For reasons that are pretty much just angry men saying “because reasons,” rape is still a very serious and global threat to women in the year 2016. International Women’s Day is tomorrow (March 8), and we hope you’ll take the opportunity to decry rape and other battles women are still fighting this year, while celebrating the small victories we’ve had along the way.
One New York comedian, 39-year-old Jess Delfino, is out to prove that the tone of International Women’s Day can be both light-hearted and serious with a press conference and performance by the newly-formed Rape Whistle Choir of America. (Yes, that’s exactly what it sounds like.) The choir is the longtime brainchild of Delfino, who was getting tired of always using her standup as a soapbox for her feminism. She filled us in on tomorrow’s event, and told us all about her group of whistle-blowing women out to harmonize with the issue at hand.
Delfino’s been in New York’s comedy scene for over 15 years now. Her Wikipedia page offers a crash course in her multi-hyphenate professional career and accolades, including an erstwhile series on Comedy Central and a gig working with documentarian Morgan Spurlock (Supersize Me). But like all great ideas, Delfino’s rape whistle choir was conceived half-jokingly.
“It all started when as a joke a friend of mine gave me a rape whistle that he had lying around his house, and I said, ‘What am I gonna do with this thing?’ I decided I was going to write a song with it,” she said. “So I wrote a song called ‘The Rape Whistle Song’ and performed it onstage for years. The joke behind it is that rape whistles really don’t work to defend women against their attackers. So my thinking was that I’d write some really fun and groovy song and if I were ever attacked I would play songs and my attacker would dance away. I’d charm him like a snake. And somewhere along the way, it occurred me that it would be really fun to have an entire choir of women singing the song with me.”
After about 10 years of thinking it would be fun to have a rape whistle choir, Delfino’s dream came to fruition, spurred on by the occasion of International Women’s Day. Six weeks ago, she put out the call on various comedy message boards, and the response was tremendous.
“You never really know with these things. But as soon as I posted the idea on a few comedy boards, a bunch of women were just like, ‘I’m in.'”
Delfino’s choir works with only three musical notes, those that make up the high-pitched loud squeal of a rape whistle. Punning on this year’s IWD theme of “Parity,” the choir will perform a series of parody songs in addition to the original “Rape Whistle Song.” They include “I Just Called to Say Don’t Rape Me” (a parody of Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You”), “Don’t Rape Nobody” (The Human Beinz’ “Nobody But Me”) and a basic dub-over of the children’s tune Hot Cross Buns with the words “Don’t Rape Me.”
Delfino also teaches music to children at The Unicorn, a school and event venue in Chinatown. It’s where she co-hosts her monthly comedy show All God’s Creatures with Kara Buller (and where our own Bobby Hankinson hosts his show Kweendom). Until now, Delfino was only doing her G-rated and R-rated musical acts for five-year-olds and entertainment-seeking audiences, respectively. But with the rape whistle choir, Delfino was determined to find a public arena where its political message could take center stage: City Hall.
“Wouldn’t it be so great if the same way there was a war on drugs, there was a war on rape?” she asked. “If we caught Mayor de Blasio’s ear? We get to use [the choir] to talk about something serious. If nothing else, we’ll educate some people about what it means to rape someone. Maybe people on their lunch break will be around.”
The event takes place tomorrow from 11am-12pm at City Hall (250 Broadway). It’s free and open to the public. In addition to the choir’s performance, there will also be a self-defense class taught by the Chinese Hawaiian Kenpo Academy and a press conference on the state of affairs by Delfino herself, who wants to make sure that the event isn’t glossed over for its seeming whimsy.
“It’s funny to have the rape whistle choir, but this is a serious issue,” she said. “It’s 2016. Rape is ancient form of torture and abuse that has only evolved over time. Why is it still happening? We’ve stopped putting cocaine in soda because we’ve learned it’s not a good idea, we’ve stopped giving babies alcohol to fall asleep. Why haven’t we sent rape to sleepytime hell?”
If you’re one of the first 250 folks to drop by tomorrow, you’ll be given a free rape whistle and a songbook to play along with the choir or to practice at home.
Follow Sam: @ahoysamantha.