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Just Kidding

Senr Paulo as Clown by J. L. Marks

A friend of mine is threatening to tickle his wife. She’s dancing away, squeaking “No, I mean it, stop!” before hiding behind my husband. He backs off, hands raised. “No isn’t a safeword.” He’s laughing as he says it, and most everyone else in the room laughs, too. My husband and I share a look. That wasn’t funny, right?

Now I know he didn’t mean it. I’ve played with him several times now, and watched him at parties. He checks in often, and acts more than responsible in that context. His wife isn’t actually afraid of non-consensual tickling or anything else he might do. Hell, she laughed at the joke.

And yet, I’m uncomfortable. I wonder why everyone else seems to think this is funny. It isn’t that I think he’s a rapist, it’s that the joke seems irresponsible. Not everyone here knows this couple. Not everyone even knows that they are a couple. All a new person or infrequent visitor is going to see in this exchange is a man implying that it’s okay to ignore a “no” if he feels like it. There’s an implication that a bottom or a sub or a woman’s consent only matters as long as a top/dominant/man feels like indulging her. And by laughing, like so many people did, or by keeping quiet, like I did, his audience implied that we were okay with this.

Do I think there was a person in the room who left more likely to rape because of this joke? No, of course not. But what about the other jokes? How many men in bars and clubs will say “your mouth says no, but [I don’t care what the rest of this sentence says, it’s kind of rapey]”, and complain that a woman has no sense of humor when she doesn’t laugh (or sleep with him)? Why are there multiple different t-shirt designs depicting rohypnol as basically a dating aid? Why is any woman who says no to sex at any time, for any reason, accused of teasing or “blue-balling” a man, as though he has a fundamental right to have sex with any available female simply because he wishes to? Any one of these things in isolation is a joke in bad taste. The prevalence of them points to a cultural undercurrent that accepts rape as normal and expected. And a culture that treats rape as the norm is going to produce more rapists.

In the BDSM community, I would have expected more care. Consent gets blurred, sometimes deliberately for scenes, and people will sit down and discuss doing things to each other that would be felony assault in almost any other context. Saying “no is not a safeword,” even in jest, even to someone you know well, suggests that choosing a safeword, defining how and when consent can be given and rescinded, is a right that is not granted to every person participating in a scene. And deciding that one person has more or less right to consent than another? That’s what makes people think rape is okay.

I won’t get into statistics or finer sociological points. Others have done their research and stated it in terms more eloquent than I could. I’m just here to say it’s not funny to joke about rape.

Folks who have said it better include:

Cliff Pervocracy

Sex Geek


  1. Pat
    March 30, 2013 at 7:53 am

    Your concern seems to reveal a sort of social ignorance. Specifically, by linking events, sentiments, and activities that the vast majority of people do not associate, you are not being particularly insightful or wise… just ignorant. “So you think it is okay to joke about rape?” No, and that’s not even remotwly related to what was going on.

    Your ignorance is why everyone else laughed and you did not. Now, you could chose several paths at that point. Most would require an ability to read context, facial expressions, body language, and an ability to synthesize an accurate assessment of where you were and what was happening. At least one would permit you to ignore all of that and respond a-la Beevus and Butthead, clinging to a fragment of context and ignoring the rest. “Huh-huh, he said…”

    Life will be a brutal place if you over-develop a capacity for offense and under-develop a capacity for reason. Pardon typos, in a hurry and a bit lazy. Wish you the best, you seem like a nice person.

    • gingernic
      March 31, 2013 at 12:28 pm

      Oh, there’s no denying my social ignorance. Still, I feel that not laughing at a joke that genuinely isn’t funny is less of a faux pas than you make it out to be. I did not in fact go into a huff or start berating anyone for their words or laughter. I just felt uncomfortable. Maybe it’s to do with my relative newness to this environment. Knowing these people better makes them much easier to read now: a couple of them read as potentially dangerous creeps, most do not. I’m more comfortable hearing this sort of thing from those that haven’t demonstrated a lack of understanding of how consent works.

      On the other hand there is a very real subset of people who do not understand consent. There’s a man who followed me for months and couldn’t figure out that “no, and it isn’t negotiable” meant exactly what it said on the tin. I know another whose response to a friend saying “you’re clingy and it scares me” was to send her 40+ text messages and multiple e-mails a day until she blocked his number and e-mail. Obviously this is crazy and extreme behavior, but it’s common enough that I can give two examples from just the past few months, and as you noted, I’m socially inept. I don’t know that many people. I think this sort of crazy person feels validated by jokes like this, by PUA techniques, and by sales and business books that tout the idea that all “no”s are really “yes”s that just need a bit more coaxing.

      That said, sure, I’m over-thinking things. I don’t seem to have an off switch for that, so I just blog to get it out.

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