Pranks and Rape Culture

The “posting regularly” thing. I’m trying. 🙂

Today, I want to talk about pranks. I hate them. I hate pranks, prank shows, April Fools, and any other setup where the goal is to humiliate another human without their consent. I get enough humiliation in my life, every time some kid in the bank says, “Mommy, why’s that man wearing a skirt?” (granted, this doesn’t happen like it used to, but it still burns). What I don’t need is extra doses from people who consider themselves my friends.

Specifically, though, what I wanted to discuss was the idea that pranks are a crucial supporting element for rape culture. There’s an innate requirement that one “be a good sport” about being humiliated, and a stronger one on those looking on that they find it funny, and (crucially) that they don’t intervene when a “prank” is being played, because doing so would be being a “spoilsport”. This is a way of reinforcing people’s tendency to be bystanders in the face of cruelty, helping to train us even as small children in how to maintain the rape culture. It also allows us to write off as “pranks” what might otherwise be seen as something dangerous or frightening to another person, training us to question our own judgement in what we see around us: is that guy really attacking that woman, or is it just a “prank”? Was that really racist bullying I just saw, or just youthful hijinks?

It would surprise me not the least little bit to find that people who enjoy playing pranks on others are also people who have a hard time with the concept of consent in other realms. To be “successful”, a prankster cannot seek consent ahead of time, but must hope for the bystanders to keep their noses out of other people’s business while they violate someone’s consent. The excuses made afterwards are similar to those of rapists: I thought they wanted it, nobody spoke up to object, everyone does it.

I don’t think it takes a diagram to show how this kind of behaviour leads to people unwilling to step in when they see someone being bullied or assaulted. We already have a social imperative, perhaps a necessary one in a tightly-packed society such as ours has become, to try not to stick our noses into things that aren’t about us.

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