Trigger Warning: This post contains both triggers of rape and using it as a device for humor.
While playing Mass Effect 2 and going to the prison station, a prisoner confides in you that he is under both physical and mental duress–the former indicating, with a quick shift of the eyes and bashful motion of his head, that he is being raped. My hand froze on the mouse as I took a deep breath and walked away.
In the middle of reading Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape, I happened across Latoya Peterson’s excellent “The Not-Rape Epidemic,” about the concept of being raped twice: the physical act and then the proceeding legal trial. I ran short of breath, closed the book, and focused on breathing.
While posting these, I am aware I am posting to a sympathetic audience who understands what I say when I mention that these were triggering moments for me. Both were fairly innocuous, hardly graphic, and were allusive but vague. This can happen very easily to someone who has lived through rape or sexual assault.
So, what’s my point?
It started as these things usually do:
- A joke was told.
- A person stood out and commented that the joke wasn’t really funny–offensive even.
- Another joke was told.
- An explanation was made pointing out the flaw in the ‘witty’ riposte.
- Some people don’t get it (scroll down to Gabe’s post).
For those who do not wish to click links: 1. Penny Arcade posted a comic with a joke that utilized rape. 2. Shaker Milli A wrote a post explicating the joke, breaking down its MMO components, and explaining how the rape part of it failed to amuse. 3. PA posted another comic with the authors’ personae making a joke of a straw argument (rape jokes create rapists). 4. Melissa McEwan very succinctly deconstructs that statement and levels two legitimate arguments (it’s about triggers and rape culture, not creating rapists, there being a difference). 5. Gabe partway quotes a Mel Brooks line, “Tragedy is when I cut my finger, comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die,” and avoids the topic at hand.
As for myself, I discovered this through Twitter early in the AM, while perusing game press releases. As I opened the enclosed link (I don’t read PA unless linked to it these days), I just sighed. I was not angry, really, but was hardly surprised either–this is par for the course. Here’s the thing, Gabe’s argument in his last post was, “Did the comics about bestiality, suicide, murder, pedophilia, and torture not bother them? Or how about the fruit fucker? I mean, we have a character who is a literal rapist. What comic strip have they been reading all these years?”
This seems a rather half-hearted argument to distract from actually addressing the issue. While I can certainly understand being irreverent at times, I check myself when it comes to certain topics, and I set my own boundaries. Rape jokes tend to be among those boundaries.
As McEwan states:
A survivor of sexual violence who experiences a trigger is experiencing the same thing as a soldier who experiences a trigger, potentially even including flashbacks. Like many soldiers who return from war, many survivors of sexual violence are left with post-traumatic stress disorder.
I will never understand why anyone wants to be the total jerk who evokes someone’s memories of being assaulted by blindsiding hir with a rape joke (or image, or metaphor, or whatever), in the guise of “humor.” No “joke” is worth triggering someone. Not if you understand what triggering someone really means.
Which sums it up pretty succinctly.
Personally, I did not find the comic triggering (and thank unicorns for that–all I would need at six in the morning). That does not mean I do not understand how it could be.
The issue at hand is not that nobody has voiced opinions over these other heinous acts, but that the concern about this one, when brought up, is so easily dismissed. Personally, among the reasons I find rape jokes much more problematic than murder jokes (and I don’t necessarily let off the hook the latter), is that this is the response to rape in the real world. Murder, unless sanctioned by a government, is quite often condemned. Rape is often more murky, even if we theoretically believe it wrong.
Once more veering into the personal, what made me raise an eyebrow even more is that the victim of the rape in the PA strip is a male. There exists within me a personal rage when I consider that the only other male rape victims I tend to meet are the ones who furtively tell me their own story after sharing mine. This is indicative of the larger rape culture–victims rarely speak, and when they do, they are asked to either be silent or blamed (often by way of grilling them with questions to ascertain whose ‘fault’ it was), creating an environment where they wish to remain silent.
Do not get me wrong, I don’t hold high standards for the PA comic. It can be funny. It can not be. While I appreciate what Gabe and Tycho have done for the gaming community at large, I do not feel the need to give them a pass over issues like these. The excuse Gabe later gave of all the other horrible things they’d written that never got as large a response only serves to highlight in my memory other times I have closed my browser tab in disgust, and decided it was not worth my mental reserve at the time to raise my voice (I have raised concerns to webcomic authors in the past with little effect). However, I am glad more people are able to do so, and only feel ashamed for not having done so earlier.
This is not to say I plan on never again attending PAX East or one day heading to PAX (I do), or never again reading their comic (likely will, if linked), but that I wish to add to the voices of dissent and hopefully educate one more person, give one more perspective, add one more voice. This comic was a raindrop in the milieu that is rape culture, and hopefully this post and others I have read create a milieu of voices seeking to stop, slow, or even give temporary reprieve from said culture. As McEwan from Shakesville would state, teaspoon by teaspoon.
N.B. Long-time TBH reader TheFreman is auctioning off his PA merchandise, being rather fed up with the comic. The focus is less on the merchandise and more toward the proceeds, which are being donated to Men Can Stop Rape.