When Is Male Rape Funny?

‘They split his ring on D-wing, they’re all bummin’ Marlon King’

Those were the words offered by comedian Russell Howard to football fans on terraces across the country last week, in order to taunt Wigan Athletic striker Marlon King, who was recently convicted and jailed for assault after attacking a female student last December.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not defending Marlon at all – by all accounts he’s a nasty piece of work who was punished as he deserved, and the crime he was jailed for was particularly distasteful in its twin violence and arrogance. He’s the very embodyment of the stereotypical newspaper depiction of footballers as arrogant thugs.

Nor am I leaping on the bandwagon of lambasting edgy comedy – which has recently seen comedians Frankie Boyle and Jimmy Carr castigated for their various off-colour gags. I love a good, near-the-knuckle, edgy joke – as any one who manages to get hold of unedited recording of Skeptics with a K (or anyone who’s spent an evening in the pub with me) will probably attest to.

No, my point instead is about the subject of this taunt in particular – when, exactly, did male rape become funny? Has it always been funny?

I think there are likely very very few people who find the concept of rape itself funny – aside from the intentionally-incendiary, deeply-dripped-in-irony lines delivered for effect, I mean. Even in those cases, it’s not the notion rape itself that’s the subject of the humour at all – instead it’s the idea of taboo and the untouchable nature of certain dark thoughts and concepts that’s ripe for illumination via comedy.

But ‘They split his ring on D-wing, they’re all bummin’ Marlon King’? That’s not an examination of irony or taboo – the inherent gag there is indeed the iea of a thug being raped. And it’s not just confined to comedy, and not just confined to the UK – the incongruity of the handling of male and female rape in the media and in society caught my attention in a recent episode of the US prime-time TV series ‘The Mentalist’. In it the attractive detective responded to some jailbound ne’erdowell’s come-on of ‘you’re pretty’ with the line: ‘So are you – they’re gonna love that in prison’. Or words to that effect. The effect, clearly, being to elicit a kind of ‘Yeah, take that you horrid chap – that’ll teach you a lesson! Let’s see you act so tough when the boys of Gen.Pop. show you the ropes!’

If we’re honest, there’s probably often an element of that kind of response in our minds when we see allusions to prison rape – if it’s not a comedic reference to ‘biting the pillow’ or ‘dropping the soap in the shower’ it’s an elicitation of a sense of justice. He deserved it. Still, we’re talking about rape here – are we to be perfectly OK with someone being raped, just because they’re a bad person?

Is it merely the idea of prison rape that’s rife for humour and casual retorts in prime-time, pre-watershed TV shows? Well, no, it’s not. How many times, for example, have you heard someone utter something along the lines of: ‘Oooh, that Rose West’s an evil bugger, I do hope someone rapes her in prison. That’ll show her’. Never, I suspect. Even if the idea of Rose West being raped doesn’t fill you with a deep sense of sympathy, if anyone were to express out loud a wish for such an occurence to take place you would likely consider them a psychopath. I dare say you wouldn’t laugh.

So, then, it’s not ALL prison rape that’s OK to casually bandy around – it’s the idea of male rape and specifically male prison rape that we seem to have no problem with. Why does this gender difference exist? I’m not sure, and I feel speculation would be counter-productive. But what I will leave you with is this: the next time you encounter a reference – either comedic or judicial – to male rape, mentally switch the gender of the victim in your head, and see how you fell about it then. And then hold onto that thought for the next time it comes up.

  1. #1 by Andy Wilson on November 21, 2009 - 11:42

    Thoughtful piece Marsh.

    It could be perceived as a bit righteous, but it made me think of the subtleties and nuances of prejudice. I think that it can be a question of vigilance rather than intuition to act and think in an equitable way, and to apply consistent standards or morals or whatever you want to call them.

    Do we have to think in the level of detail that Marsh has above in order to apply consistent standards in conversations and so on? It depends on how much you mean it.

  2. #2 by Dana on November 21, 2009 - 14:59

    Actually its never really occurred to me until you mentioned in that male rape is often joked about. I doubt anyone really believes a big popular football player is being raped though which might be why its funny? I’m not really sure.

    You rarely ever encounter a man who will openly admit he was raped in the first part, I didn’t until I happened to watch Dr. Phil’s Get Real Retreat (I think that was the show). They had a group of people sitting together and each had their own dark past. They panned across the room and said “One of these were raped” and instantly I thought ‘wow that sucks that poor woman’ and it turned out to be a man.

    My point is, while its unfortunately usual to hear of women getting it might just seem so far fetched for a man to be.

  3. #3 by Michael on November 21, 2009 - 18:09

    Well this all goes back quite a few years. To the Roman period and possibly the time of ancient Greece. Often Slaves were used for sexual gratification amongst the hoy-paloy and the middle class ladies were engaged in sex purely for reproduction. Often families would have a child of each sex only, or stop when this was achieved (pagan religious reasons see Gore Vidal- Roman History). So it was degrading and a class distinction, if you were a male and used for sexual gratification of another male this made you lower or slave class. The humour of it rests with the higher classes only. If you were on the receiving end it wouldn’t be so nice. So there you have it. It is a form of humiliation which is socially ingrained and has been for thousands of years. I suppose the missing years of bejebus was exactly due to him being someones fuck-bunny.

  4. #4 by lovelyyoungman on November 21, 2009 - 23:27

    Very true Mr Marsh, the same rule applies to genital mutilation. It is entirely acceptable for a woman to say “If my bloke ever cheated I’d cut his balls off!” and people laugh. I can’t imagine the same reaction if someone said “If I ever caught my wife cheating I’d stick a knife up her twat!”, in fact it feels a little wrong to even type that.

    I think it boils down to the fact the ingrained notion we have that female=victim, male=predator and we can’t imagine it any other way. That’s why there’s such revulsion when a woman demonstrably not a victim, such as the recent case of the female paedophile nursery worker. I also think its shown whenever pornography is discussed, the woman (or “girls”) are always being exploited as if they have absolutely no idea what they’re getting themselves into and are poor innocents being corrupted by evil men. It never enters into the discussion that a lot of pornography feature male actors too.

  5. #5 by Gittins on November 24, 2009 - 15:31

    Yeah, it’s similar to when a news story comes out about a female teacher having an affair with one of her male students, compared to a male teacher doing the same with a female student. The reaction is different even though the scenario is basically the same except for the genders of the people involved.
    The young male student is portrayed as “lucky” and living out a fantasy we all had while at school. But the female student is portrayed as a victim who was manipulated by the older man.

  6. #6 by anna on February 8, 2010 - 13:25

    yes it has always been regarded as funny- the ancient greeks and romans thought rape was HILARIOUS. they wrote loads of peoms about it etc, oral rape was the serious crime- anal rape was a joke whether it was of men or women. ‘a funny thing cato, quite absurd, worth your hearing and chuckling over, for i caught the girls boy pet wanking and banged him in tandem with my hard on’ or words to that effect i cannot recall the poem exactly…

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