Module 7 discussion- “relax, it’s a joke” rape culture analysis only

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” 


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?




Please respond to at least one classmate by relating their discussion to examples from the reading and videos. (Be sure to mention the source(s) you discuss.)

Drawing from assigned readings and videos, analyze the gender assumptions and sexual scripts of the joke/meme your classmate shared:

  • What additional information do you observe in your classmate’s post that is worth considering/examining and which terms or ideas are important to reference? How do the class materials help you better understand the meaning and consequences of the gender assumptions and social sexual scripts found within your classmate’s meme or joke?
  • How might the attitudes and ideas presented in this joke contribute toward cultural ideas and practices of victim blaming?
  • What does the joke imply about who should and should not have power? How does  the use of language, imagery, or the implied meaning in the joke function to maintain societal power structures?
  • What do you believe are the larger social implications of the joke your classmate shared? In other words, what effect do you think this joke might have on cultural ideas about gender expectations, harassment, and sexual violence?


Olga Pena

“The use of rape jokes has increasingly become prevalent in modern society. Comedians often find it funny to share rape jokes which may not sit well with most people. Normalizing rape through humor contributes to encouraging sexual violence against women. More specifically, rape jokes hurt rape victims who have to live with the trauma for the rest of their lives. For example, Dave Chapelle is known to share rape jokes that don’t augur well with his audience. He shared a rape joke in his Netflix Special, The Age of Spin. “He rapes, but he saves. And he saves more than he rapes.” This is in reference to Bill Cosby, who has faced several rapes and sexual harassment accusations.

Dave Chapelle mentions the charity work Bill Cosby has done for the black community. Such jokes may be taken lightly, but they have a far-reaching effect on both victims and non-victims. This kind of jokes desensitizes the populace by encouraging them to overlook rape cases committed by some people. Thus, they encourage rape culture by encouraging perpetrators to continue as long as they positively influence society. The joke was intended for the general audience and population.

By mentioning Bill Cosby’s charity work, Dave Chapelle indirectly tells the audience to pardon some behaviors on account of the perpetrator. This means that if the accused person is prominent, successful, or powerful, they should be pardoned on account of what they help the society. These kinds of jokes help perpetrators to walk scot-free and, in some cases, become celebrated because the population has been desensitized through jokes. Through these jokes, comedians take power from the victims and give it to the perpetrators. Thus, the jokes contribute to sexual violence against women in society.”

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