“Relax, It’s A Joke” Rape Culture Analysis

Activity Instructions:

“Rape jokes are not jokes. Woman-hating jokes are not jokes. These guys are telling you what they think. When you laugh along to get their approval, you are giving them yours”- Thomas Miller, “Meet the Predators”

Part One

One of our society’s most interesting cultural artifacts can be found in what we collectively define as “funny”. Although frequently downplayed as “just a joke”, the images, words, and messages we share reveal a great deal about social attitudes and play a tremendous role in what society deems normal and acceptable. The materials from this week in particular highlight the ways that the social construction of humor can construct and reinforce sexual scripts and rape culture.
For this activity, you will describe and discuss a “joke” that introduces or reinforces social sexual scripts and/or rape culture (see the reading by Katharine Ryan for more detailed understanding of these terms). This can be something you have seen in a movie or TV show, a meme or image you have seen on Instagram, a tiktok video, or even a joke told amongst people you know. If it is available online, please share a link or copy of the image.
Your discussion should include analysis of the following by drawing connections to the videos and readings from this week:

  • Explain what the “joke” is saying (or not saying). Think about word choice, punctuation, visual imagery, audience assumptions etc. and discuss what you believe to be its role in contributing to sexual scripts and/or rape culture.
  • Most cultural material has an intended audience (the group it was made for, for example picture books made for children) and an unintended audience (people outside that group who are still experience it, for example the parents who read the books to their children). Who is the intended audience for this joke? How do you know? Who is the unintended audience? What different effects might this meme have for those different audiences?
  • Where did you see/hear/find this meme/joke? What does this tell you about the intended audience and the expected reaction and message of those who created and/or shared it?
  • What gender assumptions are embedded in the joke? In other words, what gender norms are being represented (or violated)? If the joke also concerns assumptions regarding race, class, sexual orientation, etc., discuss these assumptions as well.
  • What messages does this joke send about masculinity and femininity? How are the messages related to social sexual scripts? In other words, what messages does the joke send about sex, gender, and what members of each gender are supposed to desire and how they are expected to behave?