I used to feel obligated to laugh at rape jokes. As someone who takes pride in having a healthy sense of humor, telling someone to censor him or herself wasn’t my MO.
As a feminist, I knew that political correctness was a healthy way to create progressive dialogue, but I struggled to understand where that fit into comedy, art, and academia. As a writer I took caution to suggest censorship or any hesitation to “go there.”
At times I even felt that being “pc” was an impediment. How would I be able to push my critical thinking in the classroom or elsewhere if I was constantly concerned with stepping on even the most sensitive toes.
Perhaps not surprisingly, my real struggle began with a boy.
A few years ago, I was on-again-off-again dating a cookie-cutter millennial guy—he wore a lot of Urban Outfitters tank tops and amassed one of the largest vinyl collections I’ve still ever seen. At the time, and I’m sure it still stands true, he was an ardent fan of Daniel Tosh. Not only did he watch Tosh’s semi-self-titled show Tosh.O religiously, but we also made tentative plans to see him perform live, even if it involved an expensive trip across the country.
“Tosh is hilarious. I love that guy,” he would say with one chummy arm around my shoulders.
“OMG me too!” I would enthusiastically reply in my never-ending search for approval.
Sometimes I really did think Daniel Tosh was funny. He had hilariously awkward interviews with people he invited onto his show, and he had a unique approach to self-deprecating humor, a seemingly necessary wheelhouse for all comedians.
I tend to think I can laugh at anything. From a Spongebob rerun to someone yelling “cunt” to some nerdy dad joke overheard in the office— it really doesn’t take a lot. When I hear a joke that more sensitive people find offensive, I still chuckle with a wide-eyed look around the room to confirm that my laughter is ok, secretly priding myself on an ability to laugh at dark humor.
When Daniel Tosh joked that wouldn’t it be funny if a heckler of his “got raped right now.” I laughed.
I was with my sort-of-not-really boyfriend and his equally cool friends and I laughed because I wanted them to marvel at my apparent edginess.
I laughed because the other people around me laughed, and I wanted to fit in.
But I didn’t find it funny.
I laughed because I was a chick who could hang, surrounded by young guys whose standard for women was Emily Ratajowski’s body with Amy Schumer’s wit, maybe Ina Gardner’s kitchen prowess, and Rhonda Roussey’s bad bitch persona.
A man telling a woman she should get raped? That I just couldn’t find humor in.
Tosh would never know the heartbreak of having that female sense of self-autonomy jeopardized, and even though he’s since apologized, I felt hurt by those who laughed approvingly.
Not from these TV audience members who I would never know, but I was hurt by the laughter of my “not-boyfriend” and his hip friends.
I so badly wanted to step on top of the coffee table, defiantly commanding the room and say, “Daniel Tosh may have the right to make whatever joke he pleases, but I have the equal right to be offended. Who dictates that a comedian’s voice is louder than his victimized viewers? Who says I have no right to command discussion?”
But I didn’t say that, and probably still wouldn’t—that’s a problem.
Historically oppressed, subjugated, and trampled groups of people are slowly but surely feeling entitled to have their voices heard. Their dissent, however, has become across-the-board unpalatable to Facebook commenters and academic scholars alike.
Figures like YouTube star Nicole Arbour and (shudder) presidential candidate Donald Trump are now being heralded as brave champions of freedom of speech. The backlash against minority groups demanding political correct respect has been strong, and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.
Demanding a safe space doesn’t make you unfunny. It’s a protest against feeling attacked and disparaged. Those who ask for political correctness aren’t trying to kill comedy, and indeed they make it stronger by making it more honest. Shared truths and human experiences are funny—bigotry isn’t.
I love freedom of speech. I have a hunch that I’d be hard-pressed to find a writer who doesn’t. But freedom of speech works both ways.
Why is it that those who come from a position of privilege get to set the stage for what is ok to say and what isn’t?
Personally, I find it easier to laugh at crude jokes made by other female comedians like Amy Schumer or Sarah Silverman who have both also joked about rape. Why the double standard?
Because, frankly, when humor comes from a place of honesty, when a female who knows what it’s like to be criticized as a woman in the male-saturated world of mainstream comedy makes a joke about the subjugation of her fellow woman, it doesn’t feel like an attack. It feels like camaraderie.
Everyone has a right to share his or her own truths, whether it be a joke, video, or self-promoted article. But equally ok should be the right to feel offended and start a dialogue as to why.
Comedy serves such an essential role in our contemporary, confused and often-tragic society. I don’t believe that comedians should avoid a heavy topic or censor themselves, but let’s stop silencing the voices of those who aren’t laughing.