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November 15, 2011

How do you handle rape jokes on Twitter?

We want to share an incident that happened to us on Twitter last night because we think it raises some important issues. Yes, we know, try to contain your shock that we would speak out about something and get ourselves into trouble, but in this case we felt it was something worth saying. To be clear, we're not trying to call this person out or shame them publicly or whatever by blogging about this, we're trying to get at the larger issues involved. (We thought about blurring out her name in our screenshots but we realized that it would be really easy to go to our Twitter and figure it out in about two seconds, so we didn't.) But we're not encouraging anyone to contact her or anything like that, we just want to talk about the situation.

Here's what happened. We were checking Twitter when we saw this tweet pop up in our stream:

It was late and I was a little tired, so I had to read this tweet over about five times just to confirm that yes, she was comparing paying $13 for parking to "getting raped". We decided to address it because we feel like rape jokes are never funny and making light of rape is really not okay, but we tried to be polite about it:

This was her reply to us:

We're not sure if this was just her way of saying 'I can say whatever I want' or if she was trying to somehow argue that it was okay for her to use the word rape because we use the word slut. We understand and respect that there are legitimate arguments against reclaiming words like slut, but we don't think that's really comparable to making inappropriate comments about rape. But no matter which way she meant it, we quickly realized that we weren't going to have any kind of productive conversation with her about it. (At the same time that this was happening, someone else also replied to her and jokingly said that they didn't see what "penetrative and oral sex" had to do with parking, and her reply was "$13 is outrageous at emergency".) We decided to just unfollow her and drop it, so we replied one more time to tell her that we were unfollowing and why.

As far as we were concerned it was over at that point. We were going to unfollow her and figured that she would probably unfollow us too. Well, it turns out that while we were writing that second (and last) reply to her, she not only unfollowed us but also blocked us. This seemed a little excessive to us considering that we had only tweeted at her once at that point. It's not like we had gone on some 50 tweet long 'angry feminist' rant or tried to give her a lecture on Rape Culture 101 and she had to block us to shut us up. In fact, it turned out that she was the one who wasn't done discussing it (read up from the bottom):

Ah, the good old "PC Police" argument. It seems a little weird in this context, though. It's not like we were talking to her about cultural appropriation or some other 'liberal cause'. We were asking her not to compare something as serious as rape to something as trivial as the price of parking. That doesn't seem like a massive stretch of the boundaries of political correctness.

She still wasn't done. In fact, the next tweet was so long that it needed help from TwitLonger:

Like we said above, we understand that some people are going to find our name offensive and that's fine. (Although again, we object to the idea that it's offensive in the same way that using the word rape can be offensive.) But it's kind of funny that it apparently didn't bother her when she followed us on Twitter in the first place, and is only a problem now because we called out something that she said. It's also a little problematic to tell someone who complained about a rape-related comment to "get fucked".

At this point the other guy who had commented on her original tweet made the mistake of trying to defend us a little bit and got a multi-tweet answer for his trouble:

It's interesting to us that she kept insisting that we were "policing" her or "forcing our ideas" on her because we tweeted at her once and politely asked that she not make light of rape. And that's exactly what she was doing even though she claims she wasn't - comparing rape to something as inconsequential as paying 13 bucks at a parking garage is pretty much the definition of making light of rape. We're also confused by her comment that "nobody minds" jokes about Jews - actually we do mind, and so do a lot of other people, and if we saw an anti-Semitic joke in our Twitter stream we would call that out too. It just seemed like a strange defense to us to say that other kinds of offensive jokes are tolerated by some people so rape jokes should be too.

She continued to reference the incident while talking to other people about totally unrelated topics, saying things like "just my humble uneducated opinion...in case anyone wanted to jump in and PC the convo" and "Rent is this city is ridiculous (don't compare it to any kind of sexual act though) #eyeroll". (Rape is NOT a "sexual act"!) We never tried to tweet at her again after our second tweet and we also didn't reference it on our twitter again in any way. To us her reaction seems like a case of protesting too much, but obviously we're biased.

We feel like what we said must have affected her since she kept talking and talking and talking about it. In fact, we might not have addressed this at all if she hadn't reacted so strongly and gone on at such length about her right to make rape jokes on Twitter. But we're curious about what other people think and if anyone else has experienced something like this. Was she right that we should have just quietly unfollowed her without saying anything? How do you handle it when you hear someone making rape jokes (or jokes that are racist, homophobic, etc.) or comments that make light of rape? We'd love to hear some feedback on this one.


Anonymous said...

Methinks she doth protest too much.

Anonymous said...

Methinks she doth protest too much. I think there's nothing wrong with voicing your comment that you found her "joke" inappropriate and was not appreciated. Apparently someone can't take criticism, can't let things go, can't see when they're being hypocritical... etc. Clearly you struck a nerve with her and her 50 "followers"

Persephone said...

You handled this well. No sense in getting in a tweet war with ignorant people.

And in cases like that, I also speak up, much like you did. Rape is not funny, and not something that should ever be taken lightly.

The sad thing is that people like this woman just don't understand how traumatic and violent rape is. I hope they never do find out. But I also hope they open their eyes and realize that comparing rape into something as innocuous as price gouging starts desensitizing society to this vicious act.

We are all horrified by the pedophilia case at Penn State. And it is horrific. But we should all be equally horrified by each case of rape. It is brutal and scars the victim in all sorts of ways for life.

I once served on a jury at the trial of a serial rapist. It was soul crushing hearing the sobbing testimony of the victims paraded before us.

I'll wrap up my rant... in closing, rape is too awful an act to use in such a nonchalant way.

LS said...

One of my core beliefs is that nothing should be completely off the table as a subject of humor. This puts me severely at odds with many of my friends who care (as I do) about the prevalence of rape culture in our society.

Despite that sentiment, your response did not seem inappropriate to me in the slightest. You expressed yourself politely and clearly. Nothing you said should have made anyone feel defensive. You did not accuse her of being a rape apologist, tell her she was helping rapists by normalizing their heinous crime, nor even did you even even say she was wrong.

All you did was ask that she not compare overpriced parking to rape.

If we can't handle such extremely polite dissent, how are we supposed to have any meaningful dialogue on any subject ever?

Anonymous said...

I'm getting the feeling this happens to her a lot and she's created a fantasy world where she's OMG! Oppressed and fighting the good fight against the meanies that cruelly ask people to be excellent to each other.

In this situation "PC Police" means "decent human beings" and if asking someone to be a decent human being is too much to handle then they are doing something horribly wrong.

Melissa said...

Even people who don't participate in social justice movements (and may even think social justice movements are silly) get really offended if they're accused of being part of the problem. Like how so many white people think racism is no big deal as long as it's not like overtly shouting something about white power, but that being CALLED a racist (or having it pointed out that something you said or did was racist) is like THE WORST THING THAT COULD HAPPEN TO A PERSON EVER. I think this is that same kind of mentality.

sophia said...

fuck her!

Yandie, Goddess of Pickles. said...

I think that was handled well.. I can't offhand recall if I've had to deal with rape jokes on Twitter. I'm only getting comfortable with calling people out so it's likely that I got squicked and shuddered quietly. I have unfollowed a few people for overtly misogynist or rape-culture-supporting "humour"

Anonymous said...

It is ridiculous how you can take a comment like the one she made and call it a "Joke" about rape. Shame on you for twisting her words into something it clearly wasn't.
She was obviously referring to the parking fee which is not a joke.
When the Fuck did you become the PC police for people on twitter?
What is really sad is she has more people reading her true blog than you do on your FOX news style muck slinging.
Time to hang up your blogging pens if this is how you continue to twist peoples words because people will discontinue to read your posts.

LS said...


Writing in the third person doesn't convince anyone, @Maniacalmom.


Anonymous - First, we have to thank you for comparing us to Fox News. Definitely our best laugh of the day.

Your defense of ManiacalMom is a bit confusing. You say that we twisted her words, which we didn't do. We directly quoted exactly what she said.

You say that her comment wasn't a joke - okay, what was it then? A serious rape comparison? We assume you mean that it wasn't a joke (or a comment or a complaint or whatever you want to call it) about rape, it was a joke about parking fees. But she chose to express her displeasure about the fee by comparing it to being raped, and in doing so she made light of rape and that's the problem. (We do concede that it wasn't a "joke" in the sense that it wasn't funny at all.)

We understand that some people feel like 'it's a just a joke' or 'she was just venting, what's the big deal?'. We would encourage you to read the Rape Culture 101 post that we linked to in the blog for a better understanding of why these things matter.

Tess said...

So ManiacalMom goes off the charts, into full fledged maniacal territory because you tweeted one very polite comment at her. That pretty much tells me what I need to know about her.

What has shocked me more, and along the same lines is Whack Magazine's article about Exxxotica in which the writer, after making this lovely joke "... started sucking like it was the last chicken bone given to a black family moving on up in Mississippi, (or mankind)" (we've been told it's okay, it can't be racist as they writer is a woman of color, m'okay) devolved further with this rapey joke, "... computer screen in your basement does this exxxotic goddess no justice, I mean even the Special Victims Unitm (SVU) wouldn’t arrest you if you tried to sexually assault her."

I'm still floored and even more astounded that Whack didn't really see the issue with that "joke." The fact that they give their writers freedom is commendable to a degree. They gave this woman freedom and she made herself, and them by extension, look like insensitive jackasses who find rape humorous. This is not satire, it is not funny. It is, in fact, deplorable.

To be clear, it is not cool, funny or clever to make jokes about rape. Ever.

The article can be found here - http://www.whackmagazine.com/2011/11/13/exxxotica-nj-2011-in-raunchy-retrospect-%E2%80%94-%E2%80%9Cthe-fans-are-the-ones-who-keep-this-motorboat-afloat%E2%80%9D/ should you want to read it for yourself.

Mandassassin said...

Ugh. It bothers me when people seem to think "freedom of speech" means "freedom from criticism". Yeah, you can make whatever arse-ish joke/comment you want to; however, you have to accept that other people may call you on it. It seems to me that @Manaicalmom realizes on some level that she messed up and is attempting to resolve the cognitive dissonance of "I'm a good person" with "I said a hurtful thing" by excessively and viciously denying that it wasn't a good thing to say. If one is supposed to shrug off people tweeting comments with which one doesn't agree, you'd think that someone with that philosophy wouldn't continue bringing it up and bringing it up in her own tweets.

Jezebel said...

Tess, thanks for bringing up that Whack Magazine article. Those jokes were horrible and it was so disappointing that they didn't even try to understand why people might be offended.

Anonymous said...

i recently dealt with something similar on facebook. It had to do with abortion and was a picture of a fetus with a story attached from the fetus' perspective of the mother loving it, the father beating her because she was pregnant, and her finally getting an abortion. It ended with an 'abortion is killing a baby and soul' religious parable or whatever. I told the 'friend' who posted it that I found it extremely offensive because it was positioning the woman as being worse than the man beating her, and i purposely left out all my pro-choice politics (i'm from the conservative midwest and i know this 'friend' is extremely conservative). She blew up at me and said 'you take things too seriously, it's just a sad story, you don't know why i posted it.' etc etc etc through multiple posts (i posted one and left it at that), but I think I have a right to tell people I don't appreciate pictures of bloody fetuses and these stories.

I think you have a right to tell people when something is offensive, doesn't mean they have to stop doing saying/doing whatever it is, but you do have a right to tell them if you don't agree with it. Especially on facebook or twitter where you post things you want people to see.

Anonymous said...

I'm actually in the habit of using the word "rape" in the same way that she does (describing a bad call against my football team as getting boned, etc.), but she's WAY overreacting. I can see if someone would be offended by comparing rape to a bad call in a football game, and I'd understand if someone took offense if I tweeted it.

She's obviously someone who attacks anyone who does not think and speak EXACTLY as she does, or dares point out that people have different opinions than she does. Her use of "PC Police" is a dead giveaway, and a pretty good indicator of how badly she sucks at metaphors.

Marsha said...

Jay Smooth has a great TEDx talk that, while it's focus is talking about race and racism, I believe applies in this situation. Here's the link:

Here's an excerpt from his talk:

"We deal with race and prejudice with this all or nothing, good person/bad person binary in which you either are racist or you are not racist. And if you're not batting 1000, you're striking out every time. And this puts us in a situation where we're trying to meet an impossible standard. And if anything less than perfection means that you are a racist, that means any suggestion that you've made a mistake, any suggestion that you've been less than perfect is a suggestion that you're a bad person, so we've become averse to any suggestion that we should consider our thoughts and actions. And it makes it harder for us to work on our imperfections. When you believe that you must be perfect in order to be good, it makes you averse to recognizing your own inevitable imperfections, and that lets them stagnate and grow. So the belief that you must be perfect in order to be good is an obstacle to being as good as you can be."

Obviously maniacal mom took something that's incredibly serious and conflated it with something relatively trivial. I wonder if she's so vehemently defending, justifying, and attacking because she's having trouble juxtaposing the idea of herself as a good person with the idea that that means she can make a mistake like this.

I'm saddened by all the hostile assumptions and judgmental comments that this issue has unearthed, though.

Slutopia folks, I think you did a great job of handling the situation and applaud your gentle but powerful actions.



Epiphora said...

You did the right thing. And not only that, you did it in a very straightforward way. (Can't say I would've been so... calm.) The fact that she ran with it so much is a reflection of her inability to take criticism at ALL. Kinda creepy, really.

Karine said...

It is clearly someone who doesn't know how to take criticism well. And clearly she did not see the profound meaning of the word rape in here.

It seems to me that she did not think. She just received a critic and decided it was not acceptable. Maybe if she had taken the time to actually try to understand your point of view, she wouldn't have reacted in this way.

Anyhow, I think you did the right thing. I would have done the same.

Anonymous said...

Isn't the word "slut" a part of the rape culture?

Flowers said...

I feel you did the absolute right thing by calling her out on it. My sister was raped and I never find the subject funny. Yes, I've made a few crass comments over my young life but I certainly am not easily offended. Now, I didn't find her comment offensive but it was rather boorish and she should know better. In any case... I'm sure she's just caught off guard by the fact that she was held accountable by something she actually wrote. Perhaps it's not the PC police she should worry about. Perhaps it's here insensitive use of the word 'rape' that she should acknowledge. It's like saying you've been 'jewed' when you get ripped off. It's just plain ole' stupid. So... if anything... she's shown the world that she has trouble taking accountability for her actions and how they effect others.

Anonymous said...

What she meant to say was "I got f***ked" and used "raped" instead. You over reacted.

Anonymous said...

"Rape" and "fuck" are not synonymous and should not be used as though they are.

Beth Harper said...

Her Twitter name suits her.

the bewilderness said...

It is a pretty basic defensive response in our culture to posture as though objecting is far worse than what is being objected to.
Particularly when they bring the Humpty Dumpty language rules in to it.
“When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

’The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

’The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.”

Delilah said...

I have seen comments like this on twitter from folks I respect a lot on other issues or who would call themselves sex positive, who have written about consent and rape on their blogs... I do not have the energy to call them out most days so I quietly unfollow and hope someone will call them out like you did.

Your reaction was measured and calm and extremely adult. Hers not so much.

Kathy Garolsky said...

The content of this article is really interesting.
I'll be back to see more of your great work.

Anonymous said...

heyloneI'm just reading this now but I want to comment. The Internet exposes us to a lot of people in the manic phase of bi-polar. I'm not saying this one is not responsible for her nastiness ( she could take her medication ) but the repetitive nature of her response to you makes me think she's mentally ill.