Daniel, say it ain’t so

One of the things I like about Daniel Tosh, including his show Tosh.O, is its unapologetic nature. He’s up there telling jokes that, if sincere, would be just horrible. But, of course, they aren’t sincere. If they were, they wouldn’t be jokes and he wouldn’t be a comedian. Moreover, he would be a terribly human being who hates just about everyone who isn’t Daniel Tosh.

Unfortunately, Tosh has actually apologized for jokes he told during a recent routine:

So Tosh then starts making some very generalizing, declarative statements about rape jokes always being funny, how can a rape joke not be funny, rape is hilarious, etc. I don’t know why he was so repetitive about it but I felt provoked because I, for one, DON’T find them funny and never have. So I didnt appreciate Daniel Tosh (or anyone!) telling me I should find them funny. So I yelled out, “Actually, rape jokes are never funny!”…

After I called out to him, Tosh paused for a moment. Then, he says, “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like, 5 guys right now? Like right now? What if a bunch of guys just raped her…”

You know why he made those jokes? And why he said a gang-bang style rape would be hilarious? Because actual rape is awful. The vast majority of Daniel Tosh’s comedy is contrast. That is where the humor is, not in the actual content.

And you know what else isn’t that great? Falling down. It hurts. Yet millions watch America’s Funniest Home Videos. Or how about sports bloopers? They cause people to lose and no one likes that. Yet, surprise, shows like that are a dime a dozen. These things are not the same as rape or murder or any other violent crime, but they aren’t positive. So why do we laugh? Contrast. We don’t expect these things to happen at any specific time, so when they do, they contradict our expectations.

I don’t care to defend the specific joke Tosh made – I don’t want a bunch of feminists over here again – but I do want to defend the nature of his joke. He said something that was so absurd, only an idiot would take it seriously. That’s a good portion of his routine. And I like that style. Because it’s funny.

Government widens definition of rape

I was a little worried when I read the headline that the government is widening its definition of rape. As I wrote last month, the CDC already has a definition that includes acts which, although horrible, are not rape. Such inaccurate definitions dilute what it means to be raped. I can’t imagine doing anything much worse than that. Fortunately, the government is not going homeopathic on the term:

Until now, the FBI’s standard counted only forcible vaginal penetration of a woman as “rape.” The new definition expands rape to include oral and anal sex acts against women as well as men. It also says if a victim cannot give consent for any reason, the crime is a rape even if force is not used.

That includes any victim who cannot consent due to alcohol or drug use, who is under the age of consent, or who is mentally or physically incapable of consent.

Who knew that men weren’t included? Or anal and oral penetration? In fact, forced penetration with objects has not been included until now. All of these exclusions have always been a part of my definition of rape, as I have specifically said in the past. I had no idea, though, just how much I was only talking about my definition.

None of this is going to affect how crimes are prosecuted since states have their own definitions, but this will impact the accuracy of reporting:

“This major policy change will lead to more accurate reporting and far more comprehensive understanding of this devastating crime,” said Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama.

“Without an accurate understanding of the magnitude of the problem, how can we effectively solve it? Definitions matter because people matter,” she added.

Now we just need organizations like the CDC to get on board. Reporting molestation and other terrible non-rape crimes as rape undermines the life-shaking experiences of those who actually have been raped, whether orally or anally or vaginally or with a foreign object. This change is a good thing.


I have written in the past about the tremendous influence Nirvana has had on my life. From an early age, the music just struck me. But maybe even more striking was Kurt Cobain. The man had more than his fair share of problems, but it is undeniable how striking his mind was. As much as I ate up the band’s albums, I was eating up the thoughts and musings of the front man. From a quick rejection of macho attitudes to the embracing of equal rights for gays, he had a big impact on me.

But one of the biggest areas where he got me thinking was the act of rape. He wrote a number of songs on the subject, including Polly and Rape Me, and his detestation of the act manifested itself within me. Not that I needed a cultural icon to make me aware that rape was a terrible thing, but I grew up in a middle-class environment, fortunately free from sexual abuse. It was never anything more than an abstract concept to me; Cobain helped drive home just how disgusting it was.

One of the things, though, I think when I hear “rape” is a very specific act. I define it as forced penetration. This generally means the entering of a penis into an orifice, but it could be hands or any object. Whatever the specifics, if something is entering another person’s body against that person’s will – perhaps some semantic quibbles aside – it is rape.

What this means, though, is that there are some awful things I don’t define as rape. Fondling, exposure, unwanted physical contact of a sexual nature, they’re all awful, but they aren’t rape. Call them sexual molestation, sexual assault, or some other term, but I simply don’t define them as rape. Part is simply the connotations which come to mind for me, but most of this has to do with the fact that penetration is one of the biggest violations of a person I can imagine. It’s on a level all its own.

So that brings me to a recent CDC report. This is how news organizations are portraying it:

About 20% of women are raped at some point in their lifetime and in most cases the attacker is someone the woman knows, according to a new survey on sexual violence from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

That is accurate to how the report is written. Here is one excerpt:

Nearly 1 in 5 women (18.3%) and 1 in 71 men (1.4%) in the United States have been raped at some time in their lives, including completed forced penetration, attempted forced penetration, or alcohol/drug facilitated completed penetration.

The issue here – and I don’t think I’m alone – is that included in these numbers is “attempted forced penetration” and “alcohol/drug facilitated completed penetration”. The latter is something I would likely almost always define as rape, but the former is not. That doesn’t mean it isn’t awful, or that it doesn’t point to the exact same awful problem. It is and it does. But it isn’t rape. Calling it so is for the sake of bringing attention to the issue. Of course, that in and of itself is a good thing, but I fear it is not without consequences.

I know a lot of people reading this will be tempted to draw accusations of rape-apology and other untrue things, but I think my objection here is well-grounded: If we start using “rape” in a way which does not reflect what people think when they hear the term, we begin to undermine its impact. That seems like the worst thing in the world to me.

If we’re talking 15% or 10% or 5%, we still have some pretty terrible figures. And if we condense the numbers as the CDC as done, that’s fine. Let’s just be specific: “Nearly 20% of women have been raped or had rape attempted against them in their lives.” I think the figure is just as powerful, but also accurate. That’s important. I don’t want to give people any reason to question such a horrific experience on the grounds that the numbers have been misrepresented.

Semi-update: I have seen other figures which have included molestation and other forms of sexual abuse. I wanted to include those in this post, but they aren’t the easiest thing to find, especially when I don’t know the specific report in which they appeared.