The “Rape” Sloth

The other day as I was going through the sloth tag on Tumblr looking for some cute sloth pictures – like so many other people do, I’m sure – and I saw something that was unlike anything I had expected.  I anticipated pages and pages of cute sloth images, and those were definitely readily available, but I never expected to see anything that would make me uncomfortable in a tag that should be full of images of cute animals.  Among the cute photos were sloth memes with added rape “joke” text.   These posts were tagged and created with the intention of being jokes, but I found them to be anything but funny.  “#rape #lol” are two tags that should never be used on the same post.  Being pretty well versed in internet memes and feminist issues, I was surprised that this wasn’t something I had heard about before, so I did a quick Google search to find out some more information.

Googling the terms “rape sloth” came up with a lot of pages where you could see and create more memes but I was surprised that there were no critical blog posts.  I did find a page on Know Your Meme which included some history about the meme which is only a little bit over a year old.  The image on the meme, a close up of a sloth that looks like it is whispering into the ear of a model, is a photograph by Terry Richardson who is notorious for his questionable history of sexual harassment and possibly assault.  Not all of the sloth memes are explicitly rape jokes.  Many others include text that is incredibly sexually patriarchal, most of which include vulgar actions involving a penis.

I find that usually the internet is full of activists looking for something like this to constructively criticize, so it was shocking to me that no one had jumped on this in the year-plus that it has been circulating the internet.  I was curious as to whether the people posting these memes understood their negative impact.  I did an experiment and sent a handful of Tumblr users the following message politely explaining why the meme is harmful and requested that they take it down: “Your sloth image is incredibly offensive.  It turns a very serious and traumatic experience into a joke, and it’s not funny.  You should consider removing it out of respect for survivors of sexual violence.”

Two people said that they understood, were sorry and would remove the post.  It seems as if they are not familiar with the concept of rape culture and did not mean to offend anyone. Although, there were others who did not give nearly as positive a response.  It is shocking to me that people, gender aside, are completely oblivious to how something as minor as an image on Tumblr can be incredibly harmful to our society as a whole.

One person replied to me with “And you should consider fucking off.”  I can assure you, I did not consider it.  Another replied with, “Sweetheart, I will not dive into the numerous reasons this message is incredibly moronic. If rape sloth is really causing you this much stress, then you may have bigger problems. Perhaps you should delete your Tumblr, stay off the internet, throw your television out the window, turn off the lights and call it a life. PS. sorry you got raped.”  When I replied with a more in-depth explanation, they responded with, “You’re wasting your time sending me these messages. I do not care.”

Although my message was rather polite, they responded with complete hostility.  This person assumes that just because I care about sexual assault survivors, that I must have been raped, which is a wild assumption.  Sexual violence issues are not just those of survivors; they are issues that impact everyone, which is why it is important to educate people and teach them to care if they don’t already.  If this person was actually sorry about sexual violence, they would have no problem removing the post without an argument.  It is obvious that they aren’t the least bit concerned with this, and I personally find that more offensive than the image itself.  The one thing this user was almost right about was that I have bigger problems.  The bigger problem is the impact these memes have on rape culture on a larger scale.  That is a huge problem, but it won’t be solved as long as we ignore details such as rape “jokes”.

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23 thoughts on “The “Rape” Sloth

  1. THANK. YOU.
    My younger sister thinks these jokes are HILARIOUS, I’m assuming/hoping it’s just because they include sloth images. I’m trying to get her to understand WHY they are no good, and I forwarded her this article, because I felt the same way. Thanks for taking the time to write this up, Carly. It’s greatly appreciated and I hope some day we’ll get to a place where
    A) we never get these kinds of memes in the first place
    and/or
    B) everyone responds more positively when they DO pop up.

    –Jen

  2. >well versed in internet memes
    >just found out about rape sloth
    the point of this is not to promote rape, you’re doing it wrong. sorry bro, you’re kinda dumb.

    • Then what IS the point?
      I am not saying that it directly tells people to go out and rape. Turning rape into a joke makes it seem less serious which then makes it difficult for people to consider rape as a serious issue. As a result, when people report their assault, they are shamed and not taken seriously which is the last thing anyone needs in that situation. There are so many problems with rape “jokes” that I could go on for a long time about it…

      • and there are so many problems with taking an internet meme this seriously or thinking it has any impact on the real world that I could go on for a long time about

      • There is problem with not taking rape seriously.

        fact: it is unacceptable to laugh at rape.
        fact: it is unacceptable to “trigger” someones trauma just for the sake of a “joke”.

      • the real problem is too many people are scared of the word . we need to make the word less scary and make it more able to be said and talked about and it is funny because it is a sloth . the jokes can hurt and they can also help by taking the fear out of saying the work . i doubt a sloth rape joke with encourage rape . but your lack of understanding does nothing but spread lack of understanding

  3. thanks for deleting my comment, good to know you guys can take criticism and see other people’s point of view and aren’t just letting through the comments that praise your work like censoring fascists
    oh wait….

    • Moooo, we approve all comments on the site, so please allow moderators time to approve them. We do take criticism, and also try to reply to all comments. Don’t worry, it wasn’t deleted.

  4. People, common.

    Let’s not be silly here. It’s a joke. It’s fun. Nothing is sacred.

    See joking as a way of cooping with trauma.

    • This isn’t always true. While using a joke to cope with your trauma works for you, it does not always work for everyone.
      Also, if you make offensive jokes just for the sake of being offensive, you cannot be upset when people are offended by them.

  5. Rape is not funny in reality. But a silly looking animal making a joke about it can be to various people. I admit, there are lines crossed. For example, I would not like to see a sloth actually raping someone and the line of text being a joke. However, the jokes are more making fun of the funny faces that sloths have.

    There are NUMEROUS meme jokes about things like racism, sex, rape, violence, stereotyping, and other (controversial) matters to which, in all honestly, most people just laugh at and move on with their lives.

    It may sound immature to you, it may sound offensive to you. I’m not promoting rape, or any of these controversial issues that are very serious…in real life. Jokes are about as harmful as those silly racism jokes you make with your friends. It’s in your nature as humans to behave this way, and most of the time, it is COMPLETELY harmless.

    But where my problem stems from is people like you. People who push their opinions onto others. “I think this is controversial so EVERYONE is not allowed to enjoy these stupid pictures because I SAID SO”. Okay, here’s the thing: your opinion is meaningless on the Internet…and in life, to be fair. You may think you are being good to others, and in reality, you’re just shoving your opinion around and enforcing that everyone follows it.

    If you don’t like the picture, don’t look up rape or sloths or anything. If you find them, then don’t look at them or think too much of them. Someone out there enjoys it, and it’s mostly innocent and harmless, -because they are pictures of sloths with some text-.

    I don’t believe in ‘tiptoeing’ around a relatively small group of minorities who MAY be offended by these kinds of pictures, because that is unfair to people who actually DO enjoy the pictures. Why should the people who find these pictures insulting be the priority?

    I do believe, of course, in being mature and being respectful to people. However, that means if I have a friend who is offended by a sloth and rape, I wouldn’t show him/her the picture. I wouldn’t ruin everyone’s internet browsing either. That’s like not bringing chocolate cake to a party because ONE person doesn’t like chocolate cake. If that person doesn’t like it, don’t get near it.

    Memes are harmless. It’s like saying that video games promote violence (they don’t, by the way, and anyone who thinks they do are idiots, because it’s been proven that they HELP lessen violent tendencies). Memes are typically jokes that people share and laugh about. Some people find them funny and others don’t. There are various memes that I don’t like (funny enough the sloth ones are one of them, because I just think sloths are stupid) but I would never tell someone to remove it.

    I’m not trying to be offensive at you. I’m not one of those trolls (which by the way you were trolled in regards to those offensive comments…welcome to the Internet). But I am one of those people who absolutely hate it when people take something completely harmless to the majority and try to stick it in the gutter. You’re more than welcomed to have your opinion about it, but I find it’s considerably more immature to ruin people’s harmless fun for your own selfish opinions.

    Judging when something is harmless and crossing the line can be hard, but you have to step back and consider how other people interpret things, not just you. This is a consideration balance that many people seem to completely ignore. However…it’s a freaking picture. It’s not a group of people trying to legalize rape. It’s not even promoting rape as a positive thing. It’s not showing beaten sloths/people or even being sexual at all. It’s a stupid picture of a meme where sloths are mocked for having disturbing faces.

    If you are seriously disturbed by this then you really should limit your Internet exploration to what you find enjoyable and appropriate (that’s serious, not like GTFO but just don’t torture yourself with images you don’t like). Think of the Internet as like…one of those TV shows that warn you in the beginning that not everyone might find their kind of humor appropriate. And if you don’t, don’t watch the stupid show. I’m sure there are as many pictures/memes you find funny as you find disturbing.

    As an FYI there are parent locks that you can put on your computer to control what your children can see (and what YOU can see, they don’t have to only be for children). So honestly, telling them to remove an image you didn’t like is like banning porn. Way to go, you made yourself look like a giant controlling jerk.

    Please reconsider how other people feel next time before you demand your comfort level be everyone’s priority.

    You can take this as you will. Don’t bother responding. Just read, take in, and consider if you care.

    Peace.

    • I don’t have time, energy or general motivation to argue all of your points but the one thing I will say is that people are bothered by it, it should be taken into consideration and made a priority rather than ignoring it all together. Posting these memes is disrespectful to people who may be offended by them, and with good reason. I think it is important to consider the feelings of those people over that of the ones who don’t care. I doubt the people who aren’t offended will be seriously harmed by the absence of this meme…

  6. you need a life. It’s not promoting rape. get off the interwebs if everything offends you. Find something more productive to do with your time.

  7. Everything is offensive to someone. Racism, death, slavery, child labor, rape, robbery, suicide, shark attacks, the list goes on. This is a key issue to many of the writers on this website, so clearly, yes this offensive and an issue to all of you. However, rape sloth doesn’t exist in the real world, you cannot be physically harmed by the rape sloth. If I were a Black rights activist I wouldn’t fight against the “almost politically correct redneck” meme. There is lots of work to be done to make sure all humans are on an even playing field, I’m on your team. But calling an internet meme into question isn’t going to help.

  8. I think this is the point she was trying to make by writing this article:
    (ta da!) who the hell is thinking of these things for the sloth to say? (because as we all know the sloth isn’t really saying them— even if “he looks like he is”—we all get what a fucking meme is. But at the same time a three year old could distinguish that someone had to write it). The POINT IS Phrases like “no means yes, and yes means anal” are not acceptable. Whoever is writing these memes, and whoever thinks it’s funny, your sense of humor (and therefore YOU) support rape.

    • Yes thank you. That was exactly the point.
      People are seeming to miss that this is just a single factor in a huge problem and by no means do I think eliminating this meme will solve the entire issue. They are just looking for nonsensical things to pick on.

    • Perfectly said. And as a general reply to everyone who really doesn’t understand why this is a REAL ISSUE that extends beyond a meme, clearly you’ve lived your life on the internet and it’s desensitized you to the human condition which is actually what life really revolves around. It’s so easy to exist where you’re anonymous and never have to take responsibility for what is thrown out into the world. You are all cowards–as much as you fight & deny that fact, the truth of it wont change,

  9. I think u taking the mames way to seriously everything is a joke even life so always look on the bright side people and don’t waste ur time by telling every one there out there u done more promting and advtiseing them than any one out there like u said they been around for a year and hardly any one knew about them now thanks to u so meany more people know about them well done lol

  10. I too was looking for Sloth memes but I don’t know much about them other than they are slow. I was also surprised to find any link to rape. What link is there? I found nothing funny about them. What makes them funny when linked to rape? Rape isn’t funny! It is mostly men who rape. I doubt many/any women would find it remotely funny. If you do you must have a warped mind and possibly even consider it an ok thing to do?! Pushing memes about sloths and rape shows a high level of ignorance and disrespect for yourself and just about every woman on the planet! Police forces around the world are trying to identify these dangerous individuals and put them in prison yet you think it is somehow ok and try and throw it back at people who have moral standards and ethics. You must live in the gutter to ever think this is somehow ok or funny.

  11. Thank you for writing this thoughtful article…I just stumbled upon this meme and I am also very surprised we haven’t seen more critical responses to this “joke”. I am a rape survivor and it’s almost laughable how ignorant many boys/men are, because they have not experienced any real loss or trauma. I wouldn’t ever wish the intense kind of pain and suffering (that causes PTSD) on someone, but when I see red, I can’t see anything but red. I hate ignorance. I hate ignorant men who didn’t learn when they were boys. I hate little boys who have this much computer access. I hate their parents for not teaching them better. I HATE FEAR.
    I hate sexual violence against women and the mindless animalistic ignorance behind it. I hate the Objectification of women. I hate darkness. But fortunately, this is a niche in the internet- and that’s why we haven’t heard too much about it. Your thoughtful and evenhanded response to the meme is attacked by the members of the small niche who perpetuate ignorance and hold onto it as if it were something of value. THey have no idea what they are doing and that is the bottom line.

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