So social media is abuzz with Metro’s unfunny joke, and their explanation that it was satire aimed at drawing attention to the unjust way women and girls are blamed and shamed for rape, see: http://metromag.co.nz/editors-blog/on-satire-and-rape/#comment-1393.
So we asked, in our regular 20 Questions column: “After the Roast Busters saga, should there be a new criminal charge: ‘Drunk in charge of a vagina?’”
I believe Simon about the intent. I found the previous editorial on rape culture perceptive and interesting (apart from the Taliban line, but that’s a whole different issue). In social justice speak, I definitely see Simon Wilson and Metro as an ally. I get that the intention was to satirize the conservative voices of those that victim-blame.
Here’s a deconstruction what left me uncomfortable. As a person with a vagina.
1. The humor relies on the shock factor of the word “vagina”. Most humor relies in someway on the unexpected, or an unusual juxtaposition. The phrasing “Drunk in charge of..” cues a vehicle, and the funny bit is vagina. Except, you now, vaginas aren’t so funny if you have one, because you are used to it being a part of your body. And you are used to misogynist culture where vaginas are seen as funny. And you know how funny vagina sounds to some people is probably because vaginas are often represented as being a bit gross.
2. You are used to the way mainstream popular culture has linked cars and women’s bodies, which are both represented as play things for men.
3. You notice “Drunk in charge of a vagina” has a disembodied woman in it. A woman who is just a vagina. You are tired of just being a vagina.
4. You know the joke is partially at police culture. You have heard the stupid stuff the police here and elsewhere have said that perpetuates victim-blaming. But it sticks in your throat when you have experienced it first-hand.
5. And if like me, you are actually a rape survivor, you might imagine someone else chuckling “Ha! Drunk in charge of a vagina. Good one, mate.” But the line seems to reverberate in your body. It echoes with the other things people say about rape, and the things that have been said to you. When am I going to get a sense of humor about rape? Yeah, probably not in this lifetime. Not when I live with the effects of trauma in my daily every day life.
What this issue highlights for me is the gap between being an ally, and being a woman or rape survivor on the receiving end of rape culture. Metro was well-intentioned, definitely not one of the bad guys. But the joke was still blinkered by the routine experience of male privilege, that is – men’s experience often stands in for what is considered “normal” or universal, and women’s experience is bracketed. He just didn’t anticipate that others might experience the joke differently, or have valid reasons for finding it uncomfortable.
It feels really hard to criticize the good guys, which is partially what prompted me to write this. Because rape culture is perpetuated by everyday sexism, and lot of it is not intentional or malicious. It’s just underpinned by gendered discourses that have different effects on men’s and women’s lives. We need to get more comfortable talking about how good folk do stupid stuff. And allies need to start asking how they can be good allies.