Here's How The Onion's Latest Fail Outraged Twitter


This morning, fake news organization The Onion published a piece entitled "Adolescent Girl Reaching Age Where She Starts Exploring Stepfather's Body." The short piece has already spurned outrage on Twitter for making light of rape and sexual assault.

The article describes "local 13-year-old Heather Perrington," who is "now reaching that age where she is likely to begin exploring her stepfather Craig Dunbar's body, experts confirmed Tuesday." This is a reference to statutory rape, to sexual interactions forced upon a minor. The ongoing debate over when rape jokes are acceptable has been contentious, but there's an easy shortcut to deciding when a rape joke is appropriate that I agree with: A rape joke is okay if the rape victim isn't the punch line. (To quote Lindy West from Jezebel in her all-caps glory, "DO NOT MAKE RAPE VICTIMS THE BUTT OF THE JOKE.")

In The Onion's piece, the sexual assault victim is most definitely the butt of the joke. In fact, The Onion article goes so far as to imply that this obvious example of assault was in fact consensual — that the young girl deserved this treatment simply because she is a girl. After all, as the fictitious counselor and health teacher from the article states, "It's all part of growing up." This isn't funny because in our current victim-blaming rape culture, the "she was asking for it" narrative isn't a joke; it's a reality many people believe in. 

Twisting the traditional puberty narrative, The Onion replaces the story of a young girl discovering her own sexuality with that of a young girl discovering the sexuality of her stepfather. (In other words, assault.) She will start "to notice the sexual desires of her mother's husband" and "it will probably take time for Heather to figure out what does and doesn't feel good to her stepfather, and she may be surprised to discover acne and hair in unexpected places on Craig's body."

This twist, which was supposed to be funny, really just further disempowers female sexuality. Instead of "exploring" her own body and learning how to find pleasure in her own sexuality, her discovery of her sexuality is entirely framed around a man. This would be problematic even if the man were not her stepfather, because the article once again tries to make a joke out of a current reality.

The health teacher is quoted as implying that it is Heather's responsibility to pleasure the man, ignoring female pleasure all together. This double standard is prevalent in real-life health classes across the country, where men are taught about their sexual desire while women are simply warned about the dangers of their sexuality. (The male orgasm is a necessary part of the discussion around pregnancy and STIs, while the female orgasm is often ignored in such classes.)

The article then goes on to suggest, "If the eighth grader is confused or troubled by such experiences, she should try talking to friends her age who are going through the exact same thing." Unfortunately, many teenage girls are "confused" and "troubled" when they enter puberty and begin to realize the the attitudes that The Onion attempts to satirize are all too prevalent in our everyday society. Experiencing the world's ongoing sexism is indeed a difficult trial for every girl, and The Onion is only adding to this difficulty. 

This isn't The Onion's first brush with controversy. During this year's Oscars, they tweeted out an offensive joke about 9-year-old star Quvenzhané Wallis, calling her a "c**t" before promptly deleting the tweet. After that Twitter backlash, they apologized, and CEO Steve Hannah wrote, "No person should be subjected to such a senseless, humorless comment masquerading as satire." 

The Onion has had witty pieces that criticize instead of reinforce society's sexism before. (This year's "Teenage Girl Blossoming Into Beautiful Object" comes to mind.) Unfortunately, it seems that they have not learned how to differentiate between biting commentary and insulting and triggering content. Victims of sexual assault are just the latest to be subjected to their "senseless, humorless" comments "masquerading as satire."