Jezebel’s Lindy West had a really rough week and most of the internet missed the point entirely.
If you’ve missed this whole thing, start here. West appeared on FX’s “Totally Biased” where she and Jim Norton debated comedy’s role in rape culture, a debate which has been going on across the internet since Daniel Tosh’s heckler rape-cident last year. Norton is of the belief that comedy should have no boundaries, no rules, with nothing off-limits. West is of the belief that this attitude has contributed to the youthful ignorance of rape’s abhorrence, seen most extremely as of late in the Steubenville case.
Some people online did not agree with West. And they responded as only “some people of the internet” can. By threatening her and calling her fat and ugly, too fat and ugly to be raped, in fact.
Ah, rape. The cross to bear of only hot people.
This small selection, from West’s original piece on Jezebel, is just a fraction of the comments she’s received. I urge you all to watch the full video. Warning: your hearts will break and you will lose faith in society, if you had any to begin with. But, at the very least, it lead to a discussion.
Unfortunately, it was the wrong discussion. One we’ve already goddamn had, and one which is about as effective as running in circles while attempting to properly use a Skip-It.
See, rather that a thoughtful discussion about the treatment of women on the internet, its default responses of violence and degradation, we went back to the “is rape funny?” well.
And if you’re keen to partake in that argument, you’re going to grow old waiting for any sort of outcome, whatever side you fall on.
Here’s where I actually differ from many of my fellow Pajiba writers, and I say this as a woman, as a feminist, as someone with some skin in this game: I actually tend to agree with Norton and the other comedians who sided with Tosh. I don’t believe something as subjective as comedy can be dictated with rules and regulations and what is okay versus what isn’t okay and what’s within the bounds of good taste and what isn’t. It’s all okay or none of it is, and it falls to us, the viewers, to determine for ourselves what we will allow into our eyes or ears by where we put our hard-earned money. Yeah, I think some jokes about rape are reprehensible (but not all, and even Lindy West would agree) but I think assigning a right way and wrong way upon any creative medium is a dangerously slippery slope, because if I had any say in the matter, Chelsea Handler wouldn’t have a show, because she offends me with her shittiness.
But that’s not the point here. And it shouldn’t have been. The point here is that if another man had made the same argument West made, and many men have, that the responses would not have immediately delved into comments focused on appearance and threats of bodily harm, or combining the two into some sick notion that a person can be too ugly or fat to be violently attacked. And that is the issue we should be discussing. We need to get to the bottom of “rape culture” and sexism’s internet prevalence.
No one should be spoken to or about the way West has been in the past week. No one. And people have acted as though all that matters is her opinion and whether or not they agree with it. As though, one might infer, that having an opinion that person disagreed with meant that she was asking for it.
We can argue for days about whether or not rape can or should be joked about, whether or not it is more or less unspeakable than infanticide or hate crimes or pedophilia or any other type of horrific act. But let the conversation be bigger than that. Don’t just ask if rape can be funny. Ask why a woman’s body is the go-to target for the majority of internet conversation and criticism. Ask why that body is the go-to cause for a complete dismissal of opinion and violence is the go-to threat when a woman is deemed “wrong” on the internet.
That’s the conversation we should be having. And it’s got nothing to do with Daniel Tosh.