The irony of silencing feminists for speaking out about rape culture

"This is the twisted, inescapable nature of rape culture... It reinforces the need to stay silent in order to preserve ...

"This is the twisted, inescapable nature of rape culture... It reinforces the need to stay silent in order to preserve yourself," writes Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen. Photo: Stocksy

"I sincerely hope you get raped to death by a rusty knife."

A lovely thing to see in your Twitter mentions, and one that, as an outspoken feminist online, isn't all that uncommon if you've spoken out about something recently. But racking my brains, I couldn't think of what comments of mine had drawn MRA ire lately.

And then someone helpfully linked me to this article, and it all clicked into place.

A little over a year ago, a comedian named Ray Badran made a joke about rape. A woman I know from feminist circles, who was at the show, sat under her table in protest. He was not happy.


He said to her, in front of everyone in attendance, "You're a piece of shit and I hope you die."

A big social media storm erupted over this incident. People started talking about what is acceptable to joke about in stand-up, and what isn't.

I joined in the conversation and posted a simple tweet telling people to boycott his show.

Punch up, not down - it's the most basic rule of clever comedy.

So it's been over a year now, and decided to run an article on the weekend dragging the whole sorry affair back up - as promotion for Badran's new show, no less! - and embedded my tweet as an example of the "abuse" that he received.

Let me be clear here - he did cop some horrible abuse via Twitter, and even his mother received death threats. I can't imagine how stressful this must have been for them, and I would never condone, or participate in, such acts. My tweet was not "abusive" - it simply called for a boycott of his show. Sure, I used the word "fuckwit", but is an admittedly childish insult like that really comparable to a "flood of abuse"? Or was it because I tried to "ruin his career"?

The piece paints Badran as the victim and feminists - particularly the woman in question, whose version of events definitely differs from Badran's own - as heartless aggressors. Talk of witch hunts and "caveman behaviour" and quotes from Jon Ronson's So You've Been Publicly Shamed pepper the article. All the while, Badran continues to defend his "cool, creative", Chris Rock-approved joke and explain why it's funny - the conversation moved on from that a long time ago - and then has a cry about not even being able to do the joke anymore because of the media storm around it. Not because rape victims found it offensive.

The consequence of this article was, of course, that I - along with other women whose tweets were embedded - found myself on the receiving end of a torrent of horrifically gendered online abuse, from rape threats to telling us we're too fat and ugly to rape anyway. This is the twisted, inescapable nature of rape culture - my friend spoke out, and when I stepped up to support her, I, too, became the target of violent threats. It reinforces the need to stay silent in order to preserve yourself.

And it's not as easy as logging off, either - the threats and abuse that women receive online for expressing any kind of opinion are backed up by the very real, very constant threat of violence that we face in day to day life, from strange men on the street to the men we love and trust at home.

A man's feelings are, once again, being placed above women's physical and emotional safety - and moreover, a news outlet is implicitly encouraging the abuse of feminists online with a completely tone-deaf piece.

Does anyone else see the irony here?

The debate around what's acceptable to joke about and what's not is as old as time itself. Following the incident, plenty of pieces were published from comedians about why joking about dark topics helps them cope with the misery of the world. But when one-in-four Australian women has been sexually assaulted (and I am one), chances are that someone at your show could be triggered by what you see as a harmless, "self-deprecating" joke.

Valuing a cis man's right to joke about whatever he wants to above women's safety, both online and off, is abhorrent. A media outlet giving a comedian even more of a platform to mansplain his joke - a year after everyone forgot about it - and perpetuating tired stereotypes about women and feminists being hysterical and callous is a classic silencing tactic. We hear you loud and clear - women and victims, and our opinions, just don't matter.

This is not just about Ray Badran. It's about a societal system that prioritises the feelings of men over the voices of women, whether that's in comedy, or politics, or media, or any other field. It's about telling victims that they need to take a joke. It's about women being scared to voice opinions online because of what happens to women like my fellow Daily Life columnist Clementine Ford, who's regularly told she should be raped and killed.

I am well aware that this column will probably earn me a few dozen more rape threats. But I'd rather face a thousand digital bullets than stay silent.