Dear Jim Jefferies, Can We Talk About Your Rape Jokes?

Dear Jim Jefferies,

I was in the audience during your performance in London, Ontario at Centennial Hall on Friday, December 11, 2015. I was curious to see your Freedumb tour after seeing your infamous routine on gun ownership in America on YouTube.

I will admit my bias right off the bat: had I known that your current tour presently includes a 10 minute segment of rape jokes, I probably would have stayed home. However, I missed the memo. So here we go. You made a number of jokes insinuating that women should consider it a “compliment” to be drugged and date-raped. You teased that it is “not good to rape often.” You said something to the effect that it didn’t really matter whether Bill Cosby raped 30 women or 50 women, because once he had raped over 30 his penalty would be the same, so he might as well “just go for it”.

A few times you inserted ‘disclaimers’ in which you explained that you are “just a comedian” and that your misogyny is simply a gag, a performance, implying that it’s all just for laughs. Nothing in your act, you say, should be interpreted as anything more than theatrical comedy. You stressed this repeatedly. Apparently you intend your audience to differentiate between your ‘serious’ disclaimers and your ‘innocent’ litany of rape jokes.

At another point in your show, you talked about child abuse. You made a few brief jokes about defecating on a small child who is chained to a radiator in your basement. Here again you (quickly) quipped another ‘disclaimer’, reiterating moral impunity in the name of comedy.

Comparatively speaking, you devoted much more time to jokes about raping women than to jokes about abusing children. This is interesting, isn’t it? Let’s imagine what would happen if you scaled your child abuse jokes to the scale of your rape jokes: if you stood on a stage every night and performed a 10 minute routine about molesting children, what do you suppose would become of your ‘brand’ and career? (I suppose we don’t have to imagine too hard, given the fallout and controversy from CK Louis’ monologue on child molestation at SNL back in May.)

Let’s go back to Friday night. Imagine if you inserted the word ‘child’ every time you referred to women. Imagine if you replaced all your jokes about the physical and sexual assault of women with jokes about pedophilia and child pornography? At very minimum, why would the social consequences and thresholds for acceptance be different? What are the cultural norms and precedents that make this dichotomy possible? What kind of systematic inequalities underpin this double standard?

A victim is a victim: physically overpowered, denied of their personal autonomy, robbed of choice, and injured for the pleasure of the abuser. Why should the age or gender of the victim determine the comedic viability of jokes made at their expense? What does it say about our society if jokes about raping women sells tickets but jokes about raping children can damage your career? Why differentiate one category of innocent human beings from another?

I am a die-hard supporter of free speech. I also believe it is fundamentally important for society to tolerate/protect comedy/satire that pushes the envelop of social discourse. I’m certainly not writing this letter because I think you ought to be banned or censored by some regiment of the moral thought police. And I most certainly do not suppose myself to be a moral authority. No, in fact, I will champion your right to speak freely, because I understand that it is also my right to freely disagree with you. This is why I am writing: I hope, somehow, that some of my fellow audience members who have seen the Freedumb tour will pause just long enough to question the social and cultural precedents against women that were implicitly entrenched by your performance.

Morality aside, your logic of justification for ‘comedic misogyny’ makes no sense: your segregation of ‘theatrical comedy’ from ‘real life’ is arbitrary and inconsistent. Look, I wholeheartedly agree with many of the things you said on Friday night — such as your appeal to respond to the threat of fanatical, religious terrorism (and the rhetoric of fear-mongering politicians) with “love instead of hate”. (That part wasn’t suppose to be a joke, right? That wasn’t just comedy, was it?) In fact, I could not agree more: when we perceive that our collective well-being is jeopardized by a violent minority, the systemic toxicity of fear must be thwarted by rational vigilance: collective compassion. When it comes to responding to terrorism, your call was loud and clear. But unfortunately the terror that many women suffer at the hands of their abusers found nothing but implicit reinforcement in your act.

In the real world of human hearts and minds, a night of comedy at the theatre does not result in a set of disembodied ideas that get locked away in some vacuum sealed corner of the brain. That is why humour and satire are so powerful, and so important. You obviously know this full well because you explicitly asked, challenged, and invited your audience to question their own fears and biases. You provoked them to reevaluate their assumptions on a number of issues. But unfortunately, the real world mores and precedents that sentence millions of women to live in fear were only reinforced by the glaring double standards of your act.

Please critically reconsider your approach to gender and sexuality in your future work.

Thanks for reading,

James

Share · Tweet

Something I’ve Never Seen

Never, not once in my life, can I recall seeing a woman drive a motorcycle with a male passenger behind her. Oh, I’m sure it happens, but I have personally never seen it. (Granted, the vast majority of my life has been spent in North America, and this limited cultural context must be kept in mind.)

If you search Google Images for a “woman driving a motorcycle with male passenger” the instances seem rare. I did find this scene, though: two Indian movie stars swapping the stereotypical gender seats on a motorcycle to promote a film. That’s right: a woman driving a motorcycle with a man tagging along for the ride is so rare it works as a publicity stunt

The so-called ‘backseat’ of a motorcycle is called a pillion — which, according to Wikipedia, comes from Scottish Gaelic for ‘little rug,’ being derived from the Latin pellis for ‘skin’ or ‘pelt.’ Apparently, back in the day, chivalrous equestrians placed a few extra animal skins behind them on the horses back for their lady passengers to sit on.

Unsurprising, then, you see about as many women driving motorcycles with male passengers as you see depictions of medieval women riding horses with male knights riding pillion… which is approximately zero.

“Bitch seat” or “bitch pad” is vulgar North American slang for the pillion on a motorcycle, as is “riding bitch” instead of “riding pillion”. (Wikipedia)

Motorcycle culture, it’s time to get out of the Middle Ages.

Share · Tweet

Public Shaming… and Your Own Worst Decisions

What is the single worst decision you have ever made?

What if, by chance, your worst decision was caught on video? Or perhaps someone snapped a few photos? What if it was uploaded, shared, and spread across the planet?

(Heck, let’s not even talk about your worst decision. Let’s consider your ninth or tenth poorest decision, down the list of moral or ethical severity. In fact, it might be something you even think about doing or saying everyday, tucked away back in the darker recesses of your mind.)

What if millions of people based everything they thought about you on that single video or image?

Does that make sense? Do you define yourself by your poorest choices? If not, upon what grounds would other people’s poorest choices be appropriate grounds for defining them?

Why do we pounce on the viral mistake of the hour, like a bloodthirsty mob in need of a sacrificial scapegoat?

Perhaps, when we shame others (from the safe distance of our anonymous keyboards) we ourselves can feel just a little bit better about our own slip ups. Perhaps our mob mentality is collective self-appeasement made manifest. As long as another poor victim is suffering on the alter of humiliation, and being pilloried in the stocks of shame, we ourselves, individually, are safe from one another’s prying ridicule.

The mob has not changed. We have simply traded stoning and lynching for mentions and hashtags. It is notably less violent now, but only negligibly less devastating.

Shame on the shamers? No, I am too guilty. This is self indictment. This is a confession.

Let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone.

Share · Tweet

Santa Claus Economics

As long as the gifts are duly wrapped, delivered and tucked under the tree, children can happily go about their holiday bliss with no thought whatsoever about Santa’s completely undisclosed sourcing for raw materials. Neither need they give pause to wonder about the North Pole’s CSR position. What child stops and considers the wages and living conditions that elves receive in remunerative compensation? Since Santa’s revenue stream seems minimal (warm milk and cookies does not monetize to scale), there arise serious uncertainties about his corporation’s employee care policies. Indeed, Santa’s drive to undercut all competition leaves any thoughtful observer to only speculate at the true externalities.

A thorough calculation might leave some people to wonder if North Pole Corp is in fact a fraudulent institution that merely pads the belly of it’s CEO at the expense of its workforce. (Santa is the 1% – #occupynorthpole) But of course, Santa’s global marketing team has successfully squashed every rumor of his operation’s unethical behavior by spinning his image as a benevolent philanthropist for children around the world. This branding campaign of pediatric concern is unparalleled in its success, especially considering that even the metrics used to determine Santa’s gift payout scheme program for moral behavior — known simply to outsiders as the “nice list” — has never been made available for an ethics committee to scrutinize.

No, there’s a plain explanation for all of this: it’s just magic. Christmas magic. So forget about it. Holiday cheer, my friends, joyous Noel!

However, if you think Santa Claus is a thing of mythology, legend, and fairy tale, do you dare to ask yourself where all this stuff actually comes from?

Only if Santa’s magic were true could we celebrate this holiday with a clear conscious. (And what’s really more ridiculous: a benevolent man with a flying sleigh or a society that builds its entire retail economic vitality on a yearly shopping event?) Thankfully, as long as we keep believing the fairy tale of Santa Claus economics we avoid the need to investigate the actual consequences of this annual materialistic rampage.

Share · Tweet

Field

The eyes of a young man and woman catch amid the deafening chaos around them. For a split second their pupils interlock, forming a conduit. An unspoken exchange.

Maybe, perhaps, things could have been different if they had met in a quiet cafe, a restaurant, or even a bustling little tavern. Anywhere, absolutely anywhere, but here.

It is possible that they might have laughed at each others accents, or tried to teach one another new words as they strolled together on a cool evening. He may have listened intently as she told him stories about her grandmother. She might have found herself enthralled by his boyhood tales of adventures in his homeland. If their chance meeting were different, they may have bid one another a cordial goodnight, or perhaps awoken the next morning in one another’s embrace.

If only they met anywhere else but here.

This is not where a young man and woman can listen to one another, or even indulge in anything more than a fleeting glance. In fact, here, on this field, a glance is over before it begins. The glance is overridden — vaporized — by a story. Neither of them wrote the story, but they cannot escape it. It is a story people who are evil, hateful, aggressive, greedy, intolerant, and spiteful of diplomacy.

It is their story about each other.

Her reaction time is a split second faster than his. Her hands, just slightly more stable.

She fills his torso with bullets.

What if they had met anywhere but on this battlefield?

As the young man slumps to the ground, grasping for a final, agonizing breath of life, questions flash through her mind: Why do we kill strangers whom we have never met? Why does our belief in imaginary boundary lines — markers so feebly drawn on a map — warrant the assassination of another person? Why are the orders of the elite and the mythology of the state so hungry for the blood of the fallen? What if we did not run so obediently into these bloody fields; these fields where young men and women annihilate and destroy one another?

On a battlefield, she could have never afforded the chance that he was not wondering the same things.

The odds were too great that he would have shot first.

He was, after all, the enemy.

Today we remember the lovers and friends who killed one another before they had a chance to meet.

Lest we forget that every act of war is derived from a story about why another person is the enemy.

What better way to pay respect to our fallen and honour our veterans than to create a world where young men and women need not kill each other in bloody fields?

Share · Tweet