To Hanna Rosin: violence against women is never funny

I’m always mystified by some women out there who will go out of their way to prove they can take a joke — no matter how offensive and wrong — just so they can prove they aren’t the stereotypical uptight, serious feminists who can’t take a joke.

Case in point, author Hanna Rosin wrote on Slate that feminists often prove comedian Louis C.K. right by their inability to take a joke. The joke she was referring to was over The Onion’s spoof of Chris Brown lamenting over the fact that he’d always be able to beat Rihanna to death.

Rosin writes:

Is there anyone who can read this item and not think that the writer is disgusted by domestic abuse, and more specifically disgusted by Chris Brown’s casual attitude toward domestic abuse? Apparently so, as seen in the outraged responses compiled by BuzzFeedFeministing founder Jessica Valenti tweeted that “using Rihanna’s imagined death as fodder is awful.” Others said the article was “horrifying” and that “violence against women isn’t funny.” A Tumblr user also called out for a “trigger warning,” so they wouldn’t have to risk reading about domestic violence. This then expanded to a general discussion of whether the Onion was sexist and racist.

Would the reaction have been the same if the joke were about a conservative Republican congressman assaulting a young boy? Definitely not. Jokes are only “offensive” if they offend our particular political sensibilities. As my colleague Will Saletan points out: “It’s liberal prudery. You can soak a crucifix in urine because there’s a larger point to be made, but you can’t mix humor with domestic violence even when the point is blindingly obvious.”

The anti-Onion reactions basically amount to: hide it, don’t mention it, keep it away from our delicate sensibilities. That’s the opposite of what comedy is designed to do. In fact, this item brings more attention to domestic violence that 100 earnest blog posts on the same subject ever could. At the end of its item, BuzzFeed calls on the Onion for comment, which effectively means they are waiting for an apology. There is a precedent for this. On Oscar night, the Onion tweeted, “Everyone else seems afraid to say it, but that Quvenzhane Wallis is kind of a cunt, right?” CEO Steven Hannah promptly took it back and apologized: “No person should be subjected to such a senseless, humorless comment masquerading as satire,” he wrote.  Hannah was only half right. The tweet didn’t fall flat because of the subject matter. It didn’t work because it wasn’t funny. Like Tosh’s lazy rape joke, it relied on the shock value of a single word. Personally, I’m waiting for the Onion to take its latest satire a step further and do that same item from Rihanna’s point of view. That really would be an Aristocrats-level challenge.

Hm. So, we stuck-up prudish women who took issue with The Onion’s spoof are now stuffy and can’t take a joke. Got it.

I find it offensive that Rosin would reduce any panning of The Onion’s satire as basically wanting to keep the issue of domestic violence away from our oh-so-sensitive minds. Also, The Onion’s satire draws “more attention” to domestic violence than the scores of blogs that repeatedly rail against the subject and its apologists? Is she fucking joking or has she even read blogs on domestic violence?

Many women and men have used blogs as a way of coping with their abuse and sharing their experiences with those who have suffered with them. Many blogs, papers, books and articles written on domestic violence by those who work closely with victims and those who are victims themselves are what opens the eyes of the public at large on how widespread and pervasive domestic violence is.

Rosin is purely insensitive, dismissive and ignorant to claim The Onion’s role in shedding light on domestic violence. Not only is blatantly false, it also erases and trivializes the work those who are survivors and advocates of those experiencing domestic violence.

Domestic violence has not been and never will be funny. Nearly one in four women will experience some form of domestic violence in her lifetime. It’s not funny when most domestic violence cases aren’t even reported to law enforcement agencies. Domestic violence is not funny when 85 percent of victims are women. It’s not funny when many women often stay in abusive relationships because they are financially vulnerable. It’s not funny when children are forced to grow up in violent households that often puts them in fear. It’s not funny when it takes several times for a woman to permanently leave her abusive husband or partner.

I could go on and on, but I won’t.

One has a hard time believing that Rosin and backers of The Onion’s piece wouldn’t be as blase about this issue if  Rihanna was white. Rihanna’s experience with domestic violence as a black woman continues to be reduced and she herself continues to be erased by white America as undeserving of sympathy. Since we are not seen as women and worthy of protection and advocacy by the feminist establishment and America at large, black women continue to battle the stereotype that we can’t crumble at the hands of our batterers, thus our plight with the issue remains a nonissue.

[As an aside, while many folks have all but forgiven the likes of Charlie Sheen and Mel Gibson, Chris Brown remains relegated to the he-will-never-regain-our-trust corner of the room. No, I’m definitely not defending Chris Brown and he will be relegated that corner of the room in my eyes. However, I can’t help but to notice these glaring double standards.]

We are able to laugh and mock those we don’t see as equals, as humans, as whole. This disconnect is exactly why the likes of Rosin and The Onion can hide behind satire and laugh at Rihanna’s experience with domestic violence as if it’s just some troublesome thing that happens to women who aren’t worthy of reverence, thus deserved to be mocked.

This trend towards masquerading bigotry as humor and satire in moderate-to-liberal circles continues to place marginalized bodies into uncomfortable positions as we have to navigate these hipster -isms in groups we would have least expected such blatant disrespect.

Furthermore, Rosin’s comparison of why The Onion’s racialized sexist tweet against Quvenzhane Wallis wasn’t funny, but its latest Chris Brown/Rihanna mockery is hilarious is a blatant contradiction and shows her lack of understanding of how and why they are connected. The tweet about Quvenzhane was offensive because not only was it not funny, it was a type of racialized sexist attack black women and girls are all too familiar with. Mocking the domestic violence-filled relationship between the two singers also was a form of racialized sexism that works in tandem of whiteness’s campaign erase, reduce and trivialize the lives of black women.