Further reflections on acceptable behavior

In the comments of my post on The Reddit misogyny issue, “No Excuses.“,  reader Tony B said something interesting:

Agreeing that [the Reddit response to a 15 year old posting a picture of herself with a book] are in poor taste, I’d like to go deeper and consider the minutiae of what should be acceptable and what should not. Because that, unlike hearing yet another argument over the definition of feminism, privilege, etc would actually be interesting. If there’s no interest in that sort of thing it’s not a problem. I just knew I couldn’t have that conversation on a huge place like Pharyngula without being completely drowned out by the groupthink that goes on there.

I agree: we should discuss this, and we have not discussed this enough. After all, JT can joke about kidnapping me and raping me all he wants (Okay, that’s never actually happened, but he could) and I will laugh my fool head off and probably bite him, but when strange Reddit atheists do it to a 15 year old girl, we cry foul.

Obviously, different folks might disagree over where to draw the line; That’s okay. This social issue falls on a continuum of acceptable——unacceptable, so we’ll likely discover difficulty in arriving at a consensus. That likelihood doesn’t mean we can’t make a valiant effort, though.

Ready, set, discuss!


Reach Christina at Zizturiswrong {at} gmail [dotcom] or on Twitter @Ziztur

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  • http://thecanberracook.blogspot.com Alethea H. Claw

    Suggestion 1: slagging off a large and diverse community as “groupthink” – not acceptable.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ziztur Christina

      Honestly, I don’t read the comments on Pharyngula very often, but I’m pretty sure I agree with you.

      • http://thecanberracook.blogspot.com Alethea H. Claw

        Thanks Christina. Actually, I’m not entirely sure that *I* agree with me as a general principle. Insults are not always wrong in every circumstance; and not all communities are deserving of respect.

        It just seems bitterly ironic to open a discussion on good net behaviour with a broad insult.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula PZ Myers

      Pharyngula comment threads are the land of sharp knives and blunt instruments, ruthlessly wielded. To call it “groupthink” is absurd — I can’t even venture there without getting slashed at.

      One thing I can guarantee, though, is that anyone going in there to make excuses for misogyny will be cheerfully eviscerated. Which leaves me suspecting that the question was not asked in good faith.

      • Tony B

        See, I knew I should have left that particular sentence off the comment because it wasn’t relevant to what I actually was trying to say and would distract the conversation.

        It’s an old opinion of which I no longer recall the cause. Some years ago I decided to stop reading the comments on your posts because I got the distinct impression that disagreement with the group was frequently shouted down rather than defeated. Applying the thought that sometimes requires ridicule to provoke, it occurs to me that this impression may have been due to context that I missed at the time. In any case, there’s no reason at all that such a vague prejudice, justified or not, should have made it into the final draft of my comment here.

        Sorry about that.

  • http://twitter.com/#!/VeritasKnight VeritasKnight

    Well, that’s familiarity, isn’t it?

    What I do in a private sphere with my friends, people who know me, isn’t going to raise their hackles if I am inappropriate compared to what I might do on a public sphere.

    IE, you and JT, who are obviously close, can make jokes like that all you want. If I were to make jokes like that with (generic female here) who barely knows me, she’d probably call the cops.

    And damn right she should.

    Six months after getting to know her (or six minutes, depending on how we hit it off), I could say things. If she’s extended that comfort level to me, then maybe it’d be just peachy. It’s all in establishing a personal connection with someone.

    I don’t have a personal connection with you. Or Greta, or Stephanie, or a dozen other bloggers here who I follow, and I’d never joke beyond what we know to be acceptable. Or make inappropriate comments to random 15 year old on reddit. Or however you please.

    Once you form a relationship with someone, you begin the process of creating a paradigm where things past the publicly acceptable become acceptable within your paradigm.

    In other words: talk it out with your friends, but never assume with people you hardly know.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ziztur Christina

      One interesting thing I was just thinking of:

      I feel that society gives different lines of acceptable behavior or comments for men than for women.

      I can get away with more. Perhaps not much more, but certainly more.

      If I tell a 300lb man I’ve just met, for example, that I want to rape him, he’s not likely to feel threatened.

      If the situation were reversed, I would probably feel threatened, probably owing to the fact that he possesses far more capability at actually following through with his comment than I.

      Whether the difference in lines should exist I am not really commenting on, I’m more pointing the line out than anything else.

      • http://andythenerd.tumblr.com The Nerd

        That’s a very relevant issue. I personally am against any sort of rape jokes (in general, though I’m not perfect), precisely because allowing one gender more leeway perpetuates the myth that only certain people can be rape victims, and that attitude only benefits rapists. I can see some good points on other sides, though.

        • Anne Marie

          Another problem with rape jokes is that they’re like telling racist jokes while blindfolded, you don’t know who you’re hurting. It’s not worth that risk to me, especially when so very few are actually the slightest bit funny (subjective, I know).

          • http://speakingupanyway.wordpress.com Allie Clark

            I think there are very, very few instances where rape jokes are ok. For me, there isn’t a single person in the world – and there never has been, and I doubt there ever will be – that I would fine with making a rape joke to me. That probably has a lot to do with the fact that rape jokes hit really close to home for me, and I don’t find it funny to have my PTSD triggered. However, some people may feel differently. I really, really like what The Nerd said about consent. VeritasKnight is right that there’s a grey area of consent in social interactions, but I believe that, like all kinds of consent, if you have doubts, either ask, or don’t do it. It’s much, much better to err on the side of caution than to say something that is at best offensive and at worst the trigger for a major PTSD flare. If you don’t know if the person has been impacted by rape, stay silent. It’s pretty probable that they have been the victim of a sexual assault, and it’s extremely improbable that they don’t know anyone who has been sexually assaulted. (One day I want to figure out that exact probability.)

            Also, consider the setting. If you know your friend is ok with rape jokes, but there are other people there who aren’t or you don’t know their views, don’t say it.

            And consider why you want to say it. Rape jokes can normalize rape; they make a very serious, traumatic thing into something to laugh at. Please don’t take that responsibility lightly. If you and the person you’re joking with haven’t been sexually assaulted (I like what VeritasKnight said about people who haven’t been sexually assaulted having privilege), I don’t think rape jokes are a good idea. Two white people can consent that it’s ok to make racist jokes, but those jokes help normalize and perpetuate racism.

            That said, sometimes joking about rape is a coping mechanism between survivors of sexual assaults. A good friend and I are both such survivors, and occasionally we’ll joke about it – usually in the vein of “Don’t know know that if you [insert rape apology argument here], you’re going to get raped and it will be your fault?” The same goes for jokes about our respective disabilities and mental illnesses.

            Also, I don’t understand why someone would *want* to make a rape joke. It just doesn’t click in my head. “Rape” and “joke” are diametrically opposed words to me, and combining them makes absolutely no sense in my mind.

          • http://twitter.com/#!/VeritasKnight VeritasKnight

            This is actually a response for Allie Clark, though you’re pretty okay too, Anne Marie!

            While, mostly, I agree with you, I think that we’re all talking about rape “jokes” here based on the fact that that’s the example given. When I discuss the grey area of consent, I’m discussing the fact that consent can be reasonably assumed in certain situations. IE, person A and person B meet at the bar, end up in a cab together, back at person A’s place and both give standard social signs of attraction and desire to engage in sexual intercourse, either person could assume that consent is granted – provided, of course, that the above is true.

            I guess what I’m trying to say is that sometimes, it’s okay to not pause, and ask formally, “Hey. is it okay if we fuck? I mean, I just want to make sure.” What is never ok is if someone says, “Hey, maybe we should slow down” and the other person ignores them.

            The same goes for finding a level of private inappropriateness that is shared between friends, or a group of friends. If you laugh at the same inappropriate jokes from a comic on tv (earnestly), then you can assume that sort of experience could be shared. If you flirt a little, they flirt a little back, everyone is comfortable with it, there’s no need for people to bust out a contract.

            The key with consent is, like you said, clarifying if there’s any real question; and recognizing that either party has the 100% right to withdraw both explicit and implied consent at any given time.

      • http://teachingsapiens.wordpress.com Robert B

        That is the privilege of being male. Convincing people that are not being inconvenienced by their own privilege to change isn’t easy, especially when they aren’t even aware of it. Reminding people not to be assholes over and over is probably the best way. We shouldn’t need Rebecca Watson to point this out every few months, but the fact of the matter is that we do.

      • http://twitter.com/#!/VeritasKnight VeritasKnight

        Probably, that person wouldn’t. And has been pointed out, that’s an application of male privilege.

        Of course, and here’s the rub, you never know. Maybe that 300 lb man has been raped, and even mentioning it is going to cause emotional harm, even if (thanks to the aforementioned social rules) he won’t dare to show it. Maybe he has a legitimate fear of such things. Maybe he’s easily intimidated.

        The appropriate answer is that we should establish a fair line. I shouldn’t walk up to you and say such things – but even though I *probably* wouldn’t actually feel threatened by the inverse, you shouldn’t toss that at me either. Could we say that it’s a form of privilege towards sexual assault non-victims, or people who’ve dealt with that and have emotionally moved on? Probably, but that’s long and convoluted.


        Respect the possible boundaries of people you don’t know, and develop your own politically correctless boundaries with them as your friendship grows. In public, with someone you are hiding behind an internet pseudonym from, it’s never appropriate to come close to those lines.

        • http://teachingsapiens.wordpress.com Robert B

          That 300 lb guy was once a little boy and was entirely reliant on society to not be sexually assaulted.

          • http://speakingupanyway.wordpress.com Allie Clark

            And there’s a pretty good chance that society failed him.

      • http://nathandst.blogspot.com NathanDST

        A slight addition to this: coming from a woman, that 300lb man might think you’re flirting if you say you want to rape him.

        Not sure if that adds anything meaningful.

    • http://speakingupanyway.wordpress.com Allie Clark

      This is a reply to your comment farther down, but it wouldn’t give me the reply link.

      I’m going to have to disagree with you about whether or not it’s ok to stop and verbally ask for consent. Nonverbal communication can be misconstrued – in fact, it often is. Abbey and Melby found that men are more likely to interpret nonverbal cues as sexual intent (http://www.springerlink.com/content/x26j0k581r15m5t4/), and in a study titled “Perception of sexual intent: The role of gender, alcohol consumption, and rape supportive attitudes” (http://www.springerlink.com/content/l550756xg2551220/) Abbey and Harnish found that men perceived women as behaving more sexually than women did, and that targets were viewed as being more sexual when both targets were drinking. The point is that “standard social signs of attraction and desire to engage in sexual intercourse” aren’t so standard. There’s also confirmation bias – you want something to be so, thus you interpret it as so – and the fact that some people are bad senders of nonverbal information, and some people are bad receivers of information (are bad at interpreting what is being said nonverbally). And we’re piss-poor judges of our sending and receiving ability.

      Consent is not (or should not be) the absence of a no. Consent is not (or should not be) implied by nonverbal cues. Consent should be an enthusiastic yes. If you’re not sure, ask. If you think it’s a yes but it hasn’t been said, ask. It’s much, much better to be kind of awkward, or to miss out on sex you could have had, than to rape someone. Because yes, it is rape.

      I have one caveat to the above paragraph: When you have intimate partners who have enough rapport to say “no” to sex without fear of any negative consequences, then consent can be granted through nonverbal cues.

      A lot of rape happens when the victim wants to say no, but doesn’t out of fear of the consequences, whatever they may be.

      Another big thing for me on consent has to do with intoxication: If you’re too drunk to drive, you’re too drunk to consent to sex. I know that’s a controversial statement. But if you’re too drunk to drive, you’re also too drunk to give medical consent. If you’re too drunk to make decisions about your body medically, is it really so much of a stretch to say you’re too drunk to make decisions sexually? This is another one of those things I say because it’s so much better to err on the side of caution, and again, I offer the caveat of intimate relationships with a strong trust bond, though more weakly in this situation.


      • http://twitter.com/#!/VeritasKnight VeritasKnight

        I guess I should have said, “In a perfect world”.

        Of course, there’s nothing right with assuming consent when there is none. Absence of a yes, as you rightfully stated, is equivalent to a no. I’m reminded of some court cases in Canada before 1984, when the law was changed, when a few women (and assuredly more, but they aren’t in the court cases) denied consent to their husband, and the legal definition at the time actually stated women couldn’t be raped by their husbands. I think that was the first talk we had about privilege. Welcome to Mr. Bartlett’s Grade 8 social studies class.

        Anyway. I think there’s perfectly okay ways to make sure consent is given without ruining a moment, or however you choose (because this particular consent discussion does apply to more than just sexual encounters). And you should seek out those methods in your situation. But the important point is that yes, body language and non-verbal communication can be misconstrued. The crux of my point is that human interaction is rough and messy, and you won’t see in a given social interaction, of any sort, explicit verbal consent given for each level of social engagement – that sometimes, people are reliant on non-verbal communication (and I know how unreliable that can be). The crux is that there’s a stop point where someone has to pull back and say, “Hey, is this ok, do you want to keep going?”

        I’m reminded of something I read somewhere, likely a parody, where people had to sign papers and file documents with the government to hold hands. I know that’s not what you’re referencing, but that’s what comes to mind, and this comment is already rambling enough.

        As for alcohol – I primarily agree that if you’re under the influence of any drug (let’s not just leave it at booze, though that’s the most likely LEGAL drug), then you can’t consent. But – and this is a question – what about the situation where you’re with a longstanding partner, fully intending to get drunk and have a crazy night? To me, that’s like signing the form for cancer surgery then getting smashed the day of. Not always medically sound, but you still signed the forms when you were of proper mind.

        • http://speakingupanyway.wordpress.com Allie Clark

          “what about the situation where you’re with a longstanding partner, fully intending to get drunk and have a crazy night?”

          Honestly, I don’t know. I know what I personally prefer, but this is a complex question (to me) and I haven’t been able to come down on a definite opinion yet.

        • Anat

          But – and this is a question – what about the situation where you’re with a longstanding partner, fully intending to get drunk and have a crazy night?

          Perhaps the best would be to establish the respective intents of both (or more, as the case may be) sides before drinking starts, and being open to the possibility of someone changing hir mind. The question is what happens if someone changes hir mind but has trouble communicating this fact, or hir partner has trouble receiving communication, due to drunken state of either party. Since we are talking about an established relationship perhaps it is a good idea to have agreed upon methods to withdraw consent?

  • http://andythenerd.tumblr.com The Nerd

    Consent. You consent to someone in particular making jokes about causing you harm (or what would be harm if you did not consent). And consent must be given, not assumed. Rape jokes directed toward strangers necessarily are non-consensual. This is what most feminist mean by “rape culture” aka those attitudes which give rapists a safe space in which to operate.

    • http://twitter.com/#!/VeritasKnight VeritasKnight


      Except for one thing, regarding certain forms of consent. In a social situation, consent is often not explicitly granted, which can create a grey area. Very few people have a serious conversation over which jokes are allowed, and which aren’t. Which topics of conversation are taboo, and which aren’t. They find it out through experience, and usually consume some social credit when they cross lines. Do it enough, and you lose a friend.

  • troy s.davis

    I think it is important to note the girls age for the real answer here. She must frequent the Reddit Atheist forum for her to post there… so we can only expect that many of the users making questionable remarks were young too. It’s a lot of fuss over very little.

    • http://andythenerd.tumblr.com The Nerd

      If you’re implying that “boys will be boys”, I think when they’re young and have room for growth is exactly the time to intervene with education and set them on the path toward advanced humanism.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ziztur Christina

      The fuss really, is not over the original comments so much as the minimization and excuses made regarding those comments, as I said in my first post on this issue.

      That *some* of the commenters *may* have been young does not excuse the comments.

    • http://teachingsapiens.wordpress.com Robert B

      Stop making excuses for bad behavior.

    • Anne Marie

      First of all, given the people who prefaced their horrible comments with mentions of how young the girl was compared to them, I would doubt they’re all kids.

      Secondly, allowing boys to harass girls because they’re young tells them that behavior is acceptable and permitted. Why not teach them right from wrong throughout their lives? There’s no age where those comments were appropriate.

  • Grammar Merchant

    I can toss insults and even abuse back and forth with my adult friends, and I often do. I would not do so with a minor, and I certainly would not do so with someone who is probably just peeking behind the curtains of atheism to see if this is a place she can feel comfortable. If she and her age-peers engage in that behavior, I have no problem with it, but if I did it, I would feel very slimy indeed.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000457405046 krispreusker

    I almost -ALMOST- made the claim that some of the “prepare your anus” type comments on the original Reddit thread probably weren’t directed at the 15-yo, but were in relation to the “onslaught of compliments” mentioned by the first commenter.

    Then I thought about it and realised that while a male audience might find them amusing/indifferent, the fact that Rebecca Watson, Greta Christina, yourself, etc all singled them out, meant that those type of comments contribute to and are a part of the atmosphere that makes women uncomfortable on the internet.

    It’s like making lynching jokes in a country club. Everyone can see how that’s bad, right?

    • http://andythenerd.tumblr.com The Nerd

      Rape jokes in a forum, lynching jokes in a country club, they both are spectacularly efficient at perpetuating a narrow demographic. That girl would be justified in never setting foot in an atheist setting again in her life. And if a person of a racial minority walked into a country club scouting it out, and overheard a lynching joke, they’ve just succeeded at keeping that person out forever. And if I were to fill my Facebook feed with anti-religious posts, I’d probably be quite successful at ensuring only atheists remain on my friend list (a strategy I neither endorse nor condemn).

  • Jill

    Let’s start by eliminating some variables.

    If she were 18, it still wouldn’t be ok.
    If it were male, it still would not be ok.

    So rape jokes: is there a circumstance when they are ok?
    Same with non-rape violent jokes?

  • thomasfoss

    It’s about context. JT can make jokes like that to you because they’re contextualized by your familiarity with JT’s character and intention(s).

    Take, for instance, that Chris Rock bit, “N****s vs. Black People.” It’s funny when Chris Rock tells it, because it’s in the context of his minority position, criticizing stereotypes and images of his ingroup. It’s also funny when we hear about Michael Scott doing the bit on “The Office,” because we recognize that the show is ridiculing Michael’s casual, clueless racism–and as a result, showing racism itself to be a ridiculous, ignorant minority position.

    It’s not funny when white coworker Ted quotes the bit around the water cooler, and justifies it by saying “hey, I’m just quoting Chris Rock, he’s the one who said it, not me.” Because the context there is not “minority member criticizing stereotypes” nor “buffoon showing racism to be ridiculous,” it’s “privileged white guy telling a joke that appears to be a demonstration of his own racism.”

    There’s a thin line to walk there, and it gets into the complicated nature of humor–and of how the taboo and shocking can be funny, and how jokes can have a variety of layers, and especially how context makes the joke. Fred Clark talked about that here, using Sarah Silverman as an example. And she’s a fantastic example of just how that kind of thing works, and how context is key to humor.

    When you know someone well enough–or a group of people well enough, to realize that their apparently racist/sexist/anti-semitic/etc. jokes are actually backflip-reverse jokes on how ridiculous racism/sexism/anti-semitism/etc. actually is (see, for example, Borat), then those jokes can be acceptable–and hilarious. But when there isn’t that clear context, that backflip-reverse making fun of the oppressors and bigots, it becomes a person in a position of power and privilege making fun of the less powerful and privileged. And that kind of comedy–see Jeff Dunham, “The Half-Hour News Hour,” the stock traders drinking champagne above Occupy protests–is rarely any good, and usually just seems mean-spirited, if not downright hateful.

    Which is squarely where r/atheism ended up.

    • msironen

      “It’s also funny when we hear about Michael Scott doing the bit on “The Office,” because we recognize that the show is ridiculing Michael’s casual, clueless racism–and as a result”

      Yeah and a fuckoflotofbullshitwhythatjustisn’twhat’swhat.

      Seriously JT, if you want to push the product of your feminist pimps; you go, girl. You can be the next PZ, who explodes every time there’s a moral panic that some overlord/lady of yours ginned up. Just expect to be taken a leetle bit more serious each time.

      • http://www.facebook.com/ziztur Christina

        Msironen says:

        “Seriously JT, if you want to push the product of your feminist pimps; you go, girl. You can be the next PZ, who explodes every time there’s a moral panic that some overlord/lady of yours ginned up. Just expect to be taken a leetle bit more serious each time.”

        I am confused as to why you would address JT here…. He did not author this post. I am also having a difficult time parsing the rest of the above quote. Elaborate/clarify?

        • http://andythenerd.tumblr.com The Nerd

          For my personal amusement, I have a Chrome extension called “Jailbreak the Patriarchy” which switches genders around. The offending quote now reads:
          Seriously JT, if you want to push the product of your masculist pimps; you go, boy. You can be the next PZ, who explodes every time there’s a moral panic that some overlord/gentleman of yours ginned up. Just expect to be taken a leetle bit more serious each time.

          • http://speakingupanyway.wordpress.com Allie Clark

            I must have this extension NOW.

  • Classical Cipher, Murmur Muris, OM

    So rape jokes: is there a circumstance when they are ok?

    Hrm. Perhaps, between enthusiastically consenting, non-rapist adults in the privacy of their home. (Or, you know, the privacy of a really private place, where only enthusiastically consenting, non-rapist adults are present.) It’s hard to say. I like this post on it: A woman walks into a rape, uh, bar from Fugitivus.

    • http://speakingupanyway.wordpress.com Allie Clark

      Oh my god that link is amazing. GPOY. I want to marry it and have its babies.

      • http://www.facebook.com/ziztur Christina

        All except for the part where the author of said link says, “Notice her similar reactions. Hate yourself more for saying nothing, because she has probably been raped, too, because you don’t know any woman who hasn’t. Hate your friend, because he doesn’t know that every woman he knows has been raped.”

        Say what? Every woman has been raped? Only if by “rape” she means, “looked at”.

        • http://speakingupanyway.wordpress.com Allie Clark

          Good point. Not every woman has been raped. A good portion of us have, but not every woman. I’m not sure if that’s intentional hyperbole, or if it comes from the experience of telling people you’ve been raped. I found out that all but one of my female friends had been sexually assaulted when I first told people. I found out that family members had been raped. One of my family members told me I was the only person he had ever told about his sexual abuse as a child – he hadn’t even told his wife of 30 years. That’s one of the reasons why sharing your experience as a survivor is so helpful – you often find a lot of people who have had similar experiences and want to share too.

          So every woman? No. But I understand feeling like it’s everyone.

  • http://atheistlogic.wordpress.com/ Zach

    I think a distinction that needs to be drawn (but often isn’t) is jokes that refer to rape versus jokes that make light of rape. I would agree for all the usual reasons that the second type is bad: normalizes the behaviour, triggers flashbacks, etc…

    I problem I often have with things I come across, though, is what I feel is a fairly undeserved condemnation of the first type.

    I follow George Takei on Facebook and yesterday he posted a screencap and quotation from Modern Family:

    Alex: “Dad, what’s Jägermeister?”
    Phil: “You know how in a fairy tale ther’s always a potion that makes the princess fall asleep and then the guys start kissing her? Well, this is like that except you don’t wake up in a castle… you wake up in a frat house with a bad reputation.”

    It wasn’t very long before the comments started flying in about how this was not funny because rape isn’t funny. But the joke here isn’t about rape! This is not making light of rape. This is just a joke about a father trying to answer his daughter’s uncomfortable question. In fact, he is implying that rape is in fact *bad* and that it’s not something you would want to happen.

    It reminds me of a Ricky Gervais bit that I’ve seen pointed out as being “rape joke-y”. You should watch it if you’re not the kind of person who avoids things that could be labeled with a trigger warning. I’ve seen this clip torn apart for making light of rape. But it doesn’t! It asks a very legitimate question: what the hell kind of society *are* we living in that we need to remind people not to rape others? What does that say about our culture that this needs saying? It’s pretty fucked up that that’s the world we live in, and this is exactly what’s being pointed out.

    On the other hand, for an example of a rape joke that I personally *don’t* find funny, check out some George Carlin. *This* completely misses the point and makes light of the horrors of rape. And that’s the kind of “rape jokes” we should be mad about.

    • http://twitter.com/#!/VeritasKnight VeritasKnight

      One time, George Takei tweeted that a charity was doing “Earthbreaking work in Japan” just after the earthquake/tsunami. I of course questioned this, and he replied with, “I guess we all have our faults!”

      A bad pun. I will admit I laughed.

    • http://speakingupanyway.wordpress.com Allie Clark

      Good point. Humor is a good way to draw attention to issues and challenge attitudes without being socially threatening. It’s why Jon Stewart is such an amazing journalist (well, among the reasons). Humor can be used to educate about rape and challenge rape culture.

      Shameless self-promotion: My roommate and I are working on a series of Rape Prevention PSAs. Summary: How do you prevent rape? Don’t rape people.

  • Mike

    Argh, I made a post earlier that would actually fit better on this topic. Curse my habit of going through my RSS in chronological order.

    The gist was: of all the reasons to condemn the behaviour seen on reddit, the fact that she’s a 15 year old girl is not what makes it unacceptable. 15 y.o. girls on the internet are not fragile china dolls. They know naughty words and they know rape jokes, just like everyone knows dead baby jokes. The original “bracin’ mah anus” comment came from Lunam herself. To anyone saying it’s wrong because she’s a minor: you’re being patronizing. She’s 15, not 5. And it would be just as unacceptable if she were 25.

    What makes it unacceptable is the jokes instantly turned from sexual innuendo and metaphor into explicit rape jokes, and from “laughing with her” to “laughing at her expense.” Not to mention all the misogyny which was not joking at all, i.e. the “females take pictures like this” posts, and blaming her when she says that she doesn’t appreciate the comments.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ziztur Christina

    Next up: Some hotshot news blogger will blog about how the atheist community is doomed and fractured because of infighting over this issue. My prediction for 2012.

    • http://speakingupanyway.wordpress.com Allie Clark

      There should be extra points awarded to whoever successfully predicts the pull quote that sensationalizes and over-simplifies the entire issue.

  • clamboy

    So, Tony B goes far, far out on a limb and “agrees” that multiple, explicit suggestions of kidnapping, rape, etc., “are in poor taste”. Why, Tony B, are you sure you want to take such a strong stand?? Goodness me, such bravery! I am sure that, were you a member of House of Saud, you would put everything on the line and declare that 10 lashes for the crime of driving while female is simply too many, sir, too many!! No more than 8, well, maybe 9, but not one more! And you are unanimous in that!!

  • zelkwin

    I think a rape joke runs, not walks, across the barrier between acceptable and unacceptable. Because it’s so extreme, I don’t feel like it’s a good example for addressing the question of what’s acceptable in conversation or not. (They are very important to address, but I don’t have the skill nor time, and many people will do a better job at it anyway.)
    I think that to address that question, you would need to look at why certain humor is unacceptable in particular situations. This is a newborn hypothesis, can’t even lift its head yet, so feel free to eat it for a snack lunch.
    Honestly, I think there could be a tie in with Maslow’s pyramid. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow's_hierarchy_of_needs Laughing at a joke basically requires that you have a firm surface to bounce it off of. As in, that the joke doesn’t hit a button/trigger.
    So at the bottom, above food, you have safety on this pyramid. When they offend, rape and assault jokes shake this feeling of safety, which would be why they are unacceptable 98% of the time. Hence why someone who does not fear rape isn’t shaken by them. Next up is belonging to a group. Maybe this is why people get so mad when you tell inside jokes? Then you have self esteem. It’s generally regarded as bad taste to joke about something that someone feels insecure about. At the top is self-actualization. Supposedly, not many people get there, and I don’t know how this would fit in my hypothesis. Maybe this is the person who can hear a joke about themselves and just laugh along?
    I think the reason these jokes offend is because someone is hurt. I used to listen to hours of comedy and I spent quite a while think about why a joke was soooo funny and I came to the conclusion that a very funny joke was one in which the ending was harmless, and unexpected.
    I agree with Allie Clark that if you don’t know if you’re going to offend someone, don’t tell the joke. I really think that we should try and go beyond what is acceptable and try to be excellent, but I also understand the feeling of “Oh My God I was JOKING” since my mouth goes faster than my brain sometimes. (Not defending assholes on the internet. They can delete their comments if they regret them.)

    tl;dr: The farther down your joke strikes on Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, the most people you’re going to offend. When jokes cease to be harmless, they’re not longer jokes, but bullying.

  • Nance Confer

    “JT can joke about kidnapping me and raping me all he wants” — not if he wants to be on the “acceptable” end of any conversation.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000457405046 krispreusker

      I don’t think you get to define what is “acceptable” in JT and Christina’s interactions/relationship. That’s up to them.

  • http://www.saintgasoline.com Saint Gasoline

    I personally think off-color and rape jokes and the like are perfectly acceptable, but there are of course contexts in which they are less and more acceptable.

    Reddit seems to be the type of place where rape jokes are more than acceptable (barring certain subreddits like r/feminism or those for survivors of rape), as there are popular memes involving this kind of humor and those kinds of jokes are frequently upvoted. In general, I don’t think the idea should be to condemn Reddit for making those kinds of jokes, because they’ve formed a community that finds that funny and I don’t think there is any objective reason to say that rape jokes are inherently unfunny. Rather, people who are offended by such jokes should seek other communities or other company who will respect their boundaries. On the Internet in particular, it is a bit silly to expect huge groups of strangers to know what your boundaries are, so if you happen to wander in to a place where these jokes are viewed as humorous, it is optimal to simply leave those places be.

    I navigate these sorts of boundaries in my personal life all the time. I definitely have a very dark sense of humor and find things about violence, rape, depression, sadness, and kittens making strange faces to be hilarious. However, I know what contexts I can and cannot use this humor. I freely make these kinds of jokes on Reddit and in my personal writings. I will make them with some of my friends (but definitely not with others). If I think someone will be okay with a joke, and they tell me they are offended by it, it is natural to get defensive and what to defend yourself, but I’ve learned it’s best to just apologize and say you’ll try not to make such jokes around them anymore, but for them to bear with you if you slip up and make mistakes. The best policy is to feel free to make these types of jokes (if you are the type of person that finds them funny) in social contexts where they are acceptable – most comedy clubs, many Internet forums, etc. But if someone complains, don’t be a dick to them. Most people who are offended by such things have VERY good reasons to be offended by them, and may be victims themselves, so it is a bit of an asshole move to try to portray them as villains trying to silence you. If this is a personal interaction with someone, the best policy is to simply note what that person finds offensive and try not to use that type of humor around them anymore if you value their friendship.

    So really, I think these issues are best resolved with basic social skills. I would find it kind of silly for someone to go into a comedy club and complain about rape jokes being told—because that’s socially acceptable in that context. Likewise, it would be silly for a professional comedian to go into the comment section of a feminist blog and ask “Where are all the rape jokes?”

    With that said, I think there are clear extremes on either end that cannot be defended in this manner. If someone in a social context that allows off-color jokes were to say something disparaging about a certain group of people, or even an individual, with the attempt to hurt them or deliberately cause them suffering, with no attempt at being humorous, that could be seen as wrong. An example would be someone going on stage and speaking earnestly and in truth about how he hopes all Jews are killed. (Although intent matters here BIG TIME, because if he’s just doing a character and the humor is in the fact that he’s mocking such people, that would be fine…and that’s what can make these cases hard to discern.)

    On the other end, while there are people who definitely take things too far, there are others who could arguably be considered too easily offended. As an example, there is a famous story about someone who got reprimanded for saying the word “niggardly” because someone else thought it was a racial slur, and continued to do so after it was explained. People have the right to be offended by things, to be sure, but sometimes the things people take offense to are not at all reasonable and outright silly.

    • triamacleod

      I’m on the other end of the spectrum. I really can’t find any setting in which rape jokes would be funny. In your example of a comedy club it is a simple matter to fix; if people thought it was funny they laugh, if they don’t you’ll get silence or uncomfortable noises. The worst thing for a comedian is to ‘die’ on stage like that so in most cases it would be a self-correcting problem. And, as you correctly noted, you will find all kinds of humor in a comedy club and you need to be prepared for that.

      As for rape jokes in the general population? No. Never. 1] too many people who have survived and constantly have to deal with rape and sexual assault. 2] it serves to ‘normalize’ rape and sexual abuse and that is not a good thing.

      As for the internet….well while I don’t care for the ease in which anonymous users bully others, the Internet is its own beast and different rules apply. It would be foolish to go on /b/ and chastise people for using the word nigger and apparently it would be just as foolish to educate people about rape on reddit. The only thing people who find this offensive can do is not use the service until it changes.

      • julian

        What gets me is that many of the places folks like Gasoline declare cordoned off from the non rape friendly parts of the human population should be areas where everyone is welcome. But what’re you gonna do? Those who try to point out it’s exclusionary get told to fuck off and go elsewhere (even though the sign clearly said ‘All Welcome’) by pretty much everyone.

  • Cara

    I always get bugged when some guy says, “Let’s talk about exactly what is acceptable or not and exactly why.” It seems like a game of Technical Foul, where the guy’s looking for exactly how large an asshole he can be and get away with it.