manifesta: (Dangerous)
manifesta ([personal profile] manifesta) wrote2010-07-29 11:42 pm

the difference between intention and what actually happened

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.


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."
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?

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.

[personal profile] miss_haitch 2010-07-30 11:40 am (UTC)(link)
Thank you for this post, I absolutely agree with it -- no one can be aware of all their unconscious associations, but at the same time no one writes in a vacuum. That second quote on the Book Smugglers really made my blood boil -- Silas mansplaining about how girls ought to act. Grrr.
bookshop: illustrative art of a red-headed girl helming a steampunk airship, facing the wind, eyes closed. (Default)

[personal profile] bookshop 2010-07-30 12:18 pm (UTC)(link)

Exactly. Thank you so much for this post!
kerri: (Default)

[personal profile] kerri 2010-07-30 04:49 pm (UTC)(link)
Thank you for this post.

It's interesting to note that the 'intention' argument is almost never accompanied by an apology.
green_knight: (Bravo)

[personal profile] green_knight 2010-07-30 05:57 pm (UTC)(link)
We have a long way to go, but I think it's a positive step that readers are saying 'this isn't ok, I don't want this portrayal of women in my fiction, I don't like the dichotomy the author is building between pretty girls and strong ones.'

Noticing these things - and calling out people who perpetuate them - is an important step towards changing culture.
ext_289799: (Default)

[identity profile] 2010-07-30 07:44 pm (UTC)(link)
Exactly. Thank you for this.
woldy: (Default)

[personal profile] woldy 2010-07-30 07:47 pm (UTC)(link)
Yes, exactly. Intention arguments are utterly inadequate because people do a lot of things that aren't consciously intended - most body language, for one - but that doesn't mean we're not responsible for those actions. Sounds like that author needs to do some reading on implicit bias and keep on reading until the message sinks in.
ceilidh_ann: Made by erin-icons of LJ. (QI Stephen Fry)

[personal profile] ceilidh_ann 2010-07-30 09:09 pm (UTC)(link)
Excellent post. I read the review and Pearce's reply (as well as her frankly pathetic moping on Twitter over how heartbreaking it was that someone got her book so wrong but then saying she wouldn't read any other criticism to it - if nothing else, this incident is a textbook example of how not to reply to criticism if you're a professional author) and am still so annoyed that these portrayals of women are not only a-okay in YA but popular. I've been reading a lot of YA books this Summer to see the impact Twilight has had on the genre and the trope is all too common. I ended up throwing a book against the wall twice because it was passing off sexual harassment and attempted murder as love.

[identity profile] 2010-08-01 01:39 am (UTC)(link)
(I didn't know you were posting again! :D)

Yes, I saw the post on SISTERS RED, too, and that passage began setting off alarm bells right around the second paragraph of the first excerpt. What people don't realize, I think, is just how pervasive rape culture can be; how it can be instilled into us by society without our ever knowing better of it. While I don’t think Pearce meant or even briefly recognized the rape culture-enforcing undertones of that passage, that isn’t really the point--a reader may have took its meaning to be just that: "It's the victim's fault and s/he should know better."

And that's the last thing we want.

rape culture.

(Anonymous) 2011-02-16 05:13 pm (UTC)(link)
There is another culture to worry about, here. The culture of irresponsibility. Is violence acceptable in any circumstance? Absolutely not. That said, bad decisions often come with equally bad consequences. Let's use another example. A drunk driver crashes, severely injuring his/her passenger. The passenger is no doubt a victim, but if the passenger KNEW that the driver was too drunk to drive (and many times they do), then the passenger is also the victim of his/her own bad decisions. Some crimes can never be predicted or prevented. However, people - men and women - should understand that most crimes are crimes of opportunity. I will teach my daughters not to create the opportunity - that in every crowd exists angels and demons. Be aware of the former and beware the latter.