24 comments on “Fantasy Writers: Stop Raping Your Women!

  1. Amen sister, amen. I admit I did read the first Game of Thrones book. I wanted to see what all the hype was about. When I finished I felt icky, the book made me uncomfortable and it just really really bothered me.

    You’ll be happy to know I’m currently writing a fantasy novel with a female lead who doesn’t get raped! I will admit there is a mentally and emotionally abusive boyfriend and a rather manipulative seduction scene. I’m still torn about including it in the actual story and would love to talk it out with you sometime. However a main plot theme of the story is her reaction of “this is not ok” in the face of a lot of people who want to just kind of push it under the rug.

    We’ll see, your post has me looking very critically at the plot, yay blogs that make me think! This is why I LUV MA WIFEY!

    • I came THIS CLOSE to reading Game of Thrones because a few of my good friends really, really, really like GRRM’s stuff. But before I read it, I asked them — knowing how I don’t like to read rape — whether they would recommend it to me, honestly. All of them said no, even though it made them sad to say it.

      And yay! :D A manipulative seduction scene would make me uncomfortable, and whether it would put me off the book entirely depends on how it’s covered. As I think I said on Twitter, I’ve seen several where the seduction scene is TOTALLY creepy and seductive, but the book doesn’t see it that way and therefore it just gets played off as stuff that happens. That’s where I start shrieking. If your character and the overall tone of the book reacted to show that is NOT okay, then that’s not something that would put me off.

      Too often, even if it’s not portrayed as okay, it’s portrayed as ‘ah well, it happens, men suck, move on’ and that’s not any better! It’s like, there’s a scene in Miss Congeniality where Cheryl (Rhode Island) says she was attacked in college and she didn’t say anything because “that sort of thing happens all the time”, and Gracie just FLIPS OUT. That’s what I’m like. ^^;

      Thinking about plot is a good thing! :D

  2. Um, Eowyn was in love and she still managed to off the Witch King, so WTF?

    For one of my classes this week we read a journal article about the role of tavern violence in the creation of the working-class male identity in antebellum New York City. Fun stuff. Until you get to the part where there’s gang rape. Everywhere! And the author doesn’t change his tone (which is sympathetic towards the men) so you get the distinct impression that he’s cool with it. A classmate and I both brought up that point in class – that we didn’t like how he treated the issue. The (male) professor said, “You know, every year someone has a problem with that section.”

    I said, “Well, we live in a rape culture, and you have to be really, really careful when writing about this stuff.” The following debate over whether the author was a dumbass or a shithead concluded that the article was written in 1995 so the guy obviously didn’t know that he should be sensitive when writing about this issue.

    During the break, my classmate and I confronted the professor outside the classroom and recommended he put a trigger warning on the article. He was like, “Do I have to put that on every article about violence?”

    We said, “If it’s got a section on rape, then yes.”

    He still didn’t seem to get it. Much as I love the man and have a super huge crush on him, I was disappointed that he hasn’t been gender deconstructed as much as I would like. And I have doubts he’ll label that article with a trigger warning.

    • I DON’T UNDERSTAND OKAY. I have seen SO MANY feminist criticism whatevers saying Eowyn doesn’t count because she was pining for Aragorn. Which a) was more prominent/plaintive in the movie, b) did not affect her killing the Witch King like you said, and c) YOU ARE ALLOWED TO BE A STRONG WOMAN AND FALL IN LOVE FFS.

      The thing with your prof really upsets me because I’ve seen it happen so many times before at college — rape happens, it’s a thing, and no they don’t have to put a trigger warning on it because y’all are oversensitive and this is ridiculous how do you function in adult society etc etc etc. It drives me bonkers. These are people who don’t realise how serious triggers are, I think — it’s the only way I can make this make sense in my head. :/

      • There are four women in the class. Two of us had a problem with the section. One spoke up to say she didn’t have a problem (this is a girl that doesn’t have much of a problem with anything in the world). The other stayed silent as usual. Yeah. It was frustrating. But I don’t know what to do about it other than to continuously bug the man until he put in the trigger warning just to get me to shut up about it.

        Which I have no problem doing. None at all.

        As for Eowyn – that’s total bullcrap. It’s like, women can be strong warriors only if they have no feelings for anyone whatsoever, and if they’re in love with someone they are NOT allowed to be strong, ever. These two are not mutually exclusive!!!

        I blame medieval heroic literature, like Orlando Furioso and what have you. There was the “virago” trope of a woman who was a chaste virgin warrior who kicked total ass, until she fell in love and abandoned her warlike ways in order to be a docile little waiflike wife. Once the sex started, no more cutting people’s heads off.

        I just don’t understand people sometimes.

  3. This is one of many reasons I tend to find myself in YA fiction rather than the grownup section. Diana Wynne Jones managed to build an amazing, enthralling body of work without raping anybody, but I’m sure you already know about her. Same for Susan Cooper, who routes around the problem by only writing about men, but still. Tamora Pierce’s work is very sex-positive (I think there is an attempted rape in her first book, but I don’t recall any after that). Diane Duane’s teen wizard books. Most of Robin McKinley’s work (the only rape I recall is in Deerskin, which is an intense examination of the heroine reconstructing herself in the aftermath of assault). Most of Madeleine L’Engle (there’s a traumatic near-assault in A House like a Lotus, which focuses on youth, mortality and sexuality). Kelly Link is as much a surrealist as a fantasist, but her stuff is amazing and rape-free. Actually, the David Eddings five-book series qualify too, though they are loaded with racism. Oh, and Ursula Le Guin gets through the first three Earthsea books sans rape, then frankly addresses child abuse and institutionalized cruelty from a woman’s POV in Tehanu. Naturally that’s the one a lot of people hate for not being about AWESOME WIZARDS OMG.

    It’s probably not a coincidence that all but one the authors I’ve listed are women (though that’s skewed by my own tastes), and that when they do address rape they do so in depth and as an examination of the female experience, not a plot device or cheap threat.

    • Oh yay, so many recommendations! Thank you! :D I’ve read Diana Wynne Jones and am crazy about her, so yeah — I hadn’t even considered the lack of sexual violence thing, but hey, you’re right! Woo! :D

      I haven’t read a lot of the others — with L’Engle I’ve only seen the Time Quartet, which I read as a kid, but I really should read more. Likewise Robin McKinley — I read Sunshine and liked it, then Beauty (and HATED it, haha). I’ll add the rest to my to-read pile.

      You’re absolutely right about YA though — if there is rape, it’s always been treated respectfully, as far as I’ve seen, and not something that a girl (woman) should just get over. (Ahem, Peter V. Brett, I am talking to YOU…) I think it’s because, by the very nature of its subject, YA has to be more in touch with what their readers think. Man, who knows.

      Female authors also have a better grasp on rape just because, well, it’s much more central to us. That’s not to say male authors can’t, just … there’s a lot more rape-as-titillation or rape-as-plot-device with the dudes. Though at least Terry Goodkind rapes everyone …?

  4. I don’t really care whether or not there is rape in fantasy novels. It’s not something that bothers me. However, having read a decent amount of fantasy, here are some suggestions for you:

    “The Lighthouse Duet” by Carol Berg. It’s two books, “Flesh and Spirit” and “Breath and Bone.” They tell the story of a magician who runs away from home, joins a monastery, and saves the world.

    The Magister Trilogy by C.S. Friedman. The main character was sexually abused as a child, but decides from it that she’s going to be a stronger person and become a Magister, which women can’t do in this particular fantasy world. She’s awesome, and a great female lead. There is an attempted rape, and let’s just say that it doesn’t end well for the guy who tried it.

    Oh, and lest I forget… Brandon Sanderson’s “The Way of Kings” is absolutely fantastic. Looking back on it, I don’t think the book even contains any sex, but it’s one of the best epic fantasy books that I’ve ever read.

    • Yay, suggestions! Thank you! Those all sound fantastic, and I’m wondering how I missed them. To the Goodreads to-read list they go! :D

      And yeah, I’m aware that the rape thing isn’t a trigger for everyone like it is for me, and that’s cool! I’m mostly just sad that y’all have a bigger reading pool than I do. ^^;

  5. The first through fifth times I read the first Thomas Covenant book, I was probably too young to recognize the rape in it. I just sped right past it. Sorry about that.

    You might enjoy reading some of Jim Hines’ stuff. He’s pretty anti-rape. Him: http://www.jimchines.com/ … His rape stuff: http://www.jimchines.com/rape/ . Reading his blog, it seems that about 30 percent of his posts touch on rape.

    Anyway – what I wanted to say was that some authors (a guy author in particular) seems clued in on the rape connection in fantasy writing.

    • I read Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles when I was 11, and I completely missed the part where the villain threatens Eilonwy with rape until I reread it last year or so. Even then, though, it was subtle — something about how when they’re done with her, the princess will only be fit for a pig-keeper, so I’m pretty sure most kids are going to miss that. That doesn’t bug me so much, but it does add an extra level of creepy for adults going back and reading. Yikes!

      I hadn’t heard of Jim Hines, but I’ll look through. Thanks! I’m always looking for more intellectual discussion on this issue, since mine is pretty knee-jerk and rage-y.

  6. I have to say I’ve never ever noticed this trend before. This may have something to do with the fact that I kind of gave up fantasy about ten years ago because it was all just too repetitive–too many LOTR knock-offs.

    I do still read some, of course. Most recent books I’ve enjoyed: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (Susanna Clarke), The Magicians (Lev Grossman), everything by Terry Pratchett, and a short story collection called The Secret History of Fantasy, edited by the amazing Peter S. Beagle. None of these books had any rape in them that I can remember. And of course YA novels would be a lot more careful about including rape. There’s also Guy Gavriel Kay, who writes what I like to call “emo fantasy” because all of his characters are so sorrowful. I can’t think of any rape in his books, although there is a fair bit of sex. (Wait, one of the characters in The Fionavar Tapestry was…).

    It sounds like many of the instances you’re referring to are just lazy writing. In that case, it’s probably alright to keep up with your rule of not reading books where a female character gets raped. At the same time, though, I’m not sure that that’s a good idea. It seems too simplistic and you could be missing out on some really good stuff. (Obviously you’re sick of this argument so I won’t belabour it too much…) Maybe some of these books treat rape with an appropriate amount of seriousness instead of being exploitative. I don’t think there’s anything gravely wrong with that.

    • A lot of people haven’t noticed this trend, and I’m not sure what to think about that — either most people don’t have the emotional knee-jerk reaction I do to rape (which is understandable) or it’s just so prevalent that we don’t even blink at it (which is … not so okay). And yeah, it’s fantasy from the 90s onward, I think, where this trend started.

      I loved Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell! That escapes the rape trope by having very few female characters, of course, but I adore it all the same. :) I laughed when you mentioned Guy Gavriel Kay, though, because his handling of rape in The Fionavar Tapestry (if you recall: graphic rape, victim-blaming, and redemption-through-rape-baby) is what first set off the warning bells for me. I think I threw the book across the room. That, combined with other issues I had with the book, meant I never picked anything else up by him again. If his other books are sans-rape I might give him a chance, though.

      As far as the “you’re missing out” thing goes, the way I see it is this: there are millions of books in the world, and every year come thousands more. I will never read every book in the world unless I manage to freeze time (oh, if only), and as such, I have to make decisions about what books I want to read. For every book that is UTTERLY AMAZING that includes rape, there is another book that is JUST AS AMAZING that doesn’t include rape. I’ll take the one without. I’m definitely not knocking those books, or saying no one should read them or that they’re not well done, just that they’re not what I want to read.

      • To be honest I read The Fionavar Tapestry at least a decade ago, long before becoming aware there was such a thing as “rape culture,” and I have a terrible memory, so I’d forgotten pretty much everything other than “a character gets raped.” I’d even forgotten the baby!

        So yeah, that was a poor example, and possibly you’ll find his other books to be similar. It’s worth noting that several of them (The Sarantine Mosaic, The Last Light of the Sun, The Lions of Al-Rassan) are set in an alternate history, fantasy version of Europe, so possibly rape would be a little bit less gratuitous there. Still falling outside of your no rape rule, of course.

        I think I personally would resist creating a rule like yours for a few reasons (not trying to dissuade you, just trying to sort of explain my perspective here). I think the main one being that the fantasy genre is problematic for -numerous- reasons, not just rape. What’s with the faux medieval absolute monarchies all over the place? Do we really miss those all that much? Do we forget the vast numbers of people who were oppressed under them? Also things like rampant discrimination on the basis of species/type of magical creature, is that really necessary either (e.g. Tolkien’s orcs)? These books are full of war and death and glorification of violence, something we definitely -don’t- need more of in this day and age.

        I’m curious… Do you extend your rule to “literary” fiction (if we define it as depicting the “real world”). That genre is full of really uncomfortable descriptions of all kinds of things, from Gulag camps to the famine in Ireland and everything in between and beyond, not excluding rape. This can be exploitative or it can be challenging, but in some scenarios you couldn’t remove rape (torture, imprisonment, etc) and be true to the setting and events, the way that in fantasy you create your world and can choose to create a world where rape is not an issue the way it is in our own.

        I also have a long-standing policy about not giving final judgment on a thing until I’ve had a chance to read or view it for myself, and try to give things a fair shake even when they make me cringe (case in point: Tobacco Road by Erskine Caldwell, AGH).

        I realize that you’re not trying to suggest that everyone follow your lead in not reading books that include rape, so it’s kind of unnecessary for me to post all of this. I’m just procrastinating on my NaNo novel, really…

  7. Pingback: Fantasy Writers: No, Really, Stop Raping Your Women! « scribotarian

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  9. People need to stop hating on Eowyn in Tolkien’s world.

    I have to agree with you on this front. I’m tired of seeing rape used as a plot device in fantasy novels.

    • Dude, I love Eowyn, and everyone who bashes her because she was in love is an idiot. She’s fantastic, and strong, and she killed the darn Witch King, so who cares if she was pining for Aragorn? (Which was played up in the films anyhow, so buhhh.)

      I am sick of rape, though. I don’t care where it is. Recently I put down a series because in the first 10 pages we found out that the heroine’s issues stem from rape-as-backstory, and I just went … oookay, we’re done here.

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  11. hmn..i have read the his-dark-materials-books of phillip pullman and i dont recall any rape but i am not 100% sure. will have to read them again.

    one thing i am sure

    The books of Walter moers. this is a german author and he is great but i dont know how well he translates. the books are rape free.
    his books are interesting-one is a jab on adventure, one kinda bildungsroman+adventure, one is a VERY creative retelling of hänsel&gretel (its called ensel& krete) one is a retelling of a Story which gottfried benn wrote..
    and its funny. at least in german i caught myself laughting out loud on one time and then sitting at the edge of my seat, clenching the book. he is a great writer, in my opinion.

    and the best:
    its a totally new universe with TONS of new fantasy-figures. no elves, no dwarves.
    there are witches. but not the witches in the sense of witches, more like living, breathing…eh, read the books yourself, i dont want to spoil anything.

    i dont know how much were translated yet.

    I would ask you to start with the city of dreaming books. as said, its one of my favourrite books (maybe even THE ONE)

    the city of dreaming books: is translated and about:

    Hildegunst von mythenmetz, a lindwurm(dinosaur-the lindworms are poets in this world, they love literature, they exist for literature and he is kinda hommage of Goethe) goes out in the world and wanders to Bookholm, the city of sleeping books-the central city for literature in zamonien(the continent) Authors, editors and printers live there, everything is book themed and he, as an aspiring author wants to adventure there, meet people, have fun. Under the city is a big big labyrinth, caverns, some the age of eons and there are bücherjäger (book-hunters) who decend into the catacombs in search of books.
    he meets people in Buchhaim (Bookholm) and gets entangled and has to fear for his life-he will meet people and things he never thought would exist, monsters in the labyrinth and above

    but beware. not all books are harmless. some can kill you. and some say there might be living book, deep under the city.

    This IS my favourite book ever. not only the story, but the author (mythenmetz himself, translated by moers) writes about the zamonian literature, epochs and authors(maybe you might get a few names, if you use your brain :) the book is great great fun. i LOVE it.
    also, it has.. eh, kinda poetry in it.. i dont know, as i said how well its translated and whether the beauty of some parts comes over..

    http://www.amazon.com/City-Dreaming-Books-Walter-Moers/dp/1590201116

    2.rumo and his miraculous adventures :about a young wolpertinger ( a mix between deer and dog) who tries to find his way and save the women he loves(old trope, i know
    zamonien has the Land above-like buchhaim or the place where the lindworms live or a big sea, a big desert of sugar, atlantis, a big forest and more.

    and there is the “land” under zamonien. The labyrinth under bookholm is just a very small part of the caverns which lie beneath. And rumo too will have to decend and learn about the wonder and the very real dangers of this world. (well, the world above is not very carefree either…there are bad bad things out there. but also very interesting, funny and wondrous ones.
    http://www.amazon.com/Rumo-And-His-Miraculous-Adventures/dp/1585677256/ref=pd_sim_b_8

    the 3rd is the first book about zamonien he published: the 13 1/2 lifes of captain bluebear (A buntbär has 27 lifes, you know)
    i just poste a small qoute fom amazon:
    “”A bluebear has twenty-seven lives. I shall recount thirteen and a half of them in this book but keep quiet about the rest.[…]What about the Minipirates? What about the Hobgoblins, the Spiderwitch, the Babbling Billows, the Troglotroll, the Mountain Maggot…Mine is a tale of mortal danger and eternal love, of hair’s breadth, last-minute escapes.”

    http://www.amazon.com/Lives-Captain-Bluebear-Walter-Moers/dp/1585678449/ref=pd_cp_b_0

    the last one is the story of Echo, the Crat.(a talking, intelligent cat)
    its the stroy of gottfried benn-“spiegel, das kätzchen” but now in zamonia, an longer and newer and..zamonian.

    “Echo, a Crat (a talking cat, more or less), and Ghoolion, an evil alchemist likely responsible for Malaisea’s afflictions. Crat and alchemist cross paths when the starving Echo is offered a month of food, entertainment and alchemical secrets, after which Ghoolion will kill him to boil down his fat. Ghoolion proves a magically masterful chef, and Echo quickly becomes fascinated by Ghoolion’s work, particularly the morphic meals that seem to transform Echo into different creatures. Secrets are revealed, old bodies unearthed and strange allies made in this entrancing tale of darkness, determined survival and incredibly luxurious cuisine. ”

    http://www.amazon.com/The-Alchemasters-Apprentice-A-Novel/dp/1590204042/ref=pd_sim_b_3

  12. I don’t think Eowyn doesn’t count because she was in love. Love makes people stronger not weaker. I think she doesn’t count because she gets castrated right after she kills the Witch King.

    I can accept rape in a story where it’s portrayed as a reprehensible act, and the perpetrature gets appropriately punished. (That’s why I’m okay with Jacqueline Carey’s work.)

    I cannot accept rape where it’s shown as okay, such as in David Eddings’ work.

    • That is true — Eowyn got her moment of awesome glory and then, welp, to the healing tents with you, never to be awesome again.

      I can accept/not accept rape in the same situations as you mentioned above, but at the same time, I still don’t want to read it. I’ve reached the point where it would have to be AMAZING to overcome my nope nope nope nope nope. But GRRM is still always going to be a no for me, I think.

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