Triggers: rape, reproductive rights, violence against women
Hesitantly subtitled: Part One, because I’m pretty sure I am just beginning this thought process and I simply feel the need to have a conversation about it and learn. So this post is not a big sweeping statement, it has no claim to the truth – but I said I would not review books on the blog, instead write about thoughts I had while reading them. And sometimes, these thoughts are not completely formed and I am asking for help. So please, let me know how you feel about this in the comments!
I read a book, urban fantasy, mostly for research reasons because I have to admit that this is not usually my genre. It started off pretty normal, some tropes I found annoying, some characters I loved – your general reading experience. But as I started to get towards the ending, I was growing more and more uncomfortable and the longer after I finished, the more that discomfort turned to anger about the way violence against women is used as gratuitous gore to make books “dark”.
In this example – which is not the only one by far, just the most recent thing I came across – the main villain is a mythological creature that rapes females of all species (yes, women are basically the same as animals to it), hijacks their uterus to make slave creatures (hello, a punch to our reproductive rights, too) and then either he tortures and kills them or feeds them to the children. Or something. Another sideplot outlines a female villain, who used to be some big bad’s mistress and because he made her infertile out of his fear to produce a child (it’s just easier than using birth control all the time, am I right?) rape-guy just used her as a red herring to be slaughtered, because he could not hijack her uterus for servants or children.
Now, I don’t know what to say about this other than… what?! And Why?!
Here is the thing, I don’t think rape, violence against women or reproductive rights should be a taboo subject in fiction. I actually thought the last season of The Walking Dead used the idea to a pretty chilling but realistic effect, while maintaining the integrity of the story by letting the characters act in the most logical way.
This is different, this is gratuitously coming up with the most disgusting rapey fictional monster you can, just to pepper the pages of a book with female corpses rather than substantial female characters. And then readers advise the following: “not for you if you dislike dark fantasy”. Now, it’s no news to me that dark fantasy basically stands for “really really rapey” because every other kind of media has gore and violence anyway, but why does it have to be?
Rape and violence against women is all around us, all the time. It makes sense to include it in fiction, to name it and to give it the role that it has in our society. But when I read stuff like this, I always feel like there’s a difference between dealing with a difficult subject and just throwing it in to try and create the greatest amount of “motivation” for the character. I mean, in a world where people raise the dead for fun and feed them corpses, you need to really up the ante to give a character – and the readers – the chills, right?
But while we give them the chills, I really do feel like it has a way of normalizing horrible things. If you’re “just” raped in that verse you get away easy. And seriously – that’s how people think in real life, too. That’s how judges seem to think and the media. And I don’t think we can put that big a responsibility on author’s shoulders: to say, their collective quest to write the “darkest”, most chill-inducing piece of rape fantasy has a part in this. I don’t think that would be fair.
But my question stands: why do we keep writing, publishing and reading this? And why is it somehow considered a little bit on the sensitive side if “dark fantasy” is too much for me? Is that the goal? To read so many rapey novels that this seems normal and totally cool?
This is not the most coherent post I have ever written, but I can’t stop thinking about this and trying to find ways to avoid using rape or the threat of rape as cheap thrills in my writing.
What do you think? How do you feel about this? I really want to know!