Violence against women in fantasy, or why we need #metoo especially in fantasy
By Ulff Lehmann
If you belong to that part of fandom that will now moan and say I’m politicizing the hobby, please fuck off, I don’t have anything to say to you. Well, other than fuck off.
We’ve heard it all before… “Rape happens, it happened in the Middle Ages, so it’s only realistic that it happens in fantasy.” Sure, that’s why it’s called historical fiction… oh, wait, it’s called fantasy. So, like dragons, magic, elves, orcs and all the other fantastical things, it’s up to the writer to change this one historical constant as well.
Will there always be some assholes who abused women? Of course! But this is fantasy, and in fantasyland we can actually have laws that work, or are supposed to work, or at least have there be consequences for the rapists. Maybe there’s actually a deity who says, “Thou shalt not rape!” and anyone who does rape has his balls and dick slowly, painfully rot off.
Some may now say that this would be a deterrent for rape, and, of course, the always relevant historical accuracy. Sadly, it is not a deterrent, we see such every day in this world, you have money and power, and suddenly you’re treated differently, even or especially the devout.
Rape, same as being an orphan, is usually a point on a character’s CV, nothing more, whether they participated in raping someone or were the victim. Such is life, right? Sadly, it is such, but it is not merely a bullet point in the character’s background. A rapist is an asshole at best, a psychopath at worst, plain and simple. A rape victim is broken, and will act accordingly. Healing is never an option, this is not a broken bone that will get well once set, the scars are too deep. It may scab over, but a certain amount of distrust in the offender’s sex will always be there, paired with a nauseating fear of the locale where the rape took place.
#metoo has been working on unveiling the abuse women go through by the hands of more powerful, influential men. Mostly it is men; I’m not denying that women can rape men as well, but the majority of rapes are committed by men against women.
One can go out and create an adequate analogy to the Middle Ages, of course, GRRM did so, but not to the extent as the TV show makes many believe. Fantasy, like any other genre, thrives on conflict, some authors gloss over the violence of such conflicts, others do not. In the case of Grimdark it’s blood and guts and, in some cases, rape. If a character rapes and the author then expects me to still root for said character because he has a (cue the ominous music) destiny, the author has lost me as reader. If the character rapes while drunk, and is tortured because of it and prevents others from raping as penance, the author has put some thought into it. If the character rapes as much as he eviscerates enemies as pretty much a by-the-by, the author is either writing satire or actually thinks this is part and parcel of the genre without a thought about the implications or consequences.
Rape is not a necessity!
Rape is not a plot point!
Rape is not a part of someone’s CV!
Most men will never experience rape, most women already have. That’s a fact. And to then view it as “historical accuracy” is demonstrating, to me, that these people basically ignore the needs of 50% of the population. How many times do we see women warriors castrate the defeated mal enemies? How many men would complain about that particular violence? How many of those men will still argue that rape is historical accuracy? It disgusts me to be part of the gender.
Do all men rape? No! Of course not! But most men won’t lift a finger to prevent a rape, and even less will refuse to tolerate if the courts release a rapist because of money and influence.
Instead they bury their heads in their asses and say that’s the system. That’s the system is the equivalent excuse to historical accuracy.
We’re talking fantasy here, for fuck’s sake. Men have less of a problem with rape than they have with women being portrayed as strong and independent, because, well, that’s how it’s always been, damsel in distress and victim, and don’t we dare color outside the lines of patriarchy and history. But dragons are okay.
Fantasy was a boys’ domain, despite the genius female writers. Because womenfolk were supposed to be the victims, the domestics at home, never on par with us menfolk. Curiously, the spellchecker has no problem acknowledging “womenfolk” while “menfolk” is seen as error.
#metoo belongs in fantasy as much as it belongs in every aspect of our lives!
Again some people will piss and moan, #metoo destroys the industry and innocents will be hurt by it, that people, trolls, will abuse this to tank authors’ careers. Truth will out in these cases, but if anyone thinks it’s better to protect a handful individuals careers over hundreds of abused women, please check your fucking empathy levels!
Would you think the same if the victim was your wife, girlfriend, sister, mother? How would you react if someone then told you “Oh, but she dressed that way, she was asking for it”? Or boys will be boys, after some high caliber author or personage pawed at your girlfriend? Would you react the same way?
The reality is that rape and harassment happens, and it’s better to shine a light on the situation than to ignore it. Treat the victims with respect, not the perpetrators!
Yes, it’s fantasy! Yes, men are typically stronger than women. But one man against two or three armed and trained women has no chance either, and then please don’t bitch if they rape him with a blunt sword or worse, because after all, rape happens, same as revenge.
In a fantasy world we don’t have to obey the same shit that fucks up people’s lives in our world, there can be justice, there can be women who castrate rapists, there can be gods who will strike the genitals of rapists with incurable rot. It’s FANTASY, for fuck’s sake!
In general, I don’t read medieval-style fantasy. I feel like most of it is poorly regurgitated history with not enough imagination worked into it. I’m not interested in the isolate savior or the queen above it all. For me, stories are about relatively regular people who get into things, sometimes by their own acts, sometimes by acts upon them. I am not interested in exploring rape as it is prolifically on display all around me. A fantasy, for me, is a means to step away from the ugly, an adventure of the mind, a what if. It appears to me that most females in male-written fantasy are there for reproductive purposes or to show how a woman can act like a man and swing a sword. Neither make for very interesting story. I’m tired of the continuing and continuous violence against women and for me, it isn’t rape, it’s assault, it’s battery. It is about sex in the sense that men are very afraid that when women really do start saying no and no more, that they will be one of the rejected men who can’t attract the interest of a female. This is about power, intimidation, control and fear. Men know they behave badly. Most would like to do better. Most have nonconsensual sex with at least one woman in their life, often their relationship partner or wife. Most believe a yes to a relationship is a sexual guarantee and when a woman then says no, there is outrage, a belief in a lie. Most men acknowledge on some level that they cheat in their minds every day, often. They admit to wanting to have sex with many women. They believe that not acting on their urges means they aren’t cheating. But, are they really with their relationship partner in that moment when they are fantasizing about doing a passing woman. Many equate that urge with some fault by the woman. She attracted him therefore it was her fault. It couldn’t be that he really is that mentally immature, that prone to relationship violence and deceit. Sorry, I’m ranting here.
I agree completely that rape is a selling point in fantasy. Just look at the illustrations. They always feature some buxom nymph dressed in cheesecloth. But I have a question for you. It’s a matter of practical logistics. How exactly do women rape men? Which of our body parts do we insert in their orifices? How do we physically overpower them? What are the stats of women raping men? I ask these questions because I keep seeing “Women rape men, too,” but I can’t find a single stat verifying this claim. (I also posted this comment on my FB page.)
Well… women use objects. Or their fists/hands, either on other women or on a man’s anus.
There have been cases where women have used various tools to insert into men’s orifices, but really, what rape boils down to is unconsensual sex. A sober woman who has sex with a drunk man is raping him, as he technically (and, I think, legally) isn’t able to give his consent while under the influence. A woman who touches a man without his consent is sexually assaulting him, EVEN if he has a hard-on. Physical responses do not equal consent.
So it’s not as impossible as it might seem at a first glance.
Excellent article. As an author who strives to write female characters as heroes I wanted my daughters to look up to, I couldn’t agree more. We need to completely change the culture of Fantasy books in general. It starts with calling out those who write inappropriate stories in reviews and lifting up the positive books that portray women (and men) in an appropriate way.
If your fantasy alters certain natural laws of evolution, making the characters non-human as we know humans to be, then sure. But otherwise, for certain types of societies, no: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Natural_History_of_Rape
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Look, I see your good intentions here, but this is an absolutely hamfisted piece of writing that does more harm than good.