I’m part of a facebook group that is for buying and selling second hand goods, renting rooms and other general information for the ski town that I live in. Someone put up a post joking about the housing shortage that is happening at this time of year – it’s the start of the winter season so it’s busy with new people moving to town. She put up that she would rent the other half her single bed to the highest bidder which resulted in much banter back and forth. However someone commented with a meme that said “it isn’t rape if you yell ‘surprise'”. I reported the comment to facebook, and hid it off my wall, in the hope that the message might get passed on that this was inappropriate. Every time someone makes a joke in that vein it normalises rape or sexual assault to a potential attacker. It says “see, it’s funny, what I do isn’t abnormal”. That’s if they’re even honest enough to call what they do assault, which I highly doubt, but it normalises the lack of consent. It normalises a dominance by an attacker over a victim; it normalises the blame placed on victims. I know that the person making the joke doesn’t think that, they think “sharing a single bed would definitely lead to sex, and hey, she’s gotta be keen if she’s sharing”. But it isn’t funny, just as no joke that normalises the violation of someone’s rights is funny.
Comedians dance this fine line all the time – joking about topics that actually bring a huge spotlight to a glaring problem. Racism and sexism are two really common ones. A good comedian uses a joke to get you to laugh at the absolute absurdity of the situation which makes it obvious that racism and sexism are unwanted. But crappy comedians botch this up and end up blaming and victimising. There has been research to show that four sexist jokes (along the veins of “Why are women like carpets? If you lay them properly the first time, you can walk all over them for years”), just FOUR, is enough for college-age and older men to increase the likelihood of blaming victims, increase their tendency to rape, decrease their perception of rape as serious, and to decrease their desire to punish rapists. That’s powerful, so think about your jokes in future.