You know something that makes me angry and upset on a distressingly regular basis?
Seeing the treatment of women around the world echoed – without thought, without compassion, without anger or determination – in the books I read. Just echoed, because that’s what happens to women, right? I’m not talking about books that tackle the situation women find themselves in, either shining a considerate light on how horrific it is, showing women surviving it, subverting it, and all the other ways that good writers – and good people – tell women’s stories.
I’m talking about things like this:
BIG TRIGGER WARNING: RAPE
“The combination of a woman and time on my hands wasn’t one I’d tried before. I found the mix to my liking. There’s a lot to be said for not being in a queue, or not having to finish up before the flames take hold of the building. And the willingness! That was new too.”
So once you’ve finished scrubbing yourself clean, let’s discuss how not okay this is.
The book in question is Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence and I read this review, in which the reviewer points out that if you can leave the grossness aside it probably appeals to people who love their fantasy grimdark and their main characters fucked-up sickos. Which I’m actually also okay with! It’s not that I want all characters ever – main ones, antagonists, minor characters – to be good people.
I just don’t want blithe references to gang-rape queues that are never called into question by the text.
Rape happens, as does gang-rape. As long as that is the case, our literature needs to write about it – but in certain ways. Yes, I believe that literature – and art as a whole – affects our society. It can reinforce views – rape culture, for instance. It can blithely treat women like shit because hey-ho this is still not a big deal, somehow. Literature can also examine why someone becomes a rapist (I mean, this book is about a child soldier, and child soldiery does all sorts of awful things to people including turning them into rapists, and if this book was a nuanced exploration of the character’s psychological upheaval, I wouldn’t be angry, but it really doesn’t sound like it is), it can examine how someone who is raped survives or doesn’t. While I can’t say I have any interest in reading stories about rapists, I know that some writers are capable of handling the subject well. I am very interested in stories about survivors.
See, this morning I read a G+ update from Kameron Hurley where she says: “You can only read so many horror stories of how much it sucks to be a girl. It gets under your skin. You start to internalize it, and it turns into self-hate, and subconscious misogyny. Sometimes you need to be reminded that being a girl does NOT mean you’re doomed to get shit on all the time.”
I cannot cheer this statement enough. It is damaging to be constantly exposed to stories of brutality against women. I will read it in the news, because these are real women and their stories deserve to be heard, but sometimes I have to disengage because crying my way through BBC News isn’t good for my health.
I love reading stories where women fight back, like the story of Rukhsana Kauser. I love reading stories where women survive, where they move past their trauma and do amazing things and live happily. While ‘love’ is not quite the right word, I place immense value on stories where women struggle to survive. Survivors need to know that they’re not the only ones struggling.
I want this in my fiction. Beth Bernobich’s novel Passion Play does this excellently – the main character is raped early on, but the majority of the book is about her growth in confidence and self-worth and ambition. The fact that I see it as a rare example of well-handled rape in SFF – rather than the norm – makes me sick. I don’t want to read lovingly detailed rape scenes like in The Windup Girl, I don’t want to read novels where the only viewpoint is a male who thinks queues are annoying. These things hurt me and they hurt other women and men and I’m going to suggest that 99% of the time they don’t do anything else except make certain stories more ~*~grimdark~*~. Ever notice how most grimdark stories are male stories? Yeah.
We do not exist to be hurt by men. We do not exist to be hurt so that other men are hurt.
This is why I write a lot of women’s stories.
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