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Vocabulary

Okay, last post on gender stuff I promise.

But this last week there was yet another Penny Arcade blow-up over Mike tweeting:

"If thinking that all women have a vagina makes me a monster than yes I am a monster."

From the context, I'm thinking Mike meant to say "females" instead of "women", which would have made everything fine.

But since he is like me, a hetero dude who has never felt what it is like to be on the wrong size of the chasm of social gender definitions, I use the terms essentially interchangeably.

But just as a PSA, apparently if you are referring to someone who was born with a specific physiology you use the terms "male" and "female".

If you are using it in a social context, the term "women" and "men" includes anybody who identifies with that gender more strongly, agnostic of their genitals.

I was thinking the whole thing was all a bit silly, until I read this exchange describing why using the terms incorrectly can really hurt the feelings of a transgendered person.

(more)

Some Clarity

Patton Oswalt wrote a three part Brain Dump, the last bit is his view as a comedian on Rape Jokes, the whole thing is an excellent read.

In his third part he does an excellent job of articulating the moral litmus test of whether a joke that has wandered into "rape" territory has gone out of bounds:

"In fact, every viewpoint Iíve read on this, especially from feminists, is simply asking to kick upward, to think twice about who is the target of the punchline, and make sure it isnít the victim."

So that is a more interesting metric.

Looking at the Penny Arcade Example, the result seems muddled. The core joke, that gamers abandon doing good once it is no longer incentivized seems fine, but there is clearly a secondary joke, that this guy is getting the sh*t raped out of him by monsters made of dicks. It isn't targeting the victim per say, but the non-nonchalance shown in the face of a horrific act you could see as aggravating to people who have a really difficult time convincing people that a problem exists.

In some way the Penny Arcade guys are guilty of wandering into the sort of "institutionalized male prison rape" joke territory, which has also been targeted as promoting a cultural meme that "bad people get raped as punishment."

It does seem a bit unfair to monkey pile on them for making the type of joke that I suspect any mainstream comedy sitcom wouldn't think twice about making (e.g. "I'm too pretty to go to prison!").

That said, I'm with the anti-rape joke crusaders here. Prison rape jokes are played out, and in themselves seem to have placed a happy Spiderman band-aid over a festering and horrific issue in our federal prison system that deserves more outrage than laughter.

Looking at the Louie CK Joke again, it is clearly fine by Patton's metric. Louie dances the perspective back to a safe distance, nearly anthropological in its detachment.

Patton is a comedian and an excellent persuasive author, and in this case he has succeeded with me. If "rape jokes are never funny" means "jokes making light of a rape victim's plight, or implying that they deserved it are never funny", than I am 100% behind that, and may just say the shorter, pithier version if someone casually makes a prison rape joke around me.

The R-word

There has been some uproar recently on the topic of rape jokes.

I am a standard Protestant Democrat who feels constantly embarrassed of all the unspoken privileges I possess for being born White and Male. So this is normally the type of issue that I hear about and will immediately accept and quietly add to my "guilt baggage".

But I just can't.

Part of it is that my first exposure to the concept of "Rape Culture" was the very vocal minority response to this comic at Penny Arcade.

It is a funny comic about how when we participate in quests in games we stop helping people in terrible situations once we fill our mandated "helping people quota".

Penny Arcade mainly got in trouble due to their tin-eared response. They didn't think they did anything wrong.

I use metaphors to look at things from different perspectives, I found this one interesting:

I am walking around the office, and I collide violently with someone. That person happens to be invisible. Had the person been visible I'd of course would apologize, but since the person is completely visually imperceptible to me instead I yell in surprise "What the F- was that?".

At this point, if the invisible person was somewhat understanding, and said "You walking into me really hurt. People do that a lot and it is a problem I often experience." I'd feel really bad, and would be an ally of this person, I'd be motivated to try to help solve this problem, to keep other people from walking into them.

However, if the response of the transparent person was "How dare you! Walking into invisible people perpetuates a culture of evil scientists forcibly transforming people to be invisible! Apologize for loving evil scientists so much!" My reaction would be more negative. I don't love evil scientists who forcibly change people to be invisible, and it irks me to apologize for something that, from my perspective, was completely unavoidable.

End Metaphor.

Another part of my issue is that it seems to be a very strict litmus test of whether the word "Rape" was used. I strongly suspect that there would have been almost *no* response to the Penny Aracde comic if the text had said "terrible things" instead of the R-word.

The rally cry for this test is the saying "Rape jokes are never funny."

My counter evidence to this is a joke told by Louis CK directly discussing the role of men performing violence on women. It is a very funny joke, and more importantly it is an incredibly enlightening joke about the perspective of woman on this issue.

In the joke, he avoids the R-word, because he is a pro, but he uses the word "mayhem" instead at one point that really, can only mean one thing. I strongly suspect, had he changed that single word, then suddenly the joke is "bad" by "Rape Culture" standards, which seems a travesty to me...

With or without it the bit is clearly a "trauma trigger" as it directly discusses men doing harm to women when they have them alone. In fact it is far more a trigger than someone using "rape" as an interchangable verb. However it does so in a way that allows a man to openly discuss and identify the core issue of "Rape Culture" in a much more accessible way. It is important speech, and it would be a great loss to the entire discussion to censor it.

The problem of course is that there are definitely pockets of culture that are obnoxious and callous about joking about rape. In online video games with any amount of 13-25 year olds you will get people using the term "rape" as a pretty loose verb to cover pretty much anything. That is dumb and those people sound dumb and I don't want to associate with those people.

I completely understand the anger that this noise could cause.

Fifteen years ago, talk like that was essentially confined to the rooms of teenagers and the back of school buses. These days, with forums and real time interactive world wide networks, there is clearly more exposure to it. A lot of obnoxious young kids are walking squarely into invisible people and not caring about the damage they cause.

That sucks.

I'm still so torn. Maybe the "R-word" is the new "calling things gay". A seemingly acceptable term that can be eliminated through peer pressure... Maybe I'd understand if there was a word that could hurt me as much.

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