female characters, feminism, literary rape, maggie stiefvater blog

Is What We’re Reading Hurting Women?– Or a Post in Response to a Post about Literary Rape

Today when I opened my Goodreads updates, the latest blog post from Maggie Stiefvater was first on the list.  After having read five different novels in the past couple weeks in which the main character was raped, Ms. Stiefvater had to speak out against what she calls “gratuitous rape.”  These are not rape scenes that have an essential reason to be in the story, but rape scenes that she says “enforce the woman’s role as Sidekick and Victim and Rescue Me! and I-Am-Only-The-Sum-Of-The-Places-On-My-Body-You-Can-Violate-Me.”

I don’t know Maggie Stiefvater.  But from what I’ve read on her blog (and books) I think I’d like her. A lot.  And I agree with what she has to say in her post: This Is a Post about Literary Rape.   She talks about how these particular rape scenes are doing nothing but selling rape culture.

I agree.  But I would also say that there are way too many books out there that feature no rape scene at all yet that are just as damaging to women.  And that these books are way too commonplace.  I’m talking about novels in which the sexual tension between the protagonist and her love interest is heightened through dominance or violence or force.  How many times have you read a novel where the man pins the woman down, is rough with her or shoves her against a wall, barely keeping his desire under control?  Where, if he does not rape her, it’s only sheer willpower keeping him from doing so? And where we, as readers, are expected to see this as seduction?  Where we, as readers, DO see this as seduction?

Our culture is so twisted that we teach girls and women to want to be sooo sexy that men can hardly restrain their sexual urges in their presence. And we tell men it’s okay (in fact, that it’s normal) to see women as sexual conquests rather than whole people.  We are told this in magazines, on TV, over the radio and in books.  We see it in pictures and scenes and stories.

We are steeped in it.  Marinaded in it.  It’s the water we drink, the air we breathe.

And so, even women buy into it.  We read the kind of books that propagate our own objectification.   We also write them.

I’m not saying that women shouldn’t enjoy feeling sexy.  We should.  There’s nothing like that rush you get when you know you’ve got it.  When you feel desirable.

But there is nothing sexy or desirable about being violated.  Nothing.  At. All. EVER. 

And near-rape isn’t hot.  Yet because the idea permeates our culture and we’ve been fed it since birth, we can read these scenes and find them erotic. Really erotic. Which is why this issue is so convoluted and confusing and scary and infuriating.  How are we supposed to teach boys and girls that this is not okay?  Is it even possible to do so when this is our norm? 

Writers need to be aware of what messages we are sending.  And readers need to be aware of what they are buying.  We all need to examine what we write or what we read.

It’s time for a change.

I don’t know exactly how to make that change come about.  But I do know one thing.  I agree with Maggie Stiefvater when she says, “World, we need to talk.”

And we need to do it now.

6 thoughts on “Is What We’re Reading Hurting Women?– Or a Post in Response to a Post about Literary Rape”

  1. This is a great post.
    I was just thinking the same thing about TV shows and movies. Violence against women, in particular sexual aggression and violence, is such a common storytelling mechanism that it almost seems to have lost its power to shock. And it is more graphic than ever. How to put a stop to it, that's the question.


  2. Awesome post Katie, I rail against this kind of thing whenever I encounter it but usually am told to “chill out, we were only joking”, and am probably considered a moodbuster but crap, you're right, it's all around us. Mothers of girls have to teach their daughters that they are valuable and not based on the way they look or act, and mothers of boys have to teach thei sons to look at girls as their sisters and mothers not sexual conquests. I guess recognizing that is a start. x


  3. Gosh, you know I remembered watching General Hospital when what's her name, Laura, was raped by Luke and then they fell in love and got married. Ewwww! Honestly, I think we're (humanity) is still evolving as men and women and part of our challenge as writers is to create stories that offer, uhm, new ways of being sexy, and experiencing love and sex. It's disappointing that so much falls to the cliche of gender/old/antiquated stereotypes, but I read this book years ago—that I have never been able to find again—and it was kind of Jungian and it was about Psyche and Eros. The gist was the female and male archetypes need to evolve. As I writer, I'd LOVE to contribute to that concept:) Great post!


  4. Thank you, Heidi. Ugh. How many times have we read or watched scenes where the rapist or near rapist ended up being the sexy lead hero!? Yikes. You are right that our challenge as writers is to create stories offering new ways of looking at love and sex. Let's do it!


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