Jan 25, 2017 by


Protesters in the rain with giant red sign saying "FREE MELANIA" in large, black handwritten text.

Signs like these are not funny.

I hate that I have to say this in 2017, but

*deep breath*

Domestic. Violence. Is. Not. Funny.


Now this is a complex issue and it’s really easy to go down the rabbit hole when talking about the different aspects involved — domestic violence, abuse, public life, etc. — but I want us to focus on the whole making jokes about the whole Melania-potentially-being-abused-by-her-husband thing. In short: it’s wrong.

Let’s think about the nature of a joke. It’s a deliberate act of making statements to attract attention and (hopefully) rouse laughter. Why would this be an acceptable action when a potentially abused woman is the punchline? This is one of the cases where the comedy guideline about “punching up” vs. “punching down.” When a joke “punches up” it is making fun of the people in power and highlights how they’re abusing it. That’s why the jokes about Trump being awful are good; it helps us critique what’s awful about him through mockery.

I really like what Scacchi Koul wrote in “Why Punching Down Will Never Be Funny” at BuzzFeed:

“The real difference is that comedy shows or segments that are legitimately funny always punch up. Instead of wasting their time going after people who are typically in the minority, they go after people with tangible power that’s being abused.”

When we “punch down” we end up re-inforcing the status quo by mocking a systemically oppressed group. That’s why jokes making light of the plight of undervalued people like rape victims, domestic violence survivors, trans folk, people of color, etc. just aren’t right. We’re in the midst of trying to convince people that rape, abuse, transphobia, racism, sexism, and many other types of -isms need to be better handled. As Koul writes,

“​People who are targets merely for existing are already operating at an inherent loss; the real gold is in taking a shot at someone who thinks they’re invincible. At comedy’s core is risk, and there’s no risk in making fun of the already-mocked.”

So what’s the risk here of making fun of Melania and her maybe abusive relationship?

Victims of domestic violence — past, present, and future — are watching. And they’ll remember. All of these jokes and public speculation are part of the reason why many victims stay silent. It further stigmatizes victimhood, which can lead to an abused partner to further isolate their self. Guess what happens when a victim is more isolated? They draw even closer to their partner, making it harder for them to leave and get help.

It puts Melania at a higher risk of harm. We know Trump is petty as fuck and cares what people think. If people truly care about Melania and her safety, they shouldn’t make signs that attract public laughter and mockery (even if unintentional). These type of things can make abuse escalate and make any potential plans for leaving even harder.

It implies that the identity of your abuser makes certain victims fair game for mockery. Let’s be real: people are only paying to Melania because she is married to Trump. While Donald chose to be in the spotlight and run for president, Melania did not run for political office. She did not choose to be a political figure. So while her husband is fair game, we should be making knocks against Donald; we already have more than enough material.

We really don’t know much about Melania aside from her marriage to Trump. We don’t know how she feels or the nature of their marriage. If you want to highlight his treatment of women, go ahead. But consenting to a marriage at one point doesn’t mean she is automatically consenting to everything that happens to her after she enters it. That’s just not how consent works.

US First Lady Melania Trump (C) dances with a member of the Marine Corps (R) during the Salute to Our Armed Services Inaugural Ball at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC, January 20, 2017. / AFP / SAUL LOEB        (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Let’s save the jokes for real things that matter, okay folks?

You can’t stand for women if you’re making jokes at domestic violence victims’ expense. (Yes, even if one is married to Donald J. Trump.) This is where everyday application of intersectionality comes in: we can’t help all women if we are throwing some of them under the bus simply due to whom they are married.

If you have something to say about Melania, stick to the issues. I mean, really. I am sure there will be more than enough to criticize. She excused Trump’s pussy remarks by saying Trump was “egged on” by Access Hollywood’s Billy Bush. She dismissed the women who made abuse allegations against her husband by saying they were “organized from the opposition.” She said it’s fair for her husband to bring up former President Bill Clinton’s behavior during Hillary’s campaign because “They’re asking for it.” These are the sort of things we should be pointing out.

If you’re truly concerned about domestic violence — as you should be — you needn’t look too far for places to help. A 2010 CDC report found in just the United States, 20 people are physically abused by a partner every minute. That adds up to over 10 million people a year. Find places to volunteer and/or donate. Learn more about domestic violence so you know how to be a lifesaving force for a friend or acquaintance when they’re in a bad relationship. There’s so much to do in the fight against domestic violence. Making fun of Melania is not one of them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.