The Writer Who Cried Rape

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Let us dispense with euphemisms and call a spade a spade.

I won’t call it forced seduction. Or deflowering. Or taking advantage. Or inappropriate behaviour. Or worse, having sex. Or…any other term people invent so as to avoid to use the r word at any cost. It doesn’t sound pleasant, does it? Well, it’s RAPE with capital, bold letters. And it sounds exactly the way it’s supposed to: criminal, sick, freakish, monstrous.

The mere sound of it should produce a visceral reaction. And if it doesn’t, we should be greatly alarmed.

I won’t pass into the legal territory of all the details of what constitutes rape. We know what it is: a type of sexual assault usually involving sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual penetration carried out without the person’s valid consent due to various reasons (either because one is blackmailed or coerced or afraid or incapacitated or physically threatened or drunk or unconscious or underage etc).

Society knows what it is. The rapists know what it is. The raped ones know what it is. Everybody knows what it is, even though it is ridiculously convenient to pretend confusion and ignorance and call on laughable justifications and all the loopholes of the law in order to not carry the blame and assume responsibility.

After all, it’s always easier to turn a blind eye or choose the coward’s way.

Rape manifests through different ways, affecting men and women alike, children and adults alike. The purpose of this post is not to talk generally about it, but about the way it is portrayed in some modern romance novels. I’ll talk specifically about rape scenes that occur between the hero and heroine.

While it is true that the rape trope frequented the older romances of the last decades of the 20th century, no doubt it still has its place in the romances written in this century as well. Granted, it’s not the norm, but that doesn’t mean that this issue doesn’t need to be addressed.

As a writer and therefore as someone who constantly reads and reflects on things, I adamantly believe that all writers have responsibilities both towards their craft and the books they write and towards their readers as well.

Fiction functions on many levels. It’s a form of art, of entertainment, of exploration of the aspects of the human condition, one of the means of education. But above all, it’s a means through which we disseminate mentalities and ideologies, a means through which we can promote a political, moral, social and cultural agenda.

And the burning question is this: do romance novels where the hero rapes the heroine and then they have their happily ever after promote rape culture? Do such kind of books trivialize or even glamourize rape?

The answer is straightforward: yes, that is exactly what they do. Admittedly it’s a hell of an uncomfortable issue. Therefore all the more reason to talk openly about it and not keep our mouths shut.

Rape is a serious criminal act and the victim of this crime has to deal with the consequences of this trauma perhaps till the day she dies. Consequences both physical and psychological. The victim often carries the social stigma and the blame for something that is not her fault. She is often accused of having somehow provoked the rapist (by wearing revealing clothes, by drinking, by walking alone at night etc), and therefore she was asking for it. She might suffer from sexually transmitted diseases or an unwanted pregnancy.

She develops posttraumastic stress disorder with symptoms including  disturbing thoughts, feelings, or dreams related to the events, mental or physical distress to trauma-related cues, attempts to avoid trauma-related cues, alterations in how she thinks and feels, and an increase in the fight or flight response.

And it’s even worse if her body happens to respond during the sexual assault. After all, that means that she subconsciously wanted to get raped, doesn’t it? That a human being cannot always control their physical reactions is never taken into account of course.

And when society refuses to listen, when society silences or shames or isolates the woman, she is raped once more because she has no control over her life, her emotional, mental and physical health. Once more, she gets dominated and stripped of her own voice, her own free will.

Not a pretty image, huh? No, it’s not. It’s heartbreaking and ugly.

But of course the rapist apologists, both readers and writers alike, will reply: ”Relax, lass. It’s just fiction. It doesn’t mean that in real life rape should be acceptable.” It shouldn’t be acceptable in fiction either. There’s nothing romantic about being treated as a piece of meat, as a slave without voice and will, as an object whose sole purpose is to satiate the twisted needs of a male. Romanticizing and glamourizing sexual violence sends the explicit message that rape is just something fun, inconsequential, trivial and the raped woman should not make such a fuss about it because in the end that’s a sign of the hero’s devotion and love. The hero loves the heroine so much that he can’t control himself. Poor guy! Perhaps we should shed black tears for the terrible suffering he’s going through. Why can’t we sympathize with his unjust plight?

And the rapist apologists will keep going. ”But such romances take place in historical periods where women were abused and seen as inferior beings. We cannot look at such romances through modern eyes. The story needs to be true to its era.”

What a load of drivel! Do these people even hear what they’re blurting out? If they cannot see the hypocrisy between the two most usual excuses they use, then they are truly blind. We cannot both use the realistic and credible card and at the same time play with the fiction card. Either we strive for realism and therefore should depict the stress and the agony of the raped heroine as well as the life-long suffering she has to go through and her inability to love her rapist (because in real life situations the rapist and the raped do not fall in love) or we delve completely into a fantasy scenario  and eliminate the rape from the plot and have the hero and heroine win their happy end.

Yes, I’ve heard all these hollow, illogical arguments over and over again. But we cannot have it both ways. We cannot come up with excuses when it’s convenient and try the realistic angle when we don’t find others any more. It’s either or.

Such books strike a blow against all the women who have been raped. It’s painfully insulting and insensitive from the part of the writer to promote and encourage rape culture. And some writers will insist, ”It’s just fiction. Entertainment. Purely harmless. A man won’t rape a woman because of what we write in our books.”

I will only reply this. This attitude is ignorant and vile. If the writers think that what they do is innocent and harmless, then they are lazy, bad and irresponsible in their profession. A good writer researches, reads and educates himself/herself. A good writer is conscious of the fact that whether a story unfolds in a realistic or a fantastical setting, it needs to make sense and be ground in realism-in the greater sense of the word-so that the reader can willingly suspend his/her disbelief. If a story is stretched too far, like a heroine falling in love with her rapist and living happily ever after with him, the book is bad and unworthy of being read because it does not respect the reader.

But above all, a good writer is intensely aware of the fact that fiction is an enormous terrain brimming with messages and ideologies, a vehicle through which certain mentalities and postures are condemned and encouraged, trivialized and vilified, romanticized and excused.

Do men rape women because of the existence of such books? My mind is not that simplistic to believe such books are accountable for this crime. The issue is an extremely complex one. Ban these books and men will keep on raping women.

But I’m not that naive either not to acknowledge the fact that fictional books are a form of ideological apparatus. And any writer who brushes this aside, needs to stop and think twice about his/her writing identity and the role he/she builds within the society through his/her books.

Everything we do and say, from the smallest thing to the most significant, has an impact both on ourselves and on the people who surround us. Nothing is inconsequential and nothing is innocent. From the dullest fictional book to the most brilliant, credos, beliefs and attitudes float around that help stabilize or eat away the status quo.

Credos, beliefs, ideologies and attitudes shape up our society. With everything a writer writes in his/her books, he/she takes a stance. Consciously or unconsciously.

It’s of paramount importance that every writer assumes his/her responsibilities for every book he/she pens. Because in the hands of someone lacking consciousness, a book can turn into a terrible weapon even more dangerous than in the hands of someone who possesses one.

In the end, we have to ask ourselves: what kind of writers do we wish to be? And most importantly, what kind of a person do we wish to be?

 

 

 

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6 thoughts on “The Writer Who Cried Rape

  1. I do agree that stories with rape where the female MC ends up with the guy are in a bad taste. I also don’t like how it’s shown to be so unrealistic. I’ve seen stories where the rapist falls for the girl, but he never once tells her he’s sorry or understands what he did. However, I have seen these scenarios mostly in historical fiction. I like dark stories, so I’ve read a few books like that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for responding to this post and sharing your thoughts. I truly believe it’ very important to voice our opinions on such issues.

      I have absolutely no problem with rape fantasies where both man and woman are willing participants and just want to take part into this sexual scenario. It’s make believe and good material to write an erotic story and explore that aspect of human sexuality.

      But when it’s not make believe, when it’s portrayed as something romantic, that to me sounds as promotion of rape culture and we should stand against it. Rape is all about control, domination and subjugation, humiliation, hatred and fear. It is never an expression of desire and/or love.

      Those who love their spouses/partners, do not rape them. They cherish, respect and protect them. Those who are raped do not fall in love with their rapists. It never works that way. They suffer for their whole life because of their ordeal. And if they develop some kind of attachment to their rapist, it’s not love but a very sick and twisted dependence.

      I’m so sick and tired of writers and readers repeating like parrots, ”it’s only fiction”, every time they are called out because of that. That’s the coward’s and the irresponsible’s way. Even in fiction, there’s a limit to how much rubbish one can swallow and stomach.

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  2. Thank you for writing about this often ignored issue. I agree that women without well balanced self-esteem, self-respect, and self-image can buy into the “I’m not worthy” syndrome and translate that into their work. You’re right, Lilaia, when the word rape doesn’t repulse us women, we need to rethink how we look at ourselves, at our feminine natures. The real tragedy isn’t that we continue to allow men to treat us as sexual objects and not value us, but that as women, we don’t value ourselves.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for taking the time to respond, Carole. This is important and we cannot turn the other way and pretend things are fine.

      To be honest, I don’t know if this is an issue of low self-esteem. It could be, of course, but I think it has to do more with following certain tropes and the demands of the public. After all, a book says more about the people who choose to read it than about the person who wrote it. Writers do not always write out of artistic impulse. Many times they simply emulate the recipe that sells (not that this frees them from their responsibilities).

      Now, as to why this trope is considered acceptable and even enjoyable, we need only look at the way modern society trivializes rape, how desensitized we’ve become to violence of any sort, how we usually try to shrink from our responsibilities and pin the blame on others. But most importantly, we need only reflect on the position women hold in society, the subtle and not so subtle sexism and misogyny that permeates our every day life and we will understand how this situation seeps into fiction as well.

      And if some writers are are not aware of the power of words, then perhaps they shouldn’t write in the first place.

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      • In my personal opinion, I believe this is a huge issue related to a woman’s self-esteem. As a life coach for over 30 years to sexual abuse victims, I found that my clients had fit into the statistical findings that women who demean themselves suffer low self-esteem. I am willing to bet that women who develop main characters who consider this type of content acceptable are more than likely abuse victims, be it sexual, physical, verbal, emotional, psychological, etc. Admittedly, I’ve only met about a dozen writers who write this type of fiction. In private discussions, I found that nearly all admitted to some type of abuse. Women who suffer boundary issues, as a subconscious desire to gain approval due to low self-esteem, become involved in unhealthy relationships, believing sex equates to love. That’s why they can justify stories that minimize rape. Low self-esteem, lack of boundaries, and a desperate need for approval (where even a woman’s fictitious character can suffer the same) are all terrible long-term effects of abuse. It ends when women speak up or when they raise awareness like you did here in this post. (I agree that erotica in a healthy relationship, where “no one gets hurt,” is not part of this discussion, especially because they’re probably not taking aggressive action out on anyone outside of their relationship.)

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      • Carole, I admit I wasn’t aware of that. Very interesting information. Your experience allows you a much better insight regarding that issue. I wonder though, do the readers who enjoy this type of fiction have also suffered some kind of sexual abuse? What’s their excuse?

        I wish I had kept the link, but there was a writer whose agent/publisher requested that she have the hero rape the heroine in her romance novel to prove that he’s a ”man.” Fortunately, the writer sought to publish her book elsewhere, replying that if the hero rapes the heroine, then he’s not much of a hero to begin with.

        That’s why I pointed out that sometimes it has to do with following a recipe of what sells. Though it is a small relief that there are writers who take a stance against it.

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