(Trigger warning: this article contains graphic language related to rape)
If you missed what happened at Microsoft’s E3 press event, you can read this great write-up we posted yesterday, but I want to talk about what I think is the most unsettling thing about this entire incident: the section of our population who keeps insisting “just let it happen, it’ll be over soon” is not a rape joke, or — and this is even worse — that it’s not a big deal because it’s just normal trash talk.
This debate was happening all over Twitter, various discussion boards, and even made its way to the comments of our Facebook post last night.
Let me help: “just let it happen, it’ll be over soon” absolutely is a rape joke, and it is normal trash talk, and that is the problem. Watch the video at Kotaku to get a better sense of the context for what I’m about to talk about if you haven’t already seen it.
It absolutely is a rape joke.
It’s a rape joke because it is a phrase rapists use during rape and is reported later by survivors; it’s used commonly enough that a huge number of people heard him say that and immediately went “WTF” on Twitter, in their minds, and in their stomachs; and it’s a joke because people laughed (is it worth noting it was the only thing people really laughed at in that demo?).
And it is normal trash talk.
It’s a rape joke that is a variation the many rape-related phrases and jokes that get used flippantly in games to describe a severe defeat. “You might as well try to enjoy it” or “don’t fight it” or “I wish you had at least used lube” or (the most common) “I/we just got raped.” Some of these are phrases perpetrators of rape use during the act and are later turned into jokes by us, while others are victim-centric and used as a self-deprecating joke to dismiss a bad loss — all of them condone and normalize rape, and they are all problematic.
And that is the problem.
Before you shout “They were playing Killer Instinct! It’s a fighting game where people kill each other! What’s it matter if there’s a rape joke?” read our public stance on rape references, which goes into great detail why rape jokes/references are far more harmful than the “I’m going to blow your head off” type language that gets tossed around. Rape-related threats and trash talk are completely different from general violent threats, but you know that, because you read the article (right?).
Casual rape jokes are normalized far beyond just games culture. Back in the 90s, we (Texans) had a gubernatorial candidate Clayton Williams who was asked about rape and joked “if it’s inevitable, just relax and enjoy it.” Yes. That’s real life. Several years before that, Tex Antoine, a New York City weatherman (but originally from Texas… damnit) joked, while responding to a story about a 5-year old girl who was violently raped, “With rape so predominant in the news lately, it is well to remember the words of Confucius: ‘If rape is inevitable, lie back and enjoy it.’” Also real life. And those are just two examples I knew off the top of my head.
“You’re just looking for something that isn’t there.”
A lot of people seem to think that this is an issue of rabble-rousers trying to find something in this language that isn’t there — that it wasn’t a rape reference, and we are creating something out of nothing. To quote someone from our Facebook page “I think things are getting to the point where people are looking for stuff like that, and Microsoft, et. al’s appearance as a yeah-brah male dominated culture lends itself easily to that, whether or not there is anything to it.”
Speaking for myself, I can’t tell you how frustrating this is. I am doing the exact opposite of looking for things that “aren’t there,” because there is so much that is there it gets overwhelming at times. The last thing I need is to create a new fight when there are a thousand other unsolved battles underway.
This wasn’t an intellectual thing where I was like, “Ooo! Someone at E3 said something that we can twist into a rape joke and it’ll be great!” I don’t want that. That’s not great. It’d be a huge win if an event went off without any sort of horribleness.
This was a gut, horrible reaction that hit my heart before it hit my head. To temper my reaction, I even asked one of my roommates (who’s not a gamer or social justice-y person), “Hey, no context, if a person said ‘just let it happen, it’ll be over soon,’ what do you think it’d mean?” The verdict: rape reference. He even got the stomach discmfort, and he heard it second-hand.
Let’s talk about the guy who said it!
Actually, let’s not. It doesn’t matter who said it, if he’s a “nice” guy, if he’s a “great team leader,” if he’s generally “supportive of women” in the industry, or (as the most common narrative goes) if he “didn’t mean anything by it.” Doesn’t matter. None of it. I personally don’t think he’s a bad person at all, nor do I think him saying this makes him a bad person, but it doesn’t matter what I think.
He made a rape joke that he’s been told over and over is an okay joke to make while playing games, because he hears those jokes all the time — in games, on television, around his friends, and hopefully-not-but-likely at his workplace.
He made a rape joke in an extremely public (the most public?) event because he’s been formally and informally told it’s totally cool to make rape jokes.
But one thing that is worth pointing out is this particular joke was far more troubling than the normal “we just got raped” usage of “rape” we hear in games. Why? Because the whole dialogue and situation happened to be playing into a situation where a man was exerting violent dominance over a woman (is it worth noting she was the first woman to speak at the event?), and using a rape perpetrator phrase against her. And the dialogue continued with him saying, ”Wow, you like this?” and her replying “No, I don’t like this.” What’s that sound like? Yes, it sounds like a problem.
Instead, let’s talk about what we can do about it.
We can ask for Microsoft or the Killer Instinct Team to issue an apology, beyond the statement (that I hope is true) from a Microsoft spokesperson to Kotaku of “The comments in question during the Killer Instinct demo were not scripted. The demo was meant to include friendly gameplay banter and there was there was no ill intent.” That might be helpful.
But I suggest we stop apologizing, scapegoating, rationalizing, dismissing, and benefit-of-doubt-giving and acknowledge the unfortunate fact that rape is not something that is viewed as a serious issue — not in society at large and particularly not in gaming culture. We can look inside, start to unpack and address why we don’t acknowledge it as a serious issue, have honest dialogues about it, listen to survivors and advocates, and take a firm stance that we will no longer put up with rape being viewed as acceptable in our culture.
That’s my vote, because I, for one, don’t think rape is acceptable in any culture.