Trigger warnings for rape, rape apologia, victim-blaming, and general rape-culture fuckery.
This week, two popular Internet publications—The Onion and The Daily Beast–apparently engaged in a competition to see who could publish the most disgusting piece of rape-culture-perpetuating clickbait on the whole entire Internet. It was almost as though TDB saw the steaming pile The Onion excreted on Tuesday (in which they appeared to be competing with their recent Chris Brown piece for some sort of internal fuckwit prize) and thought, “You know, I’ll bet we can get something out by Thursday that gives them a run for their money.”
I’m not linking to either of these pieces, but I will tell you a bit about each and how you can let these pubs know what you think, if you’re so inclined. We’ll start with The Onion’s attempt to point up the tragedy of child rape. Here’s the headline:
Adolescent Girl Reaching Age Where She Starts Exploring Stepfather’s Body
When I saw this, I tweeted something about finding a way to get their attention and make them aware of the damage they’re doing with this type of piece. Predictably (and I predict this will happen here, as well) I almost instantaneously got a reply from a guy who didn’t get what the big deal was. “IT’S SATIRE!” he explained. “Where’s the damage?” he wanted to know.
Many if not most of my readers will not need to read past this headline to understand—if only at a gut level—what the problem is. But here are just a few of the ways I and two fellow feminists attempted to clarify it for him.
The headline is probably the worst thing about this piece, second only to the image choice, which I’ll cover below. It tells a story not of a predator and a potential victim, but of a young girl “coming of age” and getting ready to explore sex with an adult. It practically makes the victim the aggressor, for Christ’s sake. I just can’t believe I have to explain to anyone why this is a problem.
Satire is meant to point up: to sting the people in power—the ones who perpetuate the problem the satire is spotlighting. Satire should sting the perpetrators—not the victims. This is what I call lazy or just plain bad satire: it points in the wrong direction and makes its point at the expense of the people it claims to want to help.
As was the case with the Chris Brown/Rihanna piece they did a few months ago, they made the victim the punchline. I have been a professional writer for 25 years, and I know that there’s always a way to write around a problem. There was a way—there were multiple ways—for The Onion to make the point they wanted to make—that child rape is tragic and sick and all-to-prevalent—without making the victim the joke. Why not write from the POV of a child rapist? Why involve the victim at all? And tell me why in the name of all that is good and holy you would lead with this image?
Seriously? My brain is just a whirlwind of everything that’s wrong with this, from what it does to my insides seeing it in this context, to the fact that there is an actual little girl out there to whom this face belongs. I just can’t even with this shit. FUCK.
And finally, survivors of rape do not benefit from satirical stories that make light of their pain and terror and trauma and abuse.
Again, predictably, we got nowhere. I don’t know how to make it any clearer: This type of piece perpetuates rape culture and hurts the people it purports to help.
You can contact The Onion at email@example.com. Let them know what you think. I personally think they are a) failing at satire, b) whoring for links, c) becoming no better than their hack competitors, d) perpetuating rape culture and violence against women by trivializing same and making victims the punchline.
On to The Daily Beast. When Chelsea Manning announced yesterday that she was a woman, the Internet exploded. I watched as the press flubbed pronouns and terminology left and right, as folks on Twitter corrected one another, got angry, called for calm, asked questions, learned things. Then TDB published a piece of rape apologia that made my hair stand on end, and if I thought the tweets had been flying before, well…it wasn’t long before TDB issued a Twitter fauxpology (and I mean a SEVERELY weak thing of weakness) and posted an editor’s note at the top of the piece pointing out that the original draft had been even worse. Then they quietly began editing out the most outrageous bits, like this:
Indeed, the vast majority of experienced convicts know that “true” rape is not a common occurrence in prison. That doesn’t mean that homosexual sex doesn’t occur—it certainly does. But it’s really not that unusual for a new prisoner to show up on the compound and begin walking around the yard in pants far too tight. Before long they drop the soap in the shower, get a little close to another naked man, and then— simply because they’ve never been able to come to terms with their own sexuality—tell anyone who will listen (but, interestingly enough, they usually never complain to the guards) that they were “raped.” And a week or two later it could happen again, and then again.
Quiet as it’s kept, this is one reason for high recidivism rates. In prison, closeted homosexuals can receive what they desire but are able to maintain to the world they really find such behavior disgusting; in this manner they don’t have to take responsibility for what happened to them.
I can only imagine that the editor had an emergency root canal and this piece somehow slipped by without anyone with the words “fact-check” in their job description laying eyes on it. And if that was the case, removing the piece and issuing a sincere apology for publishing it would probably have meant that by now, we’d just be shaking our heads wondering how such a thing could happen. But removing what they perceived to be the “offending” chunks of the article without making note of the fact is sneaky as hell and this purposeful attempt to rewrite history has stripped TDB of all credibility with many of us. They’ve got a lot of work to do to fix this mess.
Prison Culture has published an article containing contact information for TDB and a list of demands they need to meet in order to start making things right. Please take a moment to let TDB know what you think about their rape apologia and utter lack of journalistic integrity.
And the winner is…The Daily Beast because they’re actually supposed to be journalists and they have failed at that in a major way. But The Onion is a very close second for learning absolutely nothing this year when they’ve had so many opportunities.
Let me know what you think in the comments (but if you’re considering explaining satire to me, please fuck right off).
The Daily Beast has issued an apology acknowledging how wrong they were to publish the piece in question. On the other hand, they have opted to leave the piece up, and have so far not edited the note at the top to include this acknowledgement. I really hope they do, and that they apologize to Chelsea Manning.
- Chelsea Manning, media bias, and cissexism (canada.com)
- Earlier today, The Daily Beast published a rape apologist, homophobic, transphobic article on Chelsea Manning. (jezebel.com)
- The Day The Onion Died (makemeasammich.org)
- Internet Finds Onion Rape & Incest Story Deeply Unfunny (theatlanticwire.com)
PS/Update: Here’s a video by The Onion showing that they do know how to do satire that sheds light on a problem without perpetuating it–instead ridiculing rapists, rape apologists, and rape culture and leaving the victim the hell out of it:
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