Trigger warnings, as indicated by the title.
Women in fantasy don’t just get raped; they get raped badly. I’m not talking about the severity — I mean they get raped for reasons that dissatisfy me as a reader, and as a woman whose friends and family have suffered through that horrible experience.
Women in fantasy get raped because the author needs to show how evil a character is; because a female character is too competent/intimidating and therefore can’t be menaced in any other fashion (such as getting kidnapped) and rape is the only way to bring her down; because the character needs a Tragic Backstory (TM); because the author can’t think of any other way to have the hero and heroine fall in love — and for many, many other reasons. Some of them are legitimate; some authors write rape scenes in believable, understandable ways and deal with them properly. Or so I’ve been told — I’m still looking.
The post got picked up by two lovely book bloggers, Natalie of Coffee and a Book Chick and and Grace of Feeding My Book Addiction, and we had some interesting discussions. I decided to make a post about some of these conversations, rather than leave them scattered all over the place.
1.) Why focus your rants on rape in fantasy, rather than in historical fiction, or contemporary YA fiction, or anywhere else?
Simple: historical fiction, contemporary YA, mainstream, literary fiction, whatever all happen in real life. They are based on real-world Earth, in real-world Earth societies where rape was (and still is) a terrifying and important aspect. Historical fiction dealing with the past often includes rape because it was very, very present in those societies. YA often deals with rape because girls are raped all the time, every day, and very few people seem to notice or do anything about it. I don’t “pick on” those genres because it makes sense to be there.
Fantasy — or any speculative fiction genre — on the other hand, unless it’s based on alternate-history Earth, has no such excuse. It’s a made-up society in a made-up world, so it doesn’t have the same justification. If fantasy authors used rape in their novels as a means of deconstructing rape in real life — just as other races (dwarves, elves, what have you) are often used as commentary for race relations here — then I would have less of a problem, but they don’t. Characters are raped because rape happens.
2.) Rape in fantasy is realistic.
No. No it is not.
As I said above, rape in other genres gets — well, not a pass, but at least not an automatic ‘no’ from me — because it exists in a society where rape is unfortunately prevalent. People argue that this is the same in fantasy — but when they say “realistic”, what they mean is “consistent with the world-rules of this entirely made-up universe”, and that is not the same thing.
Rape in fantasy is not realistic because the author created the world. One of two things happened here: 1) the author chose to write a world where women get raped all the time and it’s no big deal, or 2) the author thinks of rape as no big deal and didn’t even consider that it shouldn’t have a place in their world. Both options are problematic to me. Authors create wonderfully stylized, complex, inordinately unique worlds — but they still can’t get over the idea that women don’t need to be raped every time the story needs to show that things are getting serious. Why is this?
“Rape is there because this society is brutal and horrible and this is an illustration of that” is not good enough — especially when the raped women are given little to no consideration by the author or any of the characters.
3.) It may be fantasy, but it’s based off medieval England, and that had rape, so it’s understandable.
But why? Why why why are white, male authors so obsessed with a point in time when white males were politically dominant, sexually violent, and unoppos — oh, I see. Never mind.
I’m half-kidding, but you see what I mean. It’s the same reason why I refuse to watch Mad Men or anything like it, where the writers use the smug veneer of ‘this was in the unenlightened past, and we know better now’ to be incredibly bigoted. Offended? You just don’t understand the context.
The medieval era has been done to death in historical fiction, and I despair when I find it being recreated in fantasy — especially when the one aspect that we choose to take away from it is the horrible gender (and race) relations. Is there a reason why fantasy couldn’t have the same warlike, brutal aspects (if that’s what knits your scarf), but still have women or people of colour as equal players?
Is it too much to ask that worlds with magic, dragons, wizards, elf-like races, and everything else not read like a 1950s ‘Stories for Boys’ collection?
People who tell me “no, that’s not realistic” are, quite frankly, drinking their own Kool-aid. It’s “not realistic” in-universe because the author chooses to make it so. End of story. I refuse to take that as an excuse anymore.
The best part is, it’s not even that realistic in our own history, either — authors have created this barbarian, white-male-sex-fantasy version of history where all the women did was get raped and killed a lot, 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.
It’s also incredibly eurocentric, but that’s a post for another day.
In short: people can write what they want, and readers can read what they want. I have decided, on my own, that I will not read fantasy books with rape in them. If that means I’m missing out on yet another amazingly-written, misogynistic, racist, white-male-centric, euro-obsessed novel, well, so be it, I’m missing out. If that statement seems unfair, then I’m okay with that too — certainly these books have millions of fans, and I don’t think they’ll miss one reader they never had in the first place.
- Fantasy Writers: Stop Raping Your Women! (scribotarian.com)