cw: rape

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The lives other people lead.

When I was first dating the woman who would eventually be my wife, she once asked me to do something I found very strange: “My sister needs to get gas,” she said. “Can you go with her to the gas station?”

This puzzled me. I was hanging out at her family’s place, and the idea that someone would need to assist her sister with going to get gas – the station was literally less than a quarter mile down the road – was strange to me.

“You mean, like, pay for it?” I asked.

“No,” she said. “I mean go with her. So she’s not alone.”

“Why wouldn’t she want to go pump gas by herself?”

“She didn’t ask for you to go,” she said, irritated. “I want you to go with her. And I want you to because she’s nineteen, it’s ten o’clock, and it’s a gas station.”

“What,” I said, laughing, “you think something’s going to happen? We’re out in the suburbs!”

She shook her head. “You’re such a boy. You don’t know anything about this. Just go.”

So I did. I sat in the car with her and stood with her while she pumped gas. It seemed an odd thing to do. But I started to wonder what it must be like: to be a small, young woman, alone, in the dark, with total strangers coming and going. I had never even considered such a place could be a threat to me. And, after all, it wasn’t quite the suburbs: her parents’ car had been broken into more than a few times.

Then, about three weeks later, there was a notice in the news: a young woman in Austin had been out jogging in an upscale, urban area, and someone had just snatched her off the street. They’d pulled up in a car, grabbed her, and drove off.

“See?” my wife said. “Do you still think I’m crazy to worry?”

I can’t remember if they ever found the woman.

–Robert Jackson Bennett on invisible lives.

Sorry for the long quote, but… yes. Yes, this. I don’t like walking around after dark, and I really don’t like walking around alone after dark, even in supposedly “safe” areas. And I’ve still had multiple men roll their eyes and treat this as if it’s some kind of silly unreasonable fear.

Women don’t roll their eyes. Women get it.

2020-05-12T08:39:21+10:0019th July, 2015|Tags: culture, cw: rape|

Thought experiment.

You’re writing a rape scene. A woman gets brutally raped by a monstrous male character in one scene in your book. It’s scandalizing. It’s disturbing. It’s graphic. People are going to talk about this.

Okay. Now substitute another sex crime in its place […] Now instead of raping a buxom, weeping young woman, your Extremely Bad Dude is now raping a terrified six year old boy.

Does it still feel like it deserves to be there?

To use the usual fictional rape apologist arguments, there’s no reason this scene shouldn’t exist. Child rape exists, and no doubt happens in times of war. It probably happens even more in third world countries that are at war. Historically speaking, I’m sure there have been thousands of child rapes since the dawn of humanity. Maybe millions.

Practically speaking, it would be remiss not to include a child rape scene or two, right? It happens. We must be truthful to reality. It’s our duty.

Or, wait – is it possible you’re using this horrific, degrading, monstrous act as window dressing?

–Robert Jackson Bennett on writing rape.

There’s something in here about an inverse correlation between the number of graphic rape scenes in a work versus whether or not that work actually deals with rape.

One of my favourite comics, for example, is The Maxx and The Maxx is all about rape. But The Maxx doesn’t actually ever, that I can recall, show any of these in any kind of detail (and yes, there are more than one). Instead, the violence is off-panel; either in the past or implied. What the story does show, is how survivors deal with what they’ve been through. And it is the characters who’ve been through sexual violence who deal with the sexual violence in the narrative; arguably the entire comic is about deconstructing the myth of the “male protector” (Maxx) who comes along after the fact to “avenge” the female rape victim (he… tries, but mostly doesn’t get very far).

The Maxx certainly isn’t perfect. But it was also a Formative Narrative for me–I first encountered it when I was in my mid-teens, and I’d never seen anything like it before–and one of the main things it formed is how I think about rape-in-fiction.

The other topical example is, of course, Mad Max: Fury Road;1 another narrative about not just rape, but endemic sex slavery, and one that refuses to titillate its audience. Instead, it focuses on its survivor characters healing and coming into their own.2

The grim reality is sexual violence is endemic in our society; about one in six women and one in twenty men will experience it. I think that’s important to remember, as a creator of media, because that tells you something like a little over 20%3 of you audience already knows sexual violence is terrible because they’ve experienced it firsthand. You don’t need to remind them, again and again and again and again, in graphic, leering detail. And this goes double if you yourself are fortunate enough not to be in that 20%.

That doesn’t mean I think no one should ever use rape in fiction. What it does mean is that I think there’s far more room in fiction for writing stories about survivors of sexual violence. Tell their stories for goddamn once. How did that experience shape them and, more importantly, how didn’t it? Not to mention that, too often in media, sexual violence is used to end a woman’s story and start a man’s. We need less of that (preferably 100% less of that) and more of… something else.

And if you aren’t sure what that “something else” should be?

Then don’t bloody well write about rape.

  1. I’m sensing a naming theme here… []
  2. Something that, incidentally, is just as true for Max and, in particular, Nux as it is the Wives. The violence and violation the men have experienced isn’t rape, but it’s still violence and violation. And it’s their recovery from and desire to move past that that the movie focuses on. []
  3. Er, I think? Assuming I’m doing my math right… []
2020-05-12T08:13:23+10:0016th July, 2015|Tags: culture, cw: rape, writing|

The Mods are Always Asleep.

Powerful but challenging look into the question “is there child pornography on 8chan“?

The answer is “yes, there is”, but that it doesn’t necessarily take the form people “expect”. That is, it’s often less hardcore penetrative sex so much as it is very young children–mostly girls–being photographed in adult porn star-style clothing and poses. The article’s author, Dan O, goes through a whole bunch of examples of this. There are pictures, and they’re blurred out and “safe for work” in the sense that they’re not explicitly explicit. What are “explicitly explicit” are the messages posted next to them by 8chan users.

You will need a shower and brain bleach after reading this article, but it’s something I suggest everyone do, if they’re able.

This is horror in the really real world, not the thrill-soaked stuff of the movies. In one respect, there’s nothing particular “awful” here; no graphic or shocking visuals. If you saw it in a movie, you’d think it tame, these things that would barely even warrant an R rating. And yet, I think this shows just how removed we can be from true horror.

True horror, true evil, isn’t sexy and it isn’t thrilling. It’s banal. It’s ugly. And it’s sad, too. It’s a bunch of anonymous men sharing rape fantasies on a message board about little girls dressed in adult lingerie. It’s about the inability of those men to think any kind of human thought over what must be happening in that girls’ life for her to end up in that sort of situation. It’s about them lacking the empathy to see another human being as a person in her own right, not as an extension of their own slimy, poisoned selves.

When we think of evil, we tend to think of supernatural things. Of great adversaries and grinning demons. Creeping horrors and inexplicable monstrosities. But that stuff? That stuff’s not evil. That stuff’s fantasy. It’s made up. And it’s made up to distract you from the real stuff, to insulate you from it, to let you sleep at night safe in the knowledge that goat-eyed shadows don’t lurk outside your door.

But it’s a lie, a distraction. Because evil? True evil?

True evil sits in the dark on a message board, living in plain sight, known by everyone, acknowledged by none.

That’s evil. And it’s us. No super nature required.

2019-12-18T08:34:35+11:0025th February, 2015|Tags: culture, cw: child abuse, cw: rape|

An extra in the story.

I’m going to tell you a story about a woman that I don’t know. I don’t know her name, and quite honestly, I don’t even remember her face. Instead, I remember what happened to her and my response.

This was at the beginning of my career and I was new to conventions. It was late one night, and several of us, including her, were in the lobby chilling out, as we are wont to do. This man walked up, and I was excited, swooning, because I knew him. Or at least, knew of him. Everyone at that convention knew him. He’s as close to famous as you can get without being Stephen King in the field. Anyway, we were all talking and chatting, and then the Famous Writer Guy bent over and stared directly into this woman’s face. Just hovering there, ignoring the rest of us, blocking her from us. The woman looked around Famous Writer Guy to continue the conversation. Then he started touching her, lightly rubbing his finger up and down her arm, and then poked her, hard. She held up her arm to block him and stepped away, doing her best to ignore him. Famous Writer Guy moved closer to her and began rubbing her again. She looked to me and to the group. She’s thinking what I’m thinking, “This is Famous Writer Guy, what can I say? If I scream at him to cut it out, I’ll look angry and as if I’m blowing it out of proportion. If I smile or talk to him, he’ll think I’m interested in him. I’m scared.”

But none of us said a word. Nothing to help her out. This was her problem. One that I was damn glad that I didn’t have, so that I could ignore the hell out of it.

After a moment, she gave this meandering excuse about needing to get up early and left. Famous Writer Guy wandered off shortly after. Finally, I leaned in and whispered to the guy beside me, “That was uncomfortable. I hate seeing it because I’ll never be able to see him the same way.”

The guy’s response: “He was drunk. He’ll be better in the morning.”

Famous Writer Guy would be better in the morning. He would feel better, so obviously everything would be better. No Name Girl didn’t matter. She was simply a character in Famous Writer Guy’s story, a throwaway stand-in that could perhaps help him become a better person. That was all.

–Chesya Burke on harassment in horror.

[Content warning in the above and at the link, for discussion of harassment and rape.]

Sorry for the long quote, but it’s hard to have the denouement without the set-up for this one.

Burke’s post in general is about harassment in the horror genre, and she explicitly queries the link between acceptance of harassment with acceptance with the over-worn trope of rape in horror fiction.

Something of an aside: I love horror in general but I am so fucking sick of rape as a plot device, especially as written by men. Recently, I read an anthology of Shirley Jackson stories. These aren’t “horror” in the sense of “monsters and zombies and gore, oh my!”, but definitely “horror” in the sense of “horrible things people do”. They’re also all very understated–Jackson’s most well-known story, “The Lottery”, is also arguably the least subtle–and, notably, almost all of them are about women and/or women’s concerns. It wasn’t until after I’d finished reading the book that it occurred to me I’d gotten through the entire thing without that usual feeling of “… urgh” I inevitably get when reading works by men. You know the one I’m talking about, ladies.

It was kind of a stunning realisation, particularly for stuff nebulously labelled as horror–I’m too used to that genre being packed with “… urgh” moments, even for writers I quite like–and particularly particularly for stuff written in the first half of the 20th century (Jackson died in ’65, and a lot of her stories deal with the suffocating life of the pre-60s housewife).

Anyway. The next book I flicked to was another anthology, this one of Ray Bradbury. Literally the second story in the book, called “The April Witch”, turned out to be the pinnacle of “… urgh” moments.1

Male authors, amirite?

Tl;dr, female voices, yo. Important for every genre!

  1. Seriously, dudes, if you don’t get what I mean by “… urgh” moments then go read this story, think about why a woman might react extremely negatively to it–and, spoiler alert, there’s more than one reason–and your essay is due back on my desk by Monday. []
2014-10-21T08:00:40+11:006th December, 2014|Tags: culture, cw: harassment, cw: rape, horror, sff|

Rape statistics.

This is a terrible thing to have to compile, but nonetheless: Jim C. Hines has a “masterpost” with statistics and sourcess regarding rape. For reference the next time you get confronted by MRAs and other associated mansplainers.

2014-10-13T07:56:10+11:0026th November, 2014|Tags: cw: rape|

Not a way to tell a story.

[Content warning for discussion of rape in media.]

Yet for me, rape and sexual assault isn’t a way to tell a story. It’s just one of countless insensitive stories using a very real problem in some trite excuse for writing. Even if you take out the horror of trivializing an act with such huge impact, I feel that media at large has been beating this dead horse for far too long. It seems like you can’t have a woman on screen without her being sexually assaulted. As if there aren’t any other stories to tell about women.

–wolsey doesn’t watch rape media.

I, too, am at the stage where I will (try) to avoid media that depicts rape, Wolf of Wall Street being one of my most recent disappointments. Aside from the fact that it was tedious, self-indulgent, over-long, and not nearly as clever as it thought it was,1 it was also very casual in depicting its protagonist beating and raping his wife. Like. Its protagonist who is a really real person, and whose wife is also, I assume, a really real person.2 And who we’re supposed to, I don’t know, think of as some kind of lovable rogue at the bottom of his character arc? While he’s–and let’s not be too subtle about this–beating and raping his wife.

Yeah. Fuck that shit right off.

Note that it’s not that I don’t think rape is possible to “do well” in media… it’s just that it almost never is. Generally because it’s almost always depicted on-screen for the titillation of men, whether that’s actual sexual titillation (sadly common), or intended as a kind of “outrage titillation” so the Default Assumed Male Viewer can get Appropriately Angry at the villain and cheer as the Default Male Protagonist Gets His Revenge. (Also known as the “push it off the table” version of Kelly Sue DcConnick’s Sexy Lamp Test.)

So, yes. My rule of thumb on rape in media is “if the scene is written/produced/whatever by a man, it can fuck off; if it’s by a woman, I’ll think about it”.

It means I don’t “get” to watch/read a lot of Big Name Stuff (cough Game of Thrones cough). Honestly?

I don’t feel I’m missing out.

  1. Yes, I get the “meta” of this, but unfortunately “clever meta” only goes so far if the net result is pretentious, unwatchable drivel that lionises a pathetic sack of shit for the enjoyment of other, equally pathetic sacks of shit. For the record, my husband wanted to see this film and it’s also the only film he’s ever suggested we walk out of, circa the 40 minute mark. I made him sit through the whole thing, because I am a Mean Wife. It was very uncomfortable. (Albeit not as uncomfortable, I imagine, as hubby’s banker friend who took his future parents-in-law to see the film the day it was released. The wedding is still on, last I heard, but he did have to issue a formal apology.)
  2. I hope she and/or her kids made a shittonne of money off that shitty film, I really do. But the pessimist in me doubts it.
2019-04-29T11:15:07+10:003rd June, 2014|Tags: culture, cw: rape, pop culture|