When Sarah Silverman retweeted a satirical post about “rape prevention tips for men,” predicted backlash ensued. What was intended to raise awareness about an undoubtedly important and plaguing issue in a relatable way was overshadowed by criticizers claiming that not all men are rapists.
In some respects, these criticizers are correct. Yes, both men and women are perpetrators of rape, and yes, the satirical post should have used gender neutral pronouns. However, by responding to an issue that is overwhelmingly associated with women by claiming that it hurts men merely furthers the argument that there is a problem with the patriarchal system.
Women are aware that not all men are rapists or sexual harassers. When gender violence issues such as rape are discussed by women, the aim is not to target specific individuals, but to target structural issues of oppression and sexism.
But, by turning the conversation from discussing the oppression of women to discussing “not all men,” criticizers are admitting that men are part of the problem. Just because an individual hasn’t assaulted a woman does not exclude him from promoting rape culture. When one interrupts a conversation about misogyny by defending his feelings, women are silenced along with the issues at hand.
It is also worth noting that most women and men are raped by men. Therefore, it should not come as a surprise when discussions based around rape defer to using men as the perpetrator. The truth is that the majority of violence against women is perpetrated by men. Women do rape and all men aren’t rapists, but acknowledging facts backed by statistics should not be viewed as a crime.
With that said, Sarah Silverman’s tweet should not be viewed as a crime either. All too often, women are blamed for being harassed or raped. Victim blaming has turned into the norm when it comes to violence against women. Even in the most clear cut, grotesque situations, the question, “What was she wearing?” is guaranteed to be asked.
This tweet sought to promote the fact that it is completely absurd to blame victims of rape. Though it is approached in a comedic and exaggerated manner, it accomplishes a goal: bringing attention to rape culture and its repercussions.
As sad as it may be, comedy is needed to relate to serious issues. This is especially the case with taboo topics—they must be approached in an accessible way. Though it should be second nature to take interest in any post promoting conversation about social injustices, this is simply not the case. It is the way in which these issues are presented that helps to gain users’ attention and spark change. Oftentimes, it only takes one example or situation to have the gravity of a topic resonate with a reader.
Even more important is the way Silverman went about gaining attention: through social media. Nowadays, Twitter hashtags, profile pictures and Instagram posts are the most influential means of publicity. Social media governs our world—without the use of it, many attempts at promoting awareness fall flat. Silverman’s retweet proves the momentous impact social media may have on discussing social issues.
The responses to Silverman’s tweet, whether they be positive or negative, shows the importance of celebrity involvement with social issues. Emma Watson’s HeforShe campaign, Magic Johnson’s tweet in response to the Ferguson decision and Will Ferrell's comments on the University of Oklahoma's racist fraternity allow issues to be more accessible, relevant and less shocking to discuss. Many, including myself, turn to those they look up to for direction when it comes to taking a stance on an issue. Though parents and friends may be influencers, celebrities may be the real catalysts behind promoting discussion of injustices.
It is accepted that Sarah Silverman’s post was not the best way to promote education about rape culture, as it was overshadowed by backlash. However, if fear of criticism keeps women and their allies from discussing such issues, progress will be held at a standstill. As far as I’m concerned, as long as posts like this exist, responses such as Silverman’s tweet are necessary. It is important to recognize that all parts of a movement cannot be perfect, and that gaining any type of positive attention is a step in the right direction.