Writing by Sophie Pellegrini // Photograph by Brooke Tieman
** TRIGGER WARNING. **
When I arrived in Scotland last January for my semester abroad from the US, I immediately noticed the vernacular people used that was totally different than home. Yea, we all spoke English, but I spent a lot of time Googling words like “chuffed” and “knackered” on my iPhone. And then, one night when I was sitting around with friends chatting, one person was on the computer and began to laugh. “Oh my God, Emily totally got fraped” she said, and the other people in the room laughed and went to look at the computer screen. I sat confused for a moment. Fraped? Was that another word that people used in the UK that I just hadn’t heard? I asked someone what happened, and he explained that someone had “Facebook raped” Emily—in other words, a friend had hacked into her Facebook account and changed her profile picture to some old embarrassing picture and her status to something totally bizarre. Of course I’ve seen this happen to friends a million times. It’s all meant in good fun, as a joke. However, I don’t find the term “Frape” funny at all. After that, I heard the word “Frape” at least 20 more times, and it made me just as uncomfortable every time. The people who said it are my friends, people I love and respect. Kind people who mean no harm. Ultimately, while it’s an incredibly insensitive thing to say, a lot of people don’t realize that.
Using the word “rape” in a casual context is something I’ve never been on board with. I remember feeling the same sense of disgust when people said things like “Oh, I totally raped that test” or “That exam raped me” in high school.
I think of the problem with rape jokes as two-fold.
To start, think about the people who have experienced sexual violence in some way. Rape is a terrible, inhumane act, and luckily, one that the majority of people don’t experience in their lifetime. Most people probably think they don’t even know anyone who has been raped, though in reality, chances are we all know at least one person. You never know what experiences someone has had. Making the assumption that someone around you hasn’t had a direct or indirect experience with sexual violence is incredible naïve and insensitive. I can only imagine how much it would hurt some people to hear such an ugly word used in such a casual and joking context. I think that, for someone who has experienced sexual violence, hearing people belittle rape to the butt of a joke will always trigger feelings and thoughts about what they experienced. There is also a danger of making the person feel as if they are the target of the joke, and in a simple sentence or word, one person’s pain becomes another’s entertainment.
But making someone present hurt is not the only risk that comes with rape jokes. Making rape jokes perpetuates the cycle of violence and abuse that has become disturbingly mainstream in today’s rape culture. As we use and become accustomed to words like “Frape,” we belittle the act and the impact it has on lives of people involved. We risk becoming less sensitive to the act of rape itself.
A lot of people, both here and back home, give a classic eye roll when I comment on their use of rape of joke. They don’t seem to see why it’s such a big deal. Men seem a lot more unbothered than women, likely because our society has painted a picture of rape that shows women as the sole victims (which, in case you were wondering, is not the case).
Back in my routine at my college in Maine, I actually hadn’t thought about this in quite awhile—I’m happy to say that I haven’t heard a rape joke in quite a few months. However, LePage, the Republican governor of Maine who ran for re-election (and unfortunately succeeded) made a comment during his campaign that got me thinking again. LePage made reference to one of his harshest critics, saying the said critic needed to be put on a “suicide watch” because he was going to win his re-election bid.
This comment sparked a small uproar in primarily the Democratic population due to its insensitivity and ignorance. The fact that someone in the US government would say something so terrible makes me sick, but I think it’s the number of people who don’t understand why it was offensive that really gets me. I listened to far more people than I’d like to admit express that it was just a joke, and to “stop being so PC.” To that all I can say is—it’s not a joke, and it’s not about being politically correct. It’s about not being an ignorant asshole.
More than jokes about sexual violence, “jokes” that make light of suicide are so prevalent in society. When was the last time you heard someone say that they were so busy they were “literally going to kill themselves”? That if they didn’t get to go to the party they would “actually want to die”? I would argue that we hear these kinds of statements all the time from people who truly mean no offense. Because this kind of thing is normalized so much, a lot of people don’t see the harm in making a joke about putting a person about suicide watch.
Ultimately, this kind of insensitivity has the same core as making rape jokes. It stems from a place of ignorance. As an official representative of the US government, there’s no excuse for LePage saying what he did. And there’s no excuse for a refusal to admit and understand why it was wrong.
Sometimes I think that we don’t spend enough time as humans practicing empathy—really trying to put ourselves in the shoes of other people and considering that everyone has a boatload of baggage we don’t know about. It’s tricky, because everyone needs to make jokes and take some things lightly—without that, you could really drown in all the horrible things out there in the world. And we all say regrettable things sometimes. We all speak without thinking from time to time, and offending or upsetting people around us at some point is inevitable.
So my more-realistic challenge for you would be to take a step back and evaluate the things you say on a day-to-day basis. Do you make rape jokes? Do you belittle mental illness? Chances are, you mean no harm, and maybe it’s never even crossed your mind that the jokes you make could actually be hurtful. I don’t think that these statements make someone a bad person, and as I’ve said, I think we all make mistakes and say things we wish we could talk back right after. I know I do. But I do believe we can do better as a society to monitor what we say. I do believe there’s no excuse for a refusal to try to understand why what we’re doing might be wrong. So I challenge you to think. I challenge you to challenge yourself. Think before you make light of something so serious as rape or suicide. Consider the fact that you don’t know the history of every person in the room.
It’s never too late to change.[share]