Tuesday, June 30, 2015

50 Shades of Rape #rapeculture

The Rape Of The Sabines: The Abduction .
The Rape Of The Sabines: The Abduction . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I avoided the #AskELJames Twitter party/skewering, because generally, I don't "do" Twitter, FaceBook events, and the like, but found myself in some interesting group discussions about it, and her work, anyway.

Some female writers I know, along with EL James herself, vigorously deny the reality that, as depicted in Fifty Shades of Grey, Christian rapes Ana.

[Trigger warning: If you couldn't tell from the title, this post will explore rape and controversy, and explicit language will sometimes be used.]

As a writer, this is an interesting journey. I am a rape sur-thriver (I have not only survived rape, but gone on to thrive), and have had to examine and unpack not only the second time I was raped - the one that everyone would agree was rape, by a masked stranger at knifepoint - but the first, which for a long time I myself did not recognize or understand as rape.

I explored that date rape experience, and the role that my romance reading played in making me not "get" that it was rape, in this post a few years ago.

In more than one scene in FSOG, consent is missing. Sex without consent = RAPE.

Many people don't fully understand consent. "But she could've used her safe word, and she didn't!" or "But she had orgasms!" Many survivors of childhood sexual abuse feel a great deal of shame and that they were partly responsible for their abuse, because 1) they did feel feel pleasure or have orgasms, and 2) their abusers told them that meant they wanted it, too.

Many people in BDSM situations, especially newbies, are too stressed and confused to remember their "safe" words, and responsible Doms will never override a "No," "Stop," or "Don't," without checking in to make absolutely certain the sub wants play to continue.

From UC - Irvine:
Consent is positive cooperation involving an act of free will, absent of coercion, intimidation, force, or the threat of force.  A person cannot give effective consent if he/she is unable to appreciate the nature of the sexual act - as with a person who has a disability that would impair understanding of the act or if a person is impaired by the influence of drugs or alcohol.

There must always be active consent on both sides. Consent to one thing does not imply another. If limits are made clear and consent is not given, pressuring someone into changing their mind is not consent. → If you are unwilling to accept a "no", then "yes" has no meaning. 
  •  Consent is based on choice. 
  •  It is active, not passive.  Silence and passivity do not equal consent. 
  •  Consent is possible only when there is equal power. 
  •  Giving in because of fear is NOT consent.  
  •  Giving in or going along with someone to gain approval or to avoid being hurt is NOT consent. 
  •  Consent means two people (or more) deciding together to do the same thing, at the same time, in the same way, with each other.

Rape is evil... but I like it

Another part of my journey has been to understand the contradictions in my own thought process. I hate rape. If I had a magic wand I could wave to prevent rape from being perpetrated on another man, woman or child on the planet, I would wave that shit till my arm fell off, then switch arms. I do not look back at any of my own rapes as being enjoyable or fun, and would not ever want to repeat them.

And yet... being totally honest with myself, I have read rape scenes in books, or watched them in movies, and become deeply aroused.  This is a part of myself about which I felt greatly ashamed, and wanted to deny.

Because how can I be anti-rape, and yet, be erotically aroused by rape?

Many "decent" women, and probably men, have rape fantasies

I haven't studied the male angle much, but I'm guessing some of them fantasize about being the object of rape, or raping a woman, man, or child, or both.

But I have found that I am not the only woman who feels this way. Many women, who would never want to experience a rape or gang-bang IRL (in real life), either fantasize about being raped or gang-banged, or actually go to a swing club or other safe place and arrange to experience a simulated rape or gang-bang, under very controlled circumstances.

Controlled circumstances being the key. I have talked to other women and read of experiences where the rape scenario is played out, generally as tightly choreographed as kibuki theatre. Some rape surthrivers say re-enacting their rapes were tremendously empowering, and it is something I may consider for myself someday. (Note: my therapist thinks it's a very bad idea.)

English: "Rape of Europa"
English: "Rape of Europa" (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I've worked at digging deeper to try to find out what, exactly, I find arousing about rape (when I do find it arousing - I don't, always). I think it has to do with being freed from guilt/sexual shame. Because if somebody makes me have sex, then I am not dirty/slutty. I still have much more digging to do, but I have accepted this kink as a part of my own personal being, at least at this time.

There are lots of sexual fantasies out there that might fuel masturbation, but will never come to fruition IRL, because people can't actually have sex with vampires or werewolves or dinosaurs. Yes, dino porn is a thing. There are other fantasies that are possible, like bestiality, that most people will never act upon.

I no longer believe that having dark fantasies, or role-playing rape, are a bad thing, even if they are not something we want to bring up while passing the cookies at a PTA meeting.

If it's not bad to fantasize about, it can't be bad to write about

I actually know lovely people who write dino porn, and rape scenes. I have many issues with Fifty Shades, but that it includes rape and an emotionally abusive relationship isn't any of them.

Where my biggest problem lies is with the denial by EL James and others that Christian rapes and emotionally abuses Ana. And her portrayal of the rape and abuse as romantic, a viewpoint I internalized as a teen from the many rape-y romances of the 1970's. Maybe because I have worked so hard to unpack my own issues, and am still working on them, I have little patience with people in denial about their own writing and actions.

I own my own shit. I expect others to be grown-ups and own their own shit, too.

I am a rape sur-thriver AND I am sometimes aroused by rape fantasies,
and this is okay.

I think it is perfectly acceptable to write rape scenes, and bestiality scenes, and group sex scenes, and whatever our dirty little imaginations can conjure up. But when we do, we must accept the reality that not everyone will love our work.

Some people will have a strong negative reaction, and if they do, the adult response is not to try to redefine consent, rape, or negate the reader's experience. It's to put trigger warnings on our work. It's to tell the readers who express distress, "I'm so very sorry someone raped or abused you. This work is not for everyone."

As a writer, I believe it's very bad form to tell the readers that "they read it wrong," rather than accept the possibility that we may have conveyed the message poorly. As a human being, I think it's callous to ignore the legitimate distress our actions may be causing other people.

I do not agree with the dogpiling of personal abuse directed at Ms. James, but criticism of her work, and even criticizing her attitude toward that criticism, is totally legitimate, in my opinion.

What's yours?
Do you have dark erotic fantasies that made you feel ashamed?
What do you think is an author's responsibility to her readers?