The scariest moment is always just before you start. Stephen King
Sex is a loaded topic in American Culture. There is always someone with an opinion on it. That makes sexual violence, such as rape/ childhood sexual abuse/ sexual assault, also a loaded topic. However, the reality is that one out of every six women will either experience an attempted or completed rape in their life time.
Sexual violence is the skeleton hidden in the closet of this country. No one wants to talk about it. Not even me. But, part of being a writer is exposing those things that no one wants to talk about or think about. Dorothy Allison, who wrote an incredible novel called Bastard Out of Carolina, advises writers to write toward the fear. Right now, in talking about sexual violence in a public way, I am definitely writing towards my fear.
So, with that preface, I bring forth my topic. Is rape appropriate in fiction? Obviously, there is no easy answer to this question. However, I am talking about it because silence keeps rape and sexual violence hidden. Rape culture thrives on that silence.
I’ve seen some scathing reviews of the recent Lara Croft game and the sexualized violence within. Furthermore, there are a variety of television tropes about rape and sexual violence in our culture. And the assumption that rape equals automatic drama. These are ways in which rape are used to superficially deepen a character, add tension to a story, or support the rape culture in which we live in.
Rape culture is an insidious thing. It wants to keep women shamed and self-blaming when they’ve been violated. Rape culture wants to keep a monolithic view of its victims – white and often young – and supposed to act a certain way and dress a certain way. If this woman wore the wrong clothes, went to the wrong neighborhood, etc, then it is her fault and the culture begins to blame her. Or if she is the wrong color – think of the eleven year old girl in Texas who was gang raped and was called a slut. Would she have been shamed this way if she were a white little girl? I highly doubt it.
In any case, rape culture, wants to keep survivors silent – in order to keep survivors victims. Furthermore, even if many women have not been raped, almost every woman I know has been harassed in one way or another at least once. And it pains me when I hear that harassment being characterized as “not that bad.” Because, women like men, should have bodily autonomy as a right and not as a privilege.
So then, the question I started with comes up again, is it appropriate to talk about rape in fiction? My answer is a tentative yes. As with all serious topics, it needs to be handled with care and not used as just another trope or device. It is all a matter about how you treat the topic.
As a survivor myself, sexual violence is a topic that keeps coming back to me in many of the novels and short stories that I write. Many of my short stories are of a gritty nature than my novels, which I write primarily in the fantasy genre. However, as with most of my art, sexual violence comes up in one way or another.
I often write about sexual violence as a way to try to make sense of my own experiences. These pieces are often intense and explore the depth of emotion, personal reaction, and experience. Mostly, I explore this from the survivor’s side of the story, and not the perpetrator’s side of the story.
In my mind, nothing makes rape or sexual violence excusable. However, rapists don’t see women as people with their own bodily autonomy. Rapists see women as objects from which they can take.
Furthermore, my story is different from other stories. There is no right way to be a survivor. There is no right way to react to having your boundaries ripped apart. Often our culture expects a certain narrative for the survivor. However, survivors are people too, and that means that reactions are as varied as the people who are taken advantage of.
Overall, I think that rape is a loaded topic in our culture. But, if we refuse to examine the way in which the culture silences and diminishes survivors/ thrivers then we are allowing rape culture to win.
© K. Klein 2013