Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Rape in fiction. and non fiction also.

Theangryblackwoman recently had a good post about fucked up uses of rape in fiction and tv/movies. It made me think about some stuff I've been discussing (and sometimes arguing about) lately with some friends and my mom. She brought up some great points (I suggest you go check it out), including:

"...I am tired of seeing rape on my TV and in my fiction because it’s never addressed, it’s used, and used badly, and used for all the wrong reasons. Because it’s used and abused by writers and filmmakers and media people we run the risk of trivializing rape. Or, worse, seeing it as something slightly arousing...That point comes when it stops being about helping, informing, or supporting women and becomes more about how many people they can shock and how many ratings points that will generate. And that is really disgusting..."

"In other media, particularly in SF/F media, rape is thrown in as a plot point, or for a bit of easy characterization. As I said above, if you see a character raping someone, that is usually an indication that the character is meant to be evil. It’s quick and easy for the creator to do this. I wonder if they even consider the implications of it?

Another way creators use rape is to show that a character (99% of the time a female one) is ’strong’. She may have been raped, but that didn’t reduce her to a snivelling mess, oh no! She got angry! She got strong! She got even! Thus passively putting down any woman who was actually raped and did not react in that way. This is also quick characterization, and it’s just as cheap and lazy as ‘he’s a rapist so we know he’s the bad guy’.

The problem with this use of rape in fiction and media is twofold. It’s cheap and lazy, as I said, and it’s also using rape instead of addressing it. When we see rape in media, we see it used as a way for men to exert their power over women, or used as a way to tell us something about a character, or used to drive a plot in a certain direction, or used to highlight vulnerability, depravity, and power struggles FOR ENTERTAINMENT ."

She also brings up the idea of "eternal rapeability" of female characters, that they are always rapeable, and that this is a stupid shortcut for character development to show how feminine or innocent or good these characters are.

Here are the comments I left about the post - I'm just going to paste 'em in for the sake of sleeping because I have to go to work in less than 6 hours. Here it is:

I like your point that in addition to it being a lazy and abusive characterization technique it is “also using rape instead of addressing it.”

One day I sat down with my sister while she was watching Law & Order Special Victims Unit, which is basically all about women who have been brutally raped and/or killed. It really pissed me off. It was very gratuitous, and the entertainment/plot of the show was centered around rape - what the hell? It also bothered me because it seemed to reinscribe women as helpless victims, again and again and again. And also white women as delicate, innocent, pure victims of violence that everyone should be enraged or mourning over. Like we are powerless and should never walk around at night or talk to strangers. This also helps reinforce the power of men as saviors/protectors/avengers, which is messed up, and police/violent state power as the solution. So you need the violent state power, that is what protects rather than threatens people, and that it should be embraced and thanked rather than questioned.

Another offender: the movie El Leyton, used a rape like it was a normal sex scene - meant to be titillating and passed off as acceptable and that the women actually wanted it.

Another thing that irks me about almost all portrayals of rape, fictional and nonfictional, is the emphasis on huge scary violent stranger rapes. People touched on this (comments 7-9), but it distorts the idea of rape into only such an event rather than focusing on acquaintance rapes (it’s estimated that 80% know their attacker). This is really harmful for a lot of reasons: -inhibits discussions of effective prevention strategies
-prevents discussions of harmful versions of masculinity and our rape culture
-gives everyone a “not me” attitude (both those at risk of perpetrating and being violated)
-makes survivors feel like they haven’t actually been raped, or it’s their fault, or that they can’t talk about it because it will give their friend/acquaintance/loved one a demonized Rapist reputation
-limits mobility & independence of women/people read as women at night
-encourages car culture (rather than walking, public transit)
-encourages/allows racialized and racist fantasies of men of color attackers among many white women (and family/friends), with a lot of help from the news media. This kind of racism can be particularly difficult for people to recognize or challenge because there is this ultimate (hysterical) justification of rape, so therefore nothing, even racist and inaccurate ideas, can be challenged

P.S. I really need to become more concise, look how long just that comment was!


Chris said...

Thanks for this post. I have been working on a novel that for plot reasons needs to have a rape element, but I don't want to use it lightly, insensitively, or for pure shock value. This post was helpful.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I appreciated it as well. I also am writing a novel in which on of my central characters is the victim of sexual assault and in the middle of the story. I want to try and find a firm middle grounds where her reaction to it is both very human but also a bit inspiring. She has a hard time dealing with it for quite a while and effects her character for a lot of the story but she eventually is able to pull through it and move forward with her life as a stronger person, which is the message I want to try and get across with the character. I want to address that yes, bad things do happen to good people and it doesn't make you weak if they affect and it takes time to get past them, but you need to try and get back up and move on or let life pass you by.