Rape fiction

October 6, 2014

If I were male, I would be real hesitant about including a rape plot in any story I write. It’s an extremely complex and delicate issue, and it should be treated as such. Without understanding it completely, trying to tackle it is probably going to anger a lot of people, because men have trouble understanding how horrible rape truly is.

Since I am a guy, you can consider that my official policy on the issue.

The problem is that men don’t understand rape like women do. I remember when I first stumbled across the article titled Schrödinger’s Rapist, and reading it was a revelation. Any moderately moral man knows that rape is bad, but we don’t understand how much even the possibility of rape warps women’s lives. Learning about it more has only impressed upon me my thorough ignorance on the subject.

Which is not to say that a man can’t write about rape, even from a woman’s perspective, and do it respectfully and well. I’m saying it’s difficult. Extremely difficult. It’s not a challenge I would undertake without doing a lot of research, and given the subject, I don’t want to. It’s not my desire to delve that far into the darkness of the human condition. I’ll stick with beer and explosions, thank you.

Rape is horrifying, but if you haven’t lived your entire life actively guarding against it, you don’t understand how horrifying it really is. I know I don’t. So I will leave it alone when I go to write my little stories. There’s enough to write about without pissing everybody off with a tone-deaf controversy I don’t fully understand.

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By Stephen W. Gee

Author of Wage Slave Rebellion, Freelance Heroics, and about two good blog posts out of a hundred.

10 Comments

  1. Reply

    jjpavo

    The fact that so many women live in constant fear of being raped is a problem. Yes, rape is horrible, but this “rape epidemic” pushed onto the public by the media is disgusting. People shouldn’t live in fear, especially of something that’s so statistically improbable. It’s almost like living in fear of terrorists when one is more likely to die while showering. It’s irrational and needs to be stopped.

    1. Reply

      Stilts

      From the article I linked:

      One in every six American women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. I bet you don’t think you know any rapists, but consider the sheer number of rapes that must occur … While you may assume that none of the men you know are rapists, I can assure you that at least one is. Consider: if every rapist commits an average of ten rapes … then the concentration of rapists in the population is still a little over one in sixty.

      It is silly to be afraid of terrorists, but neither of us have ever met a terrorist. We’ve both almost certainly met a rapist though.

      I agree that women shouldn’t live in fear. But we ought to create a society where they don’t have to, not one where they just get used to it, and decide not to be afraid. It reminds me of another article, about banks and rape. Read it, it’s quite insightful.

      But that aside, fear is going to happen. I still get a little trill of fear if I’m out somewhere dark late at night. This happened multiple times on my recent trip, even though I’m male, two meters tall, and was traveling with two of my best (also male) friends. And I knew it was silly, but it still happened. Trying to control for that is silly.

      But minimizing the dark places? Making it so that women can feel safe going out on (most) dates, feel secure about reporting incidents, and know that they won’t be socially ostracized because they had the audacity to be raped, because somehow that’s their fault? We can do those things.

      That’s all a digression though. My point is that the issue is more multifaceted than most people—and especially most men—realize, so I’m hesitant to touch upon it in my fiction. Your comment illustrates that. It’s a complex issue, and it ought to be approached with great care, or probably not at all.

      1. Reply

        EmblemR

        I just want to draw your attention to this statistic–“one in every six American women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime”–and point out that it is enormously inflated if by “sexual assault,” you take it to mean “raped.”

        Take for instance, South Africa, the country with the highest rate of rape in the past decade at an appalling 116 rapes per 100,000 people in a year. Do the math and this equates to about .1% of the population. You should also take into account that a number of these rapes were, in all likelihood, perpetrated by the same individuals, so the additional stat that out of every sixty men, a several of them are probably rapists is highly, highly questionable. This sort of generalized image hurts men just as well as it does women, if not more than.
        At any rate, I’m going to assume America isn’t anywhere near as bad as SA, and so one out of six women being victims of rape is, frankly, preposterous.

        Even if you also take into account that a percentage of rapes are not reported to the police–which neither of our aforementioned estimates would reflect–then even with 80% more rapes in SA, it is still absolutely nowhere near “one out of six.”

        Providing more security for women, I agree, is essential and not in any way a wasted effort. But it’s not like we’re only beginning to make these efforts–rape is and has been incredibly stigmatized in the U.S. and the punishment for committing it is extremely high. You would have to be delusional or psychotic to think it’s “okay.”

        Now if you meant anything else or more by “sexual assault,” that’s another matter…

        1. Stilts

          You’re right, the quote probably did conflate rape and sexual assault. And yes, it’s talking about over a woman’s lifetime, and not on a yearly basis. Yet because every woman likely knows someone who has been raped, and has almost certainly been put in a position at least once to feel extremely vulnerable—as opposed to terrorists, which almost none of us have experienced in person, though I don’t deny the fear that can come from terrorism second hand—the fear of it is much more toxic and pervasive.

          No, that’s not terribly logical. We should be more afraid of heart disease. But fear doesn’t work like that, and we humans are pretty crappy at logic. That’s what we made computer for, though we frequently screw those up too.

          But my point was never—okay, was mostly never. I indulged in some related tangents—to argue anything particular about sexual assault or rape policy or reactions in society.

          My point was that sexual assault is not something that most men understand without putting forth a great deal of effort to get into a woman’s shoes—they don’t teach us this, and we usually have to trip across the lesson on our own. That’s why I, as a storyteller, would be hesitant to include a serious rape plot in one of my stories. I don’t think I understand it well enough to do it justice.

          Then again, perhaps that’s a sort of quasi-Dunning–Kruger effect that stems from having learned just enough to be aware of my own ignorance. Who knows.

  2. Reply

    zeonista

    I don’t think there is any more or less reason to be reluctant with rape than any other anti-social act. I suppose no author wants to be accused of selling porn or “rough trade” gratification outright with no real justification in story. (We’re looking at you, John Norman.) However, to my mind the average fiction writer treats rape with far less lip-smacking reader gratification than the typical TV news forecast or “true crime” book.

    Rape is a Bad Thing, and it is treated as such by everyone all the way back to Homer, Lucretia, and the Old Testament. Nobody likes a convicted or self-admitted rapist, that person has officially Crossed A Line of conduct, even beyond homicide. Thus rape has some powerful imagery in the stories of old, and it has reverberated down to the present day. So a writer is fully justified in calling on that old sin in a dramatic context, and never mind the nervous nellie hand-wringers. (The nervous nellies will always have something to wring their hands over, just ask any horror fiction writer.)

    The big word I mentioned above is “context”. In a lot of popular fiction the rape is intended, but never carried out; the hero shows up at the right time, and the would-be rapist earns a set of lumps (or a blade in the guts) for his efforts. We know who the hero is by his actions, and so does the heroine.

    In many of the old epics, and transferred to modern horror fiction, the rapist does the deed, but later faces supernatural retribution for having violated the taboo. The moral of the story is thus made manifest.

    To make a long rant short, the threatened or actualized rape in any extent in the story needs can be justified in context, and no more need be said. The amount of detail involved is more or less dependent on taste and intent, although I personally think it is OK to skimp on the messy details for the sake of aesthetics.

    1. Reply

      Stilts

      You’re not wrong … and yet, sometimes you would be. In a story set in a more primitive time, where raping and pillaging, like slavery, are just done things, it can be appropriate because, well, it happened.

      But I’m not talking about that. I specifically evoke a “rape plot”, and while I probably should have clarified this, I was talking about it happening to main or secondary characters. Using the example of killing, no one much pays attention when a mook is killed, but when a main or secondary character bites the dust, it’s important. Same thing here.

      That’s what I would shy away from. You can kill mooks and have the barbarians in your medieval action story rape and pillage, but if it starts happening to named characters, you need to really approach the subject, and that requires a certain level of care which I think is difficult. Specifically from a female character’s point of view, because so many writers (myself included) are male.

      1. Reply

        zeonista

        It’s a fine point, but I can understand what you are saying from the point of current literature. When I began reading for fun as a young person books like Fifty Shades of Grey were not sold in supermarkets. Just depicting the act itself in print or film (as per Frenzy or Splendor in the Grass) was still very shocking. These days, maybe not so much?

        In terms of anime and manga there is a lot of X-rated stuff where rape is seem as a form of titillation, or a form of giving some misbehaving girl/OL some “punishment” or “rough love” without consequence. I tend to avoid that whenever possible, but that attitude is out there, and there has been a tendency for porn to bleed over into anime/manga regular story telling in terms of fetishism and “nice boat” material.

        1. Stilts

          Aye. I don’t mean it’s too scandalous, it’s just that such a horrifying and complex act is like to a live bomb, and should be treated as such. Not to say that I’ll never tell a story where rape happens, even to a main character, I just think people who don’t understand rape and sexual assault should realize that, and approach with caution.

          Because accidentally slipping into subtext where a girl is “punished” for her “transgressions” via rape? That would be $@^&# horrible. I’ll tackle the bomb once I think I can survive it, and hopefully defuse it.

  3. Reply

    A Feminist

    For all of you men debating on rape and how “improbable” it is:

    I am one woman.

    I know at least 10 girls/women personally who have been raped, molested, or otherwise sexually assaulted. My best friend. My sister’s best friend. My neighbor next door. My mother. My aunt. My aunt who was murdered by her boyfriend. My freshman roommate. My junior roommate. My godsister. My cousin. A whole list of friends and schoolmates. The list goes on and on and on. My sister has been harassed. I have been harassed. Just because there are official statistics about a subject does not mean those are the only people affected. The majority of sexual assault is never reported. My best friend never told her family that her uncle raped her as a child. That her boyfriend stalked and raped her a few years ago. They’re ashamed because society turns them into outcasts. My mother never told me she was raped; I found out from my aunt.

    I wish I could be like you and be optimistic and just shrug off the numbers. But I KNOW these women. I know the rapists who were never imprisoned or charged either. You can’t expect a girl to shrug off something like that after being surrounded by it her whole life. I don’t know if you are a rapist, and therefore you are shrodinger’s rapist. I don’t dare open the box and find out if you’re a nice guy or not, because really bad things happen if the cat is dead.

    1. Reply

      Stilts

      Even within the tiny microcosm that is this site’s readership, the comments proved my original point. Men don’t understand rape like women do, because we don’t live what you’ve described. By dint of great effort and empathy, I believe a man can get close to understanding, but it’s not the same … and absent that study, not even close. It’s something you have to live.

      Probably. I really don’t know. And I wish nobody had to.

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