Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Why fantasists should write about rape (a response to Why fantasists should not write about rape)


George Carlin said,
They'll say, "you can't joke about rape. Rape's not funny." I say, "fuck you, I think it's hilarious. How do you like that?" I can prove to you that rape is funny. Picture Porky Pig raping Elmer Fudd. See, hey why do you think they call him "Porky," eh? I know what you're going to say. "Elmer was asking for it. Elmer was coming on to Porky. Porky couldn't help himself, he got a hard- on, he got horney, he lost control, he went out of his mind." A lot of men talk like that. A lot of men think that way. They think it's the woman's fault. They like to blame the rape on the woman. Say, "she had it coming, she was wearing a short skirt." These guys think women ought to go to prison for being cock teasers. Don't seem fair to me. Don't seem right, but you can joke about it. I believe you can joke about anything. It all depends on how you construct the joke.
If I was going to keep arguing that fantasists should not write about rape, I would use Carlin's example of Porky Pig raping Elmer Fudd. The humor comes from the inappropriateness of rape in a funny-animal universe. It's like zombies eating the cast of Glee or Superman saving the day in Game of Thrones: it's funny because the choice is artistically incongruous with the kind of story that was being told.

But now I'm arguing the other side. I completely agree when he says, "You can joke about anything. It all depends on how you construct the joke." One of my favorite quotes is from Terence, the Roman playwright who had been a slave: Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto. ("I am human; nothing human is alien to me.") Artists should never restrict their subjects.

Rape has been a subject in fantastical stories since The Epic of Gilgamesh. It's a brutal thing that men and women do to other men and women, so it has to be one of the things that humans write about. The challenge is to avoid the snares that catch too many writers:

1. The degree of trauma suffered by people who have been raped varies enormously, but no one shrugs it off.

2. Rape is a human problem. If a story implies that all rapists are male and their targets are female, its characters are not human. What's sexist about the Red Sonja trope is not that the female hero is raped; it's that none of her male equivalents suffer the same injustice.

I've written fantasy stories about rape and sexual abuse. I wanted to create some sympathy for a villain in my first novel, Cats Have No Lord, so, knowing that about ten percent of abused children go on to become abusers, I made her one of the broken who tries to break others. I wrote "Dream Catcher" for Terri Windling's The Armless Maiden: And Other Tales for Childhood's Survivors. I can't remember just now whether it's explicit that any of the characters in my Bordertown novels have been raped, but Bordertown is a setting where all the elements of dark fantasy may occur. That includes rape.

Recommended:

Midori Snyder's The Armless Maiden and the Hero's Journey

Kate Harding | 15 Rape Jokes That Work