Photo: BEImages/Jim Smeal.
Let's just be clear: Rape jokes, whether they're about a male, female, or even a non-human victim, are not funny. So, when LeAnn Rimes jokes that she lost her virginity by raping her boyfriend, that is a problem.
Rimes and her husband Eddie Cibrian appeared on the most recent episode of Joan Rivers’ web series, In Bed With Joan. The incident began when Rivers asked if the couple wanted some wine (spoiler: they do). When Rivers handed them glasses, Cibrian joked that he wanted to switch and drink the one Rimes was holding. “Why; this one might be roofied?” was her response. That's not banter — that's mocking the experience of survivors everywhere who have been drugged and then assaulted.
Later, Rivers asked Rimes how she lost her virginity. “I was in Monte Carlo, and I was 16. There you go,” she responded. When pressed for details, she offerd: “Well, he was my boyfriend for like three-and-a-half years, so it was fine. I think I raped him. That’s how it happened." Cibrian burst out laughing. What.the.hell.
Besides wondering if this is something LeAnn jokes about regularly, let's repeat that rape jokes are not funny. Twitter responded immediately. “It’s not intelligent and VERY offensive to joke about rape @leannrimes,” @MeganDankert tweeted.
Daniel Tosh made headlines two years ago when he tried to joke about rape during a stand-up set. One audience member decided to speak up. “Actually, rape jokes are never funny,” she shouted. After a beat, Tosh replied, “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like, five guys right now? Like right now? What if a bunch of guys just raped her?”
In a blog post about the incident, the woman — who has remained anonymous — says that she and her friend “high-tailed it out of there” while the “audience guffawed in response to Tosh.” The comedy club’s manager apologized, but the author notes, “I can imagine the Laugh Factory doesn’t really have a policy in place for what happens when a woman has to leave in a hurry because the person onstage is hurling violent words about sexual violence at her. Although, maybe I’m not the first girl to have it happen to her.”
Tosh later offered an apology on Twitter, but it felt more like one of those "sorry you were offended" non-apologies. Patton Oswalt also entered the fray, at first rushing to the comedian's defense. After further examination of the situation, however, he called his initial perspective "fucking wrong."
"Just because I find rape disgusting, and have never had that impulse, doesn’t mean I can make a leap into the minds of women and dismiss how they feel day to day, moment to moment, in ways both blatant and subtle, from other men, and the way the media represents the world they live in, and from what they hear in songs, see in movies, and witness on stage in a comedy club," Oswalt writes. "I don’t want to be on the side of the debate that only argues from its own limited experience."
The incident with Tosh was widely condemned, although much of the discourse revolved around the ongoing discussion of white male privilege. Now, a woman has joked about raping a man. A silver lining, if you can call it that, is that it can spark a conversation about the reality that any person, no matter what gender or sexual orientation, can be a victim of sexual violence.
According to the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN), 10% of all rape victims in the U.S. are male, and the organization 1in6 reports that “one in six boys are sexually abused before age 18.” Curtis St. John, a past president and media spokesperson for MaleSurvivor, adds that “Any statistics you find are going to be completely underestimated.”
We asked St. John about the implications of Rimes’ statement for male survivors. “It invalidates a male’s emotional response. It sort of undermines anyone’s effort to want to reach out and get help should they be in a similar situation. It doesn’t mater how strong or sexually active a male is. Just like anyone else, no means no. It touches them emotionally as a betrayal of trust,” he explains. Furthermore, male survivors are less likely to seek help than females, which can result in anger issues, a lack of trust, and harmful self-medicating.
In the midst of the backlash, one of Rimes’ fans rushed her to defense, “I am so upset over [this] I could scream. I am a rape victim and not a damn thing you said was offensive. I love you and Eddie,” @lquinn183 tweeted.
“That right there sheds light on the fact that male rape isn’t spoken about and thus is not understood,” St. John points out. “The emotional responses of a male are really no different, except that there aren’t as many resources available for a male victim, and society and the media still say it’s just a joke, and it can’t happen. Making rape jokes about males makes light of a subject that is not light.”
To @lquinn183, LeAnn Rimes responded, “I'm sad you had to experience that in your life.” She has yet to comment on the outpouring of concern over her flippant remarks about roofies or raping her boyfriend. Her silence just adds to the all-too-present one that already exists around the topic of male rape. Consider this the overdue start of the conversation.