I don’t like reading about rape in fiction. Recently though I found myself reading a few books almost back to back that had rape story lines. That got me wondering about the different ways this topic can be covered and if that changes the reading experience.
Gender of the author
I don’t think that I would be willing to read a female rape story line in a fiction book written by a man. Even if it was written from the point of view of a woman, there is still the fact that it was imagined in the mind of a potential perpetrator instead of a victim that adds a layer of disgust to it for me. It feels too voyeuristic even if that isn’t the intent.
Surprise or Anticipated
In the synopsis of The Hollow Girl it says that the main character is raped so you know going into the book that this is a major part of the plot and can decide whether or not that is a book for you.
In another series I read recently, it was not discussed in the synopsis so it felt like being blind sided by it.
There has been a lot written about “fridging”. That’s the trope of having something horrible, like rape or murder, happen to a secondary female character in order to inspire the main character(s) to do something heroic. But what if that rape happens to the main character?
In The Hollow Girl the main character is a Romani girl who is learning magic. She is attacked and raped and the boy who comes to her defense is murdered. In order to bring him back to life she needs to collect body parts. She decides to collect them from the boys who raped her and those whose inaction allowed the attack to happen. The rape here sets up a horror revenge fantasy.
I don’t like stories that use rape of a main character to humble or humilate a strong woman. That felt more like what happened in The Godkindred Saga series. This is a fantasy series featuring a female general who is anticipating retirement but is instead sent to a newly captured territory to be its governor. She is a great character – complex, competent, just – but then along the way she is suddenly raped while confronting a horde of half-feral men. These men had been keeping women in fear in the area. The danger from them and need to subdue them was explained well in the book but having the main character raped seemed like an odd choice. It wasn’t absolutely necessary for the story.
As the story progresses there are other rapes of high ranking females in this Army. None of them seemed to serve any real purpose in the story but to belittle them.
I love this author but I do have an issue with her use of rape in her books. She writes beautiful pastoral books and then she writes books that feature a lot of violence and rape. There are series of hers that I won’t read because they are specifically labeled as featuring a lot of sexual violence. The attitude towards this in her books is basically, “Suck it up and deal. This is what women have had to deal with from the beginning of time.” It is off putting to me.
In Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death, the main character is the offspring of military strategy of raping women. The attitude there is that she is going to make sure that this ends when she brings down the bad guy. It has the same kind of violence but somehow it is more hopeful (despite it being a much darker book) because they aren’t just putting up with it.
On page or Off
I have no interest in reading the details. In all these examples euphemisms are used and then the scene fades to black. In fact, in Flight of the Godkin Griffith, I didn’t realize that there had been a rape until the character references it later. I had to go back and look at the scene again to realize that was what that euphemism meant.
All of these examples I’m citing are fantasy. I think for me that gives a distance that makes it a bit easier to accept these story lines. I find books like Stained, which is a contemporary story about a rape to be much harder.
I find nonfiction accounts easier to read. Some people may find that strange but to me it is an account of something that happened and needs to be faced. It is not something that someone sat down and imagined because they thought it would be entertaining.
Do you avoid rape plots in books? What standards do you have for what you will or won’t read?