This week's award for not only Most Ill-Advised Rape Joke, but also Most Tasteless Celebrity Death Tie-In and Least Sincere Apology definitely goes to Esquire. Hannah Mudge explains why.
So. You're running an article themed around sex and you want to make it current and oh-so-relevant to the issues hitting the headlines right now. How about a guide to satisfying oral sex? Good thinking. How about running it as a tie in with the Strauss-Kahn rape case, using details of the incident to proclaim that it doesn't have to be so bad, if readers take your advice on board?
Yes, Esquire went there. Accuser Nafissatou Diallo, who, as the case threatens to fall apart amid numerous controversies, has this week gone public, telling her side of the story to Newsweek. She has revealed her ordeal in graphic detail. And in the original version of the feature, which was entitled "How to have more satisfying sex than DSK", Esquire described this as "a tragedy". No, not the fact that a woman has told of being raped, but the fact that the act itself obviously wasn't particularly enjoyable. Readers were told in the opening paragraph:
"A blowjob need not be hurtful or degrading, for either party."
And whatever you think about this statement on its own, I think most people would agree on the fact that it should never, ever be used to apply to situations which involve rape. Especially in a way which suggests that you know, it's a bit, well, funny. Because the fact she didn't enjoy it meant that she could probably do with a few sex tips, right? "Ladies: How to get the most out of your rape". My sides are splitting. They went on to tweet a link to the article from their official Twitter account:
Within minutes Twitter had exploded with what it does best: outrage. Esquire deleted the offending tweet and even cut the first paragraph of the article to remove any trace of reference to DSK. It was just a shame, then, that they followed it up with a pretty poor excuse for an apology. "Sorry if an earlier tweet offended anyone"?
It's nice that they plumped for "if", there, referring to their "sense of humour", as if, in the grand scheme of things, anger at rape jokes is merely a matter of some people just not getting their zany way with words. Because at the end of the day, it's easy to confuse run-of-the-mill oral sex with traumatic non-consensual incidents.
Let's be clear here - rape jokes aren't funny. In case any members of staff at Esquire are wondering, here's a handy guide that explains when it's okay to mix rape and humour. The gist is this: if you're thinking of making a wisecrack at the expense of rape victims, don't do it. It's not big, or clever, and it contributes to the wider problem of what we call rape culture. That's the way in which society rationalizes and normalizes rape - by laughing about it, victim blaming, saying it's a natural consequence of various actions like drinking or wearing short skirts, treating it as 'a compliment', using it to make cracks about the attractiveness of the victim, using the word when you mean that your football team lost a game or someone hacked your Facebook account. And guess what? It has a devastating effect on the many men, women and children who, each year, become victims of rape and sexual assault.
Call it another tiresome drama for the pitchfork-wielding Twitterati or hysterical feminists with their knickers in a twist if you like, but Esquire definitely crossed a line. And that must be a theme for them this week, as Monday was also the day its style blog ran a post entitled "In tragedy, a style appreciation for Blake Fielder-Civil". Yes, that Blake Fielder-Civil, Amy Winehouse's ex-husband - currently serving a jail sentence for burglary and possession of a firearm, the man who was at her side during some of her most self-destructive moments and someone who's been widely condemned as an unhelpful presence in her life in the wake of her death at the weekend.
Seeing as we'd already had the most mind-boggling of Winehouse tie-ins when the Huffington Post published "Amy Winehouse's untimely death is a wake up call for small business owners" on Sunday - Esquire decided to run with "most tasteless" instead. Good work, guys!
Hannah Mudge writes about all things news and feminism-themed for BitchBuzz. You can also read her blog, We Mixed Our Drinks or follow her tweets as @boudledidge.