It happens every day. In fact, it is pretty hard to avoid it. There are some things that can only be understood with a slap on the forehead. Things so mind-boggling that one wonders how humans managed to evolve thumbs while being this mentally inept. Case in point:
Salon’s Jenny Kutner does not like jokes about rape. Specifically, she does not like jokes made about women. So when she attended a birthday party and a man told a joke about rape, Kutner did not find it funny. Of course, she did not say anything to the man. Instead:
[…] I leaned over to another relative and whispered, “Glad rape jokes are still in vogue.” I pulled out my phone and fired off some similar snark for Twitter, then went inside to eat some more salami.
You see, Kutner is a feminist, and as a feminist she finds it unethical to tell jokes about raping women. Her dislike of such humor is well known to her friends and family, so one of them informed the man that Kutner was a feminist. According to Kutner:
About 10 minutes later, when everyone was back in the kitchen filling their plates with food, the rape joke-teller stopped me as I passed him on my way to the dining room. “Hey,” he said, “someone pulled me aside to say that you’re a big feminist, so you probably didn’t appreciate my joke. I want to apologize.” He went on to say that rape is never funny, and that he knows people who have been sexually assaulted and that he would never want to make fun of their trauma. All in all, the jokester said some pretty enlightened things. But then he finished his remarks by saying something about how he was just joking, but he really hoped he didn’t offend me too much. He asked for a hug to let him know I had truly accepted his apology, to show that I knew he wasn’t a bad guy. I relented.
In most situations, that would be the end of the story. Someone did something that most people would find inappropriate, but hardly an issue. Yet when the person discovers that someone took offense, they apologize.That would be enough for most people. For a feminist like Kutner, however, it creates a new set of issues. For instance:
Immediately, I felt like an asshole and a coward for allowing myself to be hugged. I was being disingenuous. I did not want to hug this person, who frankly I found very obnoxious, or forgive him for saying something awful. He engaged in the sort of behavior I criticize professionally, committed the sort of microaggression that I believe to be at the root of why we condone violence against women.
Let us stop there and re-read what Kutner said the man did. She stated:
“Hey,” he said, “someone pulled me aside to say that you’re a big feminist, so you probably didn’t appreciate my joke. I want to apologize.” He went on to say that rape is never funny, and that he knows people who have been sexually assaulted and that he would never want to make fun of their trauma. All in all, the jokester said some pretty enlightened things. But then he finished his remarks by saying something about how he was just joking, but he really hoped he didn’t offend me too much. He asked for a hug to let him know I had truly accepted his apology, to show that I knew he wasn’t a bad guy.
Where is the microaggression? Is apologizing now a microaggression? Is stating that one’s intent was not to offend now a microaggression? Is asking for a hug just to make sure everything is settled now a microaggression?
He really, really upset me—but what upset me more was that he and I both knew I was alone. That’s why he apologized to me and no one else—because I’m the “big feminist,” and so it’s my responsibility to get pissed when someone tells a rape joke at a dinner party.
No, that does not seem like his reason for apologizing. As Kutner explains:
The fact that I am always the one to get pissed floated through my mind as I agreed to give the rape joke-teller his hug. This is why I felt like a coward: because I’m not, usually. I always make a scene, am always alone in making a scene, always alienate people around me because I can’t just chill out and take a joke. On Thanksgiving, I stormed out of the room in tears because I thought everyone around the dinner table was blaming domestic violence survivors for their assaults. My beliefs are often announced dramatically.
Kutner overreacts to such a degree that she bursts into tears when she thinks people are talking negatively about domestic violence victims. Therefore, one could conclude that the reason this man apologized was to avoid Kutner making a scene, as she admits she normally does. A person who reacts like that usually makes people uncomfortable, but Kutner has a different explanation for why people fear her:
And I’ve found that my readiness to self-identify as a feminist often does to me what people fearful of the label think it will do to them: It separates me, makes me different and sometimes it makes people scared of me. Or, it singles me out as the one person in the room who can absolve people of their own ignorance and sexism, though I hate to say that’s not usually why I go to parties.
No, it appears the reason people separate themselves from Kutner is because they are afraid of how she will react to relatively benign things as a result of her feminist ideology.
Yet Kutner remains confusticated and bebothered:
What I find confounding about this trend of people apologizing to me—and, if I haven’t made it clear, this is a trend—is that people usually know why they should be “scared” I might step in as the token feminist spokesperson. They know exactly what they have to apologize for. It seems they choose to apologize to me because they know I’m most likely to find whatever it is they’ve said to be repellent, but the decision to say sorry requires them to see something offensive in their own comments.
No, it does not. As any submissive person will tell you, sometimes apologizing when you have done nothing wrong helps diffuse a tense situation, particularly when dealing with someone prone to angry outbursts.
People don’t apologize to me about their rape jokes because I’m a mean person who’s prone to fits of unintelligible rage […]
Yes, they do. Kutner just stated, ” I always make a scene, am always alone in making a scene, always alienate people around me because I can’t just chill out and take a joke. On Thanksgiving, I stormed out of the room in tears because I thought everyone around the dinner table was blaming domestic violence survivors for their assaults. My beliefs are often announced dramatically.”
That is a plain admission by Kutner that she, in layman terms, loses her shit whenever someone says something she does not like. But:
[…]but because they know they’ve said something insensitive, sexist and problematic. I guess that’s better than people being totally, genuinely oblivious to their own sexism, but it’s also a sign of willful stupidity. It is, I suppose, what we call “a start.” It’s OK. It’s better than nothing.
No, it is not. It is people reacting in fear to whatever insanity is about to come out of Kutner’s mouth. There is a word to describe the type of a person who continually antagonizes everyone with pity complaints, and Kutner admitted to feeling like one.
I do try to avoid being unpleasant, but there is no other way to explain this. Kutner, you are an asshole. It is alright. There is help for you. There are ways to address this problem. However, this is not one of them:
But you know what would be better than “better than nothing”? People not laughing at rape jokes or even cracking smiles. Party guests thinking it’s not appropriate to tell rape jokes in the first place, or to even call them “jokes” at all. Acquaintances not tiptoeing around the “big feminist” after they decide to say something stupid, when they would otherwise make rape jokes without a second thought if the big feminist weren’t there.
No, you do not get to decide what jokes people get to make. If you are offended, then, as a friend of mine says, that sounds like a personal problem. No one has a responsibility to anticipate your sensitivity or make sure your ideological feelings are not hurt. If your ideological beliefs are messing with your ability to socialize with others to the point that people feel the need to change their behavior around you because of how poorly you will react, the others are not the problems; you are.
Let me make this simple: imagine Kutner were a fundamentalist Christian and the man at the party told a joke about Jesus. Would anyone have a responsibility to dance around Kutner’s religious beliefs? No. They get to make the joke, and Kutner gets to not laugh.
Those are high hopes, apparently, so here is something I can settle for: I would love for people to stop apologizing to me for their rape jokes, and instead go apologize to someone else—preferably, someone who laughed.
No, you do not get to tell people what they can find funny, either. It interesting that someone like me who experienced almost two decades of abuse can handle rape jokes, but feminists cannot because of “reasons.” I freely admit getting sodomized toughened up my pucker hole, but not by that much. If I could handle rape jokes as I was being raped as a child, I think Kutner can manage hearing them as an adult in a safe space.
But she continues playing the victim:
If jokesters do still feel the need to apologize to me, the one who’s “different,” I would like them to consider how different we really are. Do they consider sexual assault to be funny, or do they consider it to be a serious problem that 1 in 6 women will face in her lifetime? I would like them to think long and hard about what it is that they’re apologizing for. I would like them to think about what is funny about rape.
Firstly, I would like to thank Kutner for completely erasing male victims. It is always nice to remember that feminists do not we do not count as rape victims.
Secondly, it is a joke. Do I actually think it is funny that my youngest brother was made to perform oral sex on my father? No. Do I think it is funny that when he, my other brother, and I were children and were made to do such things that my youngest brother would wipe off my father’s penis, not because he did not like came out of it, but because he did not want to taste our spit? Yes. It was absolutely hilarious, particularly when he said “I don’t want to taste your spit” and immediately goes down, but could not do it right because he could not stop laughing (Just to recap from my brother’s perspective: semen, fine; urine; fine; brothers’ spit, not fine.) And it is all the funnier since he continues to wipe off anything we share with him. Keep in mind, we used to kiss each other, so he has already had our spit in his mouth. It is so funny that even he giggles when he does it, looks at us, and says, “Every time.” (Incidentally, my father did not find it funny, and my other brother and I got in trouble.)
The reason offensive jokes are funny is because people abhor the acts being described. We know it is wrong; that is why we joke about it.
But there was still something about being the victim Kutner needed to share:
Then, I would like them to encourage other people to do the same when a different jokester makes a crack about violence against women, or women being objects or anything involving women making sandwiches. Maybe there won’t need to be a big feminist on the sidelines; instead there can be one right at the center of the conversation.
Yes, because what people need is a humorless, snarky, Jon-Stewart wanna-be ruining everyone’s social gathering by micromanaging people’s language and making a scene because someone said something that offended her precious feminist sensibilities, which incidentally do not extend to male victims of sexual and domestic violence.
Or as Kutner likely says to the mirror every morning: