Rape jokes – tip of the huge toxic masculinity iceberg

IN a viral TikTok video that has taken social media by storm in Malaysia, 17-year-old Ain Husniza Saiful Nizam revealed the misconduct of her male teacher who made lewd remarks and rape jokes during Physical Education (PE) class. 

Lewd jokes, including other forms of sexual harassment, have been an issue that keeps resurfacing, especially on social media platforms. But the buzz eventually dies down as the authorities often fail to address the issues effectively.

It appears that lewd and double-meaning jokes that are sexually suggestive have been circulating in education institutions and normalised by teachers or students, dismissed as innocent banter. 

At the heart of this lies the issue of toxic masculinity, whereby the male gender, or society in general – oftentimes involving individuals of higher authority – make light of rape and its seriousness as a crime. Thus the “innocent rape joke”.

In Asia, including Malaysia, where the culture of patriarchy is still very much alive, women are regarded as being inferior. The norm is for society to think that rape should be a burden carried by the victims. Females are supposed to feebly accept the victim-blaming, body-policing, misogynistic utterances and actions throw at them.

Toxic masculinity has also affected the male gender as their rape cases are being invalidated, which was what had happened when the PE teacher told the class “boys do not lodge report for rape because they felt ‘sedap’”. 

A thesis that researched on how toxic masculinity affected male rape victims by Bridgewater State University in 2019 found how male victims feel that their trauma is being dismissed due to the long-standing belief of culture that men should be “strong and tough”. 

This led them to remain silent and refuse to lodge a police report when they had been raped, reinforcing the psychological trauma that men face due to toxic masculinity. 

This occurrence is morally destructive as it creates a society that partakes in being an enabler towards rape culture, starting off by tolerating lewd jokes that eventually spiral into something worse, such as making rape threats. 

This is creating a domino effect where one event leads to another, and most of the time the latter will become significantly worse than the previous event. 

This domino effect could be seen right off the bat as Ain revealed that she had been receiving rape threats from her schoolmates since the issue went viral, proving that tolerating rape jokes equates to making room for people to get used to regarding rape as a petty matter.

It is simply illogical to take something as a serious matter when we start to think of it as humorous or deserving of brownie points for bringing good laughter in public.

This brings the focal point of this issue to how we should overcome the problem by undoing the culture of toxic masculinity in society. The question is, how can we achieve that?

This begins with the enforcement of equal gender responsibility in our education system. This entails lessons on gender equality and an individual’s accountability to own up for their own actions, including their wrongdoings instead of excusing their behaviour.

There should be no more instilling of the notion that “violence is manly” or “tough men don’t cry” as this will lead our children to practise violence and dismiss their own emotions.

Education should also inculcate body-positivity that empowers both genders to take charge of their own bodies. This should incorporate the “no body-policing” policy in which girls should not be told to cover up their bodies as part of sexual harassment prevention. 

The in-house policy for sexual harassment complaints in education institutions, especially schools in particular, should be empowered to take complaints from students in a more serious manner by creating a welcoming space for students to file reports.

This reform should also demand a more transparent approach in which each reported case should be audited in every bureaucratic level to ensure its transparency – to prevent it from being abused by people in power. 

While a culture takes generations to cement its place in society, we should be able to create a generation that is able to detach themselves to this culture of toxic masculinity that perpetuates the existing rape culture. 

Please, #MakeSchoolsASaferPlace. – April 29, 2021.

*Auni Kalizan reads The Malaysian Insight.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight.

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