And rape isn’t a joke, either.
I know, I know this was supposed to be a lighthearted and funny play on words with a sign that used to hang in the bar. The owners of the Bluejay Bar have stated in an omaha.com interview, “Stapleton [one of the owners] said the bar owners turned to the old sign when they were looking for merchandise ideas. It never occurred to them that the shirt would be seen as a rape joke, he said. “We didn’t mean it to offend anybody,” Stapleton said. “I guess we just don’t think like that. It was obviously very stupid. There is really no other thing to say.” Whatever their intent, it isn’t lighthearted and funny and underscores one of the fundamental problems we have in our society about rape and sexual assault and that is too often we’re not aware of the implications of the timeworn jokes and cliches that get used.
How in the hell did it become okay to joke about rape and sexual assault?
I don’t know how and I can’t say when, but I do know that it is sadly permissible to make light of something that cannot be joked about. It isn’t solely a guys thing statistically but let’s face it, own it and call it what it is. It’s a guy problem. And more specifically, it is by and large a young guy problem. For those who want to send me anecdotal evidence otherwise, spare me. We need to be honest about this if we’re going to change it. In most male circles, at least until you get old and crotchety and tell people to get off your lawn, it is okay to make jokes and worse yet, to make plans to commit sexual assault. Oh, we couch it in other terms
It is usually pretty insidious. If I said, “wife beater” what comes to your mind? Most people I’ve asked have said a “tank top style T-shirt.” How did it become okay to use the words “wife beater” out of the context of someone committing a violent assault? How about “bitch slap?” Most people I know wouldn’t think too much of it (maybe I know the wrong people?) and would take it for what it was intended, a joking reference. Again, how did become okay to use the words “bitch slap” out of the context of someone committing a violent assault? Not to mention referring to someone as a bitch? And if you are thinking I’m making a big deal out of a couple of simple phrase then you are part of the problem. This isn’t about being politically correct it is about not making light of rape and sexual assault. It is this kind of attitude that helps perpetuate the silent ‘okey dokey’ on making light of something that cannot continue to be made light of.
For my part, I have identified these two phrases as needing to come out of my vocabulary and way of thinking. I’ve done reasonably well the past 6 months in not using “wife beater” when referring to a tank top T-shirt and not using “bitch slap.” I made a mistake with “bitch slap” a couple of weeks ago but caught myself and apologized to the guy I was talking with. The sad thing is, and underscores the problem yet again, is that I’ve gotten this far in life before figuring out I needed to do this.
We need more people, more men, to own up to this and to start calling it out for what it is. We need to teach our sons and our sons need to teach the guys they hang out with that while no harm may have been intended, harm has been and continues to be inflicted. Rape is not a joke. Rape is not a tagline.