On this here blog, I don’t often like to tackle controversial subjects. I figure, there are enough people already doing it and they are better at it than I am.
However, the other day, I read something on Robert Jackson Bennet’s website that changed my mind about the presentation of rape in our fiction.
I’ve stated before (somewhere in a comment, and I can’t find it now, of course), that we should not be so quick to self-censure ourselves in regards to rape in our fiction.
Rape happens, right?
A lot. We know this because, well, you probably know someone who has been raped and you even may have suffered from this terrible crime.
There are many people who feel rape shouldn’t be bandied about so easily in our fiction – particularly genre fiction. And while I may agree with that, I also do not think I have any say in what others write or read. It’s a free country, after all.
And it seems (though it is not true) that every book I’ve read (and enjoyed) in the past ten years had a rape (or two) in it.
Up until a few days ago, I thought that was okay.
I didn’t like it, but I thought it was okay because, well, rape happens (see RAINN link above). It is a part of our society, our existence. Just like theft and murder happens, so does rape. No one is calling for us to stop representing theft and murder in our fiction, so why call for no rapes in our fiction?
Because we don’t have to.
We don’t have to mimic reality in our fiction – particularly in our genre fiction.
I know. Revelationary, huh? Even, revolutionary.
Here’s the thing. In my opinion, to censure rape from our fiction would be silencing those stories. Stories that should be told to hold accountable the monsters who commit such crimes.
But after reading Mr. Bennett’s article, now I wonder if maybe my logic is flawed. Maybe, instead of giving rape victims a voice in our stories by laying bare their most intimate scars, we are not shining a cathartic light on the situation, but a lurid red one.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying millions of readers are getting off on these rape scenes (though, I’m sure there are some among us).
But we are being entertained by them – are we not?
As readers, we ride the emotional highs – and lows – of the characters we read about. We want the drama, the danger, the – do I dare say it? – the excitement.
Yes, rape scenes in fiction, very much like in life, are terrible things to experience, but we all collectively do. If the writer does her job right, the reader feels what it is like to experience that rape from which ever perspective they are writing the scene from. The rape scene becomes a part of the story, part of our experience of that book. And by the end of it, were we not entertained?
Why on earth would we want to read that? Why do I?
Because rape, particularly the rape of a woman, is an acceptable narrative in our culture.
It’s okay if a woman gets raped in our fiction because that’s what happens.
But what if, in our fiction, the rape victim was a man?
What if, in the past ten years, all the books I read that had a woman getting raped instead had a man getting raped?
Wouldn’t I think that odd? Not just because men, in general, do not get raped, but because – damn, that’s just terrible! Who would want to read something like that? Our hero is supposed to avoid that kind of shit or be a big enough badass to kick the living daylights out of whomever is about to do the raping.
So, why can’t our fictional heroines be just as badass? Why do we accept the narrative that rape is acceptable for a woman – even in our fiction?
Earlier this year, I started a new novel. It’s a second-world fantasy so that means I’m making it all up. All my characters are humanoid, but it’s not set on earth. The two warring species have unique histories that are nothing like our own. One of the warring nations has magic, putting the females and males on par with each other. There is a scene in the book where my heroine does something taboo. She reveals herself to be the worst kind of magic-wielder, worthy only of scorn. In my outline, after my heroine’s secret comes to light, she was to be beaten in public – and then raped.
As I was writing that scene, I realized it was all wrong. She wouldn’t be raped. Not in that culture. It just wouldn’t make sense.
But here’s the thing. I had initially thought it should. And it kind of wormed into my head that because all she was going to experience was a horrific beating (instead of a beating and a rape) that that wasn’t enough to push her over the edge for what she had to do next (defect to the other side). I still thought I needed to push her further.
Isn’t that crazy?
I am so immersed in the narrative that a woman is bound to be raped that I felt it mandatory in my own fictional story. A story set on a completely other world where rape isn’t even a part of the culture.
Now I understand why they call our society a ‘rape culture’.
My apologies to my regular visitors, comments have been turned off.
EDIT: See, this is why I usually leave this sort of stuff to folks (Emmie Mears in this case) who are much better at this than I ever will be! Also, there’s this article by Kameron Hurley.