manifesta: (Default)
manifesta ([personal profile] manifesta) wrote2010-04-12 11:48 pm

forced seduction/rape fantasies & rape culture

Shiloh Walker wrote an interesting post on the responsibilties of a writer, specifically in the context of writing forced seduction/rape fantasies and whether or not they perpetuated violence against women.
"The discussion had a lot of focus on supposed responsibilities as writers. I’m not shouldering the responsibility of perpetuating violence against women if/when I decide to write a book with forced seduction or a book with a rape fantasy. Because I have no responsibility in the violence committed against women unless I’m one of the ones who either turn a blind eye when I see (or am aware) of a woman being assaulted, or I’m the one doing the assaulting."
Because I don't think I can better articulate my thoughts at this time, this was my reply:
"No, you are most certainly not responsible for perpetuating violence against women–only the perpetrators can do that.

My issue with forced seduction/rape fantasies is that they can subliminally advocate for its acceptance as norm. Many people, many women, do not recognize forced seduction *as* rape because our society tells them it’s not; our society says that they really wanted it all along, and as proof, the heroine is suddenly overcome with pleasure and falls in love with the hero in the end. If this was a straight-up stereotypical violent rape scene that had “THIS IS BAD” written in red all over it, there wouldn’t be a problem, because most people would read it and recognize it as violence, and then make an informed decision regarding whether or not they want to continue reading accordingly. A person unfamiliar with the definition of rape may not– and as a survivor advocate, I’ve come across a large number of people who do not, and further would not define forced seduction as rape. This is the message that forced seduction in romance novels has and in many cases continues to send, particularly because now days the “forced” part manifests in an even subtler, less easy to identify form than its 1950-70s cousin. By painting rape in a positive light through forced seduction we diminish its violence. The message taken away from that can result in conscious or unconscious beliefs about and narrow restrictions on what “real rape” looks like.

To be clear, I’m not referring to people who WANT to read forced seduction/rape fantasies. They exist, and their desires are completely valid, but they aren’t the demographic I’m focusing on. I’m also only referring to forced secution/rape fantasies where the heroine does not welcome the perpetrator’s advances but is then overcome; I’m not referring to fantasies where she is clearly distraught over the rape and wants nothing to do with the rapist.

I realize there isn’t a clean-cut answer and that advocating for a ban on forced seduction/rape fantasies would take away from the readers who want to read them, but their presence in your average vanilla romance presents a problem for unwary readers. Rape is perceived as such a blurry concept for so many women–after reading a forced seduction scene, would the reader thereafter be able to recognize the way her husband ignored her refusals, if he laughed and told her she wanted it, as rape?

Books send potent messages we don’t even realize we’re receiving. While the author does not perpetuate violence against women, I do wonder whether writing forced seduction/rape fantasies, without addressing them as a violent acts in the text, in turn promote rape *culture*–and that in some ways is even scarier, because while it doesn’t teach men to rape, it reinforces the notion for women that rape is only rape if it conforms to specific standards and includes overt violence. It doesn’t perpetuate violence, but it further confuses the distinction between what is and isn’t rape in a patriarchal society that relies on that confusion in order for violence against women to continue unchecked."
Thoughts? In some ways I feel like this discussion mirrors that of the rape culture and YA debate.
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[personal profile] dingsi 2010-04-13 10:47 am (UTC)(link)
My thoughts are basically "What you said". I mean, I might come up with additional content / caveats / ... when I'm not tired and at work*, but at this point, I just want to say thanks for writing this.

* lunch break. I manage to withstand the internet's siren's call.
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[personal profile] viklikesfic 2010-04-13 01:37 pm (UTC)(link)

Obviously, there's free speech and all that, but I think authors need to be aware when they are contributing to rape culture, and they need to be aware of how pervasive rape culture is and how much it creeps into all of our worldviews from childhood all the way on up. The problem is exactly as you put it, normalizing forced seduction, sticking it in an "average vanilla romance" in a world where most people are not 100% clear on what is and isn't rape.
dingsi: The Corinthian smoking a cigarette. He looks down thoughtfully and breathes the smoke out of his nose. (hmm)

[personal profile] dingsi 2010-04-13 07:37 pm (UTC)(link)
In some ways I feel like this discussion mirrors that of the rape culture and YA debate.

Just want to be sure because I think I didn't read the linked post the first time around (and now that all comments are disabled and thus invisible, I feel a little stupid) -- has the content changed, or is the current content the one we are supposed to read? What was this all about?
dingsi: The Corinthian smoking a cigarette. He looks down thoughtfully and breathes the smoke out of his nose. (Default)

[personal profile] dingsi 2010-04-14 04:11 pm (UTC)(link)
Ah, I think I get the picture now. :)
kaigou: I may be love's bitch, but at least I'm man enough to admit it. (3 love's bitch)

[personal profile] kaigou 2010-04-13 10:04 pm (UTC)(link)
You're possibly the who-knows-who-many person to be confused after the fact, so I went back and added a bit at the top to explain to latecomers about the post's original purpose and how/why it was revised to the rant that exists now.

It was mostly a situation of me asking for people to list what they'd want to read in a story, where the basic plotline is "ordinary girl defeats stalker-rapist and wins day (and love)" -- but what I got were a variety of comments, all ostensibly supportive... that then nitpicked that I hadn't specified (or hadn't specified explicitly enough) that a story could be non-heteronormative, could be non-United-States, etc.

The ones that didn't nitpick offered story ideas that were futuristic, historical, straight-up science fiction, and some weren't even YA at all -- not a single contemporary or even urban-fantasy/paranormal YA. Thus, the sudden retraction of the post's original purpose and a sudden show of anger from me, due to feeling like a lot of people meant well but were totally missing the point.
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[personal profile] kaigou 2010-04-13 11:35 pm (UTC)(link)
Well, I'm hoping that adding an archival explanation at the forefront might help, some, at least to give people context. Not like I won't come back around to the topic again at some point, anyway, so it works as a placeholder (for me) for now.
dingsi: The Corinthian smoking a cigarette. He looks down thoughtfully and breathes the smoke out of his nose. (Default)

[personal profile] dingsi 2010-04-14 04:27 pm (UTC)(link)
Thank you for the explanation! Now I see where you were coming from. (Not that I found your reaction illogical or anything, and I could have a pretty good guess of what must have happened... I just had that nagging feeling I must have missed some pieces of information by coming late and not having context.)

And wow, that sounds incredibly frustrating. There really is a point where you can be reasonably certain that no, it's not because you're explaining things wrong, it's because some people choose to misinterpret your words. And when people also have trouble understanding the concept of YA and/or contemporary lit, on top of that... well, I'm not surprised anymore that you closed comments. I hope that sometime in the future there'll be an easier and more satisfying way for you to discuss this question, because it's definitely interesting and worthwhile.