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?