One out of every six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. Think about those numbers: One out of every six. There is a one in six chance that your female friend, silently sitting across from you while you’re making or laughing at a misogynistic joke, has been a victim of sexual assault.
It is true that sexual assault can and does happen to people of different genders and sexualities, but right now, without discrediting anyone else’s experience, I want to talk specifically about women.
So, to everyone who thinks it’s okay to make misogynistic jokes: it’s not.
It upsets me that this kind of discussion even needs to happen in 2017, but we’re going to talk about why it’s not okay.
If any woman listening to you has experienced sexual assault, think about how unsafe you are making her feel. The memories you are bringing up for her. The internal fear, panic, and shame you are reawakening, even though she’s smiling back at you and maybe even pretending to laugh along with you because, God, she just wants to feel normal and fit in.
This is happening around you more often than you think. Is that possibility really worth a few ill-conceived laughs?
If you sympathize, think about how much more it would help if you stood up against your friends when they made misogynistic jokes or statements – if you used your voice to make sure that every woman felt that their experiences were being respected? It’s important to do this whether or not there is a woman present. Because here’s the thing: sexual assault and misogyny go hand-in-hand.
Many abusers are also misogynistic, so jokes or comments that have misogynistic undertones are triggering for women who have endured abuse.
What this means is that even if a joke is not about rape, it could be about women belonging in the kitchen or the bedroom, it can and often does remind victims of sexual assault of what they’ve been through; it triggers their memories and the pain that come with those memories.
Many people misunderstand the word “trigger”, but it has very real connections with mental health. Triggers are defined by Psychcentral.com as: “something that sets off a memory tape or flashback transporting the person back to the event of her/his original trauma.” Anyone that is even remotely tied to the medical community can confirm this.
Too many times have I shut down a misogynistic comment or joke only to hear something like: ‘The feminist has arrived, everyone! Stop having fun!’
Reactions like these swim around inside of me for days: am I too sensitive? Have my experiences weakened me? Have they made me boring? Is something wrong with me?
The cruelty of these kinds of comments consistently flies over the heads of so many people, even people I consider my good friends, simply because they refuse to sympathize with my past experiences.
Sometimes, I wonder if any other women in the room or conversation are feeling what I’m feeling. We are all so silent about our experiences that it’s hard to tell.
There are also other people who criticize the victim for not stepping up and shutting down the misogyny that’s triggering them (‘Why didn’t you just say something?’), which is basically like asking someone who is drowning several feet underwater to call a life guard. This type of response contributes to the culture of victim-blaming in discussions about rape and sexual assault.
Instead of expecting me to educate people about misogyny when I am trying to hold myself together, why not hold the people making the misogynistic joke or comment responsible? Why not expect them to access the wealth of resources on misogyny and sexual assault, educate themselves, and change?
There should be someone else who is willing to stand up on my behalf and on the behalf of other women. More of us need to be that person for our friends; more of us need to be vocal in our disagreement with misogyny without being asked.
Maybe you’re thinking right about now: ‘I don’t make misogynistic jokes, this doesn’t apply to me’. And if so, that’s great, but ask yourself this: Do you laugh at misogynistic jokes? Are you silent around your friends who make misogynistic jokes?
If so, your laughter and your silence is just another thing preventing women from reporting sexual assault. They see the complicity that the world has with misogyny, and this makes it harder for them to report their assault. Your “it’s no big deal” attitude is shared by the men who commit these acts in the first place, and allows them to walk free while their victims suffer in silence.
So, the next time you want to target or insult a woman for calling herself a feminist, think about what might have happened to her throughout her life for her to become one in the first place. The next time you want to make misogynistic jokes with “the boys,” think about your complicity in rape culture.