Letter to the Editor (9-13-2013)

Last Saturday night, LAF hired comedian Barry Rothbart to perform on campus. In the middle of his act, he gave a shout out to date rapists in the room. Several audience members cheered, and Rothbart then continued to discuss how likes to see guys hits on girls really aggressively. Rothbart then explained that he was the type of man who would just stare at women until they felt the need to button up their shirts. His final piece was about dolphins raping humans.

Often comedians justify the inclusion of offensive material on the principle that joking is justification for anything they might say. They claim that jokes about issues such as rape, abuse, pedophilia, autism, and Muslim terrorists (all subjects Rothbart covered on Saturday) should be immune to criticism because they are “just jokes.” However, even if being a joke was somehow grounds for moral immunity, which I do not believe, Rothbart went beyond making jokes about rape. He actually chose to endorse date rape outside the context of any joke. Considering that 1 in 4 women, and 3 in 100 men, will be the victims of sexual assault during their time at college, this is an issue that we cannot afford to take lightly.

How Barry Rothbart or comedians like him choose to treat this subject is, to some degree, out of our control. Whenever we bring entertainers to campus, we have a responsibility to our community to do our best to bring someone who will uphold Lafayette values. However, it is not always possible to predict what entertainers may say or endorse, and unacceptable jokes or views may sometimes be endorsed by members of our own community. In those cases, we need to consider how to react in the moment when someone tells an inappropriate joke or openly approves of an act such as rape. Often times, we laugh, or smile, or even cheer. Not, I hope, because we agree, but because we are uncomfortable or because we know that laughter is the expected response. However, by laughing at these sorts of jokes, we are implicitly supporting the person who makes them. Instead of making them feel uncomfortable, we allow them to feel accepted.

I want to suggest that rather than laughing at a comedian who makes rape jokes, we can choose to simply remain silent. While actively speaking up is usually the most effective option, silence can be a very powerful tool in letting comedians know that their material is neither funny nor acceptable. I hope that in the future, we can meet endorsements of rape with a minimum of silence, and not with cheers.

 

Heather Hughes ‘15

President, Association of Lafayette Feminists