Recently an Irish politician said he had never heard a rape joke. The premise of his tweet was that rape culture doesn’t exist; the only evidence he produced was that he made it to his 50s without ever experiencing it.
Many questioned whether he had, in fact, never heard a rape joke. Some pointed out that he probably had, in the form of “backs against the wall” or “dropping the soap in prison” jokes, but he didn’t see them as rape jokes. Guess what? They are.
I’ve only been to a handful of amateur comedy nights and I’ve heard rape jokes at every single one of them. At all, bar one, the audience did not react well to those jokes, which is heartening. But in each case a man still thought standing on a stage and making light of sexual assault and rape was a good idea. Those jokes were like a punch in the gut for me, so I can’t even begin to imagine what hearing them would feel like to a survivor of sexual assault or rape.
No-one is saying that rape culture is only a problem in Ireland. Quite the opposite, rape culture is an issue across the world. An issue society doesn’t take seriously enough. Rape culture feeds into the idea that there are circumstances in which women are “asking for it”.
Yes, it is about rape jokes. It is also about “Slane Girl”. It is about 21% of Irish respondents to a recent Eurobarometer poll thinking sex without consent is OK in certain circumstances. It is about a parish priest providing a character reference to a man convicted of sexual assault. It is about a community rallying around a man convicted of raping his former partner’s child. It is about a pattern of lenient sentencing for perpetrators of violent and/or sexual crimes against women.
These things do not happen in isolation. They happen because “boys will be boys” is seen as an explanation. They happen because consent isn’t something we teach our children about nearly enough. They happen because we think that if we can’t see it, then it must not happen. They happen because when women do stand up to rape culture, we are told that not all men are like that and we should stop acting like they are. They happen because we continue to allow them to happen.
Talking about rape culture does not perpetuate it. Naming it means we can dismantle it. Dismantling rape culture should be in everyone’s interests.