Dear Facebook: Rape Is No Joke

by  @ The Ms Magazine Blog

According to Facebook’s terms of service, users are not permitted to post content that is hateful, threatening or incites violence. But it appears that, in the minds of the Facebook powers-that-be, pages that encourage rape don’t violate that rule.

For two months now, Facebook users have been campaigning for the site to take down several “rape joke” pages. The titles of these pages include such gems as “Riding your girlfriend softly, cause you don’t want to wake her up” and “You know she’s playing hard to get when you’re chasing her down an alleyway.” Hundreds of Facebook users have reported the pages as Terms of Service violations, and a petition at Change.org (see below) demanding their removal has received over 130,000 signatures. But Facebook has yet to take action. Dozens of pages advocating rape or violence against women remain on the site, many with tens of thousands of fans.

The defenders of these pages say that we need to lighten up. Learn to take a joke. Feminists are, once again, being humorless. We are making mountains out of molehills when we become outraged by such trivial things as pro-rape Facebook pages.

According to statistics, 17.4 percent of women in the U.S. have survived a completed or attempted rape, and that figure would likely be higher if  victims were not so often silent about their experiences. Yet we are not supposed to question what it means for us, as women, to live in a culture that dehumanizes us with acts of sexual assault (the vast majority of which are committed by men we know personally) and then dehumanizes us further by pointing and laughing at our victimization, belittling trauma with crude humor. This is the definition of rape culture: a society that upholds the conditions for sexual violence against women and treats this violence as an unchangeable norm.

Anyone who claims that a rape joke is just a joke does not understand how rape culture works. Just as racist jokes can only be found funny within a culture of racism, rape jokes could not exist outside of a culture of rape. When our society allows men to believe that having sex with a sleeping woman is not rape; that having sex with a girlfriend or previous sexual partner is never rape; that having sex with someone who is too intoxicated to consent or object is not rape; men are taught to feel entitled to these acts (and women are taught to accept them in silence). When our culture is casually permissive of sexual assault, it inevitably perpetuates more sexual assault.

It would be absurd, of course, to suggest that anyone goes out and  commits assault as a direct reaction to a Facebook page. But in reducing  sexual violence to nothing more than a joke, they reflect and  perpetuate the idea that women are objects to be used for the sexual  satisfaction of men. Countless seemingly small things work together to  uphold that kind of pervasive misogyny.

It would be naïve to imagine that the removal of these pages will in and of itself end rape culture. But that doesn’t mean the appropriate response is to simply accept them. Daunting as the task may be, the only way to end rape culture is to confront it.

Facebook is certainly not responsible for the prevalence of sexual assault in our society. But those in a position of power at Facebook are responsible for the choice they make to either condone or condemn the use of sexual assault as humor. Silence, as the saying goes, is acceptance. And Facebook’s refusal to take sexual violence seriously is exactly the kind of complicit silence that rape culture thrives on.

To sign change.org’s petition, click here.

This piece originally appeared on the Ms. Magazine Blog

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social 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. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on October 7, 2011, in feminism, gender, psychology, rape and sexual assault, women and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 19 Comments.

  1. This is ridiculous as far as I am concerned. If rape doesn’t automatically fall under the “violence” category I think that is seriously messed up. Rape is a brutal form of violence and should be treated the same as if someone were to talk about hurting someone with a weapon or even their fists. I remember when I was in middle school they told me in D.A.R.E class that 1 in 10 women will or has already been sexually assaulted in their life. That was quite a few years ago but according to this article it is closer to 1 in 5 women now. This is really sad; Facebook is very popular and influential in a way as well. It really needs to change this and or recognize it as “violence” instead of making a whole new rule because it is definitely violence.

  2. adriana cholico

    Taking a side on whether posting comments on a public social network should follow certain guidelines is a difficult decision to make. On one side you are allowed to express your opinions and your ideologies because you are a public network. Are you censoring everything that you don’t like what you see? There is a blocking button on the page that flags the Facebook administrators and allows them the chance to overview and look through what some people find uncomfortable. Then again these are certain pages that you have to search for to find them. If you come by them because someone you know liked the joke then maybe analyzing that you add on Facebook would be a much more suitable decision.
    As a woman I am not going to pretend that these jokes didn’t freak me out. Imagining one asleep and someone taking advantage of you when defenseless, is incredibly petrifying. Idealistic we would all like to have a world where we wouldn’t have to worry about others harming us, yet cruelty is existent. The jokes that are being placed can be funny depending on the person whom they’re coming from. Take for example, a racial joke. They might be a little over board when a different ethnic group shares them, but when it’s the same race you tend to laugh. My point arises to the fact that when you don’t like what you see or hear you must walk away from it. We all have the freedom of speech so we are allowed to say as we feel without hurting or insulting someone. The social media is made possible because individuals enjoy expressing their thoughts. Facebook is one of the few Medias out there that allow its users to view what others think. By Facebook allowing this jokes to be placed in someone’s profile they are not stating they support this behavior. What they are stating is the fact that we each have a right to voice our opinion. Essentially these comments will find someone who doesn’t appreciate them and that’s understandable, but will be removing them from Facebook really make a difference and erase the fact that rape is existent. On the contrary, I feel as if these jokes present the idea that rape could happen in any situation, by anyone and at any time. It is another way of opening our eyes to the reality that some people put others through.

    • Interesting perspective.

      But fb is inconsistent. See this from The Guardian:

      Facebook is fine with hate speech, as long as it’s directed at women

      It doesn’t matter how hard I study Facebook’s terms and conditions, I still can’t find the bit where it says: “Like Humpty Dumpty, Facebook is at complete liberty to interpret the words used in this document in any way it sees fit.” And yet that’s obviously what Facebook executives have been doing: making words mean what they want them to mean, or else they’d have removed the pages that promote rape and other forms of violence against women months ago.

      The specific clause in Facebook’s statement of rights and responsibilities that’s supposed to protect groups against violence and hate speech instructs the user: “You will not post content that: is hateful, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.” However, Facebook has now defended the numerous pages that clearly violate these terms by claiming: “Groups that express an opinion on a state, institution, or set of beliefs – even if that opinion is outrageous or offensive to some – do not by themselves violate our policies.” Which is strange, because if a page entitled “Roses are red, violets are blue, I’ve got a knife, get in the van” isn’t hateful, threatening or gratuitously violent, I don’t for the life of me know what is.

      For more, go to this link: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/oct/04/facebook-hate-speech-women-rape

  3. This topic is very interesting so let me start by saying feminists should lighten up. I found a chuckle in me reading the alleway joke, it made my day rather. Needless to say, i personally dont condone to this kind of thing and dont think it belongs in a culture like ours. If our society didnt have issues involving rape and it wasnt a thing to do any more then there would be no need for rape jokes. If there wasnt any obesity, there wouldnt be fat jokes. Going back to the point, I dont think facebook is in any way inducing rape. Women of todays time are just as the blogger said, they are sex objects. You can ask your guy friends would they rather see a woman in a bikini running down the beach or a guy? The majority wil say the woman. Evidently, if you ask your girl friends would they rather see a woman going to the beach in a bikini or a gross guy? The majority will say the woman also. Therefor women are sex objects for women and not just men. Im sure that women rape women too, in some cases. This just means that men are aggressive and that in fact is thier nature. Those that rape are more aggressive than the rest. To the issue about the jokes on facebook, it doesnt provoce rape. People who psychologically think rape is permisable have seen something in thier past, or gone through a trial in their life. These people didnt think that ‘oh, it’s ok to rape because i saw a joke about it on a facebook page’, they were already deranged or ill raised from an early age.

    • re: If our society didnt have issues involving rape and it wasnt a thing to do any more then there would be no need for rape jokes

      It works both ways. The jokes promote a rape culture, which makes rape more likely. Rape doesn’t have to exist, and it doesn’t in egalitarian cultures.

      Also, women rarely rape. Rape has a sexual component but it’s more about power.

  4. I don’t find the rape jokes funny and is something you should defiantly not be playing around because it can harm others. It’s just so immature and disrespectful for someone to be publishing jokes like that. I know you can block them on Facebook. I never really seen or notice anything like this on Facebook, but I do find it upsetting if people are making cruel jokes about rape.

  5. This is very interesting. In today’s age of technology we have come to rely very heavily on all of our little devices, and on the internet which keep us “connected” to each other. We have replaced face to face human contact with the world of social networking on the internet. So many people take facebook VERY seriously, which is why it’s concerning that pages like this exist on facebook. I’m not saying that I believe every person who “likes” this page supports rape, but it takes a very serious issue, and trivializes it- I think that when this happens people are much less likely to take a stand against something as horrible as rape.
    There have been many times in my life where I would have been one of those people not saying anything about it because I wanted myself, and other people to “lighten up”. I make jokes about being a good woman because I like to cook, and clean, and wear an apron when I’m in the kitchen. I make jokes about women, and I generally laugh when other people make similar jokes. Underneath it all- I probably do this because I want other people (mainly men) to see that I have no problem with the gender role I’ve been assigned, and that I don’t feel threatened by their need to make jokes. However when it comes to the subject of rape, I take it very seriously. If there is a rape scene in a movie, I will get up and walk away- when it comes up in conversation I will talk about it, and take it very seriously- often sharing my own experiences to get the point across- I’ve had to deal with approaching websites to take pages down, and have been met with resistance there as well.
    It’s difficult. I can’t get anyone to change their opinion no matter how hard I try, but I can choose to take a stance on something, and not promote this “rape joke” thing on facebook- however I probably need to be a little more consistent in how seriously I take gender and sex jokes, since I can see how it might be a little confusing if I make jokes about women, but refuse to support a rape joke page. Clearly I still have some growing to do.

  6. I was happy to sign the petition but I feel like Facebook is something that people can easily choose not to embrace so maybe people who are offended by jokes people made on Facebook should simply stop using Facebook. I’m more concerned about the people who make the jokes.

    I have to admit, I thought the “play hard to get” joke was funny but maybe it’s easier for me to laugh at it because I am a man and also I’ve never been sexually assaulted.

    Just because you find something funny, doesn’t make it okay to expose it to other people. One person’s joke can be a cruel reminder of another person’s oppression. The jokes are sexist.

    Everyday women are raped and justice goes unserved to the predators. Rape is one of the most unreported crimes in the country. Women who are raped often don’t want to report it because they’re too embarrassed about it and they don’t want any public attention.

    I have so much admiration for Phyllis Mays, a sixty-four-year-old woman who was raped by a fourteen-year-old boy at gunpoint in Ohio. She not only reported him but she spoke to the media and agreed to be identified and put on the news. She even expressed forgiveness for her predator. It takes a whole lot of courage to come forward and admit to something like that, and maybe her appearance inspired more women who are victims of sexual assault to come forward and ask for help to move on with their lives and seek some justice. Justice was eventually served to Alex Ramirez who was described as “someone whose eternal compass is broken and cannot be repaired.” He got tried as an adult and got twenty-eight years in adult prison. He has to do one-hundred percent of it, every last day. Most rapists deserve this sentence.

    So Facebook is full of all these arrogant guys, probably young men like me, who are cracking jokes about rape, and all these women who have been sexually assaulted but are anonymous about it. They’re going on the internet just for fun but they’re being further victimized on Facebook. It’s not a stretch for me to claim that many women who were raped have Facebook profiles, by the way. Millions and millions of women have Facebook profiles.

    It’s not cool at all. Women are sexually victimized more often than men. These men who are cracking these jokes probably never have been victimized, so they may never truly understand. So they need to watch out what comes out of their mouths or in this case out of their keyboards. These men who say things like this that can hurt women need to be more sensitive. They need to understand that what they say could hurt people.

  7. I think that occasionally these jokes can be funny if the funny part about the joke is how socially unskilled the male figure is. Like the “playing hard to get” joke – rape is not funny to me, the idea of a man thinking a woman might still possibly be into him when she’s literally running in the other direction is funny to me (as long as he doesn’t hurt her). However, so many people miss this aspect and start making jokes as if the violence itself is funny. It’s quite disgusting, and I disagree very much with some of the above responses saying feminists need to lighten up. I understand this viewpoint; however, it fails to see the broader issue. Yes, this is a silly little webpage on Facebook, but accepting it and the horridly violent things “normal” people say in jest on it contributes to the overall nasty idea that “women just get raped sometimes, it sucks, but there’s nothing you can do. It’s just what happens.” I think this is untrue because I know that people’s mentalities and behaviors can be changed. If everyone had just said, “nothing we can do,” there would have been no Civil Rights movement.

    If this were a webpage joking about strangling Mexicans or re-enslaving black people, I think Facebook would take it down immediately. I also think that if it were a page making jokes about men raping straight men, it would cause much more outrage. If you disagree, please respond. Maybe we’ll experiment.

  8. It’s strange to me that there are so many fans in these groups. What’s even stranger is that there are women in these groups as well (although the majority of the members are male). I do understand both sides of this issue; the founds of the groups being lighthearted and defending their group as “just a joke” saying that petitioners are making too big a deal out of it, and the other side with Change.org making the petition to ban them. To me it seems to be a fight against the ignorant/immature and the feminist/intellectual. The people in these groups don’t seem to understand the severity of rape enough to not make jokes about it on the internet.
    I do agree that it would naive to think that getting these groups banned would end rape all together but I do believe that continuing to treat this subject with even the smallest amount of approval does affect society. To enable these acts only perpetuates the problem, and I think we do have to crack down and make sure people know that rape in any form is not acceptable.

  9. I think it is a sad sign of our society that anyone male or female would find these jokes funny. I was once one of those people who thought people should just lighten up quit taking it all so seriously after all I had been a victim of sexual assualt and I saw where their idea of the humor came from…or so I thought. This very topic came up in a woman’s group I belong to where one of the women posted a video that was a joke about keeping people green. In the video the men who describe themselves as the Green Team go to extremes of beating and shooting people for littering etc. in the last clip they rape a woman for smoking. The woman in the group who posted it did so as a joke about being green not really even conciously thinking about how this end part might affect some of the women. Several women were very upset by this video finding it apalling that another woman would ever share a video that depicted rape as a joke several women felt threatened and unsafe having this posted to the list and one even returned to therapy to do work around her rape that this video brought up. During the discussions around this I realized that when it came up in a place where there was a supportive group to hear and validate my feelings and when I saw how deeply the women were affected just from the small clip in this video that I realized it isn’t in any way shape or form a joke. This is something that needs to be taken seriously and not put out there and be expected to be ignored by people who are offended.

  10. If you say that women or feminists “should lighten up” or are being humorless, you are essentially saying that their opinions are worth less, or worthless. The cultural standard in the world (and certainly on Facebook) is that of the privileged misogynist male, whose perspective is considered to be the norm. The excuse that ‘men are aggressive, it’s just their nature’ is an ignorant cop-out. To modify a quote from the Resist Racism blog, “If you don’t even see the [female, feminist] viewpoint as being fully equal, maybe it’s because you don’t view [women, feminists] as being equal. And that is probably the single biggest example of the loss of empathy.” What is perhaps more troubling than the outward acceptance of rape jokes among Facebook users and executives is that implicit conclusion that women and feminists, and their opinions, are worthless. It is the attitude of ‘who cares about their opinion, they’re only women’, that really sets up the culture that condones rape. Those who think that rape is “just a joke” lack empathy in this regard, and that troubles me most of all.

  11. I can’t believe that people would actualy make such pages. To me this is promoting (or atleast making rape look “normal”). On my facebook I have “liked” pages that relate to myself from experiance. The people who “like” these pages don’t realize that by doing so, they are agreeing with the statement. Rape is a serious issue, it chages the way the person looks at themself. They go from an individual to a victim. For Facebook to not include rape in their terms&conditions really surprises me. Rape can too be an act of hate. So disapointing, i don’t know who would even consider that funny.

  12. Gabriella Souza

    If facebook does not allow users to post content that incites violence, then all the “rape joke” pages should be taken down because this kind of “joke” not only incite violence, but also makes one believe that it is normal. Many people think that men are naturally sexually aggressive, and they use this as an excuse to normalize men’s disrespectful treatment of women.
    I don’t think any women should ever learn to take a joke about rape. It’s not funny, and it will never be. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network “every 2 minutes someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted” (rainn.org). This fact should be more than enough to prove that such subject is no joke.

    I just took a look at the page “Riding your Girlfriend softly, Cause you don’t want to wake her up” and felt disgusted. Some of the fans of such pages will one day become fathers, and hopefully they will be fathers of girls, and then they will start seeing things from a different perspective. They won’t find it funny to have someone “Riding [their daughter] softly, cause [they] don’t want to wake her up.”

    I will sign up the petition at change.org, and will hope that facebook listens to our voice.

  13. A lot of networking web pages has been created, but Facebook? The impact that brought to the society is overwhelming, you got to have Facebook to stay on the loop, stay informed of the people you know and even people you do not know. Companies have even created their own page to use it for advertisement. People write about what they think, what they want people to know but Rape in any context should be taken seriously. Both Men and Women who are victims of sexual assaults go through tremendous emotion and mental torture. Helping someone cope with this matter is not easy as well. Making comments like Rape is a joke is very disrespectful to public. Yes I do agree that people have their opinions and should be respected as well. But there are a lot of other topics you can pick to joke about, why something that is delicate? Something that can offend other people. I am amazed by the Power of Facebook, it is not even safe. The features they created, checking in, able to search people you may know. It may have a lot of advantages keeping in touch around the world, but a lot are so innocent of what is really out there and shares information about them that other people may use for other purposes.

  14. Seriously. I mean seriously, I’ve been dealing with rape jokes for years like it’s a fad that no one will give the heck up on. In middle school kids would flirt by tickling each other and the girl would laugh and try and get away and say “rape!”. Then in high school it continued and no one stops to think, hey what if someone that was raped heard me? We’re so desensitized in American Culture it’s sickening; making jokes about rape, bombing peoples homes, killing friends or themselves because their in a mad mood. WTF America?

  15. this is strange to see because, I’am very associated with Facebook, i love it, and i never new that these pages existed. i think it’s very wrong for these pages to be up, and should be put down immediately, because i know it’s not advertising rape, but it sure is making fun of it, and that is very disrespectful. they should honestly have more sympathy for rape victims out there because, iam pretty sure they don’t find this funny at all, and the more people who find out Facebook has pages like this out, the people with actual morals will probably not support and associate with Facebook. it’s disgraceful.

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