Martin Freeman is, it's safe to say, something of a household name. Most of us know him from either The Hobbit or Sherlock and his popularity as an actor has never really been in doubt. Recently, however, he gave an interview to promote the latest in the Hobbit series of films and made a "joke" that has made it difficult for me to see him in the same light.
When asked about dating an elf and the difficulties in having a relationship with a shorter creature, he responded:
"I've got a ladder. It's fine. And I've got drugs. I could make them - you know. Slip them something in their goblet. Some will get offended by that now, cos they'll call it "rape" or whatever. But um, you know... For me it's a helping hand."
Call me oversensitive, but I can't be the only one not laughing. Referring to what is essentially date rape as "a helping hand" is gross and offensive to anyone who has ever experienced such an horrendous thing.
Now before I go any further, unfortunately, thanks to the kind of world we live in, I have to immediately defend myself. Because if you express disapproval at this sort of off-the-cuff comment, you're quickly branded "humourless" or "a prude." Indeed, having posted a link to a story about Freeman's remarks, I had a friend on Facebook tell me I was taking things far too seriously, which implies I should have a sense of humour where rape jokes are concerned. So let me explain my sense of humour...
For a very long time, my number one hobby was attending comedy gigs. I travelled the UK, seeking out small venues and undiscovered comedians. It's how I became a massive fan of Jon Richardson years before 8 Out of 10 Cats or Live At The Apollo. It's where I first saw Sarah Millican, long before anyone knew who the heck she was.
Back when I first saw her, Sarah looked like this. A year or so later, I mistook a stranger for Sarah at a party. Oops. She's one of my close friends now, so it's okay. The stranger that is, not Sarah. I'll stop talking now.
I revelled in all forms of live stand up; from whimsical musical spoofs to distinctly black humour. And that's my point. I like dark humour. I'd go so far as to say I love dark humour. I think comedy that skirts along the edge can be brilliant; it has the power, perhaps more so than any other kind of comedy, to force us to question things. Dark humour can mock some of the nastiest things in life and shine a light on how bad they really are. When dark humour is used in that manner, it's fantastic. If Martin Freeman had made a joke about rape that made the rapist the butt of it - pouring scorn on the vile specimens that commit such acts and mocking them as the sub-human scum they are - I'd probably have laughed. The fact is, he didn't. And it's not just him, either. All too often, if a rape joke is made, the punchline is at the expense of the victim.
I'm not here to say that Martin Freeman should never work again or that he's a hateful man for what he said (although I respect him less as a result of his comments). I'm not here to tell people what they can or can't find funny. I'm simply sitting here, wondering why anyone thinks that jokes about raping someone are okay.
According to Women's Aid, it is estimated that, worldwide, 1 in 5 women will experience rape or attempted rape in her lifetime. Not one in a million, or even one in a hundred. ONE IN FIVE.
And yet, society's general attitude towards rape is, in my opinion, pretty shocking. How many times have you seen posters giving safety advice, telling women not to walk alone at night, not to get too drunk and to always use licensed taxi firms? Sensible advice perhaps, but it places responsibility for not getting raped on the woman. Where are the posters telling men not to attack people?! Because the only person to blame in a rape case is the person who committed the act. The victim's sobriety, outfit and choice of way home are entirely incidental. The only person to blame is the rapist.
You only have to look at the response to the Steubenville rape case - in which people mourned the promising futures of the rapists and questioned how culpable the victim was - to see that all too often, rape just isn't taken seriously enough.
The fact is that rape is a shocking, abhorrent act, which can leave victims - male or female - feeling violated, unsafe and - wrongly - ashamed.
The only person who should feel a shred of shame as a result of rape, is the cowardly, despicable creature who carried out the attack. And that's why, if we feel the need to joke about the topic, we should make the rapist the butt of said joke. Make them feel the shame they deserve to feel. Mock them, if we must make jokes about rape. Never the victim.
Yet more often than not, it's the victim - or potential victim - who is the butt of the joke. Much like with Martin Freeman's comment, when someone thinks they're being funny with regards to rape, the "humour" is at the victim's expense. When a "joke" like that is made, it's not being clever. It's not using comedy to make a serious point about what a hideous crime rape or sexual assault actually is. It's puerile, disgusting "ha, look how strong and clever I am" humour and it gives me no cause to laugh whatsoever.
I mentioned earlier that one in five women worldwide will experience rape or attempted rape in her lifetime. That's an appalling statistic that shames society at large. To take a cavalier attitude towards the subject - to make jokes about it - helps nobody and just perpetuates the dangerous idea that rape is unimportant or something that victims bring on themselves.
You only have to take to social media to see just how flippantly people treat rape. I should issue a trigger warning for the following images:
Six people favourited this tweet.
Eighty seven favourites for a tweet that suggests rape victims should be proud or feel grateful.
Trust me, you're a total and utter prick.
LOL. Saying you'd rape your girlfriend is hilarious.
Life is good when you commit rape, everyone!
There were dozens and dozens of tweets like these when I searched today. It took me a few seconds to find people merrily discussing rape as just "a cuddle with a struggle," or listing celebrities they'd "rape the hell out of."
Why is this seen as acceptable? Because it's something that happens to other people, so we're fine to laugh at them as long as it doesn't happen to us? Bullshit. One in FIVE.
It isn't funny. It's not satirical or clever. Rape is a despicable act, committed by people beneath contempt. So when people make jokes that trivialise the subject, forgive me if I'm not laughing.