I posted this link on my Facebook page the other day to a petition requesting that Daniel Tosh’s TV show, Tosh.0, be cancelled in response to his highly inappropriate rape comments during a comedy show the other night. Of course, this sort of response is not unheard of, and is not too different from the Don Imus incident, though there the comments were racist and, of course, made on air, differentiating the situation a bit. However, also different, is the fact that there is no recording, video or audio, of Tosh’s comments. This is the sticky situation because we can’t be sure what was actually said. Therefore, I want to say this first: I suspect that there is absolutely no recording. Once this had gone viral, any recording that was made almost certainly would have been released to the internet. That this has not happened leads me to think that there never will be a video of the incident, and so we are stuck with what we have.
With that in mind, I want to say that I suspect that what did happen is very similar to what the woman claims happened. You can read her actual blog post describing it here. If a video is eventually released and I’m wrong about this, I will completely admit that I was wrong and take it back, no problem; I have no qualms about admitting when I’m wrong whatsoever. But I want to address why I believe her. First, Tosh’s comments are in line with his humor style to begin with. It is, therefore, very easy to imagine that this is the kind of thing he would say. Secondly, this only went viral and became significant after the blog post was made. Why does this matter? Because I don’t see any good reason to expect that she would make up such a dramatic incident if something like that hadn’t happened. What would her motivation be? It couldn’t be to justify her own actions or claims because it didn’t go viral until after she made the post and would have never been a “thing” is she hadn’t posted about it. Again, I’m happy to admit I’m wrong, but that’s my opinion. Sure, in the heat of the moment you don’t remember things perfectly, and so there’s probably some differences between the actual incident and what she posted, but I suspect that something like that is what happened. If I’m wrong, so be it. After all, the club owner has said that the incident has been misconstrued, but no one else that was there in the audience has spoken up as far as I can tell, so we don’t know.
What I really want to address isn’t particularly effected by what actually happened anyway. I want to use this as an example, and if this particular incident proves to be a bad example, the content of what I want to say won’t change. So, first, to understand the various claims, I recommend that you read the initial blog post describing the incident so that you have an idea what I’m talking about. All done? Good. I believe that the initial incident, if it happened in a way as she describes in the blog, and more importantly the fall out from it, and all the defenses being offered for Tosh, are a manifestation of rape culture (I recommend reading that article to understand what I’m talking about, though Wikipedia is also a good source on this). Why do I believe that? Because the things I hear people saying about the woman making the claim are so similar to the things that happen to rape victims.
First, a woman is making a claim that a man did something inappropriate to her that relates to sexuality: he used his power as a celebrity on stage to “jokingly” encourage others to rape her because she told him that a joke he said was inappropriate. Many people’s first response was to defend Tosh: “She shouldn’t go to a comedy show if she can’t take a joke” (in relation to, “She shouldn’t wear a skirt like that if she doesn’t want to get fucked”); “Everyone knows Tosh makes jokes like that, what was she doing there?” (in relation to, “Everyone knows if you invite a guy upstairs you’re going to fuck him. If she didn’t want to have sex, why would she have the guy in her house/room?”); “He probably did not really say what she’s claiming he said” (in relation to, “She probably wasn’t really raped”); “It probably wasn’t as bad as she’s claiming” (in relation to, “It wasn’t rape-rape“); “There’s no video, so we can’t know what happened, and shouldn’t judge” (in relation to, “No one else was there, so how can we be sure she was really raped?”); “She’s probably just trying to justify being a bitch in the club” (in relation to, “The bitch probably had sex with him, and regrets it/pissed of her boyfriend, and is trying to get out of trouble”); “She was a heckler, so she deserved it” (in relation to, “She’s a slut anyway”); and so on.
In short, rape victims are regularly not believed. When a woman claims that she was raped, it is extraordinarily common that she is not believed by friends, family, the police, lawyers, the media if it’s someone famous, her co-workers or boss if it takes place in a work-related context, and so on. This is a part of rape culture, and in the Tosh incident we are seeing how much it permeates our entire culture. A woman is making a claim about something inappropriate a man did to her, and too many people’s first response is to defend the man against the woman’s claims. Yes, of course we should have evidence before anything drastic takes place, such as a firing or, in the case of rapes, someone going to prison. But waiting for the evidence is not the same thing as waiting to form an opinion, nor does waiting for evidence mean defending the person who is cast in a negative light. We can say, “I believe you” and then investigate what actually happened and, if we were wrong, that’s fine. When women claim that they are raped, even in very public circumstances, it is often people’s response to immediately claim that she’s making it up. In short, people rarely “wait for the evidence,” instead claiming, “She’s a gold digger looking for money,” or, “She probably wanted it,” and people do this to negate a woman’s claims of assault, to disbelieve her; disbelief about rape is the spontaneous and immediate reaction in many instances, and this is central to rape culture. That this is about a rape “joke” rather than an incident of “rape” does not change its root in the hegemony of rape culture.
Secondly, I want to distance this from being about Daniel Tosh as an individual. By all accounts, while he is, in some opinions, my own included, not a very talented comedian, Daniel Tosh is a nice enough guy. But that’s important to this too. Most rapists are “nice enough guys” to their friends and family. They’re not all creepy dudes lurking in alleys. They’re boyfriends, husbands, uncles, co-workers, and so on. That the person is a “nice guy” is another way that people make claims that the woman must be lying: “He’s a nice guy, he wouldn’t do that.” Let’s be clear, “nice guys” can commit horrible acts. And so I do not want this to be strictly about Tosh. I want to make it bigger than that. If Tosh said what the woman claims he said, then Tosh’s comments are a manifestation of rape culture, as are the comments made by those defending him. But even if Tosh did not say that, these kind of things happen every day, and my point remains the same. This does not necessarily make Tosh or those defending him bad people. Again, I don’t want this to be about individuals. This is simply the manifestation of hegemony. What to most people just appears “normal” or “just the way it is” is always a manifestation of what is articulated in a culture as the norm. In other words, I want to say that this is not about whether or not Daniel Tosh did something stupid, it’s about a culture in which doing stupid things like that is acceptable, and in which people do not defend victims of this sort of thing, and do not believe victims after it’s taken place. That’s what this is really about. Daniel Tosh is just some dumbass who happens to be famous enough for his stupidity to become public. But this stuff, and rape itself, happens everyday, and that’s what is important. This is just one good example and how it works.
Finally, one last remark about the incident. I have heard people claim, “She was heckling him” (compare to, “She was flirting with him!”). First of all, there are appropriate ways of responding to hecklers, or to any kind of interruption of a comedy show. Tosh knows this, as any professional comedian does, as they will have dealt with hecklers at some point, and Tosh has dealt with problematic audience members correctly in the past. Here’s a video of him dealing with drunks at his show who are being disruptive.
So Tosh knows how to deal with people who he does not like at his show. So, if the incident happened as indicated, then the real problem is Tosh’s approach to rape and to women. This too is a manifestation of rape culture and of this patriarchal culture overall. However, second of all, the woman was not much of a heckler. This is just one justification for Tosh’s actions (compare to, “She was a slut”). Why do I say she was not a heckler? Just to work from Wikipedia, they define heckling in the following way: “A heckler is a person who harasses and tries to disconcert others with questions, challenges, or gibes. Hecklers are often known to shout disparaging comments at a performance or event, or to interrupt set-piece speeches, with the intent of disturbing performers or participants.” Furthermore, heckling is usually a persistent thing, not a single comment. I don’t think she was trying to harass Tosh (though I would call Tosh’s comments, and rape jokes generally, harassing to anyone in the vicinity), nor necessarily to disconcert him, nor had she made multiple comments. She was, rightly, stating that rape jokes are never acceptable, and they’re not. The shame of it is that more people did not do the same, and that more people did not walk out with her. Yes, she could have just left (compare to, “She could have gotten away if she really wanted to”), which she did after he verbally assaulted her, but we’ll never confront rape culture if we just keep ignoring it and laughing along with the “jokes.”
[Yes, I recognize that in this I treat rape as if it is only something that happens to women by using female pronouns to describe generic incidents. It is, of course, the case that men and those who do not identify with a gender binary are also victims of rape. I’ve simplified here because, one, the person in this instance was a woman, and, two, women are much more likely to be victims of rape and other forms of sexual assault than men are, and so for the purposes of this post, it was just easier. However, men are also regularly not believed, though for different reasons: a manifestation of our patriarchal culture and its assumptions about men are that men are supposed to “always want it.” As such, people often do not believe men. This is but one problematic element of our cultures approach to male sexuality as well.]