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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