Trigger warning: The following post and all links discuss rape culture.
The Book Smugglers recently discussed why they didn't like Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce. It's your run of the mill, textbook example of rape culture and victim blaming in YA. The authors wrote an excellent post on it, and I wasn't going to do much more than pass the link along until I saw the author's reply in the comments.
"MY INTENTION WAS, BY NO MEANS, TO INSINUATE THAT ATTACKS ARE THE FAULT OF THE VICTIM.Two things about this book make the distinction between victim-blaming-and-not-victim-blaming a little fuzzy: 1) The example isn't actually about rape, but about being attacked by werewolves, and 2) one of the characters tries to justify her bias by suggesting that if x group of people only knew what horrible things they were inviting by dressing like y, then of course they wouldn't do so. With the subtext being that if you did know better, and merrily continued along anyway, well then it'd just be your fault, now wouldn't it?
Of course, you can read the book any way you want– but I want to make sure that however you read it, my intentions are clear:
Scarlett is bitter. She is angry. She is mad that she has to protect people who seem to not appreciate it. She is mad that she has to sacrifice for them. She. is. mad.
Yet she is not blaming the victim. She is furious that there IS a victim. She is furious she feels like she can’t BE the victim. She is wondering if they would dress like that if they knew there *were* wolves–in some sense, she’s basically wondering if more girls would fight back, like her, if they knew there were wolves. But she isn’t, by any means, saying that it is their fault for being the victim. Silas’s comment is more about being glad Rosie and Silas aren’t club-going bouncy girls than regarding their being a “target” for the Fenris because unlike her, he isn’t ALWAYS thinking about them.
This section, and this book, in many ways, is trying to point out that no matter HOW you dress/look/are, you have the right to fight back and be strong. You have the right to put on makeup and still wield and axe, or, if you prefer, not. You have the right to NOT be a victim.
Hope this clears things up. Again– you can read whatever you want into my book, but I do think it’s important that I’m clear about MY intentions, since I don’t want it interpreted that I am ever, ever blaming a victim. QUITE the opposite."
Certainly, the passages picked out by the Book Smugglers can be given the benefit of the doubt. The trouble is that simply because the author didn't intend for the characters to victim-blame, doesn't mean they don't.
Rape culture is systemic. Rape culture is implicit. Rape culture is our society-wide, culturally ingrained perspective that says women are responsible for stopping the violence against them and deserve what they get when they don't. Rape culture is when someone says this interpretation of violence against women is incorrect--and gets shouted down for it. Rape culture is when the person or persons who did the shouting are also corrected--but refuse to examine where they might have gone wrong.
Rape culture is saying that something does not stem from rape culture, simply because you never intended it to be. All while forgetting to go back to rules number one and number two: Rape culture is systemic. Rape culture is implicit.
We are not always aware of the biases we hold, against both our in-groups and our out-groups. We are not always aware of the associations we unconsciously maintain even if we consciously do not condone them.
This is why intentions do not matter. Regardless of what someone intends, we are the sum of our society. You may not have intended to write a scene that involves victim-blaming, it may insult your very being to even consider that you could have done so, but rape culture is by nature so insidious that it permeates our lives, our relationships, our writing. You may not have intended anything, but intentions fall flat in the face of what actually happened.