Facebook timelines are pesky things. While much of my time on this social media site is dedicated to schoolwork on various class Facebook groups (promise), it is also a common practice to scroll down the news feed and see what everyone is posting. One particular post bothered me so much I find myself writing about it a full year later. It wasn’t your usual Elite Daily article, a photograph of someone’s lunch, or an interesting link with a matching clickbait title. It was a simple meme shared by one of my Facebook friends.
The image showed a sloth and the words, “Dashing through the grass, I’m coming to rape your ass,” and was posted with a caption alluding to the incoming freshmen for the academic year. The original post had several thousand likes, and the re-shared image had a handful. Comments on the shared post were from people laughing at the joke while calling the sharer a pig.
Disgusted as I was, I was hesitant to comment or call the joke out for how offensive it is. It’s a natural thing for me to be shy, even on social media where people mire themselves in so much freedom to say whatever they want. But more than my shyness, what stopped me from calling my friend out was my fear of looking haughty, prudish, or worse – KJ.
I’ve been called a killjoy several times in my life, and none of them were very pleasant. The accusations of KJ-ness stemmed from me confronting people about similar jokes, or asking others why they joke about sexual abuse. When I saw that particular rape sloth meme, I reasoned with myself: perhaps not too many people will see the joke anyway, or maybe I was being too sensitive. Besides, part of the appeal of these jokes is how very wrong they are. There’s a shock value, catching you off guard and trying to make you see horrible things in a funny light. No one in their right mind, one can argue, would ever dream that anyone would take the joke seriously, or deny that rape and the objectification of women are wrong.
I guessed – or maybe hoped – that such a thing didn’t really matter in the greater scheme of things. Jokes were, after all, just jokes. And in our modern, liberal world, surely people can enjoy their freedom of speech harmlessly?
Turns out that that’s not true. Studies have found, time and again, that nearly all rapists think that all men are rapists, and that others are just better at hiding it. By hearing rape jokes being made and laughed at, these men are reaffirmed in their belief that rape is normal. By making and laughing at rape jokes, everyday non-rapists contribute to this belief as well.
We don’t need research like that to tell us that it’s wrong to joke about rape and sexual abuse, though. Just because we can doesn’t mean we should. The thing is, for every person that enjoys their freedom of speech like this, victims of abuse are reminded of their suffering, abusers feel validated and assured of their belongingness in society, and potential abusers find more and more reason to violate another person. For every exercise of freedom of speech in this way, we belittle and invalidate the horrible reality of victims around us.
Most people who enjoy this type of humor, I’m sure, do not set out for these results. But then again their intent, like in many other things, is not the sole determinant of harm. And all of a sudden our modern, liberal world isn’t such a happy place of laughter anymore.
It makes me wonder then, if the original maker of the joke post experienced the same hesitation I did, for fear of being judged or condemned, and if he did, why he posted it anyway.
Over the years, one thing I’ve come to realize is that it is socially acceptable to be what many call a manyak, if only in jest. It’s perfectly fine to make obscene jokes about abuse and the objectification of women, and others will call you gago but will laugh along anyway. What isn’t acceptable is calling these jokes out for what they are.
Someone’s got to do it at some point, though.
So I guess this is for all the killjoys out there. It’s easy to denounce Boko Haram and their harassment and abduction of girls who only want to go to school. It’s easy to rally against female genital mutilation in distant parts of the world or call out foreign, sexist customs that give men reasons to attack women for wearing skirts that reveal their knees. But it’s difficult to call out these jokes and other everyday micro-aggressions, precisely because they’re so common and so subtle, and also because these hit so close to home.
By calling these jokes out, we tell people that their everyday language is degrading and violent. We tell them that their humor only serves as reinforcement to hundreds of years of oppression, and we tell people – men, especially – that they are a part of the systematic oppression of minorities, and the ability to joke about other people’s discomfort and suffering is a mark of their privilege. That’s going to be very, very difficult for them to hear. It’s not going to be comfortable to confront, but the truth hardly ever is.
To be a killjoy, then, is to call people out and be the target of their retaliation. It’s interesting how manyak is normal but calling a manyak out is not. You can tell something is off when fighting against micro-aggressions like these jokes is so threatening to others. It’s not that we are against all jokes, or as the name suggests, against joy itself. It’s just that we’re tired of a system that is oppressive and harmful, and punishes us for trying to work against it.
So here’s a thought – if you feel victimized by a killjoy, or if one snuffs out the humor in your life and you’re tired of being called out for your offensive jokes, think about how tired they probably are of your jokes. I’m not an expert comedian or a critic, but for humanity’s sake, try and consider reevaluating your humor. You can make better jokes. Trust me.