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By Jen Thorpe

I received a forwarded horrific tweet moments ago. The tweet in question came from Durex SA, and went as follows:

 @DurexSA: Why did God give men penises? So they’d have at least one way to shut a woman up. #DurexJoke

When I pointed out to them that this endorsed violence against women, their response was

DurexSA3:30pm via Web

@FeministsSA We have posted many jokes, see our timeline… And they not violent against woman! Re-read it!!!!!

Once again I was reminded that violence against women remains a joke to most South Africans, and that there is little understanding of the connection of social messages that sanction this violence (e.g. invite men to use their penises as a weapon) to the violence itself. Durex SA, you’ve really cocked it up here. Using one’s penis to ‘shut someone up’ sounds a lot like rape to me. If you’re not sure what the definition is, feel free to have a read of the Sexual Offences Act. Forced oral sex is rape.

I’m not going to spend this post spewing statistics about the high incidence of violence against women, because you can read them yourself on the SAPS webpage. It is important to understand that violence against a particular group does not arise out of nowhere, and the frequent perpetration of this violence by men is not a coincidence in SA where jokes like those with the hashtag #DurexJoke are popular. I want to talk about this social sanction of messages that promote violence.

Norms and myths sustain our social identities. They help us to understand the expected interactions between ourselves and others. Norms are themselves sustained by our actions. It is a self-perpetuating cycle. Norms that say men’s most important attribute is their penis, and that a woman better celebrate that by taking what she can get, are part of rape culture, which I argue is bad for everyone.

South Africa has an incredibly powerful rape culture. This culture is sustained by many things: low conviction rates for perpetrators, an unpleasant criminal justice system that alienates survivors and reduces reporting, a history of South African violence, and inequality amongst the sexes. It is also sustained by our laughter at jokes that condone violence against women. Rape is not funny.

According to Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust’s website, myths about rape have the following negative effects for survivors:

  • Increasing the trauma experienced by the sexual offence victim.
  • Encouraging prejudice regarding the liability of both the victim and the accused in the matter.
  • Slowing down or preventing the recovery of the victim.
  • Discouraging victims from reporting the offence.
  • Hampering society’s understanding as to the causes of sexual offences and the seriousness of its effect on victims. Through this, victims are denied the support and assistance that they need, to heal from the experience of sexual violation.

In other words, the promotion of social norms that encourage violence increase the likelihood that a survivor will suffer secondary trauma and will experience rape trauma syndrome. 

Social media has become a new zone where messages promoting violence against women can be rapidly dissemminated.  It’s easy to put hateful dangerous messages out there behind the face of a brand, or anonymously. Earlier this year we had to deal with #itsnotrapeif, Facebook pages that encouraged men to ‘ride her gently so she doesn’t wake up’ and many other revolting messages that aimed to make violence against women a joke. If you are sick of these types of messages, as I am, why not take back the tech?

If you’re not sure what you can do this 16 Days to support women who have survived violence against them, why not try the following:

  1. Do not forward violence: don’t laugh at sexist jokes, don’t retweet sexist tweets, don’t diminish stories of sexual violence, don’t join Facebook groups or pages that promote violence
  2. Boycott companies that promote violence – perhaps a nice way to start here would be by boycotting DurexSAuntil they issue an apology (in the mean time, please make sure you replace them with another brand. Make sure the sex you’re having is safe and consensual)
  3. Support organisations that work to fight against violence against women, such as Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust, or the organisations that make up the Shukumisa Campaign. Go to their fundraisers.
  4. Talk to your partner about the ways that you both might reinforce unequal gender roles and sexism. This can happen in heterosexual and hom0sexual relationships.
  5. Speak out about violence against women. Tell your story of violence. Support pro-women media.

The 16 Days is a time for all of us to realise how important it is that sexism comes to an end, that violence against women comes to an end, and that we never, ever, ever, give up.

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56 thoughts on “Durex cocks it up on the eve of the 16 Days

  1. Thank you for writing this, I was also going to write my own post for my blog. I am beyond offended by that joke and durex SA needs to apologize and understand how they are adding to rape culture.

    Like

  2. Interesting reading this and i was curios as to why you think the joke was advocating violence against women. I my opinion it is not funny because it’s degrading and sexist, but does it advocate violence against woman? If it’s suggesting you force a penis on a woman then yes i would agree… but if not, then it may be humiliating and a bunch of other things but surely no advocating violence?

    Like

  3. Well timed! I don’t think the joke is advocating violence. You jumped on it well.

    Nice story to pick on in order to boost awareness of the the “16 Days” campaign.

    Like

  4. Maybe I’m misreading the joke, but I saw it a little differently. I read it to be more like giving a child a toy to keep it quiet, as a play thing. I kind of think that’s what Durex were trying to get at here. Which was funny.

    Maybe I’m just naive though.

    Like

    • I think what you’re saying is important, because it shows that in many people’s minds it is still acceptable to portray a woman as a child, and not as a whole person.

      Portraying woman as a child is not funny.

      Think about whether you would have found this funny if instead of saying ‘women’ they had said ‘child’. You can surely recognise that this is wrong, and should also therefore be able to see that using ‘woman’, or any other group, is wrong.

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      • Well the main reason it would seem wrong if you substituted “woman” with “child” is that oral sex with a “woman” is sometimes considered acceptable, but never with a “child”.

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      • Again, I’m not sure I agree.

        I used the child example simply because it was convenient, and a fairly universal example we can all relate to. I’m not sure how I managed to miscommunicate that so poorly as for you to suggest that I consider women to be children and not a whole person?

        For purposes of further discussion, lets rather use the example of “Microsoft built the Xbox to keep men quiet”.

        My point is that perhaps the problem here is that this joke has multiple interpretations, and perhaps that should have been taken into consideration before the joke was used.

        I’m not sure there was any malicious intention from Durex.

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      • What on earth are you on about? Where’s the violence? Sexist, yes. If you replace woman with child, you are changing it from what is likely a tasteless joke about heterosexual sex to a tasteless joke about paedophilia. I think there’s a difference. The law thinks so too. Did anyone force the fictitious penis on the fictitious woman in this joke? Probably not. Replace the word “penis” with “fist” and you might be getting closer to having an argument. For now, let’s safely assume than fictitious adult man and fictitious adult woman (hence the word, “woman” and not “girl” or “child” or “toddler” or “infant”) are quietly consenting to fondle fictitious penis and nobody got hurt in the process. @Arthur, I’d rather not think about my dear mother or sister because that’s just gross.

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      • Yes but its not a child! Its a woman, who would likely at some point want put a penis in her mouth. and sacrifice the ablility to talk for its duration. it was a joke. To use this as a ploy to seek some attention for a pro-femisist anti rape campaign mearly shows the inability to come up with a solid effecticve campaign to display your point. Can you honestly tell me you have never told/ heard or laughed a sexist, racist or unethical joke. They are funny beacuse they are wrong! They are funny because they are not acceptable! if you cannot handel this, then go moan to every stand up comic, every director in hollywood and intellegent human being. There is no rape connotation to this joke. the only connotation is that at a point a woman will put a penis in their mouth and in fact durex realises this and the brand promotes sexual safety!!! (its kinda what they do) !!
        I hope pulls out another fantastic joke again and you learn to see the humor in advertising.

        Nandos often does ads about corruption is government… its just as ludacris to make a racial issue out of it.

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  5. Jeez, the men commenting here embarrass me. Gareth, Joe, seriously? If you really can’t see the violence in the tweet, use this old trick o’ the brain: imagine it was said of your mother, sister, or daughter. Or try some synonyms for ‘violence': coercion, violation, subjugation. Are you starting to get it?

    The way so many men think in SA is a crisis—as a gender we’re largely broken and dangerous. Time to get our sht together.

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  6. Even if you go with the ‘toy’ reading, it’s still sexism by infantilisation. Durex should be promoting values of safe sex, which requires mutual respect by partners, not promoting the “shutting up” of women by means of a all-powerful, god-given penis.

    There is simply no possible valid way of saying this joke does not promote misogynistic views.

    Like

  7. It was a bad and tasteless joke, can we get over the “jokes are why people rape” thing.

    The barbaric culture in South Africa (and the rest of Africa) is why rapists rape, the cycle of abuse caused by non-Westernised cultures where rape is a method of control is why rapists rape, the fact that in most African cultures women are merely vessels for breeding is what causes the complete lack of respect. Look at rape stats in Europe vs Africa and South America.

    Stopping jokes about rape isn’t going to stop rape. People who make rape jokes are so far removed from the act that they have no idea what it is all about. They are just trying to be funny, desperately.

    What will stop rape is bringing in the death penalty for this heinous crime. What will stop it is having an enforced sexual offenders register, forced castrations and a police service that doesn’t take years to process DNA samples.

    I realize that this comment is laced with racist undertones, that is not my intention. I am merely highlighting why we have such a massive problem in Africa. I believe that in time, things can change, but at present, the picture is very grim indeed.

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      • no, being able make a joke using a race (and the stereotypes associated with a race) as the subject, shows me that you are beyond being a racist. you are able to laugh/see the funny side of each others differences. The mere mention of race doesn’t make one a racist. A racist (or rapist or someone propagating rape) is unlikely to use their beliefs as the basis for a joke. nor is a joke likely to cause someone to become a rapist (or racist) – unless it is a very convincing joke presumably?

        Once again, this blog and its contributors/followers have picked apart a comment (or tweet) and made it into a HUGE thing that wouldn’t have had the effect it potentially could have now, if it weren’t highlighted in the first place.

        As has been commented on this blog many times, perhaps it’s time to stop the internet/email activism and do something that actually promotes gender equality. complaining about tweets (or t-shirts for that matter) comes across as a base-level and childlike argument with the same structured premise and compliant each time.

        Why not be examples to the youth (male and female) of our country instead of just bitching about every little thing you find insulting.

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    • Andrew, no-one’s saying it’s a simple case of rape jokes causing rape. As with everything, it’s a lot more complex than that, and there are a vast number of social factors involved in rape. However, rape jokes are part of rape culture, which is (simplistically) a pervading mentality that rape is good, acceptable, not a big deal and/or funny. Since they’re such a big and prevalent part of rape culture, they’re a part which feminists tend to tackle a lot.

      For an explanation of the politics of rape jokes far better than I could ever manage here, take a look at this article on Shakesville: http://shakespearessister.blogspot.com/2011/03/feminism-101-helpful-hints-for-dudes.html

      Like

    • Andrew, interesting theory. Do you have any facts to back it up? Have you taken a look at the phenomenon of white men raping black women, the intersection of race and gender in violent expression of racism and sexicm? You’ll find it both in South Africa and America, where rape is a “method of control” (to use your words) associated with racist structures (and the continued cycle of violence in South Africa is seldom interpreted without understanding it as part of a culture of racial oppression by any serious researcher). Your description of rape as a specifically “African” problem associated with “barbaric culture” somehow inherently connected with “Africa” (disconnected from a history of colonialism and civil wars which created the context of oppression where rape reach such high levels), and your suggested solution of more violent law enforcement (rather than solving problems of economic inequality, extreme poverty, and especially systemic oppression of women and the privileged position of men in society) highlights very little which I believe you’ll find in authoritative research on the topic.

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  8. Very typical of ‘South Africans’ – The bulk of ‘them’ are ignorant. Now “feminists” are shamefully looking for a scapegoat to point the rape finger at.

    Only a fool will be incited to violence after reading such a tasteless ‘joke’. Please get over it and move on.

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    • Thanks Cheng, Finally someone with common sense! In no way the joke will incite anyone to anything. I’m a lady, with kids, and when I read the joke, I thought of the pleasure and fun for me and my husband and believe me, if you know me, you’ll know that I’m also against rape, gender equality and so forth, but I saw the joke for what it was, a joke! Atleast Durex is promoting SAFE sex, something rapist can’t really say….

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  10. Ladies, please do calm yourselves.

    Imagine a similiar joke was made about men – most would probably grin, nod in approval and carry on with there lives. Here’s the thought process illustrated for those of you who just don’t get it:

    Man reads joke. Thinks about a woman keeping him well quiet with her genitalia. Win. Smile. Move along.

    Why women (read: not all women, just those offended by this and similiar jokes) lose their cool over things like this is beyond me.

    You’ve managed to turn yourselves into an army of victims, whether you’ve been there or not. I get that statistics show you’re at risk, but we’re all victims by the scope of one statistic or another, and it’s your choice to act as such.

    As a society we’re becoming increasingly bitter because of things like this – no one can laugh at themselves, and don’t dare make fun of others because that’s not the politically correct way. Ease up – not everybody wants to rape you.

    Take this joke in the context of a normal, healthy relationship – some people love getting intimate, and I know of many who would make this a funny excuse to do so. It’s certainly cheeky, but not violent. Penises can be used for good too, you know.

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  11. I cannot believe, as a woman that Durex could not have reasonably forseen the many interpretations of what they posted!
    So often we hear of how men ‘discipline’ women with the manly ‘belt’, of how men are supposed to rule with the ‘magic cane’.
    I am only 21, and just by reading that I, in 2minutes, had already thought up of 3 interpretations of that one comment! Now surely, a whole team of marketers aged, and I am speculating, 25 years and above could have come up with atleast 20 different interpretations in a matter of 20 minutes!

    We live in a country where rape stats are high and conviction and reported cases are low! It takes just one good ar bad comment to change or stagnate our progress. Speech is the most powerful tool for or against any form of oppression.

    Let it not become a norm that we laugh away problems in our midst and then title those that do take a stand against derogatory statements as ‘uptight’, you know, the so-called ‘you can’t take a joke’ people. The country was up in arms over the ‘dubul’ ibunu’ song saying that it incited hatred and murder, now Durex cocks it up but now we should just let them be because it was a joke? A joke that equally has discriminitory connotations?

    I am no feminist, but I believe in the power of speech. Be the change you want to see in the world

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  12. Also, why would a company that makes its money out of people choosing to have safe sex want to promote an activity that (generally) does not involve the use of their product?

    It seems this (and previous crusades) are more about a small group getting a big company to apologise (for nothing) so they can pat themselves on the back. rock on.

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  13. Jen
    Just want to say thank you for addressing this. We continue to deny the existence of systems of oppression and how these are kept in place in “politically correct” ways (such as telling jokes). The ways in which these systems are kept in place are obviously quite complex, but it remain problematic that those who privilege from the continued existence of systems of oppression actively silence those trying to give words to what is happening.
    Cobus

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  16. Wow! Who’s that Andrew guy, and is he real? Must be refreshing to be that open about your ignorance and prejudice. ‘Rape is an ”African” problem, or at least the prerogative of ”non-westernised”, ”barbaric” cultures. Must be nice to be so far into your own head; I suppose cases like Julian Assange are then conspiracy theories? Silvio Berlusconi is just being a guy? Or Bill Clinton just didn’t know what he was doing? And who’s that French Head of the IMF who tried to jump the hotel maid, he’s probably just being French, amirite?

    The fact that you can so neatly box and categorise these types of behaviours and associate them only with people who you are prejudiced against speaks volumes about how endemic and normalised these problems are in our society. They’re never real when it’s ”our” kind doing it. Wake up my friend, at the rate that the reported violence against women takes place (far far less than the actual rate), it takes almost ALL the men in our society to get it that high. Not just those we deem ”barbaric”, but yes your drinking mates, and even you too, in one way or another.

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  17. It’s a subjective world out here and anything can be interpreted these days to mean anything beyond our imagination.
    It’s funny, that the writer saw violence on that tweet, which clearly I can’t see despite of the many interpretations I’m giving it. If the writer had talked about disrespect or subjugation of women, maybe I would see where she is coming from but violence? rape? Nah, I can’t see that in that tweet.. I really can’t see that but then again, that’s just me and I’m not south african and I’m a man. But women also joke about men all the time, some disrespectful but we keep it moving as men cuz really sometimes we need to laugh, maybe through jokes/comedy we get to really feel how resentful women especially feminists are towards us. As can be seen on this link http://www.tpo.net/humor/Mega/000000012.html
    See, we just keep it moving because really you can’t go around giving every fucking tweet or facebook comment different interpretations to find fault in it.
    @Andrew Stevens – I wish you could lecture your fellow westerners to stop raping and molesting kids before you come here to tell us how rape is non-western.
    Peace!!

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  24. Going through this blog and the replies, I’d confidently say that it does more to divide South Africans than any of the shirts / tweets / other issues it so vehemently opposes.

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  31. We had a similar incident on the big screen during a large football game at the University of Wyoming (vs. Nebraska). You can read my letter to the editor of our school’s newspaper here:

    http://www.brandingirononline.info/2011/09/28/comment-offensive-to-fan/

    And a followup here:

    http://www.brandingirononline.info/2011/10/03/hiatt-wants-correct-information-available-concerning-uw-cowboys-pick-up-line-comment/

    Unfortunately, nothing ever came of it. No one in the administrations was willing to apologize, or even to make a statement about it.

    I sincerely hope that that is not the case with Durex!

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  33. Thank you FeministsSA for posting this article, this ‘joke’ needs critical attention and the guts not to stand down in the face of patriarchal oppression. The underlying assumption of this joke is that women want penises all the time and men are justified (encouraged even) to ‘give’ women their penises at any time. This is harmful for a host of reasons. Firstly it rejects women’s agency. This joke places women as passive recipients in sex, the object on which acts are performed, and not an active (or even willing) participant in these acts. A lot of feminists today are very pro-sex, but this position necessitates consent and encourages women to take ownership of and enjoy their sex lives. This position does not advocate sex as a means to ‘shut them up’ or control women in any way. The pro-sex position also doesn’t mean that women must want sex at any and every moment, but rather that they should be able to choose when they want to have sex, with whom and how. These are important points, because without choice and consent sex stops being sex and very quickly becomes violence. Another crucial point for readers who are trying to silence feminist voices in this thread, is that consent is not the absence of ‘no’ but it’s the presence of ‘yes’. This is safe and happy sex 101, sex becomes ok (and hopefully good) when your partners says yes, not when they don’t say no. This ‘joke’ doesn’t even flirt with ideas of consent. It advocates male dominance, the silencing of women, and sex as a tool for furthering both these objectives.

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