Seanan McGuire on why she will not add rape to her stories to add “realism”

If you’ve been reading my blog long enough, you know my feelings about the way rape is used in most fiction. If you’re unaware or have forgotten, please click over to my post here, my post on ABW, and my post on Jeff Vandermeer’s blog about the subject.

The bottom line of each of those is that I really do not like it when authors decide to have their female (and it’s almost always female) characters raped for bullshit plot or character development “reasons”. The kind of writers who do this are generally not very good ones since they have to use cheap tricks in order to show that the female character is “strong” or the male character is “evil” or to wink and nod to any reader out there who might think that a female character could possibly ever get away with being smart and confident and badass without being taken down a peg.

I also get angry at this trope because I firmly believe that it contributes to rape culture in a big way. When the message from fiction is constantly that rape is inevitable, especially if you as a woman step outside of the box of what is acceptable, and that’s just how it is. Whenever I suggest that authors just NOT include rape as an inevitable consequence of being a woman in fiction, I get told that this is completely unrealistic.

Thus, I am not at all surprised that this happened to author Seanan McGuire:

Last night, I was asked—in so many words—when either Toby or one of the Price girls was finally going to be raped.

Not “if.” Not “do you think.” But “when,” and “finally.” Because it is a foregone conclusion, you see, that all women must be raped, especially when they have the gall to run around being protagonists all the damn time. I responded with confusion. The questioner provided a list of scenarios wherein these characters were “more than likely” to encounter sexual violence. These included Verity forgetting to change out of her tango uniform before going on patrol, Toby being cocky, and Sarah walking home from class alone1. Yes, even the ambush predator telepath with a “don’t notice me” field is inevitably getting raped.

When. Finally. Inevitably.

My response: “None of my protagonists are getting raped. I do not want to write that.”

Their response: “I thought you had respect for your work. That’s just unrealistic.”

Go and read the whole post, because everything that Seanan has to say in response to this nonsense is right on and should be read by every person ever, especially authors.

I’ve said this before and I will say it again: Writers, when you write fiction you get to create the world. Yes, even if are writing in the “real” world and not that of the speculative, you get to decide what happens to your characters and why. Spec writers in particular get to create stuff out of whole cloth, if they like. And more of them should choose not to bring rape into their narratives. Because if we want to create a world in which rape happens less, we need to show worlds where rape isn’t the inevitable consequence of being a woman.

Then maybe there won’t be readers out there who claim that no rape means a book is unrealistic. Because: really? Gross.


  1. Does it occur to anyone else that this person has thought way too much about the ways in which these characters may end up raped? If I were Seanan I would stay away from the fan fiction for a bit… []
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4 thoughts on “Seanan McGuire on why she will not add rape to her stories to add “realism”

  1. Does it occur to anyone else that this person has thought way too much about the ways in which these characters may end up raped? If I were Seanan I would stay away from the fan fiction for a bit…

    Actually, if I were Seanan, I’d be creeped out enough to stay away from that particular person from here on out.

  2. Rape is part of my life’s narrative, yet it’s only turned up in one story I’ve written (that I care to expand and publish).

    In that story, as written, a more naive reader could entirely miss the rape. It’s not coincidental to the plot though, and the protagonist’s action clearly did not bring it on. As I work on this story, I will think about what you’ve written here to ensure that I’m not paying into the absurd trope of the inevitability of rape.

    Your thoughts have tightened up my writing in many ways.

  3. Also…how is it unrealistic? I have not been raped (am I supposed to add “yet”?). I know other women who have not been raped. “Not been raped” is a perfectly realistic attribute for a woman, even in this world!

    Also, I like how those scenarios are all about the women’s actions–ooh, forgot to change out of her tango uniform (how do you…forget that, actually? and I’m speaking as somebody who can forget a lot, but I never forget what I’m wearing.)! Well, obviously, if a woman is wearing a tango dress, a man on the street has no choice but to turn into a slavering rapist. I mean, I’ve been cocky; I’ve worn skin-tight revealing clothing; I’ve walked home alone at night; AND YET I’VE NEVER BEEN RAPED. Because those actions do not lead to rape. Rapists lead to rape.

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