The New Year had me thinking a lot about goals, values, ambitions, motivations, life, and how excited I was to wear my new fuzzy socks. With all the talk of “look how far you’ve come in a year” and “can you believe that was only 1 year ago” I found myself even more reflective and nearly bubbling over with blog ideas – two of which involved writing about goals and values.
At my old job, we had a list of working norms – kind of like guiding values – and each day at our morning huddle, we would say what working norm we were focusing on that day. I loved that idea. I mean, obviously, in theory, you were living into every positive attribute every day you walked into the office, but how nice it was to really put your heart and soul behind one guiding value each week.
For this reason, I’ve decided to dedicate a new series of “Res” posts to my own kind of working norms – my own mini-resolutions. You don’t have to buy into any of these. You don’t have to make your own. But maybe at some point, it’ll make you think about what it would look like to radically change your life one week at a time.
Res 13: - Don’t Laugh If It Isn’t Funny
I was in conversation once with two male friends when one made a vibrantly inappropriate joke about sexual assault. The air caught in my lungs and my eyes widened, upset at what had been said but too shocked to properly respond. Without missing a beat, my other friend’s smile immediately faded and he remarked, Dude that’s not funny.
I silently looked between the pair as he continued. Seriously, you should never joke about something like that. That’s not funny.
Awkwardness fell through the room for a moment before someone changed the subject and everything went back to normal conversation. Later that day, I pulled my second friend aside and thanked him for his comments, for being quicker in his reaction than I could have been.
He brushed it off immediately and resolutely. I mean, I just don’t deal with people joking about that. And sometimes you have to call (our friend) out on his s***, you know?
I smiled. That was that.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. I was thinking about how I could make a resolution regarding this topic and I realized I wanted to focus on one specific issue – the way society “jokes” about things that aren’t funny.
This goes beyond sexual assault. This is a racial slur. A sexist remark. An Islamophobia joke. Saying the word “retard.”
In general, I try to surround myself with people who know it is inappropriate to say things like: He has a girlfriend? What is she, retarded? However, I have been in situations where I’ve overheard the aforementioned words and I’ve had people I call my friends utter statements that make me more than a bit uncomfortable.
And it’s tough to be the person in the crowd who shuts down the person who has stepped out of line. Even if everyone is uneasy with the language being used, sometimes it’s easier to just awkwardly laugh and avoid eye contact. We’ve all been there. Even though we know it’s wrong, it isn’t always easy to stand up for what is right. But please, stop laughing.
Don’t laugh. Don’t encourage it. Don’t show that this is acceptable behavior when it isn’t. It might be “awkward” for a moment – to be the only person not playing along – but do you think that has any level of comparable substance to someone who has experienced sexual assault? To someone who has been discriminated against because of their skin color, their sexual orientation, or their religion? To someone who has been mocked for having a disability?
I get it. It’s easier to stay silent. So stay silent. Stay completely and utterly silent. Make your protest known. There is no place for hatred in your circle. And you won’t stand for it.
Resolution #13: Don’t Laugh If It Isn’t Funny
Please think before you speak. Is what you are about to say useful? Is it kind? Does it need to be said? If you can’t answer yes to those questions, reevaluate.
There’s nothing noble about stirring a fight. There’s nothing impressive about saying something derogatory about someone who is different than you. There’s nothing funny about a joke that attacks a marginalized group of people. And for the love of all that is good in the world – there is never a good reason to make a rape joke.
One final note: I was a sheltered freshman at track practice, warming up with my distance team. I overheard someone in our circle refer to how they had “totally been raped by that test.” I heard it but didn’t fully process its weight. A junior on my team heard it and stopped everything. She immediately shut the boy down and told him what he said was wildly inappropriate and that he shouldn’t joke about something like that.
At the time, it meant nothing to me. I didn’t fully understand the gravity of the word or of the context. But my teammate had. She had heard something that wasn’t right and not only did she not play along, she immediately shut it down. Slightly out of ear shot and too young to understand what was happening – I have still never forgotten the power of that moment. While some of us might have been initially shocked at our friendly faced teammate suddenly going cold, what remains to this day is instead a profound respect for someone who, without hesitation, shut down inappropriate behavior.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Let’s be aware. Let’s start in our own circles. And let’s promise not to laugh at things that are not even a little bit funny.