The Soapbox: Some Good News (Really) About Rape Jokes

As if we didn’t already have enough reasons to say RIP Society: French “YouTube comedian” (I know) Remi Baillard recently released a video called “Free Sex,” in which he’s filmed pretending to fuck unsuspecting women in public. Invariably, the women notice Baillard air-humping them and give him dirty looks. And this dumb shit actually has over five and a half million views.

Yes, that’s right. A sketch form of a rape joke — which I can only assume was inspired by “Austin Powers 3,” circa 2002?  — got almost six million hits. I was one of those hits and not only did I not laugh, but I was transported back to 7th grade. You remember 7th grade? It’s a time when the 12-year-old boys were so tiresome and immature that merely walking in front of a group of them would make my eyes roll back into the base of my cerebellum.

This isn’t to say that I’m incapable of enjoying some good fun lowbrow humor. I certainly am, but rape jokes aren’t an example of that at all. In fact, I increasingly feel that stupid shit like this doesn’t even deserve the attention from deep, feminist analysis anymore. I’d rather throw the laptop I’m currently typing on into the river, to be honest. That’s the reaction that I’m having to terrible rape jokes in general. It’s less Oh! How awful that the patriarchy continues to denigrate women into positions of humiliation for the purpose of cheap laughs! and more like I NEED TO GO DRINK EIGHT MARTINIS AND KICK A CAR OR MAYBE JUST NAP BECAUSE THIS WAS SO DUMB. (Or, do this.)

You’re probably wondering, oh no are we going to get another tirade about rape jokes? YES, YES YOU ARE, I’M SORRY. You know, I’m actually glad “Free Sex” appeared, on some level. It is such a bad piece of rape joke vaudeville that it is hurting rape culture instead of helping it. It’s like when you hate a music genre, then hear the absolute worst song from that genre and it just proves the point so much stronger. This is like rape culture/rape joke nail-in-the-coffin type stuff. It’s poorly conceived, poorly executed and rapey all wrapped up into one neat little package of trash.

Of course there are a still a bunch of people who probably don’t even see this as a rape joke, like all the commenters calling it hilarious on YouTube. Is that an issue? Yes. I was talking to someone about the video and he gave me the ol’ “But if the women don’t even know it’s happening to them, is it dangerous?” excuse. To which I say: YES, DUH. Just because a joke not directly involving them, it still has an effect on the way consent is perceived to everyone who watches it. It presents women’s bodies as free for the taking, even when they’re shopping for groceries (the title is “Free Sex” after all). And it makes actual rapists falsely believe that rape is acceptable, even funny.

I would venture to say that the whole landscape of rape joke acceptance is actually shifting. Maybe I’m just being idealistic, but after years of wanting to dive out of the window when I would hear bad rape jokes told by standup comedians at open mics, I welcome my new optimism with open arms. When I started reading the You Tube comments (PSA: I DO NOT RECOMMEND EVER READING THE COMMENTS), I noticed a shift. Sure, there were the regular “LoLZ, Remi is fUny” and the “hahahahhaaaaaaa he the man!” remarks and of course, I saw some hateful commenters actually predicting that women and feminists were going to hate it, which is part of the reason they enjoyed it so much. (The misogynists were proving their own misogyny by predicting it!) But the overwhelming majority of comments were from men and women alike who thought the video was terrible, harmful, and sexist. And the comments weren’t just from self-described feminists like me; most comments were about how tacky the video was and how it just looked like sexual harassment. A few years ago, there would have been  arguing about whether this is even a rape joke in the first place. Now the “men’s rights activists” douchebags are proving our arguments for us, which to me is hilarious.

I’m still bummed that rape jokes get so much attention, even if now it’s shifting to be negative. It’s heartening to me that more and more comedy fans are becoming exhausted by the juvenile corners of the rape joke stratosphere. Maybe soon we’ll just ignore them entirely so that so-called “comedians” don’t even try anymore?

Katrin Higher is a standup comic in New York City. Follow her on Twitter!