photoOriginally published by Ms.

TRIGGER WARNING: Discussion of rape and rape culture …

When Jessie Kahnweiler started talking about making a comedic short film called Meet My Rapist about her personal experience with rape, everyone from friends and family to Hollywood insiders to feminists wary of offending victims urged her to rethink the idea. A P.R. consultant urged her to at least change the title to something less alienating, but Kahnweiler, who attributes her chutzpah and sense of humor to her Jewish heritage, told Ms. she wouldn’t budge:

That’s the problem, that we’re scared to say the word rape in the title of a film. That’s why I had to do it. We should talk about it. It needs to be a conversation. We’re not going to be able to make any progress if we don’t open up a conversation.

Meet My Rapist, available on YouTube (and embedded below), does not actually tell the story of Kahnweiler’s rape, which occurred eight years ago. It deals with the aftermath—her ongoing attempt to process and move on from the experience. She plays herself, while her rapist—a red-hooded and bearded fellow whose face the audience never entirely sees—hovers in the background of several scenes, in one distracting her during a job interview, in another watching as she tells a friend what happened. At one point he even joins her family at the dinner table. In the course of the film we see her experience dismissed by everyone from the friend, who doesn’t take the news very well, to her own therapist, who tells her “to get the fuck over your shit.”

Clearly, eight years later, Kahnweiler’s rapist still haunts her. Yet a trope which could easily be the center of a horror movie manifests in this film as a humorous device, essentially making rape culture the butt of the joke. Kahnweiler says this is part of a conscious effort to complicate rape narratives:

The way that we deal with rape now is so simple; it’s either victimhood or blaming or anger, or it’s like ‘Yeah, totally, rape is bad. I don’t really need to see it or talk about it or learn about it because rape is bad.’ Well, duh.

The matter-of-fact nature of each scenario and of Kahnweiler’s dealings with the people around her, who simplify and co-opt her experience to the point of absurdity, imbues the piece with an irony that not everybody understands. But response to the film has been overwhelmingly positive:

I’ve gotten a lot of emails from people saying, ‘I didn’t want to have anything to do with this movie and then I decided to watch it.’ They say, ‘I don’t know how to feel but I’m feeling something. It’s just doing something to me.’ They like that it’s complicated.


Asked how she feels now that her personal life has been made public, Kahnweiler, who communicates as much with gestures as words, said,

I have had to talk about it a lot more, but it’s also made me go in a lot more and realize I don’t have to justify every point of the story. It feels super real, it feels really scary, it feels really illuminating, it feels really intense, it feels really sad and it is kind of all those things at once. Some days it totally makes sense and other days it totally doesn’t make sense. So I’m kind of just allowing myself to be in it rather than judging it. Which is hard for a Jew [she laughs].

Preeminent Jewish comedian Mel Brooks has said that he made it his lifelong mission to make the world laugh at Hitler because “there’s only one way to get even. You have to bring him down with ridicule.” Kahnweiler’s film aims as high–to rob rape culture of its power by making us laugh at it. She may have a hard time not analyzing herself, but clearly turning tragedy into comedy is in her blood.

Photos of Jessie Kahnweiler by Eduardo Mayen (top) and Holly Derr (bottom).

Holly L. Derr is a feminist media critic who writes about theater, film, television, video games and comics. Follow her @hld6oddblend and on her tumblr, Feminist Fandom.


Trigger Warning: Rape

I went to a comedy club last night. I’ve been before, so I knew what to expect: Lots of penis, and penis of poor quality at that. To keep myself from getting too annoyed, I thought it would be fun–or at least distracting–to count sexist jokes. About two minutes in we got a domestic violence joke about Rihanna. Then I realized as an intersectional feminist I should count racist jokes, fat jokes, and homophobia too. Then I ran out of fingers to count on. Then we got a full seven-minute defense of Tosh.0 and rape jokes. Then the MC followed up the hilarious performance of the pretty blonde by sexualizing her and encouraging the audience to do the same. Then, I hung my head in shame and cried, “My God my God, you’d be totally justified in forsaking us.”

Then I came home and wrote my own stand up routine. I was inspired by three things: the hilarious blonde’s choice to turn the penis jokes on their heads (pun intended) by doing a routine about a visit to the gynecologist; the MC’s bit making fun of his homophobic friends; and Mel Brooks’ take on his own comedy:

How do you get even with Adolf Hitler? There’s only one way to get even. You have to bring him down with ridicule. One of my lifelong jobs has been to make the world laugh at Adolf Hilter.

As long as rape culture makes rape jokes acceptable, let’s use the opportunity to take these guys down. Next time you’re at an open mic, feel free to see if a few of these can’t turn the conversation around:

I mean, what’s with these guys, rapists? Are they like, (in stupid guy voice) “Well, I’m too ugly to get anyone to sleep with me any other way. (Doing best slack-jawed yokel) Uh-duuuuurrrr.”

Poor rapists, they have to work extra hard these days. I mean these self-defense classes are really working. Now that the word is out that the best moment to fight back/attempt escape from a rapist is when they take one hand off of you in order to whip it out, they have to like practice their hand-eye coordination and you know really work on phalange strength, keep their fingers nimble. Word is they’ve developed a training video. It’s called Grand Theft Auto.

What did the rapist say when his Mom tried to get him to pay rent? “Fuck you!”

Didya ever hear a rapist justify pedophilia? (In stupid guy voice) “How was I to know she was a kid! All my adult women friends carry baby dolls around!” Yeah. Hey rapist, is that so they can show the doctor where you hurt them, too?

Hey did you hear about what’s happening at UNC? Apparently a student was told she violated the honor code by speaking out about her rape. She was like, “Ummm, I think you may have confused the honor code with the bro code.”

A rapist walks into a bar. Nobody notices.

Man, these poor guys in Steubenville. I mean, what are they gonna do with their lives? For a whole year they’re not going to be the most privileged people in their community! It’s unconscionable! And now, for the rest of their days, they’re always to going to be those guys that elicited the sympathy of an entire nation. Tough break.

What did the rapist say when his mom threw him out of her house? “Fuck you!”

Two rapists walk into a bar. “Ow!” they say, “That hurts!” So I’m like, “Just lie back and enjoy it, motherfuckers.”

A rapist, a priest, and Roman Polanski walk into a bar. The bartender looks ’em over and says, “Help me out here. Which of you is which?”