Want to play a game?
Ask someone to recommend you a good fantasy book. Let them list off a few titles, then say, “Oh, wait, I forgot — I want a fantasy book where no women are raped.” Watch what happens.
- “There’s not THAT much rape in fantasy! But, okay, there’s … uh. Hm. Uh… does attempted rape count? She gets aw– oh, wait, no, another doesn’t. Um. … Huh. Never noticed that before.”
- “What sort of question is that? Who cares?”
- “Oh god, are you a feminist?”
- “Oh, I know, I hate that too, but don’t worry, here’s a list –”
In my experience, #1 and #2 are the most common, with #3 following close behind if it’s a conversation on the Internet. Fortunately I have had #4 happen, and there I found fantastic books like THE STEERSWOMAN’S ROAD and David Drake’s RCN Series.
Disclaimer: I have never been raped, nor nearly raped, nor threatened with rape — facts for which I thank God, repeatedly. I do, however, have massive consent issues rising from the fear of being raped — because I have friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances who have been. When you’re 12 and your friend calls you in tears to finally admit to someone what her friend’s dad did to her when she was 9, that sticks with you.
People always freak out when I tell them I’ve never read anything by George R.R. Martin (or whatever, but him in particular), and then they’re appalled when I say I have no intention to do so. They usually get frustrated when I tell them it’s because I won’t read any fantasy book where a female character gets raped. Or nearly raped. Or is threatened with rape. Or is implied to be raped. Or gets pregnant through rape.
“But it’s so good!” they tell me.
“If it has rape, I don’t care,” I say. Then the conversation gets awkward and I change the topic. Because I guess it’s not cool to say rape is not okay.
I honestly don’t know why fantasy, in particular, lends itself to rape. I don’t know if it’s because a lot of fantasy writers are men (except female authors are not exempt from this), or because it’s part of the ‘fantasy bingo card’ and people will complain if it’s not there, or because authors don’t know what kind of conflict to give a female character and just use the rape fallback (kind of like ‘give them cancer’ in a sitcom Very Special Episode), or because strong female characters need to get taken down a peg or men won’t read the story and rape is the easiest way to do that. I’m pretty sure fantasy authors don’t go around thinking about raping women on the subway, so what gives?
The answer I get most is that it’s “realistic” to have rape — or, on the flip side, that it would be “unrealistic” for a fantasy story NOT to have rape. This is where I get my outraged Jesus on and start flipping tables, because say WHAT?
Kate Howard, in a guest post over at The Rejectionist, said this:
Too many people seem perfectly able to imagine an alt-history with wizards, but not an alt-history with women.
Kate was talking about the inclusion of female characters, period, but still — I wanted to shout it from the rooftops, because yes! This! This x10000! We can invent societies with magic, wizards, dragons, and entirely constructed histories, but strong female characters who don’t get ‘humanised’ by rape are a no-go? Stop the planet; I don’t want to live here anymore.
I started, a while back, to do a post complaining about rape in fantasy fiction, and thought I’d compile a list of all the fantasy books in which involve rape. A little while in I realised this would take forever, and it might be quicker to do a list of the ones that don’t have rape. I hit the Internet.
And then this happened:
No, Google. No I did not.
And, you know, I realised that people can whine about Tolkien’s “boy’s club” and Eowyn not really being a strong female character because she was in love (…?) all they want — he didn’t rape anybody, and that puts him miles above every “edgy” author since.
In conclusion: fantasy authors, stop raping your women. Seriously.
Dear readers, if you have any recommendations, I would seriously LOVE to hear them! :)