My first thought was: Is sexual violence really so prevalent in Urban Fantasy?
The second was: Ermahgerd! But my female lead was abused and I’ve written an awful cliché and this is an utter disaster!
I even had a sinking feeling in my stomach. Then I went back and read the post which prompted hers. Right near the bottom is a comment by denelian and she really brought it home to me, she reminded me where my main character came from. Maybe my character’s back story is a cliché, but you know what? I don’t care. I didn’t write Vinny to be anyone other than herself and hers is a story of survival, intended for anybody who has survived. Obviously, I’d love it if people adore and applaud my work but at the end of the day, it wasn’t written for the critics. Instead, it was written for every woman who’s been mistreated, whether a boyfriend raped her or a husband knocked her teeth out. It was written for every woman who got up and, sadly, for every woman who couldn’t.
I haven’t been raped but I do have experience of abusive relationships and I want to add a different facet to these discussions about rape, violence and women.
To start with, yes; let’s do away with the cliché. A woman doesn’t need to be emotionally scarred in order to be strong. No ‘buts’.
But let’s expand on what the cliché is here; women don’t just get raped because they dare to wear a short skirt and walk down the road. Women can be raped by their husbands, something could be slipped into their drink, and not just at a nightclub. It could be a friend buying her a cooldrink at the beach, or fetching you a glass of water in their house. And I use a generic ‘their’ because it’s not unknown for a woman to do the roofieying for a man.
Men get raped too, more often than you think. Rape statistics are largely inaccurate, partly because the victims are further victimized by the authorities who are supposed to protect them and try to deliver the rapist to justice. The stigma that surrounds rape victims may just be worse for men than it is for women. To my knowledge, most, if not all, convicted rapists are men and we live in a global society that still tends to be homophobic to some extent. Not that rape is as much about sex as it is about power, but is it any wonder that men are even more ashamed to admit to being raped than a woman is?
Ignoring rape and domestic violence will never solve the problem, but neither will using these things as some kind of template foundation for feminine strength in fiction. I repeat, women don’t need to be messed up to be strong.
This brings me to a separate, though related point. Anon comments about the author being a privileged man, which he admits to in his post, and then goes on to say that she’s never feared being raped. I’m not saying that every woman spends all her time worrying about this, but it is a reality which I believe most women carry in the back of their minds. I’m also not saying that male privilege doesn’t exist, it certainly does, but I do think that Anon is also speaking from a position of privilege. Her privilege is that she’s never had a reason to fear. And yes, no matter how unfair it is, that has become a privilege reserved for people who haven’t been mugged, who’ve never heard gunshots and screams late at night and wondered if they are safe.
For the majority of people, rape is something that makes us uncomfortable. Most people would rather pull an ostrich and stick their heads in the sand and that is precisely why we need to talk about it. We need to create a mental shift that does not seek to justify the actions of rapists. It’s all well and good to promote strong women, we need more positive women front and centre who are celebrated for their guts, intelligence, courage, and success in whatever it is they do. We need to be those women and, in carving those roles for ourselves, we need to remember all the women who can’t stand up for themselves. Our voices are desperately needed in the conversations that surround societal issues and we need to remember that every time we add our voices to the dialogue we’re speaking for everybody who doesn’t have a voice. We might not have the power to dole out punishment for wrongs against women (Unless you’re a member of the Gulag gang), and we might not even have the power to change a bigot’s opinion, but we can inspire other women to also stand up.
That is where Vinny comes from. I have not written her as a woman being abused but rather as a woman discovering normality after abuse. The things that happened to her have certainly moulded her but she’s a strong character in her own right. She isn’t your typical ‘reluctant heroine with power thrust upon her’ which, to me, is a far more undermining view of women than including violent circumstances in their character makeup. Why should a woman be reluctant to take charge? Doesn’t this just continue the view of women as passive creatures? Maybe it’s just me, but I think that a strong women doesn’t need to be forced into a position that presents her with greater responsibility, I think strong women do what needs to be done without feeling hard done by.