Further Discussions of Rape in Fiction and Media

Sansa wedding

Once again, the showrunners for Game of Thrones added a rape to the TV show that isn’t in the books[1] and, in doing so, managed to piss off a vocal slice of the fanbase. The reactions I saw on Twitter were vehement, with some even offering their condolences to George R.R. Martin for how the show has destroyed his creation[2]. The scene has re-ignited the neverending debate over the use of rape in fiction and media and specifically why Game of Thrones returns to it over and over.

One friend on Facebook[3] posited that Sansa’s rape is justified by the plot and characters and filmed in such a way that it’s not titillating. They asked: “If that’s not an appropriate way to handle a scene of sexual assault, what is?” My answer is: Not having it there at all, in this case.

I’m not convinced that the rape was justified by the story and character arcs, especially since the showrunners put Sansa in this situation where rape is now the only way to upset her so much that she allows Brienne to come rescue. The writers could have avoided it instead of making it seem necessary.

That’s really the crux of this: writers don’t always have to make rape necessary to the plot.

Writers can choose to do things differently. A few days ago I came across this post on Seanan McGuire’s Tumblr about her “No Rape” rule:

wordsandstrangeways asked:

I just wanted to say to you how grateful I am for your ‘no rapes’ clause on writing. My mum and I have very similar taste in literature and I found you about the same time she found Ilona Andrews so we’ve been swapping books to try them out and I’d never realised before how much the fear of assault hangs over me when reading fantasy. It’s shockingly common both in reference and in act and when dealing with anxiety it’s wonderful to have a safe book space to retreat into. Thank you.

seananmcguire answered:

That’s pretty much why it’s there.  I’m not saying “no one gets to write about this, ever,” but it’s not a tool I need when there are so many others for me to use.  Giving people a little peace is a joy. (If you wonder what this is in reference to, here: http://seanan-mcguire.livejournal.com/470626.html)

That reader’s reaction is key. It’s important to have fiction you can count on not to include rape because that element is so prevalent in other books and media. That’s a thing some people need.

All writers don’t need a No Rape rule. And I would never say that no one should ever include or talk about rape in their fiction. If you choose to do so, it should always be a considered choice. And even then it’s not going to work for every reader.

That tweet inspired this post by Kelly Robson, the author of the story in question. She explains why she included rape in her story and lists all of the ways in which the story does not engage in the problematic aspects I point out in this post. And she’s absolutely right in that. Her inclusion and depiction of rape is not about quick and cheap character motivation, is not there to titillate, and is a considered choice. I also understand her reasons for needing to write that story.

I didn’t have a problem with her story on those grounds.

Though she interpreted my tweet to mean her story wasn’t worth reading, I meant what I literally said: it wasn’t worth that rape scene. It triggered me, and I didn’t feel that the story offered enough to make how much it triggered me worth it. It almost got there–Robson is a good writer, which helps–and for someone not as triggered as I was or not triggered at all, that story likely works just fine. For someone who would be triggered, maybe not. From the responses I got to my tweet at the time it seemed as though folks who also have issues with being triggered were glad to know this.

Any writer who decides to include rape in their fiction has to take that into consideration. You can do everything right in terms of how and why you include and depict rape and still some readers are not going to want it. As long as you’re aware of and fine with that, just keep doing the best you can. Some writers, like McGuire, make the choice to just not include rape at all, which is just as valid.

Right now I would settle for a lack of rape that’s included due to bad and lazy writing. If we can just eliminate or minimize that, I think we could have a productive and meaningful dialogue about the rest.

Footnotes

  1. As some have pointed out, what Ramsey did to Sansa on the show he did to Jeyne Poole in the books so technically it’s not an extra rape it’s just the rape of a different character than expected. Not that it makes any of this better.[]
  2. I have some quibbles with this reaction, but that’s another post.[]
  3. No link because the status is locked to friends. You’re free to out yourself here if you wish![]

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

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 alone[1]. 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.

Footnotes

  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…[]