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Rape and Gender in Fantasy Literature

On her blog, Tansy Rayner Roberts is talking about the gender roles of men and women in fantasy, in particular George RR Martin's The Song of Ice and Fire, with occasional references to the TV show. It has a lot of spoilers, as it would.

It is an interesting read, but the part that struck me was when Tansy wrote that "main characters who are women are threatened with rape on a near-constant basis, while men almost never are – there are a few instances, but such a tiny number in comparison to the massive weight of female rape & rape threats that they are statistically insignificant. Physical humiliation and degradation are heaped on male characters, don’t get me wrong, but like most literature ever, A Song of Ice and Fire exists in a reality bubble where no one is willing to acknowledge how common male-male rape is in situations involving war, slavery and well, history."

Sadly, I think Tansy missed a more telling, and more awful point: that the rape of women in fantasy literature is more acceptable and readable than the rape of men, performed either by women or by men (as equal problem in the rape narrative of women always being the victim is that men are always the perpetrator--all doors of victimisation swing both ways, sadly).

It is a terrible thing to accept, or even to agree with, and perhaps people will disagree with me, but that has always how I've interpreted the situation. It's ugly, there's no doubt about it. It's not right, either. I actually don't like that it exists, and I find, personally, that it is one of the things I actively strive against in my own work. I am not against rape events in literature--I am not against any narrative event, unlike the real world, where I am against all forms of rape--but you cannot have such a narrative event in your work and not be aware of the larger ramifications of it in your field, your world, etc. For fantasy literature, I find myself aware of the fact that the rape of women by men is an acceptable event in the work, not because it is pleasurable to read--though we can make the argument that it is readable, which in itself opens up a whole new set of ugly conclusions--but because the genre has made it an acceptable form of degradation against female characters.

Ugly, like I said.


May. 24th, 2013 05:17 pm (UTC)
I think part of the problem is that sexual violence has almost become shorthand for "these are the bad guys" - it's become a cheap and thoughtless way of delineating between acceptable and non-acceptable violence in a fantasy novel.

There's probably an argument in there somewhere that sexual violence is replacing racial description as shorthand for who the bad guys are.

Some books do it more obviously than others, but there are some clear cut cases about - I stopped reading Peter V Brett's second book because of the constant parade of sexual violence (against men and women) - the first book had some, but it was mostly skippable, but the second book was prefty much unreadable (Although it's worth noting he's pretty shithouse on racial issues as well, to be fair).

May. 25th, 2013 09:06 am (UTC)
my girlfriend and i were talking about this today, actually. how that rape as shorthand for bad guys is in a lot of things, not just fantasy books (though i haven't read the brett stuff).