The Oscars Inexplicably Decided Jokes About Sexual Assault Were Okay If They're Made About Men

(This piece will discuss sexual harassment, so please consider this your trigger warning.)

Back in 2013, Oscar host Seth MacFarlane opened the show with a high-production value musical number called, "We Saw Your Boobs" in which he highlighted the numerous women in Hollywood who have appeared nude or topless in feature films. The premise for the song, in general, is wading into iffy territory, but the fact MacFarlane cited moments like Jodie Foster in "The Accused," in which her character is brutally gang-raped, twisted this "joke" into a flagrant glorification of sexual assault. 

Over the nearly ten years since, many have viewed "We Saw Your Boobs" as one of the worst openers in Oscar history, which is why the blatant double standard during one of last night's longest bits was even more uncomfortable to watch.

Co-host Regina Hall took the stage at one point to break the bad news that although everyone in the audience had been tested for Covid, some of the test results had gotten lost and a handful of celebrities needed to come with her to get re-tested. Right off the bat, joking about lackadaisical Covid protocols while the pandemic is still actively killing people every day feels in poor taste, but when the actual "punchlines" began rolling in, the joke took a turn for the worse. 

Hall used the set-up as a means to call a number of Hollywood leading men up to the stage, declaring that they all needed to come with her backstage. It started off as a playful way to highlight the attractiveness of all of these actors, but slowly plummeted into a normalization of sexual harassment.

This is about impact vs. intent

Unless the actors themselves speak out, it's difficult for us to know who all consented to be called on for the bit taking place. While the participating individuals may have had no issue with the premise of the joke, watching Hall parade a group of men on stage only to objectify them and physically body check them was genuinely upsetting to watch. 

Before bringing up Jacob Elordi of "Euphoria" fame, Hall joked about him being of legal age while implying his attractiveness is rooted in the abused and abusive high school-aged character he plays on TV. Following the bit, presenters Josh Brolin and Jason Momoa took the stage, and Hall did a "Covid pat-down" of each man, with Brolin even being made to bend over and "assume the position," so to speak. Hollywood has a horrific history of turning a blind eye toward the sexual assault against women, and seeing an Oscar host grope and objectify a group of men on a public stage for the entire world to see, set to a chorus of uproarious laughter, contributes to this systemic issue.

Here are some not-so-fun facts: 1 in 6 boys is sexually abused before their 18th birthday, with 1 in 4 men reporting experiencing unwanted sexual events in their lifetime. The emphasis on this is "reported," because our society is a hostile environment for anyone to speak out about sexual harassment, and because of this, it is likely underreported. When disgraced producer and serial sexual predator Harvey Weinstein was finally brought to task for his decades of abuse, The Academy expelled him

As much as I'd like to say this is evidence that they know right from wrong, they also awarded Roman Polanski the Best Director Oscar in 2003 for "The Pianist" after he fled to Paris to avoid imprisonment for committing unlawful sex with a minor. Polanski remains a fugitive from the U.S. criminal justice system to this day.

Joking about sexual assault just isn't funny

Terry Crews, Alex Winter, Michael Gaston, Anthony Rapp, Corey Feldman, James Van Der Beek, and Brendan Fraser have all spoken out about how their own experiences with sexual assault within the Hollywood system have impacted both their careers and their lives. In a night filled with high highs and embarrassingly low lows, Hall's bit was overshadowed by a bigger conflict, but that doesn't mean this "joke" shouldn't be called to the red carpet. 

By no means am I accusing Hall, the Academy joke writers, or the consenting participants of the segment of being rape apologists or intentionally trying to diminish the severity of men's sexual assault. But this moment was emblematic of the way our culture continually mishandles discussions surrounding men's assault, playing it off as a joke and not giving it the serious weight it deserves. Not only was Hall's segment in bad taste, but Academy Award-winner Marlee Matlin was also in the room as a chorus of people cheered for her abuser, William Hurt, during the In Memoriam segment. The Academy has a long way to go when it comes to their handling of sexual assault, and this was yet another unfortunate reminder of that fact.  

When Mary Kay Letourneau pleaded guilty in 1997 to two counts of felony second-degree rape of a child, the media (including late night and talk show host fodder) treated the situation like a salacious scandal between a "lucky" student and an older woman, rather than calling it out as the rape it was. It was hard not to think of those unfunny jokes about being "hot for teacher" while witnessing a crowd of people laugh at a woman openly groping men on a public stage. 

I truly believe all involved thought the joke was all in good fun, and that's exactly the problem. Sexual assault, whether it's committed against women or men, isn't funny, and the Academy needs to do better. Now.