Why Rape Isn’t Funny

by Lucas Witherspoon

One would think the reasoning behind why rape isn’t a funny subject should be apparent, but given the current convergence of the Twitter hashtag #FBrape in response to Facebook’s lax filtering of pages and posts that treat physical and sexual assault against women as a joke, it’s clear that there are some out there who still distastefully think that this sort of violence against women is acceptable or that it’s somehow a comical subject.

I can take a joke as well as anyone, let’s be clear. The problem in this situation lies within the fact that per Facebook’s own user guidelines, which every single member of Facebook agrees to upon creating their account, “You will not post content that: is hate speech, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.” While, yes, people are certainly entitled to free speech elsewhere, Facebook has selectively stringent guidelines prohibiting posts that could encourage or abet violence, thus when you sign up and agree to the Terms of Service, you’re essentially giving up your right to free speech. I say “selectively stringent,” because this isn’t a new phenomenon or trend on Facebook; Gawker, for example, reported on these types of rape and assault-related posts a year ago.

In the past, Facebook has caused controversy by removing photos of women breastfeeding–an act allowed in public in 45 states, on any property owned by the federal government, and, in some cases, that can be grounds for a woman to sue for having her civil rights violated–as well as the photo below of a woman who had undergone reconstructive surgery for breast cancer:


While these pictures do feature nudity, meaning they technically violate Facebook’s Terms of Service, the swiftness in which they were removed compared to the sluggish deletion of rape and assault-related content aimed at women, if erased whatsoever, is what’s startling. What’s more, when the pages and posts in question were reported to Facebook, all too often they were either found not to be offensive or were preliminarily removed before being reinstated shortly thereafter because, to quote Facebook directly, “…it doesn’t violate Facebook’s Community Standard on hate speech, which includes posts or photos that attack a person based on their race, ethnicity, national origing, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or medical condition.”

The fact that such content exists at all is alarming. You have to wonder what in a person’s mind makes them think that taglines like, “Don’t wrap it and tap it, tape it and rape it” or, “Next time don’t get pregnant” with an image of a woman flailed about at the end of a staircase (because we all know it’s solely the woman’s fault when she gets pregnant) are even mildly humorous. It points to the larger issue of this almost cultural normalization of sexism and violence against women. The number of times I’ve seen someone roll their eyes at a “feminist”–people who are only seeking to end misogyny and sexism, and thus the type of violence these sorts of attitudes can lead to–is astounding. When someone says things like, “Rapists aren’t born, they’re made,” though, it takes it a step further, because it’s in essence blaming women for the unprompted violence that is being enacted against them. Somehow, as mind-boggling as it is, this remains far too prevalent a mentality in this day and age in what are supposed to be considered advanced societies (this Buzzfeed post filled with tweets from people, both male and female, blaming the victim in the Steubenville gangrape case or the story of Rehtaeh Parsons are both disgusting examples of that).

As the hashtag gained popularity and people starting contacting Facebook sponsors about pulling their ads, Facebook issued a response:

In recent days, it has become clear that our systems to identify and remove hate speech have failed to work as effectively as we would like, particularly around issues of gender-based hate. In some cases, content is not being removed as quickly as we want. In other cases, content that should be removed has not been or has been evaluated using outdated criteria. We have been working over the past several months to improve our systems to respond to reports of violations, but the guidelines used by these systems have failed to capture all the content that violates our standards. We need to do better – and we will.

While it’s a small step forward, it doesn’t distract from the fact that we as a society have a obligation to change. Rape culture is a very real issue and making light of it only seeks to pose an even more substantial threat to the female population as a whole. I often preach against superficial ideas as to what makes a “real man,” but in this case, I can definitively say that what makes a real man is treating women with parity and respect.