Monday, 6 August 2012

Only A Joke?

Trigger warning - rape

This week I was watching RAW. Yes, I watch pro-wrestling, it's my Corrie, Emmerdale or Eastenders. Anyhow, I was watching RAW, and in the midst of a rather middling episode, one of the performers, Abraham Washington, on a live microphone, said:

"[Wrestler] is like Kobe Bryant in a Colorado hotel room: unstoppable."

Hohohohoho no.

WWE apologised for the incident, but the performer appears to have got by without much worries, he still had his live mic section on the next show. It was, after all, only a joke.


I remember a while ago, an anonymous relative of mine randomly made a rape joke in the middle of conversation. They were a bit confused as to why I took it so badly.

A while after, one of my uni pals made a similar joke but more specific about someone in general. I responded by telling him he'd crossed the line, getting up and storming out of the pub. OTT? Perhaps a little, but it got the point across. He apologised next time I saw him, and in the years of hanging out after, never made a single similar joke in my presence, at least.

(Before I step forward, I feel the need to protect someone’s good name here. As the only one of my male uni pals, who has a public platform, as being one, I assure everyone this wasn't Shim. He in fact is the only guy I know who has less tolerance for such things.)

The point, neither of the two joke tellers would have, as far as I know, ever hurt a woman in their lives, and would have been genuinely sickened at the thought. Yet they told rape jokes without even thinking.

Now a defence of such jokes that has come out recently is that it is good to laugh about traumatic things. Hence 'The Producers'. Now, I'll accept humour as the best defence and medicine, true, but I'd say there's a slight difference, ever so slight, between Joan Rivers making jokes about her life as a form of therapy and some male comedian who thinks he's the next Frankie Boyle cracking a joke about the crying lass to "lighten the mood".

I admit with my cards on the table that I have personally been affected by the crime, on account of two friends that I know of at least. That's all I need mention. However, it doesn't change my views, as I'd have had them anyway.

I've been trying to write a story about the aftermaths of a rape case for the best part of seven years. Trying being the operative word. (It incidentally would show no actual rape scene, only the effect in months to come. As friend of, I know that bit. In addition, as friend of, you carry the personal shame longer than the bloody rapist, forever thinking of how you should have stopped it happening, regardless of distance, age at the time and in one case, not having even known the person then.) It's just too sickening a topic to write about, even in the abstract.

As sickening was the repeated treatment my fellow writer, Lorrie, has received over the past month and more, for the harrowing crime of defending rape victims against Twitter idiots. I even get my first hate Tweet in defending her, because bloody hell, I'm not going to sit back and watch that. (Though Lorrie seems far more adept at tackling these people than I am, but that's beside the point -she shouldn't have to!)

It’s sort of amusing. As a writer, I have commented on: Palestine/Israel, student activism, the Old Firm, anti-racism, and other lightening rods for replies, yet the first hate mail in any form was due to defending a rape victim. Actually, that's quite tragic.

Besides, Lorrie and others seem to be attacked for the crime of being feminist. There's nothing wrong with that. (The only feminists I wouldn't get on with are the ones in that BBC documentary who abandoned their children and who claimed all women should be lesbians as "sexuality is a choice, not something you are born with." And you know what? I've never met anyone like that, just as I've never met someone on ESA who wasn't a genuine claimant, and I have never met an asylum seeker who wasn't a genuine case. If there is a minority, then I am sorry for them, but it shouldn't get in the way of the vast majority of innocent folk.)

One night, several years ago, I was meeting pals to go to a nightclub. Outside the pub we were meeting, a girl (about 20 at the most, though I fear she was a damn sight younger) was falling about the place. Smelt of booze, yes, but not that much, which made me a bit worried she'd had a fit or something. The bouncers were being utterly hopeless. She got to her feet and leaned on me for support, and tried to engage in chitchat. (I might have been being chatted up, I'm not very sure about these things, she did suggest going for a drink, I was too worried she was going to collapse again.) Anyhow, she decided she couldn't get back into the pub, so started walking down the street. And fell over. At which point my friends came along - female ones - and they were desperate to leave the scene immediately. And I did start to walk away, but the street was quite busy, and I noticed no one was trying to help this woman. So I came back, and helped her up. She was so out of it she was slurring badly. There was a taxi rank across the street and next to the train station so, with my friends grumbling about it, I led her to the taxis. Once inside one, she kind of knew where her mum lived (but not where she lived) so I paid the taxi driver £30 in advance and he drove her to her mum.

It didn't even occur to me that she might have been drugged until I spoke to Shim about it a few days later.

Now, I know now that's not how you are meant to deal with such things. You should phone the cops, or take the person to the hospital or something like that. I was 18, and hadn't a clue what to do. I was waiting for one of the grownups to do something, anything, and none of them did. And throughout it all, I was increasingly worried as I noticed that no one, not the bouncers, not my friends, not the many hundred people who passed us, seemed to give a care. Someone else's problem. Someone more predatory than me would have had a field day. Which disturbed intensely, and more than anything is the reason I can recall the entire scene very well today when I cannot remember what I had for breakfast.

Now a writer, a female writer, of some repute who I will again keep anonymous would have labelled this "heroic", because "men who don't rape are heroic". This is bollocks to me. Reminds me of that Chris Rock bit. "I look after my kids...YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO!"

Nevertheless, her point was that rape is prevalent in society that by her thinking those who didn't even consider it were abnormal. Or so it seemed.

This is why I draw the line. Humour is subjective, yes, but there's no humour in something so bloody widespread.

Now, someone who might think I am taking things too seriously, I would point in the direction of Sarah Lauren Scott's comments on the matter, as they chime with mine, and really gave me the impetus to write this.

So I will stand up if I see someone make one on my Twitter feed. Or someone makes such a joke in the pub, or train, or elsewhere in my presence. And I do hope the WWE make an explanatory apology for their incident, though I don't hold my breath.

It's very simple, to me.

The more people who DO come out and say "That is not acceptable", the more public the idea of it being unacceptable is, the more we can knuckle down and deal with the crime itself and stop being waylaid by apologists.

Because covering up a joke with "it’s only a joke" when the stats suggest you have a damn good chance of making the joke in front of a victim is unacceptable.

EDIT - Shortly after this was published, WWE released the wrestler in question from his contract.