Emmie Mears
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Precision of Language: AKA Not Being a Jackass

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Precision of Language: AKA Not Being a Jackass

Content warning: some discussion involving sexual violence terminology that might be triggery.


A couple days ago, I was at work, joking around with a couple male coworkers about how Shoes for Crews has literally one job (to complete orders for work shoes) and tends to fail at it even when Amazon can manage to ship a 55-gallon drum of lube in two days (probably).* And then a coworker, riffing off of my statement, goes, “Yeah, but they’ll rape you with the shipping.” And another responded, “And they won’t use that lube!”

I was halfway across the room before I realised my body had pretty much gone into immediate flight mode. I had the door to the kitchen pushed open, my heart was pounding, and I hesitated in the threshold. Then I turned and hollered over my shoulder at my coworkers (who, I might add, I consider friends) and said, “Hey, so can you guys NOT make rape jokes in front of me? Or like, at all? Because you never know who’s listening who has been through it.” And I pointed at myself as I said that last, and the guy who’d made the initial comment said, “But I didn’t.”

But he DID. That was a rape joke. Hands down. It was a sentence meant to elicit laughter that used the word rape, and the follow up riffed off of it, and it was a rape joke. Full stop.

Joking in which one compares the price of shipping to sexual violence is just…no. Yeah, nope.

I was upset by the initial joke, which is why I spoke up. I know these people and that they didn’t mean to trigger nasty feelings in someone they know and like (moi). But what upset me more was the insistence that this was not a rape joke when it very obviously was.

I ended up talking to one of the guys who literally had no recollection of what he had said himself.

That was even more troubling. This kind of thing is so ingrained into our culture that he’d participated in it verbally and didn’t even remember what he’d said. This is rape culture at its core: not even seeing when you participate actively in it. It’s background scenery. It’s the dust bunnies under the bed. We ended up getting into a long discussion, and to his credit, he listened — but there’s a but. He trotted out the “well, if everyone has to be so PC then no one should ever open their mouths.”

*carefully lays that sentence out in the grass*

*douses it with kerosene*

*lights that mo’fucker up with a flamethrower*

*runs in circles*


Sort of.

I do not have enough words to describe how much I LOATHE sentences like that. It’s obnoxious, logical-fallacy driven slippery slopery, and we HATES IT PRECIOUS.

If a reaction to someone saying, “Yo, rape jokes make me feel like the most formative trauma of my life is being brushed off as something to laugh at, so please respect me as a friend/human and don’t make them” is “THEN NOBODY SHOULD EVER TALK EVER,” then I’m going to go set more things on fire, because UGH.

Look. Jokes are funny. There are people who joke about terrible things and do it without punching down and are hilarious. See Louis CK, Eddie Izzard’s WWII spiel, etc. And then there are jokes that are just knowingly meant to upset people, like Seth McFarlane’s Family Guy/Simpsons crossover rape joke. And then there are jokes that are just thoughtlessly hurtful, like the ones my coworkers made.

There are levels of jackassery, with purposely and (I’d argue, with malicious glee) upsetting people being at the SIREN LEVEL JACKASS ALERT. And then there’s the thoughtless stuff somewhere down below it, and that’s really the kind that gets me most of the time. Because you can still be funny and be precise with your words. In fact, a well-chosen word in a joke is what makes the difference between a guffaw and tears rolling down your cheeks from laughter. Precision of language is why those damn iPhone autocorrect memes are SO DAMN FUNNY. Because even though they’re accidental, they show how one surprising word ends up making everything hilarious.

Spoiler alert: rape is never that word.

That word, to the contrary, much like other loaded words (think slurs and things with historically-charged meanings that are loaded with solid, contextual reasoning behind that loadedness), are record scratchers for many people. It’s not asking too much to say, “Hey, think about what you’re joking about.” Even though a lot of jokes are off the cuff, if you’re an empathetic human, you can engage your higher human brain functions (THANKS EVOLUTION!) and train yourself to think a slightly different way. To reset the ingrained cultural har-de-hars at rape to a setting where rape’s not, you know, funny (because it’s actually really fucking shitty) and maybe make different comparisons. Like, I dunno, you’ll pay for that 55-gallon drum of lube and find the shipping cost smoking a Cuban cigar and splashing in a kiddie pool full of your money when you get home.**

Ultimately the “BUT PC POLICE! PC POLICING! BUT PC! BUUUUUT MAH FREEEEEEDOOOOOM TO SAY A THING!” reads like, “Your feelings matter a whole fuckton less than my desire to joke about your past sexual trauma.”

……which is just….ew.

Alternatively, “Your feelings matter a whole fuckton less than my desire to joke about [insert racial/gender/sexual orientation/ability here]”

Which all boils down to: “Your feelings do not matter, regardless of what caused them. I am more important than you.”

That’s downright dehumanising.

Let’s get something straight.

You can joke about whatever you want. You can be as gross and offensive as you want. BUT I get to react however I damn well please.

Something else:

You can swing your fist around as MUCH AS YOU WANT. But when it starts hitting noses willy-nilly, be prepared for those noses to swing back. Or snot on you. Okay, I didn’t think that metaphor through all the way.


You can swing your fist or your jokes wherever and however you damn well please. But if you start hitting people in the process, you don’t get to whinge and complain that it’s YOUR freedom being impinged upon. I don’t know about most people, but I rather think the freedom to go about life safe from getting hit is slightly more important than the freedom to, you know, hit people.

Here. I have a phone. I’ll call the wahmbulance for you if your lips are starting to form the words “but” or “actually.”

And if you don’t want people thinking your jokes make you a jerk, well….I hereby invoke Wheaton’s Law. Don’t be a dick. Don’t get all sad when someone doesn’t think your rape joke is funny, or like that Fox News anchor’s non-apology about how “I guess others didn’t think what I said was funny when I put down this woman and her extraordinary perseverance in the face of adversity to make a boobs joke, so I guess I’m sorry you didn’t like it.”

Precision of language. This guy didn’t really mean to say that an expensive shipping price tag was like rape, or at least had he thought it through, he wouldn’t have. I know him well enough to know he didn’t MEAN to make such a ham-fisted comparison.

What it all boils down to is this: just be a decent human being, mmmkay? Empathy. It’s a good trait to have.




*Okay, so not eligible for Prime (does come with free shipping, though!), but YOU CAN’T HAVE YOUR 55 GALLONS OF LUBE AND GET FREE TWO DAY SHIPPING TOO, JEEZ.

**Except not actually, cos it’s free, so it might just be eating your leftovers from your fridge.

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Author | Emmie Comments | Comments Off on Precision of Language: AKA Not Being a Jackass Date | October 9, 2014

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