Laughing at Violence Against Women

image001“There’s a huge amount of online activity devoted to cultivating horrific impulses toward women,” says former sex-crimes prosecutor, Jane Manning.

For instance, while Facebook prohibits content that is hateful, threatening or incites violence, rape didn’t count until recently. It took a massive campaign to stop pages with titles like “You know she’s playing hard to get when you’re chasing her down an alleyway.”

Or, an upskirt picture of a woman lying face down on the floor was recently posted on Facebook. It got comments like these:

  • Id wake her up the HARD WAY and later say it wasn’t me
  • She also would have woke up feeling sticky and used!
  • Whuts da ho’ doin on da flo’ ?
  • An found a used codom in side of her
  • any man worth his salt would fuk it now

On Facebook it was easy to see who had viciously mocked the victim. Among them:

  • Men who like science, yoga, Buddhism, classical music and the local church
  • A supporter of a charity that campaigns against violence
  • A husband who works with a Christian Ministry
  • Fathers who seek support for special needs kids, campaign against animal cruelty, are proud of their daughters, and who want to be there for their children

Or, there’s Gilberto Valle, a New York cop who favored sites filled with men chatting about raping and torturing women, and even roasting and eating them. His wife, who knows him best, called the cops and flew to Nevada to escape him. She was one of his prospective victims.

Defenders say, “lighten up!”

What happens when we do?

It may well train women to accept both their diminishment and their submission. And it seems to make men more callous to women’s abuse. Others like Officer Valle, who had a plan to kidnap, torture and eat young women, are incited to violence. Around one in five American women have been victims of rape or battering.

Should we lighten up?

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych, women's psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State University. And I have blogged for Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos.

Posted on May 10, 2013, in feminism, psychology, rape and sexual assault, sexism, violence against women, women and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 35 Comments.

  1. I agree with you. It amazes me that people like this kind of humor. Your post reminds me of The Onion’s fake story a few days ago about Rihanna and Chris Brown (essentially laughing at DV).

  2. Hell, no, we don’t need to lighten up. We need to put more pressure on attitudes like this.

  3. Lighten up? Never. That kind of darkness doesn’t deserve my “light.”

  4. So sad to read such stories again and again. But in another hand I am glad that some people pull them out – if we won’t talk about can’t be better in the future…

  5. This sounds exactly the same as the “video games cause gun violence” argument.

    • Why thank you. That means this this post makes a very good point because they do cause higher levels of violence.

      Researchers found that when children play violent videogames, those who are more inclined toward violence are even more inclined toward violence after video games. And then these boys grow up and get guns…

      Other research has found that pornography can play a role in violence against women. When talking to women about experiences of being raped and asking them whether pornography that promoted violence against women was ever having an effect, they found that it did at times.

      For instance, some prostitutes said that when they were being raped and beaten that the rapists had said that they knew that “bitches” like them like that sort of thing because they had seen it in movies. Another woman’s boyfriend came home after watching porno’s with his friends. He raped her because he thought she would like it because the women in the film had liked it. Also, after Penthouse had a spread featuring Asian women who had been violated and then hung from trees, a copycat did the same thing.

      • Correlational studies have found a shaky relation between the two. Correlation doesn’t imply causation, but they’re related. You can’t claim one thing causes another just because they fluctuate with each other(Ice cream sales and crime both increase during summer).

      • Funny you should say that since I say the same things in my lecture on methods. Or nearly the same thing. I say, “Air conditioning doesn’t cause ice cream sales to increase.” I also say the following:

        Actually, the experimental method is the only one that determines causality, and that is one of the methods that I discussed above. Of course, philosophers will debate whether causality can be determined by any means, but I leave that discussion to philosophers. No scientist, social or otherwise, believes that the experimental method is the only one that must be used. And in fact, it’s a method that sociologists don’t use at all.

        Think about it: Just because you can’t definitively determine causality doesn’t mean that correlations aren’t causal. They may or may not be. And so the informed scientist or reader makes a judgement based on the evidence.

        I have presented some evidence, and people are free to make their judgments. For most people it will make sense that when you make light of rape, diminishing its significance, that rape will be more tolerated by the culture. Men (who are 99% of convicted rapists) will be more likely to rape when they don’t see it as a big deal — when it is taken lightly. And the community is more likely to accept it — create a rape culture that supports rape — when it is taken lightly.

        Based on your two comments, and my need to edit your second to remove the negativity, you strike me as someone who either 1) just likes to make an argument for argument’s sake or 2) wants to find any excuse to defend demeaning women. For that reason I will not continue to approve future comments of that sort. It just wastes my time.

        Take a look at my comment policy.

        And take a look a Kozo’s comment in this thread.

    • There’s a reason games are classified by age. Or isn’t it true that gamers are always complaining about parents who buy GTA IV and others to their 6 year old kids? You can’t have it both ways.

  6. You’re creeping me out, here. Or rather, the truths of our violent culture is creeping me out. Advise to “lighten up” about rape and murder frighten me more than the plans to rape and murder.

    Thanks for writing.
    Alice
    PS: I think your statistics (1:5 women) for rape or battering is way too low. If you include any rape and battering that occurs during childhood and factor in all that don’t report to the police, it MUST be much higher.

  7. It’s so unbelievably depressing. and it’s true everywhere. I’ve worked a lot in other countries on women’s rights issues and violence against women is always the most devastating manifestation of gender inequality. The lighten up motto is always around to make people look the other way. Or “this is a private matter”, it’s all the same.

  8. Your post hit home, Georgia. To tell the truth, I was one of these patriarchs who posed as a feminist until I went through some eye-opening traumatic events. Privilege is a tough thing to spot, especially when it is your own. I know there are many good men and fathers who don’t even realize that they are part of the problem. They think that since they pay their taxes and aren’t breaking any laws that everyone should just “lighten up.” Regardless of how others like to demonize criminals, the boys in Steubenville and Saratoga were “good boys” from “good families” with “good fathers.” Good is no longer good enough. We definitely don’t need to lighten up. In fact we need to come down harder, but it seems like we are always preaching to the choir.

    • Thank you for sharing. So glad you have evolved.

      On “preaching to the choir” it’s been my experience that:

      1) The “choir” often needs help in articulating thoughts so that they may talk with people who see things differently. Many have thanked me for helping with the articulation.

      2) In my back-and-forth with readers I get some who disagree with me at first but come to agree later. So even on this blog it’s not just preaching to the choir.

      • And I think sometimes the choir needs to be preached to. These attitudes are so pervasive that they are often taken for granted, even by women themselves. It’s like the story of the emperor with no clothes. Because everyone accepted that the emperor “had” clothes on and nobody spoke up, society allowed it to continue. It took someone vocalizing what they already knew in order for them to wake up.

      • Thank you. I very much agree.

      • Good point, Georgia. I really like how you responded to the comment on video games and violence. I also like the idea of arming the choir with words to educate the masses.
        I guess I’m just impatient. None of my brothers, uncles, cousins, or male friends read blogs like ours. They could careless what Tiger Woods does in strip clubs as long as he keeps winning golf tournaments (in fact, what he does with women makes him more of a hero in their eyes). The feel bad about what happened in Saratoga, but they would never admit that it has anything to do with a sexism that they perpetuate.
        Thank you for all you are doing. I guess I’m being a typical man whining about not being listened to. haha.

  9. I strongly agree that we need to try harder, not lighten up. My comment though is a little oblique.
    For me violence against women is more widespread and more common than other violence, but it is still part of a whole – and that whole is people’s attitude to each other per se.
    We spend so much time and money on the wrong thing (space travel, smaller phones, economics, materialism bla bla.) yet so little attention is paid to us as animals.
    We are animals. Our ‘civility’ requires vigilance and is far from complete. We should do more to address the need to develop tolerant, compassionate societies for everyone. Then we can think about space travel and phones.
    As things are, western societies create poverty, encourage competitiveness not cooperation, glamourise war and hero’s – such infantile and regressive practices. It’s as if we didn’t get over being apes, we just dressed our primitive urges in new clothes.

  10. I guess you could say the medium of social networking lends itself to short, inane comments and that in turn lends itself to wisecracks – and the easiest form of wisecrack is a shocking/ offensive comment.

    To put it in perspective, it would be a lot more worrying if people were writing long, detailed , carefully considered blog posts about what they’d do to a woman if they found her lying face down on the floor.

    Bad stand ups generally resort to offensive and shocking jokes. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are more evil than good stand ups who don’t need to resort to such lowest-common-denominator ‘humour’.

    But I’m not trying to excuse any of it….. just trying to keep it all in perspective :)

    The problems arise when people confuse their online (or gaming) life with real life … and that does seem to be happening more and more these days. I remember an interview on a TV show once (in the early 00’s) where the guy ‘confessed’ to sometimes being on internet chat rooms for 6 hours at a time!!! This was a big deal at the time….. but today it’s kind of like a typical evening for many people.

    I can’t help observing that men have ALWAYS been fair game when it comes to ridicule and abuse. Kick em in the nuts, slap them in the face, send them off to be killed in a war…and women have never seem that outraged by this treatment of men as disposable objects in fact many (post feminist) women have been at the forefront of this attitude.

    Patriarchal society has always treated men as essentially functional and disposable – that’s the side of patriarchy which feminists refuse to acknowledge: men’s feelings count for nothing and their purpose in life is to slave away in dangerous environments to provide for women, or go off to ‘die for their country’, or make sure all the women and children get safely onto the lifeboats while they drown.

    Statistically speaking, women suffer the LEAST amount of violence in society (including domestic violence) yet society allocates them the MOST amount of resources to protect/ defend/ rehabilitate themselves from violence. I mean can you imagine a man who gets assaulted and/ or harassed (by men or women or a combination of both) going for help and getting the same treatment and the same sympathy and support that a woman would get? Of course not! If a woman or harasses assaults a man he’s a sissy if he complains, and if a man assaults or harasses a man it’s just ‘men fighting like cavemen’ and none of our business or concern.

    Have you ever heard a man discussing to a sympathetic audience how he feels afraid to go out for fear of being attacked or harassed? – yet millions do feel this way. And statistically they are the group most likely to BE attacked or harassed.

    And so in light of this reality, perhaps one important factor which has led to this offensive treatment of/ attitudes towards women is that, in the name of feminism, women have sought (and now gained) equality with men – who have always been treated in this way.

    But on the way to achieving this equality with men, women never spoke out against the violence, ridicule and lack of concern directed at men – as the disposable objects that men are in a patriarchal society – and so now, having achieved equality, women are getting a taste of what that feels like.

    In a patriarchal society women were always *precious sexual objects* to be protected and kept out of harm’s way (often against their desires) and men were always *disposable functional objects* to be sent down mines or sent to war (often against their desires) ….. and in the post feminist world women have gained men’s disposability and kept their own sexuality and as a result have become *disposable sexual objects*.

    • You’re basically trying to get people to stop talking about how women are harmed by patriarchy, and disarm them from noticing that that’s your message by claiming some level of sympathy to feminism.

      And your message is inaccurate. Men are more harmed by domestic violence than women? Statistics say otherwise. And it makes no sense. Men are on average 6 inches taller and women only have two thirds the upper body strength of men. Plus, men are taught to be more physically aggressive than women are. There’s much more role modeling for it in movies, television, cartoons, video games and literature. Also, parents are more accepting of aggression from their sons than daughters. Men also encourage other men to be physically violent in ways that women are not encouraged by anyone.

      That said, you are right that men are more likely to be victims of violence, overall.

      But you also claim that feminists don’t acknowledge this. They do. In fact, I show my students a movie called, “Tough Guise” (a play on “tough guys”) which was written by Jackson Katz, a man who studies men and masculinity.

      While feminists are sympathetic to the dangers our society presents to men (I sometimes write on it) and encourage men to educate us all, there is no reason for women to remove their aim from the things that harm women.

      Your insistence that women should refocus their aim away from the things that harm them just reveals your anti-feminism. You want us to stop or slow our work.

      Next, you’ll be telling blacks to focus on how whites are harmed and insist that Mexican-Americans should re-focus their attention to how Chinese-American are hurt.

      If everyone should aim their activism at that which harms others, then all men’s rights activists should immediately re-focus their concerns to what harms the other sex — as they urge feminists to do. Yet how many MRA sites spend any time at all focusing on how our society hurts women? Still, they expect equal time from feminists.

      Anyone who reads my blog would know it’s ridiculous to say that women have gained equality to men — unless they’re so anti-women’s rights that they find ways to blind themselves to women’s problems (as many do — including yourself).

      Btw, your comment that little misogynistic wisecracks have no effect and mean nothing, and that only long detailed blogs of misogyny should be of concern, is ludicrous. Jokes reveal truth. Misogynistic jokes reveal the truth of a culture that continues to accept and nurture hostility toward women. And it perpetrates the notion, too.

      I realize that some antifeminists have a strategy of taking over feminist blogs by writing antifeminist comments and urging feminists to turn their focus away from women’s issues and towards men’s. For that reason:

      Don’t expect future comments of this sort to be approved — whether they are by you or anyone else. It just wastes everyone’s time.

  11. Thank you for posting this. I agree with this article completely and appreciate that it has been posted. I don’t think that this argument is exactly like the video game violence one. Kids playing violent video games and men discussing the gory details of their rape fantasies aren’t comparable. Although I am not against video games I don’t believe that children should be exposed to such violence. I personally enjoy watching action shows and movies, but these movies and shows typically promote justice and morality. Batman is violent to protect a city and Horatio Cane works toward bringing murderers to justice. Although these things can be very violent, they still promote morality and justice. One major difference between the video game argument and trying to limit the discussion of rape fantasies is that a man can get sexual pleasure from reading and sharing their fantasies about raping and murdering women while playing video games doesn’t typically bring someone such sexual pleasure. Our society shouldn’t promote the discussion of such violent crimes. Someone believing that they aren’t alone in their rape fantasies can encourage them to believe that this sort of behavior is normal or acceptable. I dont believe that this sort of discussion should be allowed. Thank you for posting this

  12. We as a society have to nip the rape jokes in the bud. I liked daniel tosh before he got his own show but since he got it, I think he saw that his rape and anti women jokes were getting the most laughs. Soon it felt to me as though most of his act was attacking women so I stopped listening to him then a few years after that I saw that at the laugh factory he actually insulted a woman by saying wouldnt it be funny if someone came up to her and raped her right now. I was sohappy when I finally saw the backlash he got, however it obviously wasnt to successful because he isstill popular

    • If jokes like that are the best he can do he isn’t actually very funny. He is just able to shock. And really, it’s not that hard to find ways to shock people.

  13. Demetrius Love Jr.

    I don’t see how rape or violence against women is funny. It is not a laughing matter. How can people defend something like this and just say that they are jokes? It is a serious situation that damages peoples lives and they will never be the same. It’s traumatizing. About a month ago Audie Pott, a 15-year-old sophomore, was gang raped by three 16-year-old boys at a friends party. She committed suicide. So no, I do not feel that there is a need for women to lighten up. I wonder what defenders of this would say if it was the other way around? Laughing at violence or rape on men from women? I sure they wouldn’t like to be told to lighten up.

  14. Khang Nguyen

    Thank you very much for this post. I couldn’t agree with you more. I just cannot understand why people find torture and violence funny in the media. And it’s not just violence toward women, but also sexist jokes. I notice that this type of abusive behaviors happen a lot on social networking sites such as: youtube, facebook… In my opinion, I think because people assume they stay anonymous online in a chaotic environment. Nobody knows who they are; and they don’t hold responsible for their actions. We should enforce stricter law to govern online behavior before the situation gets out of hand.

  15. It’s sickening to hear that others laugh at the pain of someone else. That is not how our parents raised us and that is not how we would want anyone else to treat us. Even the slight thought of rape or violence against a woman sickens me, so to hear that someone would ever “post a comment” on Facebook, as if their opinion mattered, is truly inhumane. Violence, rape, cruelty against anyone is disgusting and not a joking matter. Even watching it on television or in movies; it’s hard to swallow and it surely is not entertaining. Social media websites like Facebook allow cowards to speak and not get accounted for it because they hide behind a screen and think that their two cents makes a difference when in reality, it’s actually a mask to hide their own insecurities and unhappiness. When the mental health and safety of others is involved, no, the words “lighten up” should not be in the same sentence.

  16. It often surprises me how “brave” men get when they are hiding behind a computer screen. It seems as though they have no shame and show no embarrassment because when leaving comments like this nobody out there really know who they are. They aren’t standing face to face with any of these people and therefore they have a false sense of security. Technology and the internet have given people a new mask to hide behind. It has given us a dark picture. Many men who are “good people” post thing such as with Elizabeth. Lighten up is the last thing we should do. Look what lightening up made the men commenting do. Turn them into monsters. Violence against women is not a joke and those who find humor are exactly that, monsters. How do you think those men would react to someone posting comments like that to a picture of their daughter, mother or wife.
    It disgusts me that any human being could find humor in things such as these. What happen to respecting and looking after your fellow man or woman? If things like this continue and we keep moving forward in this negative direction, I have great fear for not only my daughters and granddaughters but all my female and male relatives to follow. I absolutely agree that lightening up to violence against women could very well lead us to become a rape culture.

  17. Wow, I just knew that one out of five women are victims to rape and abuse. There should definitely be something done to treat this horrible statistic in the U.S. I always thought that men are raised to believe that women are weak and they are supposed to protect them instead of beating them up. I recently read an article about how men always want a sense of power for themselves. There was this case about a married young couple called Ben and Constance Johnson, you can google it. Ben started to be violent after the third year of their marriage and became even more violent when Constance became more successful in her career. I believe these guys who abuse women are the ones who lack power and want to feel powerful. I don’t even know why do these men think that being abusive to women makes them powerful. The society needs to learn to respect women more.

  18. Fernando Kose

    I cannot understand how people can find torture towards women funny, It would not be funny even if “a woman” was replaced with any other living beings. I don’t think that those who do find this kind of violence funny know what they are doing, especially those who said it on the social media.

  19. I agree. I never take the “lighten up” bullshit well. Facebook is full of rapey posts where people are meant to laugh at a drunk girl with her pants down. I don’t see how that’s ok. Report it. Don’t take the bullshit.

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