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So, yes, I had been drinking. And yes, I laughed at his previous jokes. I don’t want to make a scene… I just… well, yes, I know he’s probably actually lovely and probably didn’t even mean it in that way. And I guess some of my favourite comedians make rape jokes. But you know what? It’s just this… it’s just this didn’t feel OK.
Saturday night I went to Burly Q, a Sheffield Burlesque night at Queens Social Club. I like burlesque. I like the fact that it combines vaudeville style theatre and female-led playful sexuality and different types of bodies and witty performances. I last went in October and really enjoyed it.
Saturday’s show? Not so much. I NOW realise I like an idealised version of burlesque that involves more women in control, playfully undressing and – here’s the kicker – fewer rape jokes.
A performer called Mr B, The Gentleman Rhymer (you may be one of the 60,000 viewers on You Tube who have seen his “All Hail The Chap” song. Google it if you like, don’t feel like linking) told us a story which involved a two-layered rape joke. (I know, right?! They’re the BESTEST kind!)
It started as a bit of wordplay, a little riff on the fact that “rappist” and “rapist” differ by one letter. A plea to any promoters in the audience that wanted to book him to get the right one written up on an A-board outside – he didn’t want his house getting burnt down (again!) if they got it wrong.
OK. Not really my cup of gin (at a burlesque night with a majority of women in the audience) to be confronted with a rape joke, but it had some merit in that, well…. it was a play on words and I like word jokes, and it wasn’t saying rape was superfunawesomegood. Whatever, I thought, “Huh. That’s a bit odd, to make a rape joke at burlesque but… The joke’s about the WORDS bit, Erica, not the RAPE bit. Lighten up.”
Then he followed it up with words to the effect of “And only 50% of you will have enjoyed that”
And my jaw dropped. Maybe I have been sensitised to rape references by this, which pissed me off on Friday, or, you know, the fact that Mr B Gentleman Rhymer had JUST MADE A RAPE JOKE. Either way, to me, the “50% enjoyment” quip played into the tradition of joking about statistics using rape as a shock hook.
You know, like “Statistics show that 50% of people enjoy rape” Get it?? It’s a joke about how you can’t trust statistics. It’s basically this joke but, to make it shocking and funny, it’s about rape.
It’s not new. It’s not original. There’s a supersized one that Jimmy Carr tells about gang rape, which you can Google if you like. I happen to think Jimmy Carr’s joke works. It’s well crafted, horrifying, shocking in the payoff and makes me think of the underlying absurdity in our modern world about how we misuse statistics.
But I’d say context is important. I wouldn’t expect to encounter a joke like that at an event where the majority of the audience were female, where maybe they, like me, were there to engage with a different narrative about women in the world. One where sexiness comes in different shapes and sizes and where we see women on stage being funny and sexy and playful and in control. And where, maybe, a performer might think twice about the suitability of THAT joke for THIS audience.
I know women who have been raped*. Women who have found themselves in situations ranging from “darkest-black-completely-certain-even-the-Daily-Mail-would-call-it-rape” through to “off-white-I-am-not-even-sure-WHAT-that- is.”
Stranger rape, partner rape, date rape, easier just to do it than have the argument, can’t be arsed to say no, not sure if I want to but, well, he really does, little bit more pressure than is polite, wait, I didn’t agree to THAT, too drunk to protest, it wasn’t rape, as such… So I know that it’s a complex issue, full of shades of grey and politics and isn’t black and white and red all over (unless it goes horribly wrong, and you have to stab her to stop her screaming, AMIRITE??)
I really don’t want to live in a world that’s a mosaic of overlapping screeches of YOU’VE OFFENDED ME, banned subjects and curbs on people’s rights to say what the fuck they want. A world where you can’t make jokes about anything but puppies (even then living in fear that the Militant Crufts Liberation Front will puppy chow your house in retaliation for your oh-so-witty observation that puppies sometimes piss in the corner and chew your slippers). I also know it’s easier for me to stand up and say “I may hate what you are saying, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it” when it’s not my cherished cause being tested by the speech of another.
So, I’m not asking for revenge or retaliation or for someone to pander to my offence and say they’ll never do it again. I was a bit surprised at the reaction I got from the promoter when I went up to him to express my opinion that I didn’t think a rape joke at a burlesque night was quite in keeping with my expectation of this sort of event, but that’s kind of by-the-by now.
What I AM I’m asking for an awareness of the power of the rape joke. Because jokes matter.
There shouldn’t be any subjects that are off limits to jokes, parody, pisstake or mocking. Shock and offense and boundary crossing are core mechanisms of how we navigate the world. Using humour to puncture pomposity and illustrate absurdities and make important points and make each other laugh and gasp in horror while we do so is IMPORTANT. The freedom to do THAT is linked to the freedom to think differently to the majority and to protest and to challenge and taps into some fundamental freedoms that feel under serious assault at the moment.
So, I’m not against rape jokes. Some of my favourite comedians do awesome rape jokes. But, they’re funny and they’re horrifying and they’re powerful. You want a good rape joke? Ask Sarah Silverman, she has loads (but don’t just grab them without her consent. That kind of shit tends to piss people off)
What I’m really fucking annoyed about is rape jokes made by people in a position of privilege who get to reinforce that privilege with no real danger or cost to themselves. Seems to be that some people want to speak about something they’re unlikely to have experienced, and then squeal “oppression” when someone points out “you know, not sure this is quite…on?”
So, (some) male performers are A-OK with making jokes about rape. I’m going to assume (unless this stage show is actually part of their therapy) they’ve not actually BEEN raped. BUT! If there are a large enough number of women in the audience, they may well be joking about an experience some of the women have actually gone through. And – here’s a fun one too – if the audience has MEN in it, they may well have raped someone (or been raped themselves – it’s not just men-on-women you know!)
So this is my challenge. All you comedians who want to make a rape joke? Go for it. But GO for it.
You want to explore your right to offend? You want to be edgy and push boundaries and demonstrate you aren’t just a banjo playing, baggy trouser wearing, grandpa moustachioed stagemonkey? Of COURSE you do! You are a Stalwart Defender of the Rights Of People Who Want to Joke About Rape!
Here’s my recommendation:
Man the fuck up and get some skin in the game.
Next time you think “you know what this set needs? MOAR RAPE JOKES” how about making a joke about the experience of ACTUALLY raping someone? Like from the rapist’s perspective. Tell the other side of the story. You know. We all hear so much about the whole “victim” thing. Bo-ooooring. Amirite?
You’re a funny guy, you can do it!
Kind of make you a little uncomfortable?
A little “WTF? That would be weird, and not funny anyway and it’d get me into a metric fuckton of trouble.”
Then maybe you are edging out of a “Lighten up, it’s only a joke….JEEZ, SRSLY these feminazis are totally killing my buzz around this superawesomefun rape joke thing I got going on here” approach, and a little closer to the Actual Power of the rape joke.
But wait! What do you MEAN you don’t want to? Shit. Well, it would be just horrible to be forced to do something against your will? AMIRITE?
Want some follow up reading?
*balance of possibilities is, so do you.
My Name is Erica Packington. I am @Erica_Jane_MP. And I am Spartacus.
I spent most of my week recruiting fellow Spartacii for Saturdays’ demonstration on Sheffield Town Hall steps. I wanted to do something more concrete as a follow up to my participation in the massive #IAmSpartacus protest on Twitter, sparked by @christt. It’s estimated that 25,000 people have republished a tweet that earned the original poster (@PaulJChambers) a criminal record, a fine and lost him his job (twice). You might already know a bit about the situation – but if you want to find out more, you can do so here and here.
So, how did I come to be spending my Saturday afternoon alongside 20+ others shouting “I Am Spartacus” at bemused passers-by in Sheffield City Centre*? Well, the idea came from a flippant remark from a friend on Twitter. @thegreatgonzo (Tony Kennick) tweeted “@DrEvanHarris @mePadraigReidy now true action would be for us to all pick a time to surrender ourselves #Iamspartacus”. That started me thinking.
What about getting a few people together to go down to the police station with a printout of our republication of Paul’s original tweet under our own names and the hashtag #IAmSpartacus and handing ourselves in? Surely there was no way they’d be able to prosecute us all? And if they didn’t prosecute us, surely that would help demonstrate that the means of securing Paul’s conviction were unsafe – or at least completely ridiculous? Either the tweet is menacing (out of context) or it isn’t….
And while we were getting a bunch of people together, why not make a few signs, shout a bit and hand out a few leaflets? It’d be fun. Hopefully, we’d raise a few eyebrows, have a laugh and and a few conversations with people who may not have heard about the case, or understood the wider implications.
A bit of organising, a tweetflood or two over the next few days and we had quite a lot of interest. It was on.
So, I went back to Krav on Thursday for the first time in 6 weeks. In my (dubious) honour Tony decided not to do too many pressups (as my thumb is still a bit delicate and pathetic) so we focussed on the legs. Oh joy. Sprints, duck walks and walking lunges. Ad nauseum.
I still can’t walk properly and it is Monday… Going to see if going to the gym tomorrow will loosen them up a bit, and if not, will concentrate on the arms a bit.
The pathetic thumb also meant that I excused myself from the Krav/Warrior training bit of the session. It was grappling and involved lots of throwing about, slamming to the ground and potential whacking of thumbs. I made my excuses and left.
I think, for the meantime, even though I can’t do any of the cool stuff, I am going to keep going. Mainly as I never work as hard on my own as I do there (for a variety of reasons) and I do enjoy it. Perhaps not *quite* this type of session (or its after effects) but I enjoy the feeling of pushing myself to exhaustion, and I enjoy the results.
So. The Thumb is now out of cast and into a really attractive strappy harness the colour of “dead white people”* And, my gym membership woke from hibernation on the 1st of the month and has been growling at my subconscious since.
Adds up to the fact that, this morning, I woke up and knew it was time to resume the GGWP Project. No more procrastination, no more excuses. I have 7 weeks to get (back?) into shape for the wedding and become Warrior Princess again. Or resume huffing down the path towards her, whatever.
I walked down to the gym, figuring it was a nice day, it’s only 10 minutes away and, erm, yeah I HAVE NO EXCUSE NOT TO. The walk down seemed to help warm me up as I was able to do my treadmill interval training without cheating (walk, run, RUN, run, RUN, run, RUN, collapse). Which, given that I’ve not really moved very fast very frequently recently (apart from a wheezy stagger around the park a couple days ago) I was really pleased with.
I’ve discovered I can do most of the arm exercises, apart from the ones that will do something about the bit of my arms I most want to work on. Booo….hiss…. Think I need to corner one of the lovely young men with interesting hair and ask them to recommend an exercise that will still deliver me Xena arms, but not involve my right thumb at all. Really work those Sport Science degrees (and fringes) hard.
I had a jolt of serious arm envy when using the machines, and again in the changing rooms. There was a girl there – blond, moderately tall, quite pretty, with an amazingly strong form. Not muscle-bound at all, but very strong looking – I think I recognise her from climbing. Really striking, and looked like she could take the “glory battle” bit in any mythic GGWP encounter. Got me thinking about notions of beauty and how horribly warped the story is that women have been sold, and bought…
I got quite cross on the way home thinking about it. Twig-like waifs who look like they’d break if you sneezed aggressively near them stalk the pages of every fashion magazine and across the screens of the broadcast media we consume. Rarely do you see a woman who looks like they can hold their own – and someone else’s to boot. Even women taking on traditional “action” roles in the movies (like Angelina Jolie in Salt) look like they might snap in two at any moment. Where’s our modern-day Ripley? If cast today, the lead in Alien would in all probability be all emaciated form and marionette arms, telling us how she “can’t resist carbs” (but clearly does).
There’s something desperately insulting about the notion that a woman’s greatest achievement is to make less of herself. But we collectively coo and fawn over women who have managed to do so by losing weight – who take up less space. I do it – “Wow, you look great, have you lost weight?” I get a buzz when someone says the same to me. But at its heart, it’s weird.
The move towards a more accepting notion of different female shapes – such as the current fetishisation of Christina Hendricks (who plays Joan Holloway on Mad Men) still risks positioning woman into a space where they are both defined by their body shape and denied access to the ideal – no one else looks like Christina Hendricks. She is completely fricking gorgeous, and an amazing actor – and as impossible a body shape to assume as Kate Moss is, for many women. It’s not body acceptance that drives a greater range of women’s shapes in the media, it’s fashion and economics. And none of it gets to the heart of the fact that women are (mostly) still judged by how their bodies look and (mostly) how little space they take up.
Perhaps an odd tirade for a Geek Girl, writing on a blog specifically set up to chart my physical “upgrade”. I have experienced (a little bit) of the power of discovering exercise to change my body shape. But I don’t think my motivation is to get “thinner”. I’ve realised I don’t want to be thin, actually. I want to be strong and toned and Warrior Princess. Not weak and feeble and waif. If I’m going to be judged on my body, I want the message I send out to show just how much space I am happy to take up.
Fight you for it.
p.s More eloquent (and erm, knowledgable) women than me have talked about this: notably Naomi Wolf in The Beauty Myth. Also, some of the literature on women’s body shape in the media related to economic and social pressures after the 2nd world war (essentially “from Rosie the Riveter to Perfect Housewife”) is worth a read. Sheila Rowbotham’s A Century of Women is pretty interesting.
*you know, Crayola’s infamous crayon shade…no?
after the jump for those of you with a nervous disposition.
Idiot Stoic. Obviously.
Is Slowly (healing)
Today’s the DAY! Getting the wire out…The plan is to keep it as a talisman. Or a warning to the other bits of my body to remind them not to be idiotic and get damaged or they, too, might end up pinned together with a coathook-come-tent peg. Anyway, after the operation plus a month of cast-bound thumb immobilisation, I’ve got another 2 weeks of some sort of protection to wear and physio to do. But I Is Slowly (healing).
All this time, I’d been conceptualising a struggle between Geek Girl and Warrior Princess – fighting it out over time and priorities (examples: Geek Girl gets to go to a talk on metaphors ,Geek Girls Allowed beats Krav ,Geek Girl gets Warrior Princess into trouble. Hmm. For a kick-ass warrior, WP gets beat a lot)
Perhaps I missed a sub-personality lurking in the background…the Internal Saboteur. This deep-cover Anna Chapman bided her time, letting the headline battles rage until striking… “No, don’t bother getting the thumb checked out, it’s fine. Don’t be a wimp.” Whispering her tempting message of “Just ignore it, it’ll be fine. Besides, you don’t have time for a sore thumb” IS has pretty successfully nixed both GG and WP agendas for the past month. Sneaky.
However, despite the best efforts of WP and IS. I can actually type. Hurrah! But I can only really type in 10 minute bursts. That’s why I’ve not really posted anything for so long. Well, that and, you know. It’s all a bit embarrassing.
What this experience has highlighted for me is that my writing style has its own rhythm. One not AT ALL suited to being able to type in 10 minute bursts. As my thumb is immobilised, I have to hunch up my shoulder to get into the right position to be able to hit the keys. This is not a position you would find on any of those workplace ergonomics websites full of glossy people and strange looking chairs. Or maybe you would, but it would be in the “WTF were they thinking??” gallery and Justin (for ergonomics specialists are always called Justin) would be shaking his head mournfully at the damage I am doing to muscles I can’t pronounce.
ANYWAY, for the first week or so after The Op, I finally realised and accepted that all Warrior Princess activities were fully off the table. Which left me with some free time. Time I could hand over to Geek Girl to crack on with The Dissertation. A few valiant (ahem) attempts to get writing illustrated that this would not be the case.
My writing style is not suited to ten minute bursts of typing. Or even 1/2 hour bursts. Oh no, I need to gaze at the computer for hours/day/weeks, then flood it with a deluge of words. Then go back, edit, delete, restore, re-read, re-shape, get despondent, give up, come back, realise it’s not so bad and carry on. Normally interspersed with a healthy dose of gazing and procrastination enlivened with a dash of self-loathing. It is not a pomodoro friendly activity.
So. I’ve put my dissertation submission date back – erm, I am In Suspension* – for how long, I’m not sure. I will be meeting the physio tomorrow who will be able to let me know the activities I can safely get back to and in what timeframe. We’ll see which are Geek Girl friendly and which will enable the Return of Warrior Princess. Idiot Stoic and Internal Saboteur can retreat back from whence they came. IS citizenship in this collective has been revoked.
*’cept I’m not, it’s a Delayed Submission, but that wouldn’t work with the thing. Details, details…