Dear Miley: Reminder, Rape Jokes Are Never Funny Kit Steinkellner

Miley Cyrus is a performer who’s always looking to push boundaries. She runs into real trouble, though, when she rams herself into a boundary that exists for A VERY IMPORTANT REASON.

This past Friday night, Miley performed a concert at London’s G-A-Y club. In between songs she bantered with the crowd:

“You know, everyone’s a little bit gay,” she told her audience. “It’s the truth. Everyone’s gay, all it takes is one cocktail. And if that doesn’t work, sprinkle something in their drink. That’s what I always do.”

She’s now coming under fire for what essentially amounted to a date rape joke. We’ve been through this so many times with so many celebrities and comedians. A rape joke is made, the public reacts, the celebrity joke-teller either completely ignores the controversy (which, scrolling through Cyrus’ Twitter feed, seems to be what she’s doing) or defends his/her freedom of speech and right to make jokes about whatever button-pushing topic that person wants to make jokes about. It’s rare that a person in power apologizes and attempts to make amends. Patton Oswalt is a rare example of a comedian who publicly changed his stance against rape jokes, which impressed my socks off. It’s hard to say you’re wrong. It’s REALLY hard to say you’re wrong in front of millions upon millions of people.

The problem with rape jokes is multifold. It makes a monstrous act seem mundane. We live in a rape culture in part because rape is normalized in our society, and one way people normalize rape is by making it the subject of jokes. True horror is not meant to be trivialized. Laughter can be a powerful weapon against real evil. Humor can heal and comedy can teach. The rape joke isn’t humor being used to explore the honest human response to sexual violence. It’s the exact opposite. The rape joke refuses to acknowledge the true darkness and depth of its subject matter. It’s shock value at its cheapest. Those who defend the rape joke defend their right to joke about anything and everything, but what they’re really defending is their right to speak ignorantly rather than think deeply.

Miley Cyrus’ date rape joke didn’t fail because it was about date rape. It failed because it was shamefully disingenuous with how it treated its subject matter. Comedy only works when its foundation is honest and real. A person who has been affected by sexual assault using humor to process her pain would be a powerful thing. Rape would be the subject, but it wouldn’t be the joke. Cyrus’ joke failed because she so clearly had no idea what she was really joking about and since has made no public attempt to understand and learn.

But I do hope she makes the attempt to understand. I do hope she tries to learn. We need our artists and public figures to be pushing boundaries. We also need them to know what those boundaries ARE and WHY they exist, and why sometimes, a boundary is best left exactly where it is.

Image via Instagram

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  1. As a woman who is also a college student I can’t stand rape jokes of any type, at any time. Rape culture is real and it is frightening. Nothing is worse than being scared to walk home at night or having to go out of your way to avoid a path home nick-named “The Rape Trail”. “The Rape Trail” is real. Every year women get accosted on it with apartments and homes not even 30 feet away. I’m scared to walk home on that path, especially when it’s night or I’m alone, and I shouldn’t be. I shouldn’t have to be thinking about whether or not to stay an extra hour in the the library to finish studying so I can walk home before it’s dark. That is what rape culture has brought us too. We live in a culture that blames women either for enticing rapists or for not doing enough to avoid dangerous situations that can lead to rape. Questions like what was she wearing, had she been drinking, and did she try to fight them off are all examples of this. Rape culture has lead to people seeing rape as a normal occurrence and to people being desensitized towards it and jokes like Miley’s are a part of that. The fact that you can brush it off is horrible because the truth is that it is more than 1 persons reality. Our nation errupted into out rage when Boko Haram said it was going to sell those brave girls and the mere idea that they may have been or are being sexually assaulted is upsetting everyone. The thing is that I have heard people make jokes about situations just like that. We know that these situations aren’t actually funny but we continue to make light of it. I don’t know if it’s some peoples way of dealing with horrors of rape and rape culture and I don’t know if it’s just that some people are really insensitive; either way it needs to stop. Instead of defending a persons right to make horrible, tasteless jokes about the suffering of victims why don’t we funnel that energy into teaching boys and girls not to rape. Why don’t we teach our children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews to stand up for people who might be taken advantage of and that if they see something to stop it. Ending rape culture starts with you, an individual, standing up and saying that you won’t stand for rape or rape culture.

  2. Blah, blah, BARF. I used to enjoy reading articles from hellogiggles, but lately all the authors just seem to be a bunch of prudes. Didn’t you know that they call it a “JOKE” for a reason? These articles are seeming to make a bigger deal out of things than needs to be. Example: The article about photoshopping the royal baby. WHO CARES? That’s one of the most unintelligent things I have ever read, and why I finished it, I don’t know? Why don’t you ladies stop focusing so much on what others are doing wrong, stop JUDGING, and just let humans be.

  3. Is this just a chance to over-intellectualize something a young girl blurted out in the heat of the moment?

  4. Either I disagree with the ‘rape is normalized’ comment, or I don’t understand what she means by it.

  5. Do you have an example of a dead baby joke?

  6. Jokes are just that jokes. I feel like even suggesting that joking about rape downplays the severity of it is just giving an excuse for those who don’t take the actual act seriously. There are plenty of people who make jokes about rape, murder and any other crime but still understand how horrible it really is. The joke was the furthest thing from politically correct and was very distasteful,

    I don’t feel ok with saying “she should put herself in someone else’s shoes” or “she doesn’t understand” because none of us know this for sure what she’s been thru or what her intentions were. Just because you may not be ok with making jokes about it or you feel like you wouldn’t if you had been a victim doesn’t mean that someone else who has been a victim wouldn’t make such jokes. Everyone is different.

  7. I’d like to try and break down why this joke is (albeit not very) funny…

    She starts a fairly lighthearted dialogue and then casually drops in something deliberately violent and offensive that (crucially) she doesn’t really mean.

    The humour comes from the dark irony, absurdity and shock value. And there’s a whole world of difference between finding humour in this, and making jokes at the expense of people’s suffering.

    I think arguing that a joke like this helps normalise sexual violence is like arguing that a dead baby joke will help normalise infanticide.

  8. What about rape jokes that aren’t in favor of rape or making light of what happened? See I have a huge problem with how rape is treated in this country when it pertains to victims of either sex. The idea that we have to censor everything about rape out of the public eye just attaches more shame to the idea of rape and further makes the victims feel like there’s something wrong with them. And jokes can be used to start a dialogue about something, Louis CK and Dave Chappelle have made jokes about rape, but the jokes are not in poor taste and they point out issues with our culture.

    Instead of making a blanket statement calling all subjects off limits why not call out the person for making a joke in poor taste? That seems like a much better case to make than saying we can never discuss something in the realm of comedy even if a good point is being made.

  9. “But what they’re really defending is their right to speak ignorantly rather than think deeply” wow, that sentence got me because it’s so right! I don’t think that a rape joke is “just a joke”. I know if I’d been a victim of sexual assault, I couln’t stand someone laughing about it. It is not funny in any context. Kudos on the article, Kit.

  10. This has nothing to do with being “politically correct” or offending people, or freedom of speech, nor is it a way to deal with an uncomfortable topic. In fact, it’s the complete opposite…it’s a way to avoid dealing with it. To “laugh something off” means to dismiss it or pay no mind to it.

    This is about “putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.” Unless you have been raped (I have not), you can’t possibly understand the depth of the situation. For example (on a MUCH lesser scale), as a diabetic, when I hear a non-diabetic tell a joke about diabetes, all it does is shine a spotlight on their lack of knowledge. They’re not aware that their joke doesn’t even make sense.

    One comment stated, “…the world is so ugly you have to laugh to keep from crying.” Such jokes only add to its ugliness. There’s nothing wrong with crying. It’s part of what makes us human. I hope people do see me crying over the state of the world. If not, I at least hope they never see me laughing about it.
    When did it become a bad thing to “put yourself in someone else’s shoes?!” It’s becoming apparent to me that few joke tellers realize that their jokes say more about their own character than they do about the “butt of their jokes.”

    As for “using your power as a media journalist to really fight rape…,” that’s exactly what the author is doing. Her power as a media journalist is to draw attention to the issue at hand and allow her readers the opportunity to consider a side of the story they may not have otherwise thought about on their own. Relax, this is not the New York Times.

  11. Whoa, everyone seems to think rape jokes are okay these days. I thought this was really offensive and distasteful. Also…I thought jokes were meant to be funny?

  12. Just wondering – have any of you saying “it’s just a joke” or, “we’re so sissified” – ever been a victim of sexual assault? Serious question – because having dealt with victims of sexual assault in the past – I really don’t think they’d find it funny.

  13. It always is just so hard to believe when celebrities say those kind of things! Do they not realize how not okay it is to make jokes about that? I understand saying something over the line on accident, but without apologizing… grow up Miley.

  14. PREACH!

  15. The US society being offended by everything is a serious problem. Nowadays freedom of speech really is impeded, particularly if you’ve committed the crime of being a cisgendered white male. Media causing ruckus because of these really just harms the important topic. Instead of being offended by what a celebrity says, if this really matters to you, then use your power as a taxpayer and as a media journalist to really fight rape, the crime, the reality. And do so from an “equalism” point of view, please. We are all human and we all count.

    • No one has said you don’t have the right to say offensive things, but don’t for one second think that I and the public don’t have the same right to criticize your (or in this case, Cyrus’s) comments. If that somehow “offends” you, then good. Maybe she and others will think twice before making a joke about rape.

  16. OMG, it’s just a joke, no biggie..whether you like the joke or not, it’s just banter. You should hear the things comedians in Holland say, you’d be shocked;-). Rape is a serious offense, but this is nothing serious.

    • I dare you to say that to someone who has actually been raped. I imagine they have a very different opinion about how harmless and actually not considerate this joke was.

      • No,it’s not considerate..but there are so manythings in this world that are not.btw you don’t know who i am,so you don’t know
        My story. Let us
        Focus on the Thousands of girls and women being raped as we speak!!!! Btw: this is
        more a bad comment towArds the gay community. As it is to rape.

  17. Amen. I agree completely with this article.

  18. No, rape jokes don’t minimize the monstrous act. Sometimes a rape joke is 1) just a joke or 2) a way to deal with a concept in a way that’s easier to swallow than having a hard discussion about it.

    You’ve never read a news story that was so heartbreaking, you gasp-laughed? You’ve never come across a concept so atrocious that you had to shake your head and tell yourself it wasn’t a real thing?

    I personally make un-PC jokes ALL the time, because sometimes the world is so ugly you have to laugh to keep from crying.

    Hop off your high horse and stop patting yourself on the back for being politically correct. That’s not an accomplishment, that’s a character flaw.

    • Could not agree more.

    • YES, exactly!:D

    • And totally agree with your comment Becky.

    • Joke is a joke is a joke. When did our society start becoming such sissies about EVERYTHING!? We are raising weak, mindless generations who cannot think for themselves or talk for themselves because heaven forbid they offend someone!

      • I have been raped. I don’t find rape jokes funny at all, rape isn’t a funny topic. Or maybe I’m a weak, mindless, sissy who can’t get off her high horse. I get that it’s cool to do you and think for yourself always, but it doesn’t hurt to learn from other people and their experiences. I don’t know what you’ve been through but you’re coming across as a sorry excuse for a human. Learn about life, really. And I hope you never have to deal with rape firsthand.

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