// I lost a friend because of a rape joke.//

There it was, it caught my eye immediately.

Facebook News Feed. A friend’s status:

"I fricken raped my first presentation. Take that, Economics."

I almost couldn’t believe what I was reading. Sure, I’ve seen this kind of insensitivity before, but that doesn’t mean it will or should ever shock me any less.

The question was never whether or not to address this, but how to address this, because this kind of blatant disrespect should not go unchallenged. It cannot go unchallenged, not if we want to make any progress as a society. Instead of the comment I wanted to leave calling him a misogynistic asshole, or the text telling him that he’s an immature douche bag, I decided to write a letter: tactful, yet factual and direct:

I really wish you wouldn’t use the word “rape” as freely as you do and in the context that you do. It’s along the same lines as someone using “gay” and “retarded” as adjectives to describe something negative or using “fag” and “retard” as insults, but in my mind, it’s worse. 

It’s glorifying, normalizing, and making light of one of the most disgusting things that can happen to a person, and that continues to happen to 1 in 4 women before their 18th birthday. That’s 25% of women in JUST that age group and JUST the ones that are reported.

I know that men don’t grow up fearing sexual assault the same way that women do (even though men ARE, in fact, raped), and an argument can be made that it doesn’t affect men the same way — but not only does that sound callous and selfish (the “it’s not MY problem” type of mentality), but I believe it DOES affect men, whether they can see it or not. 

A statistically-minded person like yourself has to realize that with numbers the way they are, rape is bound to happen to a woman in your life, in some capacity: your mother, your sister, your cousins, your nieces, your friends. Whether you know it or not, it HAS happened to at least one woman in your life already. And ironically, men are the ones with the MOST power to foster change on this matter. To speak up and say, “look, while this may not be something I personally fear or worry about, I know it’s wrong and I won’t take it any more.” That inspires real, fast-moving change. A sociologically-minded person like myself knows that to be true.

Things that we consider subtle and insignificant like language and syntax not only influence our culture, but define it. Whether you mean to or not, every time you use the word “rape” the way you do, you’re sending a very specific message about this violent, disgusting, and lasting crime that suggests that you don’t think it’s a big deal; and maybe you don’t. But in my opinion, you should, especially in the interest of striving for the maturity and selflessness that you have been lately (and overall doing quite well, might I add).

The bottom line is,  I guess I’ve always just thought you to be better than how you’re portraying yourself by cheapening your maturity and awareness by using the word “rape” as a joke. A man isn’t measured in how well he follows the crowd, but in how he separates himself and sets an example.

Maybe it was stupid of me to be hopeful, and expect some sort of enlightened response in return. That he would realize the error of his ways and apologize, vowing to do better and that he understands why he was beyond out of line. Instead, I got deleted as a friend on Facebook and blocked. While I find the uncommunicative culture that social networks often breed a ridiculous way to measure someone’s friendship or relationship, this sent a clear message that I can’t ignore and that I know was in response to my letter.

I’m posting this to remind people that rape is not the punchline of a joke. It’s not funny, and it does happen to men and women, on a rising rate, every day. Not only are we obligated as decent human beings not to make these jokes, but to challenge those who do make them, even if the consequence is losing a friend. 

I wasn’t so upset by this joke just because I, myself, was raped in an anti-gay attack a few years ago. I was upset because it’s discouraging for me to find ignorance and hatred almost everywhere I look, even in sources I once trusted.

That being said — for anyone else out there feeling discouraged or hopeless or feeling some sort of terrible isolation or pain from a difficult ordeal: whoever you are, I love you. I may not know you, but I love you and I love your right to be who you are and the strength you find within yourself to sometimes just be who you are, or make it through the day. Whether you are Black, Asian, Latino, Caucasian, or somewhere in between. Whether you are gay, straight, bisexual, transgender or somewhere in between.  Whether you have faced sexual assault, the loss of a loved one, a broken heart, or somewhere in between. Kindly take hope in the midst of hatred and ignorance, someone really, truly loves you for exactly who you are. 

And never, ever give up.