Trigger warning for rape apology, victim-blaming and rape jokes in the links leading off of this post.
This weekend there will be another protest in Spokane, WA over a bar giving a drink a name that amounts to a rape joke - Date Grape Kool-Aid. There has been a lot of media attention about it that has covered the ins and outs of what's happened on the side of the protesters and the business, so I'm going to focus on my personal reasoning for supporting the protests and boycott.
I've seen a lot of comments supporting the bar's naming of the drink, minimizing the offensiveness of it and stating that "It's. Just. The. Name. Of. A. Drink." They often go on to tell boycotters that they should be expending their energies on more pressing issues, and that a rape joke or drink name have never harmed anyone.
The reason I so consistently and vehemently oppose rape jokes, including this drink name, is because it's a part of my personal safety arsenal. It's part of me asserting and protecting my boundaries and ensuring I surround myself only with people that I can trust and who will have my back. Since rapists don't wear name tags and aren't accompanied by fog machines and suspenseful music, each of us has to make decisions on who they deem to be more-safe-than-not. It's never going to be 100% accurate, but it's really the best we can do.
If I surround myself with people who joke about date rape and sexual violence against women, how can I tell when the jokes should be setting off alarm bells? If I let people be so flippant about rape around me without challenging them on it, how do I know how they really feel about it or if they'll protect me? How can I tell when they're joking and when they're being serious, when so much of our own truths come out when we're smiling or laughing? Remember the kid who was videotaped laughing about the "dead girl" being raped in Steubenville?
In the context of a bar not only naming a drink after a rape joke, but unwaveringly insisting on making rape jokes and minimizing the offense and hurt caused by them, that sends up huge red flags. That tells me that this is not a safe place for women, because if I'm not assaulted by the owner, there is an increased risk of other sexual predators choosing that location as hunting grounds because of the atmosphere that is being actively fostered to support them. That's the thing about rapists - they also have internet access, not being confined to wifi deadzones under bridges, and they hear when people are giving them a social license to operate.
Now, I'm not saying the owner specifically is a rapist. I have no proof, no rumours, nothing to base that on. That's the thing about rapists and their stubborn refusal to wear those name tags. My point is that the owner himself has set off my personal red flags by being so insistent that his clients approve of and support his rape jokes, that it would fly in the face of every ounce of self-preservation I have to enter that club. And it would feel irresponsible not to pass on those gut feelings to others, just as we are expected to tell each other to avoid "bad neighbourhoods" or "dark alleys".
In line with my previous post about personal safety tips, how does accepting and encouraging rape jokes parse with telling women it's up to them to ensure they don't get raped? The short answer is, it doesn't. Could it be that women are only allowed to protect their boundaries against sexual violence up until it inconveniences someone? Up until it takes away someone's fun? Up until women become downers because, gosh, do they always have to think about rape, even though we tell them constantly in big and small ways not to get raped and that they always have to be on guard against rape?
This then is my safety advice for people of all gender expressions, because we know women are not the only victims of sexual violence: Don't tell rape jokes. If you flippantly make fun of rape survivors, it makes it difficult to know if the people you keep around you will have your back if you are attacked. Similarly, if someone takes offense to the reasonable request that they not make light of rape and degrade victims, at least not around you, keep an eye on them. If they cannot respect such a simple boundary, that's a red flag.
If the people you associate with, or the places you go, insist that you be hypervigilant about stranger-in-the-bushes rapists all while demanding you let your guard down to the people who actively test your boundaries around rape, this is unsafe. It's ok to listen to your gut and put your foot down and not put up with it. It may be socially awkward, but that's the game that rapists play best - making sure you're the one who has to be apologetic even though they're the ones who are disrespecting and acting aggressively towards you.
In the end, it's up to all of us to decide how we protect ourselves and what makes sense in our personal safety arsenal. This makes the most sense to me, and is one of the few pieces of safety advice that I would advocate across the board to everyone.