22 comments on “Fantasy Writers: No, Really, Stop Raping Your Women!

  1. I just realized that your point #1 is probably why I twitch a lot less (which is not to say I am not bothered) about rape in urban fantasy of the “our world with hidden magic” class. It doesn’t seem *as* gratuitous.

    Sadly, the more I’ve learned to notice this kind of thing, the less fiction I read, and the less I can reread books I used to love.

    • Sadly, the more I’ve learned to notice this kind of thing, the less fiction I read, and the less I can reread books I used to love.

      That, honestly, is one of the saddest things for me, and it doesn’t even have to be this serious! When I was in high school (?) I loved the Rush Hour movies, particularly Rush Hour 2. I recently re-watched it, only to discover that it was a) incredibly racist b) not funny and c) perpetrated every single thing that foreigner tourists do in Japan that makes me want to kill them.

      Incidentally, this is the same reason I refuse to re-read Catcher in the Rye. I liked it then. I know I won’t like it now.

  2. I agree with your general premise, there are a great many things worse than rape that can be done to a person (I don’t know if you’ve read the books or not, but the first thing that popped to mind was Sansa Stark in George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire). I’ve seen rape used in enough fantasy books to where I know it’s a problem, but I really think that people are starting to get away from it in some ways.

    I have an issue with the first point you raised though. Every time there is a new world in fiction, you can’t focus on making everything completely original. There has to be something in the world that can serve as an anchor for a reader to hang on to, otherwise the world will be completely alien and it will be harder for a reader to get into the setting. Your reasons for giving rape a (slight) pass in other genres applies to Fantasy just as well. Men are men (not that I condone rape in any way), and rape has been a problem throughout history in many cultures. The problem really comes from the author using it as their only way to cause problems for a female character as you mentioned as well as doing a poor job dealing with the psychological effects of a character being raped.

    One of my current favorite Fantasy authors is Brandon Sanderson, and in his Mistborn trilogy he takes a very different and interesting look at rape in Fantasy in that series. (I can describe it without spoiling the series, and it really is an excellent series that I highly suggest to everyone I talk to.) In the books, many of the men in high society regularly rape peasant women. However, one of the main viewpoint characters doesn’t agree with the idea of raping women, so he abstains from it. While it’s from a male POV in the series, it is probably one of the most original ways that I’ve seen an author handle the concept of rape in a Fantasy series

    • Every time there is a new world in fiction, you can’t focus on making everything completely original. There has to be something in the world that can serve as an anchor for a reader to hang on to, otherwise the world will be completely alien and it will be harder for a reader to get into the setting.

      This argument works equally well to rationalize making incest, cannibalism, cheating or the universal love for cute baby animals said anchor with the real world.

      Men are men

      Implying that the presence of a penis and higher levels of testosterone will transform even the best of men into a rapist. It’s sad how no one sees the, “Men can’t help themselves from their own sex drives,” excuse for the anti-male sexist degrading bullshit it is. If you can stop yourself from raping a woman on the street, chances are most guys can, and implying anything else hurts your entire gender.

      However, one of the main viewpoint characters doesn’t agree with the idea of raping women, so he abstains from it.

      Good on him. Find me a book series where the main character manages to care enough to protest and/or work against it and I’ll be impressed.

      • Rape itself is not the anchor for the world, human behavior is. It was said in the original post that rape occurs every day, (again, not condoning it) it occurs in life. Everything else you mentioned also serves as an anchor with the real world. People in fantasy books love their pets, cannibalism exists (and is generally frowned upon), and cheating and incest occur in fantasy books. Rape falls into the same category with all of those as an aspect of human behavior. Are there better ways of causing conflict for a female character? Yes. Is it overused in fantasy? Probably. Is it oversimplified and taken for granted? Absolutely.

        If you can stop yourself from raping a woman on the street, chances are most guys can, and implying anything else hurts your entire gender.

        You’re entirely correct, most guys can. However, there are people who break laws. Most people can stop themselves from speeding, does that mean that no one in the world ever speeds while they’re driving? Most people can stop themselves from lying, or killing, or stealing, does that mean that people don’t lie, kill, or steal?

        Good on him. Find me a book series where the main character manages to care enough to protest and/or work against it and I’ll be impressed.

        Although I can’t think of any books off the top of my head where this is done, I’m sure they’re out there. Just like you can’t focus on everything in building a new world, you can’t focus on everything in a single plot either. Most Fantasy novels are at their core adventure stories. The focus of those stories generally involve overthrowing an empire or saving the world from a magical threat. Most Fantasy books (or series) don’t focus on changing the culture that exists within the world. Even those that do deal with changing the culture of the world generally have it as a fairly minor plot point.

        Look at our own world, rapists get punished every day, yet it still occurs. All of the people sentenced, all of the laws passed, everything done to try to eliminate rape from our society still hasn’t worked to completely discourage the behavior. I think it would be really interesting to read a book that focused on trying to eliminate rape from society, and there are authors who could do a fantastic job of dealing with that as the central conflict in a book. However, I don’t think a Fantasy author would be the one to deal with something like that. Fantasy as a genre is generally something people read as a way to escape from daily life, and dealing with a conflict like that is something that would probably cause the book to feel a little bit too much like the world we live in. If there was any genre fiction where you would see a conflict like that being central to the story it would more likely be Science Fiction as opposed to Fantasy, simply because Science Fiction tends to deal with ideas of changing a culture more easily than Fantasy.

        • Quick response as I’m out (I will do a proper response later, though) —

          However, I don’t think a Fantasy author would be the one to deal with something like that. Fantasy as a genre is generally something people read as a way to escape from daily life

          That’s actually exactly why I refuse to read fantasy books with rape in them. ;)

          • That’s actually exactly why I refuse to read fantasy books with rape in them. ;)

            Ooooh, this.

            Not to mention child abuse, torture and most horror. There is already enough of that in the real that is FACT – why exactly would I want that in my escape?

            • Pretty much. I don’t need my fantasy books to be flowers and unicorns and stuff, but I am really uncomfortable reading things with excessive violence against women (or children, since you pointed that out) that are not examined in any meaningful way by the author.

              I have a similar feeling about the excessive and unproblematic (in-universe, that is, not to me!) usage of prostitutes in fantasy.

        • I think it would be really interesting to read a book that focused on trying to eliminate rape from society, and there are authors who could do a fantastic job of dealing with that as the central conflict in a book.

          Rape as the central conflict of a book is fine, but has already been done in other genres. We’re at the point now where the default setting of societies in speculative universes ought to be the automatic condemnation of rape. To date I’ve read one book that does this (Hawksong by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes).

          However, I don’t think a Fantasy author would be the one to deal with something like that. Fantasy as a genre is generally something people read as a way to escape from daily life, and dealing with a conflict like that is something that would probably cause the book to feel a little bit too much like the world we live in. If there was any genre fiction where you would see a conflict like that being central to the story it would more likely be Science Fiction as opposed to Fantasy, simply because Science Fiction tends to deal with ideas of changing a culture more easily than Fantasy.

          There is nothing intrinsic to scifi that better lends it to challenging our society through parallels. Fantasy is not inherently escapist trash, the same way scifi isn’t all a sausage fest space opera. The only difference is convention, the willingness of authors and readers to push for higher standards. When the heroes in my favorite book go on a quest, I want it to be in defence of status quo that’s worth saving.

          • What I find weird is that in order for a fantasy book not to have rape in it, the author has to prove that rape is not present or acceptable in this society/universe. Huh? Rape happens all the time here, but that doesn’t mean every book I read set in modern-day Earth has rape in it. You can tell a story in a society where rape occurs and not have rape in it.

            The only way that rape is unavoidable is in a society where rape is, well, unavoidable, and the entire point of this blog post is to explain why those books are just not what I want to read.

        • I think the point is that rapists are not incapable of stopping themselves at any point — they choose to rape. Exactly how people who break the law by speeding do not find their feet glued to the floor with the gas pedal helplessly in between, rapists make a choice. To say that this is somehow symptomatic of something larger and uncontrollable is, plain and simple, wrong.

          Your point about changing the fantasy world is an interesting one, because it’s precisely why I don’t read tradition fantasy. I have no interest in reading anything that is in defense of the status quo, where society doesn’t change. I love sweeping fantasy epics about tearing things upside down. The “apple pie” stories (ones where the book ends up reaffirming good ol’ American values like apple pie) have zero interest to me.

          As for whether fantasy is more or less equipped to deal with eradicating rape than science fiction, I don’t particularly care either way — I just don’t want it in my stories. I personally do not need a fantasy series to tackle rape as a Serious Issue and have their society Realise It Is Wrong — because ours hasn’t yet. We still apologize for rapists. We still blame the victims. We still place the onus of prevention on the would-be victims, not would-be perpetrators. For a fantasy series to tackle that, the author would have to have some serious chops — and you can bet that half the readers would be whining that this isn’t realistic.

          When I say I don’t want rape in my fantasy, I mean that I want to read a fantasy book where no one gets raped. It doesn’t have to not exist in society, I just don’t want it to take place in that story. Our society is filled with rape, yet I can pick up a book in almost any real-world genre — comedy, horror, drama, crime, whatever — and not find rape splashed all over the page. When I go to a romantic comedy, I don’t have to worry about there being a rape scene in it. (Well. Maybe a “comedic” female-on-male rape played for laughs, but that’s a whole OTHER issue!) Fantasy does not have to have rape in it, is what I’m arguing. It doesn’t have to make the eradication of rape in society its goal in order to “justify” not having rape in its pages.

          This is why I primarily read fantasy by women, such as Lynn Flewelling. Her Nightrunner series contains no rape AND it is not based on medieval England (though it is very, very Caucasian — still, two out of three!). I’ll take that over GRRM any day, no matter how many HBO series he has.

    • Hmmm. I can see where you’re coming from, but I’m still not sure I agree. I have not read GRRM’s series (I actually talk about why I won’t in the first post on this topic).

      Fantasy stories definitely need an anchor, but I think that using rape as that anchor is a) unnecessary and b) highly problematic. These fantasy stories are full of white people doing white people things — that’s an anchor (unfortunately — see my remark about eurocentrism); they have people riding horses — that’s familiar; they focus on themes of heroism, self-searching, friendship, loyalty, and a host of other things — those are anchors, too. In fact, one of the key points of fantasy is that however alien the setting, the themes are universal, which is what makes it powerful. To argue that rape should exist because it gives us something we recognize just makes me exceedingly uncomfortable, even without it being badly written as it almost always is.

      I’m on the wall about Mistborn; I hear a lot of great things about him from men, and a lot of terrible things about him from women. Obviously there’s some crossover — women who love him, men who don’t — but not a lot. Personally, I don’t think that a single POV character ‘abstaining’ from mass rape is enough. I don’t actually think that reflects Sanderson’s thinking at all (and from what I’ve heard of him outside of his books, I think I’m right). Putting one character as abstaining is basically just window dressing, saying, “See? I don’t agree with this, now shut up while every other character rapes 10 women to make up for it”.

      • Ok, if you’re not going to read Martin’s series I can just say it. Twice in the series (in the first and third books I think, don’t quote me on that) she is betrothed to horrible characters that she hates. I think that is a far worse situation than being raped.

        I think my point came across wrong in my first reply, rape is not the anchor, human behavior is (which includes the euro-centric aspects of books). The problem in fantasy really does come from the authors doing a poor job of dealing with the consequences. The biggest problem with an author using rape to create conflict for a character because it is the first thing they think of to use.

        In saying that Science Fiction would be more likely to deal with changing the cultural view of rape I was not trying to imply that it could not be done in Fantasy. I was simply looking at the history of the genres. Science Fiction has more of a history of stories that deal with larger cultural issues than Fantasy does.

        I really like Sanderson’s work (right now I would say he’s my favorite author) and I suggest his books to everyone I know who reads a lot. While only having one character who is addressing the issue isn’t the cultural change that you seem to be looking for in a novel, it is a start. If you’re on the wall about Sanderson’s books, Elantris or Warbreaker might be a better place to start (they’re stand alone novels rather than series).

        Although I haven’t read any of Jim Hines books, I have heard of him and been to his website a couple of times (I think Pat Rothfuss had a link to something in Jim HInes blog before. I’ll check out his blog and try to find the post you were referring to above.

        • Hm. I’d still argue that rape is worse, but it’s such an apples-and-oranges situation (not the least of which, marital rape could likely happen in situations where she’s betrothed to someone horrible, so … yay?) that it’s hard to say.

          If someone wrote a fantasy book that dealt with rape and actually delved into the social construct of it, I would tentatively read it — as long as friends who know me and my tolerances read it first and told me I’d like it. You’re right about science fiction’s history, which is I think why it gets a little bit more of a pass in “serious” circles for genre than fantasy does — which is silly, and which I think should probably change. I’ll put Sanderson on the list of things to get to eventually, though.

          An interesting side note in the whole “fantasy and euro-centrism” thing is that Tolkien actually regretted having the orcs be the “yup, bad, all bad, KILL ‘EM ALL” people in the Lord of the Rings. He said he wished he’d gone at it from a more nuanced perspective, and that he felt all soldiers in WWII had been orcs in their own way (misguided, following bad orders, etc.).

          I recommended Jim Hines to another commenter who was talking about the “boys will be boys” construct, but the comment threads get a little hard to follow after a while. I’d still recommend him to you, too! :) His blog is fantastic.

          Thanks for the discussion, by the way! :)

          • You’re right, it’s kind of hard to follow the series of replies in the discussion up there. And even though the recommendation for Jim Hines was for another poster, I did have the “men are men” comment in my first reply, which really was a poor way to try and get that point across.

            A fantasy series that has a really cool take on Orcs is Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter series (International is the first book, followed by Vendetta and Alpha). He is playing with a lot of fantasy tropes (and there is no mention of rape in the books, at least as far as I remember) and he does a lot of fun things in the book.

            Even if Sansa’s situation isn’t worse, at least it’s different than rape, which in and of itself is a big step for most fantasy authors.

            I’ve also really enjoyed the discussion, it’s given me a lot to think about. While a rape scene in a fantasy novel won’t automatically cause me to put the book down, I’ll definitely look at the scenes (and especially the fallout from the scene) differently. Also, should I ever come across a book that takes a hard look at the consequences of rape in a fantasy setting, I’ll keep your blog in mind and pass it along.

  3. “…when in history, women did flipping amazing things! Women ruled countries; they led armies; they brought down enemy nations; they united warring nations; they invented things, painted things, wrote things; they murdered hundreds of people. Yet the people who use this excuse seem to think they did nothing but wait around for their next kidnapping or rape encounter.”

    I AM A HISTORY GRADUATE STUDENT AND I APPROVE OF THIS MESSAGE!

    • :)

      There needs to be more talk of women who do amazing things in history. I had books when I was a kid because my friends & family are awesome, but not everyone does.

  4. A rather late reply, but I completely agree with your viewpoint. In that vein, could you recommend a list of fantasy books without rape? Maybe as a separate post? I would appreciate a particular emphasis on epic/high fantasy.

    Robin Hobb’s three (or four) trilogies set in the world of the Farseers comes to mind as not having it. Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles…and not much more.

    As per George R R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, I am trying to think of an instance of it but I cant remember. So far, only one ‘accounting’ of it. And that person’s lover gets brutal revenge on that, one of the high points of the series (for me).

    Rape was the reason I put down Stephen R. Donaldson’s Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. Don’t read that. Ever. Never.

    So, list please? Pretty please?

    • Sorry I missed your comment, whoops!

      I’m actually going to compile a post about fantasy novels WITHOUT rape (focus on epic/high fantasy, but also urban as well), because there really needs to be one. Nightrunner (Lynn Flewelling) books 1-3 don’t have rape, and neither do The Steerswoman series, or N.K. Jemisin’s Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, or Kate Elliot’s Cold … series. I’m asking around right now, and I’ll get back to you!

      As for Robin Hobb, I’m torn — I’ve heard great things, but at the same time, the only thing I’ve read was her awful essay against fanfiction, and that turned me off her. I shouldn’t, though.

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