efforts to redefine rape and sexual assault, much of the silencing we face in our combative measures is through those four words: “It’s just a joke.” Usually prefaced with a word or expression synonymous to “relax,” this phrase is consistently being used to derail efforts to bring light to serious issues facing marginalized communities.
Rape is not a joke. Sexual assault is not a joke. Any type of sex or sexual activity that was not consensual is not a joke. Denoting things as “gay” in order to uphold supremacist societal norms is not a joke. You did not, by any means, “rape” that “gay” test. You did, however, help contribute to a stronger rape culture and homophobic status quo with the comment you just made. Congratulations.
My problem is, why do I have to tell you this? Why do I have to tell people this? Why is me being angry about a commercial or TV show that objectifies women or perpetuates rape culture something that I need to “relax” about because “that obviously was not the point”? Even if the direct intention was not to do so, objectification and representations of male dominance are internalized mechanisms of putting women and other marginalized folks in a place inferior to men and those who have societal capital.
The conversations and discourses continue to be halted by silencing those who refuse to accept this type of “humor.” Making offhand offensive comments, especially those about rape, is not okay. Survivors say this. Minorities say this. The oppressed say this. I say this, and we say this. And we get to define what you are and are not allowed to say about the issues that face our communities. We say that rape is not and will never be “just a joke.” We say that violence and prejudice against communities based on their sexual orientation and gender identity will never be “just a joke.”
If we are ever going to try and progress internal, societal, and institutional change for increasingly marginalized communities, we need to eradicate phrases like “it’s just a joke.” Because that simple phrase is being used to victim blame, slut shame, and attack those who have already been attacked. That phrase itself is telling survivors to be silent and that phrase is one that delegitimizes the harsh realities of sexual violence and homophobia that need to be exposed. The world we live in is unsafe – especially for those without privilege. Stop telling me to relax. Stop telling me to “have a sense of humor.” I have a great sense of humor. This, however, is not comedy. This is misogyny, sexism, heterosexism, and homophobia. These are issues that need to not be normalized by constant problematic attempts at comedy. When we talk about attacks against these communities, specifically in cases of sexual assault, the conversation needs to be controlled by those closest to the issue and those who understand this has never been, is not, and will never be just a joke.
Written by Anisha Ahuja