Jokes about abuse: harmful or political correctness gone too far?

The world can be a messed up place, hence the need for humor to take the edge off things. But is it appropriate that some forms of abuse are the butt of jokes more often than others? Is it even appropriate to joke about any type of abuse? 

How many times have you heard or made jokes / comments like these?

  • Don’t drop the soap!
  • He’s so whipped.
  • Keep your pimp hand strong.
  • If you have sex with a prostitute without her consent is it rape or shoplifting?

Do you think these jokes are harmless? If someone called you out after you made one of these comments, would you just consider their objection meaningless – just another example of political correctness gone too far?

Politically correct” has become shorthand for saying “Ideas that I happen to find ridiculous are being taken seriously by a lot of people, and it’s ruining this country,” which makes its definition entirely subjective – and therefore arbitrary. For example, a person who’s all for same-sex marriage might scoff at gender-neutral restrooms as political correctness gone too far. Because apparently, political correctness only goes “too far” when it applies to the unfamiliar, the not-often-talked about, the marginal, the stigmatized.

As human knowledge has progressed and political climates have shifted, language has changed to reflect our widening understanding of what is normal, okay, compassionate, and appropriate to say. I’m guilty of saying all of the above at some point in the past ten years and if someone had called me out on my words I probably would have thought they were being too sensitive. When people dismiss others’ valid opinions and remarks as “PC”, they think they are saying: “People are so self-important nowadays that they think the world has to cater to their sensitivities.” What they’re actually saying: “It’s okay for the world to cater to the sensitivities of some people, but this group of people doesn’t count for some reason.”

Making the decision not to promote language that harms a large group of people — like victims of violence — is not particularly hard, compulsory, or overly cautious. It is, however, a nice thing to do that costs you nothing. Moreover, the way we talk about people is a reflection of our culture, which can be an issue in itself. Not all forms of violence are physical, and many take the form of words. Victim-blaming language, slurs, and thoughtless words do real harm all the time. They cannot be afterthoughts. When kids grow up assuming that slurs used to attack, disparage, and bully them are so normal that they can’t even respond to them emotionally, you have people learning not to fight for themselves when it counts.  lot of the things we’ve been socially conditioned to make light of affect real survivors who are being shamed, stigmatized, and silenced by so called “jokes” about the abuse they’ve faced. Every joke that validates abusers and shames victims, portrays victims as deserving of abuse or contributes to the stigma faced by survivors of abuse contributes to a social atmosphere that ignores the problems being laughed about. As a society, we never want to burden ourselves by taking things too seriously. But that doesn’t justify taking abuses so lightly that we let them get worse.

Making a conscious decision to avoid these words is not about coddling people or shielding them from offense. It’s about chipping away at the notion that alienating people through language is acceptable in the first place.

The unfortunate truth is a lot of us have been conditioned to take some forms of abuse less seriously than others, due in part to stereotypes about culture, gender, and sexual orientation that circulate throughout the media.

Some forms of abuse that are routinely trivialized in everyday life include:

Domestic Violence Against Men

In the media, marriages in which men are henpecked by emotionally manipulative women are played for laughs. This YouTube video featuring abused black men cuddling stuffed animals in the arms of white women demonstrates our tendency to portray abuse against men in an exaggerated, humorous way.

According to the CDC’s 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, about 1 in 4 men surveyed had experienced “rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime” compared to about 1 in 3 women surveyed. Among gay men, 15% of gay men who participated in the National Violence Against Women Survey had been abused by a live-in partner.

So why aren’t we hearing more about this? The pressure placed on men to be stoic, strong, and in control of their intimate relationships makes male victims of domestic violence less likely to report the incident.

And given society’s dismissive attitude toward the seriousness of this type of abuse, men fear being shamed, ignored, and ridiculed by the very people they seek help from.

Sibling Abuse

Sibling rivalry is not uncommon, even in the healthiest families. Unfortunately, outright abuse between siblings gets confused with healthy sibling rivalry. The media normalizes abusive behaviors between siblings, such as the way Meg is treated by her siblings and other characters on Family Guy.

Sibling abuse goes beyond friendly roughhousing—it could involve battery, sexual molestation, rape, verbal abuse, psychological manipulation, or any other violence between siblings.

One worrying thing about sibling abuse is that parents might not take it seriously. Perhaps more worrying is that the inherent closeness between siblings may prevent victims of abuse from “telling on” their abusers.

Like other victims of domestic violence, people who have been abused by their siblings may keep quiet due to pressure from loved ones and fear of ridicule.

Read here for more information on the other 5 types of abuse that we as a society don’t take seriously.


Leave a Reply