[Trigger warning for discussion of sexual violence and rape jokes.]
Yesterday, Shaker Milli A wrote a guest post about a Penny Arcade strip that included a joke about rape. The two authors, in response to criticism of said comic, then published a follow-up, in which their avatars simply peer out at the audience and say the following:
Tycho: Hello, this is Tycho Brahe, of Penny Arcade. We recently made a comic strip where an imaginary person was raped imaginarily by a mythological creature whose every limb was an erect phallus. Some found that idea disturbing.
Gabe: We want to state in clear language, without ambiguity or room for interpretation: We hate rapers, and all the rapes they do. Seriously, though. Rapists are really the worst.
Tycho: It’s possible you read our cartoon, and became a rapist as a direct result. If you’re raping someone right now, stop. Apologize. And leave. Go, and rape no more.
Quite a pithy—and familiar—reaction. It encompasses the three same old tired strategies that defenders of rape jokes typically employ:
1. Misrepresenting critics’ primary objection as the assertion that rape jokes “create” rapists and/or “cause” rape.
2. Summarily treating that idea as absurd.
3. Concluding that critics are thus hypersensitive reactionaries with no legitimate critique.
Most critics of rape jokes object on one of two bases, neither of which are “your rape joke will directly cause someone to go out and commit a rape.” (That idea is absurd—which is why it’s so appealing to defenders of rape jokes to deliberately misrepresent critics’ arguments in such a fashion.) One criticism is that rape jokes are triggers for survivors of sexual violence (and/or attempted sexual violence). The other is that rape jokes contribute to a rape culture in which rape is normalized.
It’s that second objection that tends to get repackaged as “your rape joke will directly cause someone to go out and commit a rape,” which is, of course, a willful and dishonest simplification of a complex argument. The rape culture is a collection of narratives and beliefs that service the existence of endemic sexual violence in myriad ways, from overt exhortations to commit sexual violence to subtle discouragements against prosecution and conviction for crimes of sexual violence. The rape joke, by virtue of its ubiquity, prominently serves as a tool of normalization and diminishment.
No, one rape joke does not “cause” someone to go out and commit a rape. But a single rape joke does not exist in a void. It exists in a culture rife with jokes that treat as a punchline a heinous, terrifying crime that leaves most of its survivors forever changed in some material way. It exists in a culture in which millions and millions of women, men, and children will be victimized by perpetrators of sexual violence, many of them multiple times. It exists in a culture in which rape not being treated as seriously as it ought means that vanishingly few survivors of sexual violence see real justice, leaving their assaulters free to create even more survivors. It exists in a culture in which rape is not primarily committed by swarthy strangers lurking in dark alleyways and jumping out of bushes, but primarily by people one knows, who nonetheless fail, as a result of some combination of innate corruption and socialization in a culture that disdains consent and autonomy, to view their victims as human beings deserving of basic dignity.
That is the environment into which a rape joke is unleashed—and one cannot argue “it isn’t my rape joke that facilitates rape” any more than a single raindrop in an ocean could claim never to have drowned anyone.
But let us pretend for a moment that rape jokes do not convey and sustain the rape culture. That still leaves us with the other criticism on which critics’ objections are based: That rape jokes trigger (some) survivors of sexual violence.
Being triggered does not mean “being upset” or “being offended” or “being angry,” or any other euphemism people who roll their eyes long-sufferingly in the direction of trigger warnings tend to imagine it to mean. Being triggered has a very specific meaning that relates to evoking a physical and/or emotional response to a survived trauma.
To say, “I was triggered” is not to say, “I got my delicate fee-fees hurt.” It is to say, “I had a significantly mood-altering experience of anxiety.” Someone who is triggered may experience anything from a brief moment of dizziness, to a shortness of breath and a racing pulse, to a full-blown panic attack.
A survivor of sexual violence who experiences a trigger is experiencing the same thing as a soldier who experiences a trigger, potentially even including flashbacks. Like many soldiers who return from war, many survivors of sexual violence are left with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Unlike soldiers, however, they are not likely to receive much sympathy, or benefit from attempts to understand, when they are triggered. Instead, triggered survivors of sexual violence are dismissed as oversensitive, as hysterics, as humorless, as weak.
Well. Trivializing the concerns of a person whose traumatic experience of sexual violence has been triggered is a legitimate response. But it’s not a very kind or decent one.
I will never understand why anyone wants to be the total jerk who evokes someone’s memories of being assaulted by blindsiding hir with a rape joke (or image, or metaphor, or whatever), in the guise of “humor.” No “joke” is worth triggering someone. Not if you understand what triggering someone really means.
Quite honestly, my objection to rape jokes is not even because I particularly find the jokes personally triggering anymore; I generally just find them pathetic and inexplicable. And while I’m bothered by the fact that the jokes normalize and effectively minimize the severity of rape and thus perpetuate the rape culture, I’m more bothered by the thought of a woman who’s recently been raped, who’s just experienced what may be the worst thing that will ever happen to her, and goes to the site of her favorite webcomic, or turns on the telly, or goes to the cinema, or a comedy club, to have a much-needed laugh—only to see that horrible, life-changing thing used as the butt of a joke.
I don’t understand—and I don’t believe I ever will—why anyone wants to be the person who sends that shiver down her spine, who makes her eyes burn hot with tears at an unwanted memory while everyone else laughs and laughs.
And I won’t understand as long as I live why people who are told by survivors the damage their rape jokes do—on an individual, intimate level—respond by dismissing survivors as oversensitive, instead of considering the possibility that maybe being desensitized to the abject horror of rape isn’t really rather worse.
That maybe it is not survivors who are too sensitive, but they who are simply not sensitive enough.
If Tycho and Gabe want to make rape jokes, that’s their prerogative. I’m not calling for a repeal of the First Amendment or asking their strip to be censored; to be perfectly frank, I would love nothing more than for them to continue their comic with a newfound appreciation for why rape jokes fucking suck, and thus not use (or defend) them anymore by their own choice.
But, failing that, I’d like to see them at least be honest enough to admit that their critics are not accusing them of “creating” rapists or “causing” rape—and have the courage not to hide behind mendacious misrepresentations of why people object to their continued use of rape jokes, and the honesty to admit they just don’t give a fuck about survivors.
Challenging Myself Creatively: Day 5 - Tightly Coiled Spring
This gentleman makes you think of a tightly coiled spring. He has beady blue eyes that are like two turquoises. His silky, straight, neck-length hair is the color of chestnuts, and is worn in an uncomplicated, severe style. He is very short and has an overmuscled build. His skin is brown. He has thin eyebrows. His wardrobe is artistic, and is completely violet and gray.
…think I’m gonna need a new prompt generator. This one tends to repeat a lot.
Challenging Myself Creatively: Day 4 - Laid Back Guy In White
This would be current if I get it done today.
This laid-back guy has droopy orange eyes that are like two chunks of amber. His silky, straight, night-black hair is medium-length and is worn in a severe, practical style. He is very tall and has an elegant build. His skin is ruddy. He has a wide forehead and large feet. His wardrobe is unusual and artistic, with a lot of white.
Challenging Myself Creatively: Day 3 - Porcupine Perfect Arrow Woman
This woman puts you in mind of a perfect arrow. She has slanted blue eyes. Her fine, straight, yellow hair is worn in a style that reminds you of a porcupine’s quills. She is very short and has a leggy build. Her skin is tanned. She has knobby ears. Her wardrobe is complicated and flattering, with a lot of green and gray.
Challenging Myself Creatively: Day 2 - The Dying Embers Guy
Yes, I’m behind.
This prompt: This witty guy has slanted aquamarine eyes. His thick, straight, short hair is the color of dying embers, and is worn in an impractacal style. He has an elegant build. His skin is china-white. He has a small nose. His wardrobe is elegant, with a lot of white and purple.
That’s a question I get asked a lot, since people never realize it to look at me. Because I, y’know, don’t look depressed. (You may wanna visit http://www.butyoudontlooksick.com for more insight from other people with invisible illnesses.)
Actually, yes, I do. I look depressed. People who suffer from depression look just like everybody else. It doesn’t mean we’re incapable of smiling. We’re not incapable of laughter or happiness. It’s just more difficult for us. That we’re not crying all the time doesn’t mean we’re not struggling every day. That people believe depressed people should be crying all the time or they’re not really depressed is an ignorant fiction put forward by the media.
So I am gonna try to explain it, in words (and now pictures) — which is harder than you think because this is a mental/emotional disorder— for people who don’t get it. This is the explanation for me — it may resonate for other people, it may not. But hopefully, what it does for anyone who reads this (or passes it along) is make them stop and think before they see a suicide standing on a ledge overpass and yell “JUMP!”…or complain afterward about how inconvenient it is to have traffic messed up by the jumper. Or even before they roll their eyes and call someone “emo”
For the purposes of this essay, the first thing I want you to do, reader, is imagine you are a telekinetic. Your mind lets you move or hold things. Okay? Good. Cool, right?
Now imagine that your telekinesis must be used to hold a 20 ton weight eighteen inches over your head.
You know, one of those big cartoon weights, like on Bugs Bunny.
Got that mental image firmly in place? Good. Now imagine you have to live your life from day to day with that huge weight over your head — that will CRUSH YOU FLAT if you waver in your telekinetic vigilance. You cannot relax even a little of your mental energy, except when you’re asleep. Keep in mind that no one else can see that weight, nor could they take it off you if they could see it. But it’s there. And if your strength and concentration wavers, it could drop an inexorable inch toward your head. Or it could come all the way down and flatten you like a pancake. Medication may make it a little easier to hold it up, but that’s all it does.
You have to get out of bed, and brush your teeth and take a shower, and get dressed with that weight overhead. And you can’t let your concentration waver while you’re brushing your teeth, or soaping up, or picking your outfit for the day. You have to walk outside and get in your car with that weight held up.
You have to navigate the traffic. Find a parking space.
Walk into work or school and greet your coworkers who have no idea there’s a 20 ton weight one concentration flicker from smashing you where you stand. And then you have to do your job, and do it well. You get your breaks and your lunch, but that weight is still right there while you eat.
You have to get back in your car after working all day and navigate the traffic again and drive home with that weight nobody can see overhead. Then you have to run any errands you need to run. And then you can finally, finally get home. And fall into some activity that lets you relax a little and put the majority of focus away, even though you still gotta hold up that 20 ton weight, at least now you’re home and in a relaxed place, but even as you have dinner with that weight overhead, you endure the knowledge that the weight will be there even when you close your eyes to sleep, and that tomorrow will be the same thing all over again. And so will the next day. And the day after that.
Until you die.
And now, keep in mind while you’re negotiating your life, day in and day out with a weight overhead you can never remove, you have to watch the world blow off what you’re dealing with on TV as nowhere near as horrible an experience as you know it is.
Do you have an idea now of how much mental energy is burned just holding up that metaphorical 20 ton weight? And yes, mental energy is a limited resource. You run out of it. Just like your body gets tired from too much physical activity, your mind will tire you out if you’re constantly firing brain cells on a tough activity.
"Take your meds" and "seek help" are terms society treats as codewords for normal people without depression who are just acting in a way some person finds inconvenient. "Emo" is a term society treats as a codeword for “teenager who just wants attention”.
Medication is “happy pills” because popping a pill is considered an instant cure. It’s not a cure. The medications just make the weight a little lighter. And they don’t work for everybody, so the ones they might work for don’t take them as seriously as they might because people blow them off as “happy pills”. Oh, and as the body chemistry changes, the meds’ effect changes, lessens, or stops altogether, resulting in frequent visits to the doctor.
Society — at least in the US — has this idea that mental illness is just weakness on the part of the sufferer. That we’re just “not TRYING hard enough” and that “everybody gets depressed but you don’t stay depressed forever unless you do it on purpose.” The world is telling you that the weight you know for a fact — because you deal with it every day — is over your head is not really there, and you are just a weakling, or an attention whore for having trouble coping with life since you have to work so hard not to be smushed by it.
And oh, by the way — without insurance? Those prescription medications often dismissed as “happy pills” usually cost about about one-sixth to one-quarter of a paycheck. And that’s if you have the job I have and make what I make. You make less than I do, you’re gonna have a harder time with affording it. So good luck holding up that weight without help.
And with insurance? Hah, that one’s fun too. Because while you’re struggling to carry around that 20 ton weight over your head that could come down and flatten you? The insurance people are watching. And waiting. And hoping. That you will slip and post a photo to Facebook or Twitter of you actually enjoying yourself, having a good time, and smiling — so they can point and say “aha! Smiling means happy! Happy means not depressed! Not depressed means NO INSURANCE FOR YOU! YOINK!!”
If that’s not bad enough, there’s also the Disability Olympics people. Who feel that people who suffer from depression don’t have a right to the same terms to describe their symptoms and reactions. ”You can’t use the spoon theory! If you can’t even get out of bed, how’re you going to get to the (metaphorical) silverware drawer?” ”Depression doesn’t come with a pain component!” Yes, actually, it does. For many sufferers.
And that just scratches the surface. What’s it like to be depressed? Keep reading.
Challenging Myself Creatively: Day 1 - The Sturdy Tree
What’s the old saying? “Do something every day that scares you?” I’m scare about my creativity atrophying. So I’m trying to jumpstart it by just working on creative things one day at a time. I did a search for art prompts, and challenges, but those don’t seem to be too popular here on tumblr. But I did finally find one that worked for me. Apologies to the person who posted it. I’ve lost the link I found you on. But the link took me to Seventh Sanctum’s character generator. I’ll just draw whatever comes up. That way I can’t talk myself out of trying with the whiny nega voice insisting I have no idea what to draw. So — to begin:
This man reminds you of a sturdy tree. He has hooded gray eyes that are like two pieces of steel. His thick, wavy, chalk-white hair is worn in a style that reminds you of a wave of water. He is very short and has an elegant build. His skin is light-colored. He has hollow cheeks and small ears. His wardrobe is unconventional, and is mostly violet and black.