Sunday, August 19, 2012

about rape in fantasy and fact

I've never written a rape scene and never expect to. Here's why:

1. In fantastic literature, metaphors are literal. Magic is both a plot device and a symbol of power or mystery. Benevolent supernatural elements are inherently a comment on what it means to try to be our best selves; magical opposing forces are always about the struggle we face in our everyday lives, which we must overcome or endure.

So fantasy, whether set in an imaginary land or in a world like ours with monsters or super-humans, suffers from a failure of imagination when a story has a rape scene. Fantasists have so many other ways to write about violence and domination that choosing rape simply seems lazy.

Mind you, this point is exclusively about my preferred genre, fantastic literature. If a story is supposed to be realistic—which includes science fiction, because most science fiction pretends to be realistic—or some form of erotica, different concerns apply.

And, yes, this is especially tricky if you're trying to write realistic fantasy. Art is always ultimately subjective, so if things that seem gratuitous and simple-minded to me—like the rape of Sue Dibney and Red Sonja getting her power after being raped—work for you, well, I don't like ketchup, and I'll tell you why, but I won't think less of you for your preference, so long as you're not trying to force it on anyone else.

2. The best stories are about characters, about motives and consequences. Rape is fundamentally about dominance, but a rape scene is also a sex scene, and sex scenes rarely serve a story because the plot rarely changes during a sex scene. If I ever have an idea that calls for a rape scene, I would probably write about the lead-up and the result, but not the rape itself.

I'm not arguing for prudishness here. I approve of sex scenes that serve the story—cunnilingus in my novel Chimera is a plot point.

3. Rape is on the short list of worst things humans can do. Like killing children or pets, it offends many people, which does not mean it should never be the subject of a story, but does mean that if you care about writing well, you must be able to explain why a story requires a rape scene.


Some of my older posts about rape:

• advice for creators of imaginary race crimes (June 11, 2009)

Tawana Brawley claimed she had been raped by white policemen. From Tawana Brawley rape allegations:
The racial epithets written on her were upside down, which led to suspicion that Brawley wrote the words.
Ashley Todd claimed she had been mugged by a black Barack Obama supporter. From Woman With 'B' Scratched In Face Faked Political Attack
Ashley Todd -- who has a backward letter "B" scratched into her right cheek -- confessed to faking the story
As teachers often said when I was young: Handwriting counts.

• for Polanski defenders who note his victim wasn't a virgin (Oct. 4, 2009)

The previous sexual experience of a raped person is as relevant as the previous work experience of a slave.

• Polanski and Geimer's mother (Oct. 5, 2009)

High on the list of things about Polanski's rape that creep me out are the people who blame Samantha Geimer's mother. From here:
CALLER: Yes. I was wondering what -- how a mother rationalizes sending a daughter off in a car with someone that may or may not like to have sex with young girls? She herself is an actress. He's a director. It looked like maybe there was an agenda there.

How do you feel about that?

GEIMER: That's just totally untrue. We trusted him. We had no reason not to. He was a celebrity. No one had any idea that anything like this would happen and there is no reason we would have thought that.

SILVER: I think also, Samantha's mom thought that a girlfriend was going to go with them.

GEIMER: That's true.

SILVER: And until later that evening, she really didn't know.

KING: She thought a girlfriend went with her.

SILVER: That's correct.

KING: How did he stop the girlfriend from going?

GEIMER: He said, No, I don't think that's a good idea outside by the car after my mom went inside.
• Calvin Trillin hasn't lost it (Oct. 14, 2009)

What Whoopi Goldberg ('Not a Rape-Rape'), Harvey Weinstein ('So-Called Crime') et al. Are Saying in Their Outrage Over the Arrest of Roman Polanski

And, yes, I am appalled that there are socialists who think a rich man who might have had to face another 45 days in jail is a folk hero for fleeing to the soft life in Europe. I understand why capitalists think that way—money is supposed to buy the very best for the rich.

• disappointed with tonight's "Criminal Minds" for class and rape reasons (Dec. 9, 2009)

1. It turned into a "Be afraid of working class men" story. Yes, the set-up was more complex than that, but it boiled down to "Be afraid of valets."

2. Prentiss, on arresting the guy, hopes he'll be raped regularly in prison. Prison rape is a problem, not a solution. Yeah, she's having an emotional response, not a reasoned one, but until now, Prentiss has seemed more enlightened than that. (And, yes, she would be creeped out by someone who preys on attractive brunettes. But the scene was still played as, "He'll be punished in prison by being raped." Frankly, given the character, odds are good he'll be in prison looking for weaker inmates to rape. And given that humans are fallible, some of them will be innocent of the crimes they're convicted for.)

• things Andrea Dworkin has said (Dec. 17, 2010)

"No woman needs intercourse; few women escape it."

"Seduction is often difficult to distinguish from rape. In seduction, the rapist often bothers to buy a bottle of wine."

"Men are sexually predatory in life; and women are sexually manipulative."

"A commitment to sexual equality with males is a commitment to becoming the rich instead of the poor, the rapist instead of the raped, the murderer instead of the murdered."

"Penetrative intercourse is, by its nature, violent."

"Intercourse is the pure, sterile, formal expression of men's contempt for women."

"Violation is a synonym for intercourse."

• Is neoliberal feminism the same as traditional sexism? (Jan. 7, 2011)

Traditional sexists and neoliberal feminists have the same beliefs about rape:

1. Names of rape accusers should not be published.

2. Accused rapists should be assumed to be guilty. (In the 19th and early 20th century, this belief led to many lynchings of black and white men.)


Overholser favors naming rape victims | Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication

Naomi Wolf: Take the shame out of rape | UK news | The Guardian

• Lie To Me, polygraphs, and command rape (Jan. 11, 2011)

Emma and I have seen the first two episodes of Lie To Me. I like it in general because its writers are happy to point out that polygraphs cannot be trusted as lie detectors; I like the second episode in particular because it's a smart examination of rape in the military.

I've said, when discussing the Assange case, that no means no and consent can be withdrawn at any time, but once you give consent, you have to withdraw it if you want to charge someone with rape. However, that only applies in situations of equivalent power. When one person has the power, meaningful consent is impossible. Sexual relationships between masters and slaves, and adults and minors, may be loving, but they cannot be considered consensual. In the military, where an officer can place a soldier in great danger, the relationship goes beyond that of boss and worker and becomes very, very close to that of master and slave.

Recommended: The private war of women soldiers - Middle East -

• some women lie about rape (Jan. 11, 2011)

For most of my life, I believed the only women who lied about rape were white racists; I was very young when I learned about the Springfield Race Riot of 1908 and the Scottsboro Boys. So, in 1987, when I heard about Tawana Brawley's rape allegations, I believed her. She was a young black woman who said she had been raped by white men; I was a liberal who opposed sexism and racism. The possibility that she was lying never occurred to me. I made all the traditional arguments, beginning with the classic "women almost never lie about rape."

But she was lying.

I learned my lesson then: The presumption of innocence means you should not assume the accused or the accuser is lying. Withhold judgment until you're sure all the facts are known.

Anyone who thinks the testimony of two women must be conclusive should read Who says women never lie about rape?:
'Thank goodness,' writes New York prosecutor Linda Fairstein in her book 'Sexual Violence,' '[the victim's] testimony -- when it is credible -- is all that is needed to convict a rapist, as it is any other criminal.'

But what is 'credible'? In 1996, Los Angeles police officer Harris Scott Mintz was accused of rape by two women who were said to be 'very credible': a woman in the neighborhood he patrolled, then his own wife. At a pretrial hearing, the judge pronounced that he had no doubt about Mintz's guilt. Then, Mrs. Mintz admitted that she made up the charge because she was angry at her husband for getting in trouble with the law; subsequently, Mintz's attorneys uncovered evidence that the first accuser had told an ex-roommate she had concocted the rape charge in order to sue the county, and that she had tried a similar hoax before. By the time the case collapsed, Mintz had spent five months in jail.
Finding examples of women lying about rape is surprisingly easy, and sometimes shocking:

Cops: Woman's lie about rape led to lover's beating, sodomy -

Duke lacrosse case - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

DANMELL NDONYE: Hofstra Rape Accuser Dropped Claim After Hearing Of Video Recording

Tucker Carlson: Your biggest fan! -

Biurny Peguero Gonzalez: Woman Who Lied About Rape Sentenced To 1-3 Years - Gothamist

Heidi Jones WABC: Heidi Jones Suspended From WABC After Fake Rape Allegations | Long Island Press

Tamara Anne Moonier - Gang Rape Was a Lie, O.C. Woman Concedes - Los Angeles Times

Mother of three jailed after making false gang rape claims - to win back her former lover | Mail Online

A number of blogs are dedicated to the subject. Some are obviously by bitter, sexist men, but the bigger question is whether they're right. Cry Rape - Beware Of These Liars seems to accurately collect mainstream accounts of false accusations of rape.

And there's always Wikipedia: False accusation of rape.

*ETA: I included the Kobe Bryant article because it's phrased as a question and includes relevant examples. When the case was dropped, Bryant made a statement: "Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did."

• If I ever write an article about rape... (Jan. 17, 2011)

I would reference things like this, from When Is It RAPE?:
Catherine Comins, assistant dean of student life at Vassar, also sees some value in this loose use of 'rape.' She says angry victims of various forms of sexual intimidation cry rape to regain their sense of power. 'To use the word carefully would be to be careful for the sake of the violator, and the survivors don't care a hoot about him.' Comins argues that men who are unjustly accused can sometimes gain from the experience. 'They have a lot of pain, but it is not a pain that I would necessarily have spared them. I think it ideally initiates a process of self-exploration. 'How do I see women?' 'If I didn't violate her, could I have?' 'Do I have the potential to do to her what they say I did?' Those are good questions.'
And articles like Judge attacks CPS after rape acquittal:
A judge has attacked prosecutors whose decision to charge a medical student with rape was based on allegations made by a woman who had previously accused another man of the same offence. The man had subsequently committed suicide.

Jurors who took only 45 minutes to acquit Olumide Fadayomi of attacking the 21-year-old Sheffield woman were later told by Judge Patrick Robertshaw that the case should never have come to court.

...One of her friends told Sheffield Crown Court that the woman had danced with and kissed Mr Fadayomi in the club, boasting: “I’m going to have his body tonight.”
Lest I be misunderstood, I'm not quibbling with the conclusion of many studies that rape charges may be accurate 98% of the time. That doesn't sound unreasonable to me; most people are honest. I'm simply appalled at the number of feminists who think general statistics apply to individuals. If those odds are accurate, two out of every hundred people charged with rape are innocent.

• Playing the rape card (Feb. 13, 2011)

"Media psychiatrist" ratchets up anti-videogame rhetoric:
“The increase in rapes can be attributed in large part to the playing out of [sexual] scenes in videogames,” Lieberman told Fox News in an article, sensationally headlined “Is Bulletstorm the Worst Videogame in the World?” The story discusses the violence and sexual innuendo in developer Epic Games’ upcoming first-person shooter.
• WSWS nails bourgeois activism (July 4, 2011)

Go to Political lessons of the Strauss-Kahn affair. Or, if you're as lazy as I sometimes am, here's the most relevant bit about middle-class activism:
...a quite distinct social milieu, composed of more affluent sections of the upper-middle class, which wallows in various forms of identity politics—fixated on gender, sexuality, ethnicity or race—which serve as a cloak for its own egotistical and reactionary class interests.

The ruling elite learned long ago how to cultivate and exploit the narrow social interests of these upper-middle class layers in its own interests. It is only a matter of raising certain hot button issues relating to personal “identity” to line them up behind economic and political initiatives of importance to the lords of finance capital.
For the sake of identitarians in the audience, I'll add this: Yes, DSK may be guilty of raping a prostitute who then hoped to blackmail him, and, yes, sex workers deserve the full protection of the law, just like any other worker. And, yes, it's possible DSK was innocent in New York and guilty in France—the latter will be tested: Tristane Banon: French Writer Will Accuse DSK of Attempted Rape.

• The Myth of “Racist Pornography” (July 18, 2011)

I hesitated to link to The Myth of “Racist Pornography” because I'm not entirely convinced by the argument, but I got to admit, it's a much more plausible one than I would hope to hear from people who rant about racist porn. My theory: A lot of what looks like racism, in porn and elsewhere, is play-acting with a racial subtext that has more to do with the way images change in pop culture than with the history of racism. Concluding that interracial porn is racist is as simplistic and as wrong as concluding that women who have rape fantasies want to be raped.

• Dear internet, please up your insult game (Nov. 4, 2011)

One concern that I share with identitarians: insults based on race, religion, or gender suck. When I get dismissed for being a white man, I can shrug. It just means an identitarian has realized all they have are insults.

But women who get insulted online for being women get to wonder if an online attacker would try to beat or rape them offline. They get to wonder if the commenter is a stalker who could seek them out. They know that insults based on group identity cross the line between insults and threats.

The people who make those insults also know their goal is fear. That's why they're anonymous or pseudonymous.

Inspired by New Statesman - "You should have your tongue ripped out": the reality of sexist abuse online

See also seven problems with "rape culture" theory.