Kristal Jones, a local comedian in Peterborough, recently found herself as the recipient of vicious sexual harassment and cyberbullying from another local comedian.
When she simply responded ‘Not funny’ to a rape joke he posted on his Facebook, she was met with a five-day public attack that attempted to shame and humiliate her for expressing that she doesn’t find that type of humour to be funny.
One of the main reasons Jones doesn’t find that type of humour to be funny is because she is a survivor of rape herself. She actually tried to express this to her would-be harasser in a private message, but rather than being sympathetic to her trauma, he decided to publicly attack her instead.
The attack included private messages, Facebook posts about rape that mocked her, tagged pictures about rape, comments that talked about raping her, and dedicating the song “Survivor” to her. All of this was made very public, and went on at her expense for five days.
For those who don’t consider this to be case of sexual harassment, think again. The Ontario Human Rights Code defines sexual harassment as ‘engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct that is known or ought to be known as unwelcome.”
Expanding on that notion, this case is also an undeniable account of cyberbullying.
The RCMP defines bullying as “an imbalance of power; where someone purposely and repeatedly says or does hurtful things to someone else.” Cyberbullying simply involves the use of communication technologies.
With these acknowledgements, the case in question should undeniably be considered an online attack. With that being said, however, this story is not actually about the attack in question, because it’s not actually the attack itself that truly bothered Jones.
“I want to be very clear, this person has not hurt my feelings at all and I really don’t care about his opinion. I have no value of this person and he has no power over how I feel about myself,” said Jones.
“I am really hurt by the response he’s gotten, though. It really hurts me that I’m a member of a community that will condone this. It hurts me that we have 49 mutual Facebook friends and none of them stood up for me. That’s what hurts me.” she said.
Jones’ story serves as another troubling instance in which a desensitized society allows this type of behaviour to go unaddressed. This heinous behaviour was justified by the mantra of “it’s just a joke; learn how to take a joke.”
There’s a very obvious difference between a joke and what occurred, which again, should be constituted as an absolute case of sexual harassment. It would seem that nobody saw this as sexual harassment, though, because the harassment was contextualized as just a joke; leading to the rhetorical question of whether we should be joking about rape in the first place.
According to Jeff Perera, the Community Engagement Manager for White Ribbon, “I don’t think there’s room for jokes in 2014. People still do it and there’s a group of people that still think it’s funny and don’t want to hear this, but the reality is that we’re in a society that’s moving more and more towards calling that out.”
White Ribbon is a campaign for men and boys to be actively engaged in ending violence against women and girls. The campaign believes that men must part of the solution and part of a future that is safe and equitable for all people.
This sentiment has seemingly resonated with Jones following the incident. “This might not be popular to say, but I think there is an extra responsibility on men to speak up and speak out against things like this. We all have a responsibility, but that responsibility falls on some of our shoulders a little bit heavier.”
The reason this may fall heavier on mens’ shoulders is because rape jokes are centralized around the ideas of masculinity and the implementation of power. It’s about being the alpha male.
To be a man in this society, it’s argued, you have to prove you’re not a woman. The concept of rape, in its joking form, may be seen that way for men. When a man jokes about rape, it metaphorically means that men are dominant and will always be in control.
According to Perera, “[rape jokes] come with the title of alpha male; they’re oblivious and they feel immortal. They don’t get it and they don’t care to get it. For them, the idea is that they’re untouchable and that they’re above it all. A lot of guys don’t really think about these issues and don’t think about how there can be a solution to this stuff.”
These issues do need a solution, however, and many argue that joking about rape also creates a societal environment where rape and sexual violence aren’t taken as serious issues. In a culture where rape jokes aren’t considered to be a serious infraction, the very concept of rape becomes normalized and members of society become desensitized to the heinous realities associated with it.
Betty Wondimu, the Women’s Issues Commissioner at Trent University and a coordinator for the Consent Week that took place on campus last week, weighed in on the issue.
“[Rape jokes] form an inherited justification of sexual violence. By brushing it off and undermining it, it gives it even further power. Language is a powerful tool, and the way we use it can create an oppressive environment. Jokes use everyday language that undermine the actual heinous effects of rape. Joking is making fun of something to lighten the mood and give it a positive light. Can we joke about rape though? Is there a positive light to it? I don’t believe so.”
Another coordinator of Consent Week, Boykin Smith: TCSA Vice President of Campaigns & Equity, also added to the conversation.
“It undermines a survivor, it undermines what they went through and it undermines that they’re coming forward and saying something. Jokes make it so that society doesn’t actually believe what [survivors] are saying, and they make light of what [survivors] actually could have gone through. People actually make fun of when survivors come forward and present their issues to the public.”
Even with these acknowledgements, there are those that continue to defend these as simple, harmless jokes, and many still continue to associate rape jokes as another form of shock comedy. The argument is made that there is no difference between joking about rape and joking about cancer, for instance.
There is a very real difference between the two, however, and it couldn’t be put any clearer than by what Jones had to say on the matter.
“The difference between telling tasteless jokes about cancer and tasteless jokes about rape is that you don’t create more cancer by joking about it, but you do create more rape by joking about it. It’s a fact. It’s a case where it’s not taken seriously, and it affirms it to people. Rapists are made.”
She continued, “It’s the rape environment, it’s the media, it’s the comedians making jokes about these situations and affirming their thought process which is apparently no big deal. Women are jokes and vulnerable people are jokes and it’s not a big deal if you take over this situation, because it’s just a joke to take somebody’s power. It makes me angry.”
These jokes continue to exist because of the failure of society to acknowledge the corrosiveness of these sentiments. ‘It’s just a joke’ directly and causally leads to a culture that condones sexual harassment and sexual violence. It’s as simple as that.
White Ribbon has recently engaged in a campaign that aims to engage directly with this derogative humour, called ‘Where do you draw the line?’ The campaign challenges common myths about sexual violence and equips bystanders with information on how to intervene safely and effectively.
Until we find ourselves in the desired state of equality, it must be acknowledged that everybody has a responsibility in fighting against this. You can’t sit in a progressive space and then absolve yourself of action because you don’t want to get involved.
Inaction is an action against progress, and if you don’t feel the need to speak out against sexual harassment, it means that you’ve never actually walked a mile in a victim’s shoes.