This post by Sophia McDougall on the treatment of rape in sci-fi / fantasy fiction and in popular movies is the most thoughtful and incisive I’ve read on the subject. She really manages to say all the things one has thought about on the subject.
And the few angles she misses out are complemented by the readers of her blog. Such as this powerful response:
I have to say; I’m impressed. You expressed a lot of opinions I have often thought myself and did it very eloquently. One thing I would like to mention is that since there is so much rape in our pop culture, are we not in some way encouraging it? Is it possible that all the rape scenes depicting a male perpetrator taking power and selfish satisfaction from a female victim is causing more men to desire this kind of exchange and to fantasise about it? A friend of mine is studying law and recently attended a lecture discussing homophobia. During the discussion the lecturer asked the males if they have ever had a homosexual crack onto them and how it made them feel and why. A male in the class told of how he’d been chatted up by a man in a bar and he had felt quite threatened by the man’s advances. The conversation then moved on to rape and the lecturer then asked this same male to read a text depicting a rape scene. He mentioned that, while the room was filled with females and only a handful of males, the lecturer asked the male to read. I think she did this intentionally to demonstrate a point. The male class mate became flushed in the face as he read and showed many other signs of arousal (it probably didn’t help him being surrounded by twenty year old girls). When he had finished reading and sat down in an uncomfortable silence the lecturer then started a discussion on how quickly an unwanted advance from a male can turn from harmless flirting to physical force. She casually mentioned that the threat a male feels from a homosexual male’s advances is the same as the threat a woman feels from ANY male’s advances. At this point the male reader got up and left the room nearly crying. The realisation that the rape scene that had so excited him could easily apply to him was more than he could handle. It seems to me, if males saw more males being raped they would likely empathise more with the rape victim and less with the perpetrator.
Or another angle from a Russian-speaking reader:
A comment by LJ user casus_kazi on the translated post struck me as an interesting view of the topic. I translated it with her permission to share it with you:
The subject I was most interested in was realism in depiction of violence against oppressed/underprivileged. Because it is really difficult to prove sometimes that an author is exploiting and delighting in depiction of such violence, and not (only) tries to arouse a noble anger in his readers. I think that the argument in the post are applicable not only to rape, but to a wide spectrum of violence, e.g. such widespread depictions of abuse of children or cruel murders of animals. Such scenes are common in Dostoyevsky’s prose, for instance.
The trouble with these scenes lies in the declared goal “to induce aversion to such atrocious behaviour”. This goal presupposes its target audience, and it consists of those who by default do not associate themselves (and are not associated by others) with the survivor or victim of the violent act. That usually means a privileged person. The plan is that reading such a scene would let them understand a bit more of the vulnerability of the underprivileged to violence. (It must be said that this will not necessarily be the actual outcome. The readers may enjoy the show and do not feel it as being contradictory to authorial intent.) So the potential readers who are already associating themselves with the victim, because they are also vulnerable, are not seen – are in a blind spot. It is no discovery for them that the victim of such violence is a person with feelings; and the detailed depiction of the violent act, by its design excluding them from the audience, is re-traumatizing, because it makes them re-live or recollect similar acts of violence against them or other members of the underprivileged group with whom they associate themselves.
I remember an incident from my vegan past. On the anti-animal abuse forums vegans discussed pro-animal clips and movies, using such phrases “you have to watch it, I cried for 4 days”. When I asked why do I have to cry for days, they accused me of insensitivity and callousness. The movie, planned to nudge non-vegan audience towards becoming vegans, was inflicted by vegans on each other, so that they could escape an imaginary insensibility to animal suffering; in reality it created neuroses. It was an example of self-stigmatization, which happens when people ignore their own existence as a group sensitive to a particular kind of violence.
I’m not sure at all that authors have such intent (to teach compassion to their readers), but no doubt some readers read that way.