Dear Hollywood... Sexual Assault is NOT a Joke
Writer: Naomi Martínez Ramón
Editor: Renata Daou, Tonwaan Apiratikiat, Pat Sevikul
Graphic Designer & Artist: Pat Sevikul
Trigger Warning: R*pe, S*xual assault
There is a recurring trend in the entertainment industry that we must begin to address: Jokes about men and sexual assault. Today, many films, TV shows, cartoons, and other forms of media continue to normalize sexual assault, from casually portraying unwanted caresses or kisses, to making direct comments about rape. Namely, jokes like “don’t drop the soap” and “that's what she said” continue to encourage dangerous ideologies among people. However, under no circumstances should sexual assault be humourous. Not only are these jokes insensitive, but they also contribute to normalizing and dismissing the horrors of those of have experienced sexual assault.
For prisoners, the “don't drop the soap” joke is an awful reality. Data shows that in the United States more than 200,000 thousand men are sexually assaulted in prisons each year. The joke implies that rape is an inevitable way of serving justice. However, in films, the audience will often look past this because they are directed at the “villains” of the story. After all, criminals should get what they deserve. Right?
“That’s what she said!” Sound familiar? Try watching an episode of The Office.
In the case of commonplace jokes like ‘that’s what she said”, they humorize everyday inappropriate acts, which in turn, silences those who are subjected to them. Treating suggestive behaviours as something to be laughed at diminishes and erases the experiences of victims, while defending those responsible. While the joke and the intentions of those who use it may seem harmless, it essentially accepts sexual assault as a cultural norm and reinforces rape culture.
Our society has claimed that men cannot be weak. Therefore, they cannot show any vulnerability. As a result, sexual assault is seen as something that vitims are mocked for– they are not strong enough, brave enough, or manly enough to defend themselves, which is the reason for their assault.
We must realise that these jokes stem from our patriarchal society. The underlying concept pushes the idea that there is nothing more humiliating for a man than to be treated like a woman. Subsequently, male victims of sexual assault are basically invisible. Cases go unreported because if a man speaks up about the trauma they have faced, it will ultimately be denied and eroticized, while the offenders are excused.
The industry’s normalization of sexual assault tends to include homophobic undertones. Usually, the victims are portrayed as straight men, when in reality, most victims are typically a part of the LGBTQ + community.
Hollywood often makes the insinuation that if a man is sexually assaulted, it means he “looks gay”, which is supposedly extremely humiliating for straight men. Despite this, we must remember that being sexually assaulted has absolutely nothing to do with someone’s sexuality or their masculinity.
In films, when the abuser is assumed to be homosexual, the reasoning behind the assault is most likely because of their uncontrollable sexual desires, such as their inability to refrain from unconsensual touching, making sexual comments, or harassment. These ideas create the stereotypical image that gay men have predatory behaviors.
For example, in season one of Glee, Sandy Ryerson, a professor, took on the role of the “predatory gay” trope, as he stalked and harassed students and other professors.
Another example can be seen in comedy films with actors such as Adam Sandler. In Billy Madison, his character is harassed by a gay man throughout the entirety of the film: he is touched innappropriately, and casually accepts sexual comments. Yet, the audience is supposed to find this funny and entertaining, even if it normalizes and reaffirms the idea that all non-straight people are sexual offenders.
Similarly, the film industry tends to portray African-American men as sexual offenders, and White men as victims. We have seen this trope in several comedy films and TV shows, including Malcolm in the Middle. In season 4, Reese is taken to jail, where an African American prisoner threatens him that life is hard “white people like [Reese]”, implying that he will be sexually assaulted during his stay.
Another example can be found in the comedy film “Let’s go to prison”. In the film, we follow Will Arnett's character, who is sent to prison and experiences sexual harassment, mostly at the hands of an African-American man as well.
The main issue is that it is difficult for men to take action, and receive appropriate support and justice when there are actual cases of sexual assaults.
In the case of Terry Crews, he was sexually assaulted by a Hollywood agent. However, when he publicly addressed the situation, he was met with backlash and was ridiculed, especially by other men.
During his testimony, Terry spoke about how scary it was for him to present his assault publicly, fearing that he would be laughed at. He mentioned that every time he spoke about his abuse, he was told “this is not abuse, this is just a joke”.
At the US congress he stated, "This is how toxic masculinity perpetrates our culture. As I was telling my story, I was repeatedly told that this was not abuse, that it was just a joke. That it was just a game. However, I can say that the game of one man is the humiliation of another".
When we normalize these jokes, it makes it hard for the victims to be heard. How can the assault be brought to justice if we continue to internalize it and accept it as a joke? Sexual assault is a matter of power, someone’s power over someone else regardless of their gender. It’s time we address the issue.