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Why Rape Jokes are Not Okay

Duterte Rape Joke

Casualties of a rape culture. Illustration by Niki Waters.

“Tiningnan ko yung mukha, ‘tangina parang artista sa America na maganda. Putangina, sayang ito. Ang nagpasok sa isip ko, ni-rape nila, pinagpilahan nila doon. Nagalit ako kasi ni-rape, oo isa rin ‘yun. Pero napakaganda, dapat ang mayor muna ang mauna. Sayang.”

— Presidential Candidate, Rodrigo Duterte, said to a crowd of rowdy supporters at a campaign rally.

In English:

“I saw her face and I thought, son of a bitch she’s like a beautiful American actress. Son of a bitch, what a waste. What first came to mind was that, they raped her, that they all lined up to rape her. I was mad she was raped, that was one thought. But she was so beautiful, the mayor should have been first. Such a waste.”

We would like to emphasize that we are not endorsing any particular candidate.

Neither are we discrediting Mayor Duterte and what he has accomplished. We respect your freedom of choice and acknowledge what he has done for Davao. What we are condemning is the joke he made during his rally and how the comment, along with his unapologetic (read: misogynistic) attitude, perpetuates rape culture.

We also acknowledge Mayor Duterte’s recent apology, but we would like to continue this important conversation on rape and present a list as to why his thoughtless ‘joke’ was an issue in the first place.

To those who say “It was just a joke”:

  • Even if someone who makes a rape joke would never actually commit rape, their language enforces a culture in which rape is not taken seriously. Rape victims are already burdened with not being taken seriously — their stories doubted, their suffering downplayed. Joking about rape only adds to this existing burden.
  • If you are against rape, take it seriously. Don’t joke about it. Don’t contribute to a culture that normalizes it or trivializes it.
  • Above all, respect the suffering of rape survivors. Treat their experience with sensitivity, compassion, kindness, and empathy.
  • Any leader who is idolized by many should be especially mindful of the example they set. If they can joke about rape with impunity, and tolerate rape culture as normal, their followers may learn to do the same.

To those who say “His words were taken out of context”:

  • There is no context in which it would be acceptable to lament that you did not get to go first in raping someone.
  • Duterte may have said these words out of anger and he may have said it as an attack against the rapists, but it is still not how one should talk about rape.
  • Worse still, he allowed his audience to laugh about it.
  • Rape is a crime of sexual violence. Everyone should be mindful of what that means. Just the memory of it is painfully vivid to someone who has experienced it first hand.

To those who insist, “Judge him by his actions, not his words”:

  • Duterte’s good deeds do not excuse his rape joke.
  • We can acknowledge his good work while still condemning his contribution to rape culture.
  • Strong leadership does not excuse rape culture. There is no excuse for rape culture.

To those who say “Other candidates have done worse”:

  • Other people’s bad deeds do not excuse Duterte’s rape joke.
  • We can acknowledge that other candidates have done worse while still condemning Duterte’s contribution to rape culture.
  • Again, there is no excuse for rape culture.

To those who said, “He already apologized”:

  • Duterte apologized for his coarse language, but he did not apologize for the rape joke.
  • He still doesn’t seem to understand why what he said is wrong. He doesn’t understand how rape jokes contribute to rape culture.
  • Before his statement, he continued to excuse it as “ganyan talaga magsalita ang lalaki” (“that’s just how men talk”). It may be our reality that men joke about sexually violating women all the time, but it’s exactly this attitude that we want to change. We want a society where a woman’s suffering is respected just as much as a man’s. Every human’s suffering should be seen for what they are: painful.
  • He said he might speak that way again in the future.
  • This is still unclear because he disowned the apology issued by his political party for him.
  • If you make a joke about rape, you can apologize for it properly by acknowledging how hurtful and inappropriate your words were, by being clear that you understand how rape jokes contribute to rape culture, and by explaining how you will fight against rape culture.

To those who say “I support him anyway”:

  • Condemning the rape joke is a separate issue from weighing all the candidates and deciding whom to support.
  • Duterte’s supporters would do well to condemn his rape joke, and rape culture in general, even if they continue to support him. Everybody should condemn rape culture.
  • Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide how important a presidential candidate’s attitudes and values toward women are.

What you can do to help put an end to rape culture:

  1. Acknowledge that rape is not to be taken lightly. Take a stand and call people out.
  2. Rape is a crime. Rape jokes disrespect and demean every rape victim, which, statistically, could easily be someone you know.
  3. Rape culture, which includes victim-blaming, slut-shaming, and the normalization of rape (through rape jokes), debases the seriousness of sexual violence.

This article was written by Feanne with editorial support by Cat Cortes.

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