Tuesday, June 3, 2014

(Not) Writing Rape As Conflict

A couple of years ago, I let another writer friend beta a short story I was working on. In it, there was a scene in which my female MC was attacked by some sleezy men traveling in her party, but her main ally and another supporting character stop the attempted rape and Yarrow is saved. (It's a sword and sorceress thing with a dragon and dark magic and stolen souls turned into little ash gremlins.) And my friend, who is very wise, said "I'm not fond of rape as conflict."

And I was like "Huh. Well, okay." And set the story aside while I thought of a different way to add conflict to the scene without it revolving around "You pretty girl. Me horny and despicable man. I will take advantage of you." (I did, eventually, figure it out and the story is much stronger for the change in conflict. Thank you, beta-reader friend.) At the time, I just figured "Rape is kind of a triggery thing for some women. I can see how it makes a dubious point of conflict."

Then Hugh Howey wrote his infamous "The Bitch at Worldcon" post. And then retracted it. And some other folks talked about misogyny at SF/F conventions and few women who spoke up about their experiences received threats. Threats of violence and threats of rape.

And that's when it started to click. See, there are a lot of fantastic men out there. And then there are the guys who are so entrenched in a misogynistic view of the world that they can only view women in terms of providing some sort of sexual gratification for men. These are men that, when confronted with an opposing viewpoint voiced by a woman, can only respond with "I will fuck you into silence."


That, folks, is a problem.

The fact that even one troll on the internet can say that and not have the wrath of all that is right in the world fall on his head, is a problem. The fact that these kinds of threats are common, is a problem. The fact that this sort of behavior happens in real life and not just in the semi-anonymous realm of the internet, is a problem.

And when I realized that, I also realized why my friend had a problem with rape as conflict. Because it feeds right into the monster that only values women as an object for sexual gratification. Because it says that even in a fictional world the best way for a man to "put a woman in her place" is to fuck her. Because it puts that image in our heads one more time that a man can best dominate and subdue a woman by fucking her.

And you know what I said?
"Well, fuck that."

So, I made myself a promise that I would find other ways to put my female characters in conflict. (And it doesn't mean that rape is something that doesn't exist in my fictional worlds, because it does. But I'm working hard to make it an aberration and a last resort for conflict with any central character, while at the same time realizing that some men will never see women as anything more than a sex object and making sure those characters get what they deserve. Fictionally, of course.)

Quite frankly, it's meant rewriting several older projects because rape as conflict is an ingrained trope. But taking it out, putting in conflict that is actually... conflict, has only served to make my stories stronger. It's made my characters stronger and given the women in my stories a better sense of agency. They no longer exist to fall prey to the villainous and sexual urges of the antagonist. They have worth and skills and strengths that make them a legitimate threat.  

It's a small step, but I know it's a step in the right direction.


Zoe Rider said...

This is a great post. I need to bookmark it and have it handy for when this topic comes up (as it does...).

Kathryn McKade said...

Well written! It is sad how ingrained this trope is - this post is an excellent reminder that we can all do better as writers.

A.G. Carpenter said...

Thank you, Zoe and Kathryn. Felt a little vulnerable with this one. I appreciate the words of encouragement.

Bruce Brown said...

Really great post! Keep up the good work! And it is work, as you discover over and over again.