On Rape, Beauty, Sex, and Standup


I was raped in September of 2011.

It was date rape, on my first OKCupid date ever.

I’m an emotionally tough lady, and expected to shake off the experience as soon as my STD tests cleared. But I didn’t shake it off. For weeks, I couldn’t stop thinking about it and rehashing it with my close friends and sister. Time was passing, but the conversation wasn’t changing. I wasn’t working through it as much as reminding my friends that I was raped and it was emotionally tearing me apart.

And then I wrote this joke:

I was raped by a guy with the smallest penis ever. From what I remember from Women’s Studies classes, raping a woman inflates a man’s sense of power. But how’s a guy supposed to feel powerful when a girl’s like, “No! No! Stop! Uh… is it in?”

I don’t know why I wrote it—I was a humor writer, yeah, but not a joke writer. But something about writing that joke made me feel better. Not totally better of course, but, like, my internal emoticon went from D: to :/. Which is pretty good, considering.

So I had one joke, and this insane urge to tell it. Like my comedy contractions were 10 seconds apart or something. I had to get this joke OUT OF ME. So I did something I’d been thinking about for five years, but had been too terrified to do: enrolled in a standup comedy class.

It’s so embarrassing to admit the biggest reason I’d always been afraid to do standup. There was the fact that I’ve never been a good public speaker, sure, and the fact that maybe people wouldn’t find me funny. “Emily Winter is NOT FUNNY.” The thought of certain people even thinking it still gives me chills. But the thought that made me sick, the thought that kept me away from the stage for five years even though I knew it would help my writing career, was the idea that someone, anyone might think, “Emily Winter is not pretty.”

For women, beauty is power. Beauty means you get what you want, and who you want. I couldn’t bear the thought of being confronted with my own goofy faces and flabby arms—couldn’t handle giving up some of that power to the audience. I have to be pretty. I have to be admired. It’s where I get power, and my God it feels good.

But writing my rape joke made me feel powerful in a different way. Before I even told the joke to anyone, it satisfied me deeply. This is so cheesy, but there was something in the act of twisting my pain into a piece of art that made me feel untouchable. And made me reconsider my fear of looking un-pretty.

Listen, I don’t mean to sound like the creepy victims in the SAW horror movies who defend their attacker—because I don’t, and I think I would have gotten into standup eventually anyway—but what I realized as I worked through my rape is that 1. People are going to fuck me, literally and metaphorically, whether I take risks or not, and 2. Who are these people whose judgment I’m worried about, anyway? Prince Charmings, or small-minded, small-peened rapists? If being in New York for five years had taught me anything, it’s that so many people are awful and dumb and weird and gross. So fuck ‘em. They can think I’m boring, ugly, and fat. And I don’t need to internalize that. Because—let’s be real—most of them are shitheads. Their opinions aren’t worth as much as mine. Like, because I’m literally better at being a human.

:D

A year and a half later, standup has become part of my life and identity. I don’t tell my rape joke anymore—it makes people feel uncomfortable, and I understand that. I do, however, talk about sex. A LOT. For me, talking about sex on stage is working an implicit compromise with my audience: You’ll listen because I’m talking about licking balls, but you—yes you, white meathead—will also get a feminist perspective on sex and gender roles. Oops!

My jokes aren’t overtly feminist or political. I don’t think I’m smart enough to pull that off and keep people laughing. And perhaps by some feminists’ standards my jokes are even anti-feminist. But to me, telling this joke:

I’m dating a new guy, but it’s kinda touch and go. Like, I touch and he goes.

is a tiny, feminist undertaking. In a culture that disposes of women after they’ve served their sexual purpose, this joke implies, “Hey! Hey! After you leave, I’m still here. I STILL EXIST! There is life after you’ve cum on my tits, sir!”

So, baby steps. I’m not here to win a war—I’m just trying to play for the right team, and mix metaphors.

I talk about sex because it’s fun, because I’m good at it, and because I believe when women discuss sex publically in a funny and real way, they help to challenge a culture that objectifies their gender. I’m ready to look un-pretty for this purpose, ready to deal with crowds who think all sex jokes are cheap, and all women are hacks. It’s worth it in exchange for the opportunity to chip away at a culture that made me think back in 2011, “I was raped at 27. I’m honestly surprised I made it that long.”

Emily Winter is a comedian and writer in New York. She cohosts a free, monthly comedy show in Brooklyn called BackFat Variety. Follow her on Twitter at @EmilyMcWinter.


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