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January 23, 2012

Can’t you hear beyond the croaking?
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 05:41 PM * 298 comments

You know the management-seminar myth about boiled frogs?

If you put a frog into a pot of boiling water, it says, the frog will hop out of it. But if you put said frog into a pot of cool water and slowly turn the heat up, it’ll stay there till it’s boiled. It’s not true, not for realistic frog cooking times at least. But it’s a useful metaphor for the tendency to endure much worse conditions if they come upon us gradually than we would accept in a sudden imposition.

What’s interesting and valuable, though, are those frogs who suddenly stick their heads out of the increasingly warm fluid and say Actually, you know, it’s too hot in here. Enough, already.

These musings are apropos of a movie review I found linked on Twitter. The reviewer, Drew McWeeny, was watching The Divide before writing it up when he found himself hitting the pause button.

Over the course of my life, I’d wager I’ve seen at least 10,000 movies. Maybe more. I’ve had years where I’ve mainlined as many as 500 movies, many of them older catalog titles. I have a voracious appetite for all types of movies, both high art and low. I love smart sophisticated movies, I love experimental films, and I love genre junk. I love any movie that offers me a genuine experience of some sort, where there’s something that moves me or that I recognize as true and well-observed or where someone just plain surprises me. I am open to pretty much anything when I sit down to a new film.

But at the age of 41, at about 94 minutes into “The Divide,” I reached a breaking point, and I realized that I am pretty much incapable of sitting through one more cheap, pointless, exploitative rape in a movie.

McWeeny goes on to point out that an explicit rape in a film may give it an R rating—but a consensual sex scene will trigger an NC-17, or force the film to go out unrated1. He theorizes, and I think he’s right, that many directors use rape as a way to get nudity or sex into movies without losing too much of their potential audience. This has a cost, of course, both to the actors (a rarely-cited thing, but important) and the increasingly jaded audience.

You push your actress, you brutalize the character, and you have a couple of actors play the absolute worst of humanity turned up to “cartoon,” and it means nothing. It is empty shock. It is without effect because of just how hollow a gesture it is. How can you justify asking an actress to bare herself both physically and emotionally for something as grimy as that without any real point to the scene? It can’t just be one more item on a checklist of atrocity. If that’s what you’re doing, then ask yourself why. What do you think any audience will get out of that? Are you doing it to horrify them, or do you feel like that’s what the audience wants and you need to give it to them? And if that’s the case, do you really want to feed that appetite?

As a film critic, McWeeny is focused primarily on the ways in which writers and directors have used rape to get a movie audience’s attention. But his reaction reminded me of a recent piece by Jim Hines in Apex Magazine. Hines, who is one of my favorite internet menschen, tackles the role of rape in storytelling rather more broadly. He points out the degree to which it’s clichéd, frequently unnecessary, and usually badly written to boot.

Story after story in which rape is a quick, thoughtless way to motivate a woman to set off in search of revenge (“Red Sonja Syndrome”), or else it’s lazy shorthand to show how evil someone is, like having them kick a puppy. Or worse, it’s written in such a way that the writer seems to be reveling in the act him- or herself, glorifying and celebrating every graphic detail.

The whole article is worth a read.

I’m certainly with both Hines and McWeeny here: there are books and films that use rape and sexual violence so badly that I’ll never be able to deal with them again (Lord Foul’s Bane springs to mind). And I’ve also seen them written extremely effectively, so much so that the character’s experience is the reason I own and reread the book (Deerskin, by Robin McKinley, which I find cathartic about once a year).

But there’s something that they both skip over, which I really think is important. The pervasive depiction of violent rape in movies and books isn’t just cardboard storytelling and a way to sneak nudity into a film. It’s also teaching viewers and readers what rape is: violent sexual assault, usually by a stranger.

And that definition is wrong, dangerously so. It’s the reason that between 6 and 8% of men are willing to admit to behaviors that fit the real definition of rape or attempted rape—but don’t call it by that name. Because they know what rape is. It’s what happened in The Divide, or The Road Warrior, or Thelma and Louise. It’s not that time they used a little too much force with a girl, or got her drunk or stoned enough that they didn’t have to worry about her saying “No”2.

I don’t have any answers here. I just wanted to join Hines and McWeeny in pointing out that the water’s rather painfully hot in here, and wondering if there were somewhere slightly more comfortable we could go instead.

Nota Bene: I am aware that women rape, and men get raped, as well, both in real life and in the stories we tell. But the vast majority of the incidents and depictions are male-on-female, and since I’m talking about popular culture here—peak of the bell curve stuff—I’m deliberately focusing on that subset. I do think that a more enlightened attitude toward violence and consent would improve even the rarest of edge cases, so though these other circumstances are neglected here, they are not forgotten.


  1. This echoes the fact that Herman Cain was able to survive several credible allegations of persistent harassment, but was finally out of the Presidential race because he’d had consensual sex with someone. As though the element of force, social or physical, had some kind of redemptive effect on the sexuality. As though the most obscene word in the English language were “Yes”, particularly when spoken by a woman.
  2. These are based on the survey questions used by Lisak & Miller, as cited by Yes Means Yes.
Comments on Can't you hear beyond the croaking?:
#1 ::: Ken Brown ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2012, 06:31 PM:

Confused here. Is it really true that on-screen rape gets a more lenient rating than consensual sex with a similar amount of explicit description? Or is that not part of what you are saying?

Apart from that, yes, of course, obviously what you said.

#2 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2012, 06:35 PM:

Parallel to Spider Robinson's observation that an indecent exposure charge will result in more jail time than a rape charge, and is easier to prosecute, to boot. (Forget which story this comes up in. Probably '80s-ish vintage.)

#3 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2012, 06:35 PM:

Ken @1:
Is it really true that on-screen rape gets a more lenient rating than consensual sex with a similar amount of explicit description?

I'm going by what McWeeny says:

If I had to pinpoint what bothers me most about the subject, though, it's that our ratings system in this country is so broken that a film that contains a sustained, brutal rape sequence featuring full-frontal female nudity can breeze right through with an R-rating, but if you include a sequence in which two people engage in spirited, consensual sex and we see anything that resembles reality, you are automatically flirting with an NC-17 or going out unrated.

He's a film writer and reviewer who's seen a lot of movies. I have to arrange babysitting to go see anything more sophisticated than Puss in Boots, and live in a country without Netflix. So I'm taking McWeeny at his word when he asserts this.

Contrary evidence welcome.

#4 ::: Tiger Spot ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2012, 06:53 PM:

Ken Brown @1:

For an enlightening comparison of rape scenes vs. consensual sex scenes, see the documentary "This Film Is Not Yet Rated". Yes, consensual sex is rated more harshly than comparable rape scenes. Also, consensual sex in which a woman orgasms or is otherwise clearly enjoying herself is rated more harshly than consensual sex in which she is not.

#5 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2012, 06:59 PM:

That is why I gave up on the Song of Ice and Fire books. At first I thought maybe it was going to go somewhere, but then I realized -- no, it's just gratuitous violent rape/sexual assault, over and over again, as a way of proving that this sword-and-sorcery fantasy is grim and gritty and adult.

At least, that's how it felt to me. YMMV, of course.

And yes, I do realize that there was gratuitous violence of all kinds, not just sexual violence. But that didn't help. It felt to me very much like "checklist of atrocity."

#6 ::: Chris Lawson ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2012, 07:15 PM:

A counter-example: the rape in Rob Roy could be seen as puppy-kicking (Tim Roth plays just about the most unlikeable villain ever put to film even before the rape), but (i) the scene was not exploitative, (ii) the film deals with the emotional pain caused to the victim, and (iii) instead of becoming an excuse for revenge, the victim decides not to tell her husband because she knows it would drive him to self-destructive acts of vengeance.

I wish more films dealt with fictional atrocities in this manner rather than as a plot device that has to be ratcheted higher every year to achieve the same shock value.

#7 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2012, 07:36 PM:

Weirdly, what took a the remaining shine off ASoIaF for me was that n yvggyr tvey pbhyqa'g ohvyq n fabj pnfgyr jvgubhg vg orvat xvpxrq qbja. Enough already.

I don't know whether I'll read the most recent book-- I've heard some good things about it.

Something I've been wondering about since I've read complaints about the amount of rape in those books-- does a plausible amount of non-sexual illness and injury happen to the female characters in those books? Or, if not plausible for the tech level, about as much as happens to the male characters?

#8 ::: Larry ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2012, 07:50 PM:

Abi I stopped reading Lord Foul's Bane after that particular scene. It really pissed me off and made me despise the main character and seemed like it was just there to provoke. The Terry Goodkind stuff is pretty bad too, rape and sexual violence for giggles it seemed.

That is the thing about rape, it's also such a cheap shot to use in many cases because it provokes such strong reactions in people.

#9 ::: J.M. ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2012, 08:33 PM:

This post got to me less as a criticism of rape in films or books (as it was, and rightly so; I've just never seen or read any of the works listed) and more of much-needed opinion as to subject matter I'd considered adding in another story in the future. I've been going back and forth about it, so this was a good read to help me put that in perspective.

#10 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2012, 08:44 PM:

Jim Hines is AWESOME. We need a lot more men like him -- partly because of the Magic Dongle effect. (AKA women can talk about rape and gender-based violence until the cows come home, but there are a lot of people who won't pay much attention. But when a man starts talking about it, that makes it important!)

A couple of related articles that I've been meaning to do an essay about, but haven't had time yet:

Stop telling women how not to get raped.
Summary: Quit pretending that women are in control of this behavior.

Deconstruction: Why your well-meaning advice was called victim-blaming.
Originally written about racism, but it has wider implications.
One reason your advice was called victim-blaming may have been because you treated society in general and abusers in particular as an invisible, unalterable force and then proceeded to advise the victim how to modify their behavior in light of this. In other words, you may have treated the victim as the only variable in an otherwise unchanging and unchangeable equation.

As long as we (as a society) persist in viewing rape as something that just happens, like weather, and that it's incumbent upon the victim to put on a raincoat, the problem will never be solved. We have to think of rape as something that someone does to another person.

I have been amazed at the strides being made in this direction just in the last 5 or 6 years. Not that there isn't still a long way to go, but the idea of blaming the rapist for raping rather than the victim for [whatever somebody thinks she did wrong to "provoke" it] is no longer complete alien weirdness.

#11 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2012, 09:06 PM:

That movies, television and genre have created a rape culture this way has been an ongoing criticism and discussion in sf/f for quite a while.

The rapey sf/f fanboys always respond to the criticisms of their dearly beloved pseudo medieval author-heroes-ovels with all the same responses they always have. Rape is what happens in the middle ages to all women all the time and is without blowback, these authors are scholars who have done their scholarship.

To which any actual scholarly rebuttal that states otherwise, and states that this bs isn't scholarship and the authors aren't scholars always results in snarking laughter of ignorance. Gads am I sick of it.

Rape was punishable by death. That's one of the many reasons Malory, he who wrote le Morte d' Arthur in prison for rape, was so often accused of rape, whether justifiably or not. Then as now sexual transgression accusations were big weapons in the political arsenal.

Love, c.

#12 ::: Evan ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2012, 09:31 PM:

Larry @8: I don't blame you at all for giving up on it, but FYI, you're not supposed to like the main character of Lord Foul's Bane. He's an antihero. The whole point of the series is to ask the question "what would Lord of the Rings have been like if Frodo was horrible?"

I actually find it kind of fascinating, but indeed, very hard to get through in places.

#13 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2012, 09:34 PM:

TV Tropes has a page for Gratuitous Rape mentioning some of these points. -- ASoIaF is noted....

#14 ::: Emily H. ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 12:42 AM:

I think that when you see men as the default, when you have a story to tell it defaults to being a story about a man. So "Maybe this should be a story about a woman?" comes up only when you have a story that would be vastly more likely to happen to a woman than to a man -- she gets raped, or she gets pregnant.

And there's no question that the writers and producers of big-budget Hollywood movies see men as the default, unless it's a romantic comedy or a chick flick.

Joanna Russ's essay "What Can A Heroine Do?" contains a list of plots that we're used to seeing over and over, but gender-reversed:

"A phosphorescently doomed poetess sponges off her husband and drinks herself to death, thus alienating the community of Philistines and businesswomen who would have continued to give her lecture dates."

"A young man who unwisely puts success in business before his personal fulfillment loses his masculinity and ends up as a neurotic, lonely eunuch."

The conclusion Russ draws is that "there are so very few stories in which women can figure as protagonists." And you get stories in which women are present in stories only to do women stuff: to fall in love with the protagonist (or at least have sex with him), to get raped, to get pregnant.

#15 ::: Raka ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 12:54 AM:

Evan @12: that, yes. "Antihero" back before it came to mean "surly/emo badass who does the stuff we sometimes wish we could get away with", but actual broken and awful human being. I found the scene very difficult, and it took me several attempts over the course of a few years to get through the book. But it's now among... well, I hesitate to say "favorite", but something in the "very impressive" spectrum fits. Covenant comes across as a believable and understandable person, who is abhorrent but never gratuitous. For my money, Donaldson managed to force me feel sympathy for a character I could never empathize with. And along the way he viciously deconstructed the largely inexcusable sub-genre of "sad-sack mundane transported to Elfburg as the Chosen Manchild who was prophesied to wield the all-power Phallic Symbol of Wish Fulfillment".

I think it was a thing worth doing, and a thing he did well. Could it have been done without that neck-punch of a rape scene? I'm open to the possibility, but I'm not sure how else we get the journey of a protagonist who is genuinely unforgivable in such a despicably familiar way. Donaldson really seemed to be showing us a character for whom redemption was genuinely not an option, trying to figure out where he could go.

Those people exist. The Illearth War was the first series that let me see the story of that side of myself, by telling it through a person who was as worthless as I felt myself to be. I don't think everyone should be obliged to stomach it, but I'm very glad I did.

#16 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 01:44 AM:

The comic Home on the Strange addressed this topic -- humorously, of course.

I agree wholeheartedly with Drew McWeeny's "...I reached a breaking point, and I realized that I am pretty much incapable of sitting through one more cheap, pointless, exploitative rape in a movie."

#17 ::: Doug G. ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 02:17 AM:

In the context of this discussion, I'd be curious to hear what others thought about the rape scene of Dr. Melfi in the Sopranos. Unlike most of the violence in the series, at times absurd and even verging on the comic, that particular act on a character I was invested in really punched me in the gut, to the point I almost couldn't continue watching the series. I only returned later when I realized the necessity of the incident from a story-telling perspective, demonstrating Dr. Melfi's ability to make the conscious choice to be a better human than Tony.

#18 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 02:29 AM:

I managed to get past the rape scene, but it's pretty hard for me to keep reading a series where I'm indifferent to the fate of the main character. When I hate him and want him to die as soon as possible, it's really impossible.

Add to that the horrible writing ("the horses were almost prostrate upon their feet," seriously? Wtf is that?) and stupid names for everything (Lord Foul, great, I bet his mom named him that. And Ur-Viles? Gag me), and I discard it with contempt and without regret.

Someone read me a sentence from Donaldson's latest, and it's still the same automated-thesaurus bullshit as ever. I see no point in picking him up again now or ever.

#19 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 02:46 AM:

I forgot to mention Donaldson's entire Gap series, which (so help me), I read. It makes Lord Foul's Bane look like an easy read by comparison.

Those books are no longer in my house.

#20 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 04:25 AM:

I had an encounter with this media phenomenon a year ago.

I was about to interview for a job writing for a major comics-related media thing, so I was catching up on my Marvel. I bought a bunch of recent trades and dove in. Most of them were OK, but only one really caught my imagination: the Young Avengers, a new hero team of superpowered teens... well, sort of. One of them was a robot, one was an alien, and one was a normal girl who snuck into the Avengers mansion and grabbed a bunch of old superhero gear that was lying around to gear herself out and be a superhero. After the first few issues, she was sort of the leader, sort of the second-in-command, definitely the smartest and most responsible person on the team.

I was incredibly happy. This was the character I'd been looking for as a teenager reading comics. A girl who just decides to be a superhero because she can, and who is awesome and respected by her peers.

Then I get to the end of the collection, and it shows her origin story: she was brutally attacked in a public place by a stranger, and it's strongly implied that she was sexually assaulted... and that's what made her decide to go be a strong superhero.

I was crushed, and I didn't think I could be crushed like that as a grown woman. I put the trade aside and never bought any more. I stopped buying Marvel Comics; I hardly buy any mainstream comics at all right now.

The first time in decades that I really thought I could identify with a mainstream superhero and of course she had to have the rape origin story. Of course she did. Because no girl can just decide she wants to be strong and fight crime because she wants to. She can't decide to do it because she sees injustice being done to someone else. It can't even be because she's a victim of racism, or gay-bashing, or any interesting societal issue.

It had to be stranger rape, because that's the only thing they'll let it be.

#21 ::: Madeley ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 05:41 AM:

Leah Miller @20: I had exactly the same reaction to Young Avengers. At the time I was getting it, it was my favourite Marvel title by a mile. I was horrified by that origin story, completely ruined the title for me.

Regarding ratings for consensual sex, I was thinking about this only this weekend. I went to see Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and noticed on my way in that it was given the UK "18" certificate rating. Now, in my experience very few films get this rating any more, even pretty violent horror films, to the point where it's become kind of an in-joke between me and my wife.

Not knowing all that much about the books, beyond the fact they're popular and folk keep trying to get me to read them, I was curious as to how a crime thriller managed to get that rating. The answer is because of some incredibly unpleasant and explicit rape scenes (straight from the Rape As Motivation cupboard).

Now, leaving aside issues about the British film certification system (which is pretty broken itself), imagine my surprise when I found out this film is rated R in the US, while the film Shame, chock full of consensual adult sex, ended up NC-17.

I note also from the Guardian article that Blue Valentine, again a film with a fairly explicit sex scene, was only given an R rating after an appeal. I wonder how hard David Fincher had to fight for Dragon Tattoo's R, or if he had to fight at all.

#22 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 06:26 AM:

The first book of Stieg Larsson's Millenium series translates as "Men Who Hate Women." And especially in the book, the villains really, really hate women and do horrific things to them. According to Wikipedia, Larsson wrote the series in part to exorcise his own demons connected with not acting to stop a gang rape he witnessed as a teenager, so his title for the first book pretty much expresses what he thought it was supposed to be about.

I just think it's interesting that the title has been changed in other languages -- "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" in English, and "Verblendung" (blindness) in German. In French it's "Les Hommes qui n'aimaient pas les femmes" (Men Who Did Not Like Women). They appear to have kept the exact translation in Italian, Dutch, and Portuguese.

#23 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 06:27 AM:

I think it's easier for an idiot to understand rape, rather than consensual sex, as "artistic necessity."

Since, in the US, films are traditionally rated by a secret panel of sex-negative idiots, this is my guess at the reason for the easier ratings. It's not that they're pro-rape and anti-female-orgasm, exactly. It's that they're anti-sex and anti-female-orgasm, but rape is often at least thinly justified as a "plot point," so it gets in on those grounds. (Note that this also applies to all those creepy rape-y semiconsensual sex scenes you see, the ones where it's filmed like we're supposed to be enjoying it but there's obvious blackmail/financial motive/creepy overtones of threat. It's very easy to believe, now that McWeeny has suggested it, that the director in fact wanted a consensual sex scene there and just added the plot trappings of rape to get it past the ratings board. Creepy and fucked up, but in a different way than I'd thought.)

Similarly, if I made a movie where some folks just do heroin because they want to, and it's okay (I mean, it's not okay, probably they have some kind of rough time later in life, but nothing bad happens in the movie) and you make a movie where some folks have to do heroin to get a drug dealer to trust them so they can find their missing child... Which one is likely to have a harder time with the ratings board?

See, drugs and sex are bad, obviously. Therefore, the less choice you have about them, the better the message to kids! Right?

#24 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 08:03 AM:

I'm curious how much of the use of rape and sexual violence is a way to slip sex onscreen without getting an NC17, and how much is a way to do a cheap superhero-origin-story or a quick way to toss a bad guy across the moral event horizon.

I'm also curious how this overlaps with the commonplace and often-joked-about trope of having teenagers have sex just before they're killed by the axe murderer or whatever that the story centers on.

#25 ::: Gray Woodland ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 08:06 AM:

Caroline @ 5: I think of ASoIaF as - increasingly overt - Crapsack World Horror, inverting lazy sanitizations of Merrie Mediaevalie Lyfe rather than trying to bring them any closer to reality.

Constance @ 11: Could you specify some works which you see as projecting this "happens to all women all the time and is without blowback" message? I'm having trouble thinking of any, but whether it's because I'm reading the books differently, or because it's happening in books I feel impelled to replace on the shelf shortly after picking them up, I can't tell.

abi @ 19: For all the Covenant books' many faults and issues, I rate them fairly high. I got as far as the second Gap book before disposing of both volumes, and applying the brain bleach vigorously to the space they left behind. This almost never happens.

Devin @ 23: I'm very much afraid that you're right.

#26 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 08:33 AM:

I read through the first and most of the second Covenant trilogies, and frankly, I had to admit that they're very good at what they do -- which is to be utterly nasty and depressing. (They did put me off the author) Note that the rape there is not without consequences -- Covenant torments himself over it, and other characters remain pissed at him, both for a few books afterwards.

....

#27 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 08:36 AM:

Evan @ #12: "what would Lord of the Rings have been like if Frodo was horrible?"

Well, at my house, it would have been, like Lord Foul's Bane, slammed shut early in the first volume and never re-opened. I don't have enough years left to invest that much time in the company of someone I loathe and despise.

Mind you, I'm not saying no one should write such books. Just that I'm not going to read them. And I have read and loved books with unlikeable protagonists (Silverlock, and for that matter Agyar, in which the protagonist also commits rape).

Devin @ #23, I think you're onto something. The first interracial kiss on U.S. television (Kirk and Uhura) was also non-consensual on both their parts.

#28 ::: StochasticBird ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 08:47 AM:

Count me among those not impressed by ASoIaF books. Sady at Tiger Beatdown has one of the best articulations of why those books bug me (besides the endless dragging swamp of nothing happening). It is truly brilliant.

#29 ::: StochasticBird ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 09:00 AM:

Oops - got gnomed, but was chiming in to recommend a piece by Sady at Tiger Beatdown, on the many rapes of ASoIaF. If you google Tiger Beatdown and Game of Thrones, it should come up.

#30 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 10:08 AM:

There's also the trope that "the woman who voluntarily has sex is bad". You can't have consensual sex unless it comes with a dose of slut-shaming.

#31 ::: paul ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 10:12 AM:

There's another thing that all those movie rapes (and near-rapes, and general tortures of powerless, semiclad women or standins therefor) teach: rape is hot. Especially when substituted for a consensual sex scene.

Yeah, I know everyone knows that, but we tend to forget it. I have to wonder whether part of it is the personal hangups of the sex-negative weirdos at the MPAA -- if you're a sex-negative weirdo, you also probably have some personal issues seeing a young actress with a glorious body having (apparently) no trouble at all enjoying putting herself on display.

Just a note from my own somehow managing to struggle through one of the middle volumes of Thomas Covenant: it put me in mind of the porn/sitcom trope of all the pretty women loving up on the ugly guy. Ultimately everyone has to forgive him, admire him, cede authority to him and so forth, because he's the author's annointed and otherwise they can't follow the script where he's crucial to saving the world.

If Frodo were a really rotten person, either his companions would get rid of him and find a better ringbearer, or Sauron would win, or both.

#32 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 10:37 AM:

Leah Miller @ #20: The first time in decades that I really thought I could identify with a mainstream superhero and of course she had to have the rape origin story. Of course she did. Because no girl can just decide she wants to be strong and fight crime because she wants to. She can't decide to do it because she sees injustice being done to someone else. It can't even be because she's a victim of racism, or gay-bashing, or any interesting societal issue.

Have you read "Batwoman: Elegy"? If not, I suggest it as something you might find worth your time should you ever decide you're ready to give mainstream superhero comics another chance to disappoint you.

#33 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 10:48 AM:

Debbie @ 22: I actually started to write about the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series as a counterpoint, but decided not to get too rambly in one comment.

While the main character qbrf fhssre n ovg sebz gur "zbgvingrq fbyryl ol tevz genhzngvp cnfg" gebcr. Ubjrire, vg qvqa'g srry purnc naq tenghvgbhf gb zr -- fur'f nyybjrq gb ernpg va uhzna jnlf gb genhzn, nybat jvgu bppnfvbanyyl zbecuvat vagb Oehpr Jvyyvf va Qvr Uneq. Naq juvyr gurer ner ubeevsvp encr fprarf, va zl ernqvat, gurl jrer npghnyyl zrnag gb ubeevsl -- gb znxr gur ernqre fnl "Jubn, gung'f shpxrq hc," engure guna gb gvgvyyngr be rkpvgr.

Furthermore, encr vf chg vagb pbagrkg jvgu frkhny nffnhyg, frkhny nohfr, qbzrfgvp nohfr, fgnyxvat, naq frkhny unenffzrag nf n fbeg bs pbagvahhz -- qvssreraprf va qrterr, abg xvaq. Naq bar bs gur znva fbheprf bs pbasyvpg vf ubj crbcyr jub encr naq nohfr naq unenff ybbx, sebz gur bhgfvqr, yvxr gehfgjbegul hcfgnaqvat pvgvmraf.

So while there are some extremely harsh rape scenes (warning for anyone who isn't up for dealing with that in their reading), I felt very differently about their place in that series than in the Song of Ice and Fire books.

#34 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 11:00 AM:

Has anybody else ever seen 1950's "Outrage", which was directed by Ida Lupino? It begins with a young woman being raped by a co-worker, who gets away with it. It's anything but a revenge story because the young woman flees to a part of the country where nobody will know her, but she eventually has to confront her fear of the world.

#35 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 11:11 AM:

paul 32: Ultimately everyone has to forgive him, admire him, cede authority to him and so forth, because he's the author's annointed and otherwise they can't follow the script where he's crucial to saving the world.

On TV, where there's less time for character "development" (scare quotes because what we're talking about isn't really developing the character), there are characters who are what I call "likable by writerly fiat." Tony Dinozzo on NCIS is my favorite example. IME such people's coworkers hate them, but everyone loves Tony because "they're a family." Yeah, well, being a family doesn't guarantee love either!

In (straight) porn, though, there's another phenomenon: the fantasy is for men (usually), and the reason so many of the men are repulsive is that so many of the men who buy straight porn are repulsive, and they're meant to identify with the main character. Now any man can imagine himself with a larger penis (and any man who hasn't is either abnormally large to begin with or an outlier of some other kind). But it's harder to identify with a suave muscle-hunk if you're anything but. So the "it could happen to ME" dynamic is served by the likes of Ron Jeremy, who is truly repulsive but (I'm told) hung.

(No, this isn't true of all straight porn. Probably nothing is, and I'm far from an expert on straight porn - basing this mostly on reports and advertisments.)

In gay porn the dynamic is slightly different. The models are generally all people the viewer is supposed to want to have sex WITH, so they tend to all be attractive (there are certain niche markets where this is less true).

#36 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 11:16 AM:

If Frodo had been horrible/ bad, then the LotR would have gone something like this:

Frodo -"I claim the one ring for my own, bring it on, Sauron"
Sauron -"Oh well"
Frodo *squish*
Sauron "I win"

#37 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 11:26 AM:

Xopher HalfTongue #35: Odd you should cite Ron Jeremy as "repulsive"... AIUI, the "Clown Prince of Porn" owes his widespread presence in straight porn specifically to the point that the female stars like him, mostly for his sense of humor.

#38 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 11:29 AM:

OK, I stand corrected. *I* find him physically repulsive. Never met the guy, who could be a total sweetheart AFAICPK.

#39 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 11:34 AM:

I will not watch movies with rape in them and I struggle to understand why anyone would. I go to the movies for escape.

That said, it was used effectively, once, in a movie my husband happened to be watching while I was in another room. I walked in to see Leelee Sobieski, as Joan of Arc, in the hands of the Inquisition. She is walked down a corridor and out of sight. A bunch of clerical types walk in the same direction. Then, offscreen, you hear her say, "Wait, what are you doing? No!" and scream. Cut.

Very effective way to illustrate a misogynist power structure conspiring to put a woman back into her place.

#40 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 12:03 PM:

Xopher @35: I have also heard it persuasively argued (in re ugly guys as protagonists in straight porno flicks) that they keep the cute, muscular, attractive men out of those roles so that no IM STRAIT RILLY middle-America Joe should ever have to possibly feel a touch of titillation while looking at another man.

To keep off the gay cooties, basically. And also to encourage women not to rent those movies (women tend to rent a lot of guy-on-guy movies, as with the large market among women for yaoi comics and explicit art).

#41 ::: paul ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 12:16 PM:

Xopher @35 et setq and Elliott Mason @40: I think it's a sort of both/and, combined with a side order of structural misogyny. If a woman is compelled (by money or force or generic desire) to couple with a man who the watcher (and hence any "reasonable person") finds unattractive, that's all to the good and gives the viewer hope.

Regarding the male porn viewer's characteristics: even today, most men are taught to regard their bodies as repellent, or at the very least inadequate (see body dysmorphic disorder, aka gym rat syndrome at the high end). Whether to avoid attraction or for other patriarchal reasons, who knows.

#42 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 12:33 PM:

Not going to argue with the perspective that there's a sex-negative and misogynistic view in play, or that people are often reaching for a cheap plot device. But I wonder if the "preference" for coerced over consensual sex is related to the complaint often voiced by romance readers that a preference for a happy ending is seen as shallow. Enjoyable=trivial fluff, traumatic and angsty=deep and meaningful.

#43 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 12:34 PM:

I read the first 2 trilogies of "Lord Fowl's Bane" (stet) because someone I wanted to be friends with at the time (and in hindsight, Ghu knows that was a terrible mistake), thought they were terrific, and insisted I read them. My reaction was almost identical to Xopher's (and thanks for the phrase "automated-thesaurus bullshit", it describes one of my objections precisely [although I'd add that what makes it so thoroughly bad is that the number of alternative words in the thesaurus is so small]). Then I read the first 10 pages or so of the first book of "The Gap" and threw it into the fireplace. Not long after that, my "friend" said something to me that was completely uncalled for and totally unacceptable, and if he'd been physically present at the time rather than talking over the phone, I'd have been strongly tempted to throw him in the fireplace.

And similarly, I read the first two books of "Ice & Fire" and stalled out in the beginning of the third book where fbzr punenpgre (V guvax vg jnf bar bs gur Ynaavfgre'f ohg V ubarfgyl qba'g pner rabhtu gb jnag gb purpx) fbqbzvmrf naq zheqref n lbhat tvey jubfr bayl pevzr jnf guvaxvat gur thl jnf fvaprer va fnlvat ur yvxrq ure. Feh.

When I was much younger, I thought that showing nasty, often completely unredeemable characters was a sure sign of honest art (hey, I grew up right between the beatniks and the hippies, in a cohort of [soi-disant] artists, I didn't have a chance). Now I can accept such a character if there's a strong reason for having one that's integral to the work. But I don't see that very often, it's much more common for them to be there because the writer is fascinated by them (supergenius serial killers have been as common in art as they are uncommon in life since Thomas Harris fell in love with Hannibal Lector) or because they advance the plot. But these days, Eva and I record a lot of television so that we can watch the first few minutes and decide if we want to watch the whole show or movie. In the last year or two especially we've blown off a lot of programs none of whose characters showed an ounce of compassion, mercy, or human kindness. While I'm aware that there are such demons in the world, I think that making them so common in popular culture diminishes our recognition of their evil and makes us think of them as simply part of the landscape of the world, rather than something that we should be working very hard to rid ourselves of.

A recent example: a TV series called "House of Lies". We wanted to check it out because the two lead actors are Don Cheadle and Kristen Bell. Cheadle is a very fine actor, and there are a lot of bad movies I'd watch just to see him work. But not this program. The only characters we saw in the first 2 episodes, which was all we could take, were high-priced management consultants (all of them either sociopaths, sexist pigs, or both) high-priced corporate executives (all of them either terminally greedy, terminally incompetent, or both) or high-priced sex workers (all of them Hollywood's best presentation of their notion of a male fantasy of a sex worker). Oh, I'm wrong, there was one character, Cat Deeley, a spokesmodel, playing herself, who was not nasty. She had about 2 minutes on air, in which she spilled coffee on the crotch of one of the junior consultants (a sociopath, sexist pig and incompetent) and wiped it frantically with a napkin. Hilarity did not ensue, but they tried to keep the joke going for another 5 minutes or so, indicating to me a lack of plot points to show. Double feh.

#44 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 12:44 PM:

I can get past the protagonist of a book being horrible or even just an annoying whiner, but I disliked the Covenant books because the paragraphs, sentences and even individual words are rubbish.

Imagine if Gene Wolfe wrote The Book of the New Sun without knowing what any of those long words meant.

#45 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 12:47 PM:

Bruce Cohen @ 43... "Lord Fowl's Bane"

I'd rather read "Duck Savage".

#46 ::: Tracey C. ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 12:56 PM:

Re: Superhero origin stories...

A few years ago, L. Timmel Duchamp gave a GoH speech at Wiscon in which she recounted her story as a young woman who wanted to become a composer in an era when academia allowed for no such thing and the horrible things that were said and done to her in the process of being forced to give up her dreams...

And I have to think that THIS would make a much better origin story for a woman wanting to become a superhero than Yet Another Rape Scene. Reclaiming personal empowerment? Refusing to be beaten down? Wanting to make the world better for those who come after?

Why is it that I can only imagine her being written as a villain, with those motivations, instead of a hero? Why isn't there room for both?

#47 ::: Raka ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 01:03 PM:

abi @19: Ah, the Gap series. Which kind of strongly implies, particularly in context of this discussion, that the author is a lot more... *interested* in rape than my interpretation of the Covenant series would have it. So I'm pretending it doesn't exist, because dagnabbit I got something valuable out of reading the Covenant series and I really don't want to admit that what I saw as an epiphany was just my myopic squinting-at-a-distance at the creator indulging a particularly twisted fetish. That said:

paul 32: Ultimately everyone has to forgive him, admire him, cede authority to him and so forth... I didn't get that. I didn't see anyone actually forgive him; there was some "scum like you isn't worth me breaking my vows/endangering my homeland to punish", some "you're my friend so I refuse to believe you could've done anything that awful", some "this is the savior we've got, so let's just hope he starts sucking less", and some "to hell with this guy". It seemed like a pretty realistic spectrum of reaction to me.

If Frodo were a really rotten person, either his companions would get rid of him and find a better ringbearer... The Fellowship might have gotten rid of a rotten figurehead, but all my observations of politics and military history and academia (etc, etc) tells me that this reaction is exceptional. When it seems sufficiently necessary/advantageous, folks are willing to gloss over quite of bit of egregiousness. Particularly egregiousness that does not very directly and obviously affect them.

guthrie @36: FWIW, the first Covenant trilogy strongly implies that the Land is a representation of the protagonist's mind. So the Sauron stand-in is really the protagonist. He doesn't so much defeat the monster as he just stops actively being the monster. Notably, this in no way removes the consequences of previous behavior.

#48 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 01:06 PM:

Bruce Cohen #43: While I'm aware that there are such demons in the world, I think that making them so common in popular culture diminishes our recognition of their evil...

See also in Sandman, Morpheus's smackdown of the Corinthian and his serial-killer convention.

#49 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 01:35 PM:

David Harmon @ 48:

Indeed, Sandman stands completely in opposition to the kind of exploitation I was talking about. Funny, isn't it, how Gaiman in his understanding of character, plot, and mythos uses the Corinthian as a counter to the way the world is supposed to work, rather than a glorification of the way it doesn't? </sarcasm = 11>

#50 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 01:40 PM:

Raka @47:
Ah, the Gap series. Which kind of strongly implies, particularly in context of this discussion, that the author is a lot more... *interested* in rape than my interpretation of the Covenant series would have it. So I'm pretending it doesn't exist, because dagnabbit I got something valuable out of reading the Covenant series and I really don't want to admit that what I saw as an epiphany was just my myopic squinting-at-a-distance at the creator indulging a particularly twisted fetish.

If in the pursuit of his obsession, the author produces something that is of use, I say use it. I have a necklace with coprolite in it; just because it was shit to the dinosaur doesn't mean it's crap to me.

#51 ::: paul ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 01:53 PM:

I like 43 for the idea that showing irredeemable jerks is as shallow as showing only nice hard-working types.

I think that there's also a political side to it. "Greed is Good", like 1984, used to be a warning rather than a handbook. Consider not only all the "edgy" shows with scale-paid actors, but also all the "reality" shows in which contestants make "good tv" and get a chance at repeat appearances by being (mostly) as self-indulgent and backbiting as possible. A race to the bottom encourages a culture in which other races to the bottom seem much more reasonable.

#52 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 02:20 PM:

Bruce @43: And similarly, I read the first two books of "Ice & Fire" and stalled out in the beginning of the third book where fbzr punenpgre (V guvax vg jnf bar bs gur Ynaavfgre'f ohg V ubarfgyl qba'g pner rabhtu gb jnag gb purpx) fbqbzvmrf naq zheqref n lbhat tvey jubfr bayl pevzr jnf guvaxvat gur thl jnf fvaprer va fnlvat ur yvxrq ure. Feh.

If you're thinking of the prologue, then that's n eroryyvbhf zrzore bs gur Avtug'f Jngpu erzrzorevat jul ur jnf frag abegu va gur svefg cynpr-- VVEP gur tvey jnf n ubzrgbja oneznvq ur'q unq n pehfu ba, ohg jura ur tnir ure sybjref va na nggrzcg ng pbhegfuvc, fur ynhturq ng uvz. Naq gura ur xvyyrq ure sbe vg :b

Which doesn't really improve the cruelty of the situation, but imho Martin did a good job there of conveying that a.) that man was still self-justifying the action to himself and b.) that man was completely wrong in doing so.

(Although part of the self-justification was "Fur jnf fyrrcvat jvgu bgure thlf sbe zbarl, fb fur qrfreirf gb qvr sbe abg fyrrcvat jvgu zr sbe serr", juvpu qrs'yl rqtrf gbjneq ceboyrzngvp EY gebcrf bs "Fyhgf qrfreir gb trg encrq/zheqrerq." I'm definitely not holding up the series as a lodestar of moral guidance.)

#53 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 02:21 PM:

albatross, #24: I'm curious how much of the use of rape and sexual violence is a way to slip sex onscreen without getting an NC17, and how much is a way to do a cheap superhero-origin-story or a quick way to toss a bad guy across the moral event horizon.

I'd have an easier time buying the second half of that if rape actually did toss anyone across the moral event horizon. As far as I can tell, in fiction it's just something the bad guy is expected to do as a matter of course, and in real life there frequently aren't any consequences to speak of.

Xopher, #35: The author of True Porn Clerk Stories suggests a different reason for the men of straight porn being repulsive: "I understand that you can't have a handsome guy in a straight porn video because holy crap, what if the guy watching it gets a little bit attracted?" As usual, the phenomenon probably contains elements of both, plus a few other things.

Paul, #41: I disagree that men are taught to regard their bodies as repellent. Inadequate, perhaps, which would be reinforced by Gym Rat Syndrome. But they are taught, very strongly, that paying much attention to their own appearance -- taking care of their skin, having a haircut that isn't "shower and go", even learning how to coordinate their clothing -- is feminine and unmanly and marks you as being gay. This partially reverses at very high social levels (but those guys still don't do it themselves, they do it by buying expensive clothing and hiring personal assistants) and for religious con-men (note that the more successful they are, the more expensively dressed and coiffed, and sometimes they use TV-anchor-style makeup too).

#54 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 02:41 PM:

17 ::: Doug G

Compare and contrast the arc of LaDonna's rape in season 2 of Treme with that of Dr. Melfi's in The Sopranos -- and the other coerced, ugly sexual acts performed by Tony himself as well as his minions, and even the murders of women, women they are even fond of and had sex with such as Tony's nephew's girlfriend, Adriana.

There is a lot to think about in terms of our constants of most popular storytelling inevitably linked to violence.

The LaDonna arc is honest at least in how it happens, to whom it happens, where it happens, which is a whole lot of why we are NOT living in New Orleans. The rape, the accompanying beating, are telegraphed, happen offstage. Then it is the aftermath on which we dwell, LaDonna's long depression, as well as the major f-ups by the broken NO police and justice systems -- they let the guys go, they don't go to trial, they're back on the streets, and nobody even tells LaDonna. And then finally, she kicks the shit out of one of the perps.

And this is where I kinda felt, for the first time ever in a David Simon joint, there was dishonesty. I felt Simon felt so much pressure from the show's fans that LaDonna do this -- because that is How It Is Supposed To Work Out. They hated seeing LaDonna languishing with her bottle on the couch in Baton Rouge instead of fighting back.

But in The Sopranos the only consequences to those who commit rape and other violence against women, would have come to Dr. Melfi's rapists -- if she told Tony, who would be enraged at the trespassing on his 'property,' so she didn't tell. But the others all go scott free, with no psychological reprecussions either.

That's how we like it here in the U.S.A., it seems, particularly as so many reviewers by far preview The Sopranos to ./

Love, C.

#55 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 03:00 PM:

#25 ::: Gray Woodland

Among Fantasy print series that glory in this are from Mark Lawrence and Joe Abercrombie.

To Abercrombie's credit, after seeing so much criticism of this, he's starting to see what people are offended by here -- or at least so he's said in comments online. But then, at least so far, Abercrombie's demonstrated himself to be a much better writer than the other one.

There are a lot of series like this that have been consistently criticized, like ASOIAF. But as I've not read those authors myself, I won't name them. But I have read Lawrence, Abercrombie and the Great Reveling Reams of Money author -- and I don't begrudge him his success at all. It's just I quit reading his series because,for one thing, it isn't getting anywhere, and the other, is that it's gotten ridiculous with the violence.

Even during some of the most terrible periods of European history after the "fall" of Rome and the Viking pillagers, or during the period in which the Empress Maud and King Stephen threw armies at other for England's throne, it wasn't like that. And those didn't last as long as the broken wreck that are all rulerships in ASOIAF.

Love, C.

#56 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 03:05 PM:

#25 ::: Gray Woodland

Among Fantasy print series that glory in this are those that call themselves the New Gritty.

To Abercrombie's credit, after seeing so much criticism of this, he's starting to see what people are offended by here -- or at least so he's said in comments online. But then, at least so far, Abercrombie's demonstrated himself to be a much better writer than some of the others.

These series have been consistently criticized, like ASOIAF. I won't name these, but they are consistently reviewed including on Tor.com. Worse, in indie bookstores around here, they are all you find on the shelves of the ever-shrinking sf/f sections -- and at most maybe 4 or 5 female authors at all, and at least three of those female authors are dead.

I have read some of them, trying to given them a fair shot -- Lawrence, Abercrombie and the Great Rolling Reams of Moola author (I don't begrudge him his success at all. It's just I quit reading his series because,for one thing, it isn't getting anywhere, and the other, is that it's gotten ridiculous with the violence and female characters).

Even during some of the most terrible periods of European history after the "fall" of Rome and the Viking pillagers, or during the period in which the Empress Maud and King Stephen threw armies at other for England's throne, it wasn't like that. And those didn't last as long as the broken wreck that are all rulerships in ASOIAF.

Love, C.

#57 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 03:05 PM:

My post is being held for review.

Love, C.

#58 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 03:09 PM:

It's the time of the season, I guess.

#59 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 03:10 PM:

Agh. Please delete previous. Wrong thread.

#60 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 03:26 PM:

Re: porn subthread

I find porn, as a business, fascinating. (It's so weird!) What I've read is this:

1. There are serious physical demands on male actors. It's not fun at all, you have to be able and willing to manifest an erection at will, maintain it for however long the scene requires, and then ejaculate in a timely fashion. Most men cannot reliably do this. Of those that can, most do not want to.
1a. Unlike the far more rigorous demands of, say, the NBA, porn doesn't cast a very wide net. The pool of potential talent is fairly small: you're paying your female talent quite a bit for a scene, so you don't want to fuck it up by letting some random guy try out only to find out that he can't hack it. You're usually either hiring a pro, or you're trying someone with a connection.

So there just aren't that many guys in porn.

2. Gay porn pays attractive men a lot more. By the time you're doing porn, you're probably flexible and/or desensitized enough not to care. Apparently it's far more common than not for a male actor to have crossed the aisle at one point or another.

So the prettiest guys don't have much reason to do low-paying straight scenes instead of high-paying gay scenes. Therefore, we have a small talent pool which is drained of its most attractive members, and that's why guys in straight porn are often funny-looking. (In other words, the prevalence of ugly guys in straight porn is a result of "the homosexual agenda.")

I don't find the "he's ugly so you can identify with him" argument particularly convincing. If that were really the agenda at work, you'd see a lot of plain-looking guys and no really pretty or distinctively ugly ones. Yet what we see instead is, well, who really looks like Ron Jeremy? Is that a face that's easy to identify with? It makes more sense to me that he has an unusual physical skill, and he's easy to get along with: he gets work because he's good at it, and straight guys don't (usually) watch porn to look at guys so the rest doesn't matter.

#61 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 04:05 PM:

So I'm writing a particular set of stories. Second-world fantasy stuff, thus entirely fictional societies that I can build from the ground up. Most of these stories are set in a lightly matriarchal* society. And one of the deliberate decisions I made, when deciding what I wanted to write in this setting, was that I wasn't going to write about rape.

Not that it never happened in that society. Just that I wasn't going to write about it, in the same way I might decide that I wasn't going to write about any number of things.

And this is the part I find interesting. Or possibly unsettling. Every time I need to come up with a dark secret for someone, or a traumatic past event, or a motive for revenge, or a scandalous story, or blackmail information... What springs to mind first?

Rape, generally. Every damn time. Even though I made the quite conscious choice to not write about it, and it hasn't come up once on the page, in some 200k+ words of various stories in this setting. Because the idea that this is what makes for a handy fall-back "Bad stuff happened!" event that'll motivate pretty much any reaction that happens to be handy for a writer is that deeply ingrained.

Scandalous act? Rape. Blackmail material? Rape. Motivation for murder? Rape. Dark secret? Rape. Just aim it at the person in question, or one of their loved ones, in one direction or the other, and it's an excuse for any plot point or tension that the story needs!

Then I go find some other reason, and wish I'd stop thinking of that first.

This bothers me. And I don't really know what to do about it.

---

* I am using "lightly matriarchal" here in the sense of "about as much a matriarchy as the US is a patriarchy," because if I just say "matriarchy" people often assume I mean one of those terrible "All the gender roles are reversed, and women warriors enslave the poor oppressed men!" scifi/fantasy premises.

#62 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 04:50 PM:

ASoIaF doesn't bother me much (like, it bothers me less than pretty much any other media thing that has thus far been mentioned in this thread as potentially problematic.) I think it's because the rapes in it are not targeting the characters that girls would be most encouraged to identify with, and they are not being perpetrated by guys who you are meant to like or identify with.

I could write a few hundred words on that, and I may later.

(Note that there is, very possibly, something that could be considered girl-on-guy rape in ASoIaF. Guvaxvat onpx ba vg, vg'f fgebatyl vzcyvrq gung Crgle Onryvfu znl unir orra gbb qehax gb npghnyyl pbafrag jura Ylfn Ghyyl fahpx vagb uvf ebbz gung avtug. I also find it interesting that the books go out of their way to establish that Qnrarel'f jrqqvat avtug vaibyirq rkcyvpvg pbafrag, whereas the TV Show depicts it as rape. ASoIaF has a bunch of interesting edge-case acknowledgements that questionable consent or assumed consent are not ok, which, for me at least, balances the whole 'rapine as the spoils of war' thing.)

As a writer, it's interesting... I've never been looking for a plot point for a female character and had rape pop into my mind. I actually was worried for a while that by not having a character who that had happened to, I was being statistically unrealistic. I've since gotten over that, though I do have a character who has been sexually harassed to the point of borderline assault, and quite a few who are victims of institutional sexual harassment of various degrees in the 'evil' organization that is later overthrown.

I do, however, have a male character for whom that backstory is a very real possibility. He was in a quasi-prison situation for a very long time, as someone perceived as weak and powerless. With him, I've made an explicit decision to never imply that it happened, but also to never clarify the situation.

I have a history of creating characters in that world that are inspired by suggestions from people I know. The line I've drawn for sexual assault is this: I'll include a character with that backstory when a woman expresses to me the desire to see such a character, and gives me pointers as to how she would like her presented.

#63 ::: forgot the name ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 05:56 PM:

I think part of what offends me about rape as backstory, and gratituous rape, and rape origin stories, is how simultaneously ubiquitous they are, but also how much they're treated as their very own Rape Capsule.

Very often there's no in-universe continuity of rape, the way there has been in my life. It's like, even though it happens a lot in things like comics and films, there's no connection between them. It's unplotted datapoints, and it's this weird pretense that these things don't connect. Even within a movie -- all right, different tack.

Take my own life. I'm just one woman and I can think of at least ten women without even trying who are fairly close to me who I know have been raped more than once, including me. I know yet more who have been raped once. I can reel off at least another ten names who have been groped. I can reel off thirty more who have been sexually harassed. A lot of names are in all those categories, and a lot aren't. A lot of these people are casual acquaintances, but I can reel off their names just knowing about the things they've told me or the things I've directly witnessed happening. All sorts of events and all sorts of rapes, and all sorts of people.

But the point is that the continuity of all these women who have been raped, all of this harassment, all of theses stories, is very much present. It's interconnected. It's something we talk about to each other. Bus books and movies and comics don't do that. It's usually presented as an isolated event, or a series of isolated events. It happens so often in fiction, but each occasion is presented as though it's a shock, as though it's new to the character. Something rare and horrifying for its unknowability. Something outlandish, almost. And it is, but not for the reasons they present it. And it doesn't work that way. It can't work that way. They contradict themselves and it's like they don't even see it.

They don't connect to each other because the stories themselves don't talk to each other, but in a more basic way, women in these series so rarely talk to each other, are so rarely aware of each other. But we do talk to each other, and a lot of time we do talk to each other about rape. We're aware of it, a lot, and it's not just comics and movies and books that present it as though it's an isolated event happening over and over again.

It's life, and it's not an isolated event, and it never is, and for me that's part of what is so horrific about having been raped, and so comforting about it. I am not alone with this, I am so far from being alone that it's awful, just awful; but gods I wish I were alone.

I think that's what infuriates me the most. You don't get to use this reality and take away the things that let us survive it, that make it what it is, make it so much more than something that happens in the dark to someone we don't know. You just don't.

#64 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 05:58 PM:

Fade Manley #60: Probably because you explicitly decided to exclude it... you know anything about the Jungian Shadow?

And speaking of shadows: If authors want to be "realistic"... well, yeah, rape exists, but it's not usually in the foreground. The biggest impact rape has on our society is its shadow -- places women don't dare to go, things they don't dare do, people they don't dare talk to, all the "Schroedinger's Rapist" issues....

Of course, that is going to depend on the milieu -- aside from magic (tip: bodily fluids are a classic way to target long-distance magical attacks), cultural issues can make life quite hazardous for someone who attacks the wrong person....

#65 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 06:02 PM:

"forgot" at #63: Excellent points, and also bringing in the Bechdel Test.

#66 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 06:08 PM:

Fade Manley @61: For what it's worth, bonobo (Pan paniscus) society is probably best described as "lightly matriachal" (females are not outright top of the hierarchy, but they do seem to e.g. decide which direction to travel, and when, between fruiting trees). The male-on-female sexual coercion and violence which are seen in Pan troglodytes (common chimpanzee) society don't appear to happen in bonobo communities. Interesting, a huge difference seems to be that in common chimpanzees, males form alliences, while in bonobos, unrelated females form social bonds and females will, together, attack a male.

References available on request!

#67 ::: Ken Brown ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 06:36 PM:

Emily H @14 - one of the really good things about Marion Bradley, from my point of view as a man who reads lots of sf/f, is that she wrote a novel with effectively no male characters onstage apart from a few (literal) spearcarriers, and when I read it I didn't even notice till a couple of hundred pages in.


A lot more worthwhile use of precious reading time than Stephen R Dodgyson. (Though Nick Lowe did spin clench-racing off of him)

#68 ::: soru ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 06:41 PM:

'Rape was punishable by death.'

Technically so, but bear in mind that the early medieval definition of rape was 'the loss of virginity or sworn chastity'. You literally had to be a maiden or a nun for it to be even technically against the law.

And for most of the period in question, a woman (as opposed to a father or husband) would have had no standing to complain to the courts. In theory this was changed by the statute written by one damn-liberal king (Edward I), but in practice the local courts resented the interfering hand of Big Government. So there are no cases on record of the death penalty being applied, and 49% of attempted prosecutions ended in conviction and imprisonment for the _plaintiff_. Including cases where the court acknowledged that forcible sexual intercourse, at swordpoint, had taken place, but still had questions about the propriety of the woman making the complaint. Only 10% resulted in conviction for the accused, and the punishment was usually a small fine, or marriage to the victim.

Refs:

https://etd.library.emory.edu/view/record/pid/emory:1bbk3

http://medievalists.net/files/11020201.pdf

All this stuff is really hard to credit to modern eyes: surely no-one can be so cartoonishly evil? Omitting it from historically-influenced fantasy is a perfectly understandable decision, especially if you don't want it to bring up a feeling of 'all these people, including the nominal good guys, need to die now'.

But it is hardly the only possible one.

#69 ::: Lydy Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 06:59 PM:

This has gotten me thinking about rape and female empowerment. Actually, I was kinda thinking about it before. A friend had a very-much-not-a-friend remark that she reminded him of Lisbet in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Not having seen the movies, or read the book, said friend was wondering just what that might mean. I didn't say anything, because I didn't have any reaction at first other than a visceral "Euwww." But this discussion has brought a couple of things into the light. The fundamental truth about Lisbet is that she is broken. Very, very badly broken. Domestic abuse, later rape. Violence against women. She is a very strong person, and throughout the course of the movies, she becomes significantly more powerful. What she doesn't do is heal. She is powerfully and fundamentally broken.

What I wonder, now, is, is there some sort of equation that we're seeing? Powerful woman = broken? That super hero girl whose origin story is rape. Is she powerful because someone broke her? Or is she broken because she is powerful? I can think of a lot of times where the primary strength of a woman appears to come from her ability to endure and win through basic violence against her, either childhood abuse or rape. Of course, it always costs her. Often, her more "feminine" attributes; kindness, empathy, etc. This does happen with male characters, too, but am I seeing things, or is it more common with women characters?

#70 ::: forgot the name ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 07:16 PM:

Lydy, 69:

I don't think you're seeing things. Others can chime in, but you're really not the only one to notice this. They're strong, BUT. They're competent, BUT. They're awesome, BUT. They're brilliant, BUT. They're smart, BUT. No female character can just be awesome or smart or competent. They can't just be, period. She has to have something wrong with her to justify her strength. Why would a woman want to be strong all on her own?

I think it works like this in terms of character development: for a woman to be like a man, first she has to lose. Often, as she gets closer and closer to equivalency (not equality, mind you, equivalency), she has to lose more, and more often. The goalposts move.

See: ice-cold businesswoman spinster who dies cold and alone unless she gives up her job/falls in love with the male hero who introduces her to the wonders of family/pregnancy/rape/etc to 'humanise' her. Often 'humanising' her means having her lose her career or her prestige or 'settle down' as though her ambitions were merely a lengthy phase of teenage rebellion to be curbed by the male hero's reins. I think that's one of the more explicit iterations of this sort of thing.

Also when I read the not-a-friend compare your friend to Lisbet I made a terrible face. Hurk.

#71 ::: Brendan ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 08:15 PM:

In my upcoming book: The Lazy Guide to Writing I have a section on rape:

RAPE: Rape is your go to way of traumating you characters and differenciating the Good from the Bad. It can be seperated into three catorgaries(In order of importance):

RAPIST: This is you EVIL character since he/she is violating another character in the worst way that it is possible to do.

MALE EFFECTED BY RAPE: No, this isn't a RAPE VICTIM(See below), but a male who either discovers his wife/daughter has been raped(or for a more viceral scene witenesses her rape). This character character can now be labelled GOOD, and all his actions from here on can be seen as a form of REVENGE for the rape of HIS female.

RAPE VICTIM: Congratulations! This woman(or child for if you want to show your EVIL character is EXTRA EVIL) has now been traumatised. For as long as she stays as part of the story(for sidelining female characters see PREGNANCY) this character will now have the unbreakable sympathy of the reader. She will be able to do pretty much anything and get away with it as long as you tie it back to her rape.

#72 ::: Tina Black ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 08:25 PM:

That's OK -- people who immediately respond "What about the menz?" want to divert attention from the heat of the pot.

#73 ::: paul ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 08:42 PM:

It strikes me here that rape in fiction is also like Chekhov's gun: it happens for a reason, whether to show off the evil of a villain or the empathy of a boyfriend/father/husband/pal or render a woman broken or that-which-does-not-kill-me formatively stronger, or something. Or are there women characters who are raped and then move on without the rape being a pivotal event blah blah?

Oh, and Lee at 53, perhaps not "repellent" but not just inadequate, rather as a postulate not an object of desire in the way that female bodies are.

#74 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 10:03 PM:

Paul, I can think of one rape-as-nondriving-backstory character: Ofelia in Moon's Remnant Population. It's hinted at enough to pick up on, but treated as something that happens, no worse than not going to school. Ofelia has other things to do.

#75 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 10:25 PM:

Leah Miller @ 62: As a writer, it's interesting... I've never been looking for a plot point for a female character and had rape pop into my mind.

It actually tends to come up as a possible useful Traumatic Background Event for me for both male and female characters, when I'm writing. I'm not really sure that this makes things any better as such, but I note for the sake of anecdotal evidence.

David Harmon @ 64: Probably because you explicitly decided to exclude it... you know anything about the Jungian Shadow?

...does it count if I mostly know about the Jungian Shadow via its use in Persona 4? (Which is an excellent game, if also deeply, culturally problematic in matters of sexuality. Alas.) I do note, by way of reference, that in stories where I wasn't deliberately avoiding rape, it came up as a background element, or on screen, or as a threat, quite a lot.

Now I'm not entirely sure if this counters your point, or just makes it sound like I have rape in mind a lot. Mm. Not sure, really. I do know that I abandoned at least one community I used to spend a lot of time at because any discussion of women's issues in any area would inevitably deteriorate into a discussion of whether or not women were allowed to be irked at being nervous around being approached by strange men who totally were not going to rape them, honest. So that concept ends up flavoring to any gender and sex issues I want to address elsewhere.

dcb @66: Bonobos are awesome. I especially liked the way they were covered in Sex At Dawn, which gave me many useful new things to consider when designing fictional societies.

#76 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 10:34 PM:

@Diatryma no. 74: Yes. It's referred to in about two lines each in two different places and has gut-punching impact nevertheless, because it's presented as just one part of the ration of crap she has had to eat her entire life; as previous posters have said, part of a continuum, a world in which such things happen to women because they are women. It's not THE reason for her to have become the "remnant population" in the first place. It's definitely A reason why she does it, even if she did push the memories down past memory for a long time.

#77 ::: Angiportus ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 10:56 PM:

There were several reasons I couldn't get into the Covenant books 30 years back, and that scene was one of them. And just because Lovecraft got away with using big words that aren't even in most dictionaries, doesn't mean someone who writes long, long epics about utterly insane (so far as I could tell) antiheroes can do so.
More recently, the "For Better or Worse" comic had a sequence where a stalker cow-orker tried to rape Liz, and one of her male friends stopped him, and I was so disappointed that she didn't do that herself, or one or two of her female friends. Of course I already had problems with that strip--when a baby was born with 12 fingers, the "extra" ones were just lopped off, just to make her "normal". I think if I had extra digits, I'd rather go through life having special gloves made for wintertime than know I'd been cut apart without my consent just to make me fit an esthetic standard not even of my own making.
Back to the rape theme--if I wasn't asexual to start with, this sort of thing would make me consider switching to that mode; the world already has enough ways to get hurt.
The characters I might write about some day do not get their strength from being violated.

#78 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 10:58 PM:

soru @ 68: "All this stuff is really hard to credit to modern eyes: surely no-one can be so cartoonishly evil?"

And that is the level of awful captured in the legal code. If the relationship between the laws regarding rape and the reality was then like it is now--well.

Though truth be told, I'm skeptical of the historical argument coming from either side. Even if it were empirically verified that it was this way rather than that, it is still a authorial decision to adhere to that reality or to depart from it, and must be justified on the same grounds: it is necessary to the story. Historical fidelity is a reason, but not a sufficient one.

Lydy Nickerson @ 69: "The fundamental truth about Lisbet is that she is broken. Very, very badly broken. Domestic abuse, later rape. Violence against women."

I have only read the first book, but that is not my read on her at all. She isn't broken--she is a different shape than everyone else, and what has happened to her is a part, but not the whole, of why. She is exceptional neither because of her trauma nor despite it, but in another way entirely: eidetic memory, Aspie-spectrum psychology and insane computer skills don't bear much relation to sexual abuse.

I do like your observation about the cost, though; I just don't see Lisbet as an example of it.

#79 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2012, 10:58 PM:

Fade Manley #75: ...does it count if I mostly know about the Jungian Shadow via its use in Persona 4?

Umm, probably not. Briefly, the Jungian shadow consists of all those things in your mind which you're trying to shove under the covers. Not just bad things like traumas or shameful desires, it also includes, e.g. strengths shadowed by "not allowed to be competent/good at math/etc.". The basic point though, is that the stuff in the Shadow doesn't go away, it keeps following you around (like, well, your shadow) and messing with you in various ways -- and all that stuff gains power from the energy you use to repress it.

In this case, you're trying to push aside something non-trivial -- something that you may not explicitly think about a lot, but which is certainly part of both your life experience (even if only by osmosis), and your "library" of plot elements. Your mind may be resisting this attempt at compartmentalization....

One way to counter this might be to write out the "forbidden elements" (thus "releasing" them), and then later clip them out of the story.

#80 ::: forgot the name ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2012, 12:10 AM:

heresiarch, 78:

She is exceptional neither because of her trauma nor despite it, but in another way entirely: eidetic memory, Aspie-spectrum psychology and insane computer skills don't bear much relation to sexual abuse.

While I agree the book emphasised her talents (and preference for Macs), I've also seen the Swedish movie of the first book.

The rape scenes in the book are fairly short, even if uncomfortably lurid, but the Swedish movie very much emphasises the rape scenes such that they become the focal point of her character. Her abilities are mentioned, but generally glossed over. They're side-attributes that read like trying to fill out a plot device labelled "Lisbeth".

The movie did a much better job of tying together the plot strands than the book did, but it failed in how it condensed Lisbeth into very predictable rape-as-character. Some of that was already in the book, IIRC, but nowhere near as obvious. The US version is very similar from what I've heard.

#81 ::: Gray Woodland ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2012, 12:59 AM:

Constance @ 54, 55: Thanks, that clarifies it plenty. I haven't read either Lawrence or (besides a couple of wholly non-rapey short stories) Abercrombie. I like a grit of reality in my fantasy, but the way the 'New Gritty' presents itself seems to promise all the grit and none of the honey: not a set of worlds I'm often tempted to approach.

#82 ::: Antonia T. Tiger ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2012, 02:58 AM:

A lot of my writing is a reaction to tropes such as this.

Rape is a powerful tool, but so is a 12lb hammer and few of us have the skill to use it properly.

#83 ::: Russ ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2012, 05:58 AM:

dcb@66

Hi dcb - I wonder if you saw my post to you at the end of the last open thread? [me]3llr at the google mail is my address if you want to reply - if you have nothing or would rather not, never mind and sorry to bother you :D

#84 ::: Russ ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2012, 05:59 AM:

awww crap...#83 is to the wrong thread. Sorry. And I was trying to be un-annoying, too.

#85 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2012, 06:22 AM:

Xopher @35:

I suspect the problem is that Ron Jeremy is actually an exception (that's partly why he's so well known), in that he actually looks like an out-of-shape schlub. I think it's more common for male porn stars to be fit and well-muscled, but somewhat bland-looking and unexpressive.

This article about "James Deen", a newly popular male porn actor, goes into the fact that he's attractive and appealing, but relatively ordinary-looking and not overmuscled, and suggests this is responsible for his appeal to women ("Gaby Dunn, a 23-year-old journalist and comedian, discovered Deen in college when a friend, a 'connoisseur of porn,' referred her to Deen to satisfy her interest in 'nerdy Jewish dudes.' Deen fit the bill. 'He was almost like a guy that you would just hang out with at Hebrew school,' she says.")

Of course, part of the point of the article is that Deen is an exception, too: a female porn actress mentions that "male porn stars used to look like the Brawny paper towel man", and the article summarizes the conventional situation as

The straight male performer must be attractive enough to serve as a prop, but not so attractive that he becomes the object of desire. As Curry puts it, “No one wants to alienate the male audience.”

(Which is kind of what Elliott Mason and Lee suggested, though the emphasis seems to be "he should be attractive, but not too attractive". They're also some discussion of how much better gay porn pays its male actors, as Devin noted.)

#86 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2012, 08:04 AM:

And here am I, a writer with a sorta-kinda rape scene in his last novel who'd been persuaded to tone it down a little. Short version, they didn't mind the guy spearing a boar (blood everywhere) then reeling towards the female protagonist, telling her that he'd saved her from it (he hadn't) and reaching for her while demanding a reward, but the implication that he had more in mind than a hearty handshake was a no-no.

Boy, do I feel good right about now. And this is so not a plug for the book.

#87 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2012, 10:25 AM:

Niall McAuley #44: You sum up my feelings exactly.

#88 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2012, 10:58 AM:

Fade Manley #61: You want scandal in the background? If the character is male, might I suggest something along these lines: http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/gordon-bennett.html

#89 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2012, 11:33 AM:

forgot the name @63: I think that's what infuriates me the most. You don't get to use this reality and take away the things that let us survive it, that make it what it is, make it so much more than something that happens in the dark to someone we don't know. You just don't.

Yes, a thousand times. With added emphasis on "the things that let us survive it."

The structures of communication and support that women build are so often not shown in ... well, let's just say in fiction that turns out to be disappointing in other ways as well. As a dear friend is fond of saying, "Don't they think we talk to each other?"

#90 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2012, 12:05 PM:

elise @ 89:

No, they don't think about you at all. If they do, they think of you as members of another, somewhat mysterious, but ultimately uninteresting, species. And while most of that is, I think, the blindness of male entitlement, some of it is the contempt of the rich and powerful for the poor and weak who in their minds were intended to be spear carriers in their grand pageants.

The culture of the rich and famous, the movers and shakers of the media world and the dream factories, is one of using people for whatever you can get from them, and discarding them when their use is done. In that environment, it's no wonder that the most successful, who set the tone for the rest, don't believe deep down that any else has either rights or agency. The kind of stories they tell is molded by that world view.

#91 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2012, 12:40 PM:

David Harmon @79: Briefly, the Jungian shadow consists of all those things in your mind which you're trying to shove under the covers. Not just bad things like traumas or shameful desires, it also includes, e.g. strengths shadowed by "not allowed to be competent/good at math/etc.". The basic point though, is that the stuff in the Shadow doesn't go away, it keeps following you around (like, well, your shadow) and messing with you in various ways -- and all that stuff gains power from the energy you use to repress it.

Hm! Then it sounds like the video game did an excellent job of presenting the idea, if in the Buffy-style approach of making the metaphoric into literal reality.

However, I think I would rather continue to actively repress, and be aware that I'm doing so, than go write rape into my stories and edit it back out again. Writing it in previous stories certainly didn't get it out of my system such that I didn't want to anymore, so I don't think doing more so now would really improve matters.

#92 ::: Heather Rose Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2012, 01:30 PM:

On the topic of non-rape negative motivations for female characters, my thoughts went to one of the secondary characters in my current writing project. At the end of the story (well, the end of the current project, anyway) she has a vast heap of negative motivations with regard to one of the protagonists: protagonist received a large inheritance that her family had expected to receive; protagonist was instrumental in her brother being executed for treason; said execution was the immediate motivation for her mother committing suicide; and all of this taken together have pretty much destroyed her academic ambitions (which were already shaky due to financial and social reasons). No sexual violence required. (What she does with these motivations will depend on whether a sequel develops.)

#93 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2012, 01:51 PM:

Fade Manley #91: The point isn't to "get it out of your system", so much as merely to acknowledge that "it" is in your system, to "reclaim" it so that it becomes part of your conscious mind instead of "hiding behind you".

In this case, your overall self clearly does own the ideas, but something within you (even if mere literary habit) may be resisting having them excluded from this story. My suggestion is just one possible workaround for that, a tactic to release whatever internal tensions may be involved. But given that you're not dealing with anything on the scale of Oh John Ringo No!, I don't suppose it matters too much just how you choose to manage it.

#94 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2012, 01:56 PM:

There are so many excellent scholarly works on the middle ages, women, and sexuality, including rape and church canon law governing the same.

The writers and fanboys both of the so-called gritty don't know anything about it -- they insist the Great Rolling Rivers of Moola is a scholar the medieval eras, and by golly, he so is not.

It's kind of like saying the antebellum slaveowners did not rape their slaves because -- as slaves weren't persons in law, it is impossible to rape them, as they had no rights to anything, most certainly not to their persons. Yes, I have heard that argument brought up to prove that "slavery wasn't as bad as you make it out to be."

Also among the actions classified by rape in the Middle Ages was Abduction, which was a common method for a family to get hold of another family's heiress, to marry her to one of their own and thus claim her lands, goods and endowments. For example, an attempt was made to grab Aquitaine by grabbing Eleanor on way home after the dissolution of her marriage to the French King Louis. Due to the great efforts of her men, particularly the young William Marshall, Eleanor escaped, barely -- though he was taken captive. When Eleanor learned of his captivity she ransomed him herself, though he was nothing but a lowly knight at the time.

It's interesting how many scenes from the live of the historical Queen Eleanor are mirrored in some form in the Arthurian romances of Chretien de Troyes -- who lived in the parts of France that were part of King Henry's great empire and included Aquitaine through his marriage to Eleanor.

What I, as a particular reader, find disheartening and non-redeeming about the so-called New Gritty is its disdain not only for women and anyone who isn't the protagonist - narrator, but its ignorance of the aesthetic traditions of medieval entertainments in general.

Medieval artists and entertainers were no less skilled and self-conscious than those of any other age. When horrors are made comic, they knew exactly what they were doing. What they didn't do by-and-large was throw a comic treatment of rape, castration (i.e. Lives of the Saints) into a tale in which the protagonists are worthy of the audience's esteem, as with the sad sad sad tale of the Patient Edith, for instance. Or even, later, in the Renaissance theatrical traditions that we see in Shakespeare's wonderful Titus Andronicus -- I can hear the audience howling in glee as Lavinia waves her bloody stumps around the stage -- because me myself, in an audience at a downtown bar on a hot August howled ourselves. They knew the difference, the contemporary audience knew the difference, and we too know the difference.

Though I find this New Gritty sort of thing personally vile, perhaps the author-scholar- experts in the age of the medieval and Renaissance are really trying for the Grand Guignol House of Horrors, throwing everything in their New Gritty -- except that the Guignol puppet's was made originally by oppressed silk workers and had a whole class and political dimension that is utterly missing from the attitude of the protagonists - narrators.

It's like the critics who objected that Ladonna's rape and beating Treme Season 2 were not shown on camera. They wanted to SEE it. Because it would have made it "more real, and been more respectful of here character when we could see it in more like real time, instead of just the aftermath." I'm not making this up.

Love, C.

#95 ::: Antonia T. Tiger ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2012, 02:00 PM:

I suppose it can be called positive news. A place in Second Life called "Hard Alley" is closing down because the operator isn't getting enough money from users to pay the bills. It's a place focused on "urban rape role-play".

It's not so positive. They've been paying $300 per month for the space they're using in Second Life, for the past five years, the money coming from people who want to rape women.

I am not sure I want to know who the people are who 'play' the women.

#96 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2012, 02:22 PM:

The writers and fanboys both of the so-called gritty don't know anything about it -- they insist the Great Rolling Rivers of Moola is a scholar the medieval eras, and by golly, he so is not.

Harry Turtledove, on the other hand, IS a scholar of the medieval era (IIRC), and I don't recall seeing much, if any, rape in his work. Although he might just be refusing to show it, or I might be mentally blocking it out.

#97 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2012, 04:34 PM:

Constance @94
What I, as a particular reader, find disheartening and non-redeeming about the so-called New Gritty is its disdain not only for women and anyone who isn't the protagonist - narrator, but its ignorance of the aesthetic traditions of medieval entertainments in general.

Could I ask you what you mean by that last bit? It almost sounds as if you're objecting to the idea of stories being told about an era if they're not done in the style of that era's own stories. Which would mean that stories about the Old West should be only be done in the style of dime novels, say. But I can't really believe that's what you mean.

#98 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2012, 04:41 PM:

Constance 94: It's kind of like saying the antebellum slaveowners did not rape their slaves because -- as slaves weren't persons in law, it is impossible to rape them, as they had no rights to anything, most certainly not to their persons. Yes, I have heard that argument brought up to prove that "slavery wasn't as bad as you make it out to be."

Wow. Reading that I had two thoughts: First, that if someone seriously made that argument in my presence I would have trouble not going for their throat. Second, that we should have approximately the same attitude toward people who quote current law when we're talking about morality and ethics.

#99 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2012, 07:32 PM:

The source escapes me but I think I remember a famous movie director or cinematographer saying that you shouldn't let a woman look through the viewfinder.

#100 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2012, 07:52 PM:

Semi-OT, but speaking of rape myths: a young (over 18) female relative of mine was taught and believes that rape almost never results in pregnancy, for some mysterious biological reason.

Not true.

#101 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2012, 07:52 PM:

Lydy Nickerson at #69:

"What I wonder, now, is, is there some sort of equation that we're seeing? Powerful woman = broken? "

That made me think of The Magician King.

#102 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2012, 08:07 PM:

Lila @100: My aunt would beg to differ, as she is just such a product ... my grandmother was her mother's GP, and as an obstetrician as well, was in the unusual position of getting to personally deliver her own (adopted) daughter.

#103 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2012, 08:36 PM:

Elliott: wow. Even more complicated than relationships usually are!

Seriously: what would lead someone to make such an assumption? Or do the people who promulgate it even believe it? Is it maybe intended to keep Good Christian Girls from wanting prescriptions for birth control Just In Case?

(Maybe this is brought to you by the same people who tried to tell us that newborn babies don't feel pain--WTF, people? Anyone ever seen what happens when you do a heel stick for a neonatal blood test??)

#104 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2012, 08:46 PM:

Lila @103: It was widely believed in Pre-Enlightenment times (from Aristotle through Galen and beyond) that female orgasm was absolutely essential to conception, for a variety of reasons that were all internally consistent to their concept of how pregnancy was initiated. I've been reading an amazing book called Making Sex by Thomas Laqueur that goes into far more detail than anyone could ever need on the subject in its first two chapters, though not as its primary topic.

#105 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2012, 09:02 PM:

Lila @ 103: I suspect the "rape can't end in pregnancy" belief may have something to do with the not quite as horrifying but equally appallingly incorrect old "folk wisdom" that a girl can't get pregnant the "first time." The unspoken assumption being, perhaps, that only virgins may truly be raped?

It always amazes me, the number of misconceptions and downright insanities that human beings have promulgated about sex, and how they keep coming back, generation after generation . . .

#106 ::: threnody ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2012, 09:03 PM:

Lila: In case you would like to offer an example more current than Elliott's, one of my children was conceived via rape.

Alas, I suppose this would be dismissed as falling under almost never.

(Name and email address appropriately munged, I hope.)

#107 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2012, 09:06 PM:

I'm in the middle of Patrica Briggs' Mercy Thompson series right now.

In the third book, a main character is raped.
In the fourth book (I'm about halfway through), the main character is dealing with the aftermath - mostly panic attacks. I like the fact that everything is not immediately better.


I was halfway through the 3rd Gap book, when I realized they were not getting any better, and I got rid of the series immediately.

#108 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2012, 09:16 PM:

Harry is a scholar of, primarily, early middle ages Byzantium, as I recall from talking to him.

#109 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2012, 09:59 PM:

threnody @ #106, I am sorry that the coming into the world of any human being should be connected to something so traumatic. My best wishes to both of you.

#110 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2012, 10:39 PM:

@97

"The aesthetics of the time," ... meaning some things written in various eras of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, were deliberately comic effect, as with the technique of exaggeration. These works are not to be cited as How Things Really Were in the varieties of periods that we refer to as the medieval period or the Renaissance. They were several centuries, they played out differently in different places, artistically, culturally, intellectually and politically.

People can say the dumbest things: like Tuchman getting so much Awesome for deciding on the basis of paintings of the 14th century that parents -- mothers in particular -- did not love their infants and young children like we do because so many of them died so soon. She made that claim on the basis of not seeing portraits of loving families in the art of the period -- except when it came to the Holy Family and Jesus. Jesús! one exclaims -- secular portraiture wasn't in vogue yet, in the 14th century! How smart to do you have to be to know that about a period, even if, like Tuchman, this isn't one's scholarly speciality? Also, since the hormonal chemistry of pregnancy and labot and all the rest of bearing children that contributes to the bonding of mother and infant were at least as much in effect then as they are now -- Hello??????.

Love, C

#111 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2012, 11:40 PM:

Erik Nelson @ 101:

That made me think of The Magician King.

What a gap between The Magicians and The Magician King!

#112 ::: Larry ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2012, 11:46 PM:

Evan @12: See that doesn't come across as anti-hero because it is so early in the book there is no chance to actually like the dude even a little. In classic anti-hero there is something about the protagonist that we like. Look at Elric, even though the dude ended up doing all sorts of bad things I never despised him as a character. If anything I felt some sympathy for his situation and rooted him on in many parts.

Anti-hero doesn't mean raper of children imho.

Bruce @43: Same thing here I kind of stalled out around book three of Song of Fire and Ice. It felt like it was going nowhere mostly though.

I just read a synopsis of The Gap series and it sounds awful, really bad. And surprise it's by the same author of the Covenant books.

#113 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2012, 02:31 AM:

A reworking of the posters for Oscar-nominated films.

It is being horribly slow to load, but "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" poster fits very well with this thread.

#114 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2012, 07:58 AM:

Further to Caroline's post (@33):
I think McWeeny is at least partly wrong about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I should note that I'm speaking strictly about Fincher's American movie version; I haven't read the novel, nor have I seen the Swedish movie version (though I have, oddly, seen the Swedish movie made from the second novel).

V guvax bar bs gur "checbfrf" bs Yvforgu Fnynaqre'f encr vf gb qrzbafgengr gung pbagrzcbenel (Fjrqvfu) fbpvrgl vf fgvyy rkgerzryl zvfbtlavfgvp. Vs lbh yrnir vg bhg ragveryl, gura gur fgbel orpbzrf bar nobhg n frevrf bs oehgny zheqref (naq vaprfghbhf encrf) gung unccrarq bire 40 lrnef ntb, zbfgyl va engure vfbyngrq cynprf, naq vaibyivat bar cnegvphyne gjvfgrq (vs jrnygul naq cbjreshy) snzvyl jub yvir jnl bhg va gur zvqqyr bs abjurer, ba na vfynaq. (Gur snpg gung Znegva Inatre unf pbagvahrq gb gbegher naq zheqre jbzra fvapr gur 1960f vf zragvbarq bayl irel, irel oevrsyl gbjneqf gur raq.)

Fb, lrnu, anfgl fghss, ohg vg nyy unccrarq n ybat gvzr ntb, zbfgyl bss va gur uvagreynaqf; vg'f abg fbzrguvat gung jbhyq unccra va zbqrea, 21fg Fjrqra -- cnegvphyneyl abg va fbzrcynpr yvxr Fgbpxubyz, evtug? Naq fb V guvax vg'f fvtavsvpnag abg whfg gung gur ureb trgf encrq, ohg gung fur trgf encrq *ol fbzrbar gur fgngr nccbvagrq gb unir nhgubevgl bire ure*. Gung vf, gur 21fg Praghel Fjrqvfu fgngr *perngrq* gur fvghngvba va juvpu fur vf ihyarenoyr gb frkhny rkgbegvba, naq gura encr, ng gur unaqf bs Owhezna.

#115 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2012, 08:27 AM:

Constance @110 some things written in various eras of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, were deliberately comic effect

I just had a vision of political scholars of the 25th century treating fragments of stories from The Onion as serious current events reporting.

#116 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2012, 09:17 AM:

Constance #110 - the whole medieval period people didn't treat their chilren as people thing because they often died young was a particular idea popular at the time Tuchman was writing.

The guilty parties included Philippe Aries, Lloyd de Mause and Lwarence Stone. They were writing in the 60's, so would have influenced Tuchman. According to Orme, Aries came to his conclusions regarding the treatment of children by studying sculpture, paintings and a few literary manuscripts. HOwever since then real proper in depth research has been done on medieval children and surprise surprise, it totally explodes the previous view. It always surprises me how many people take a partial view of things and, even with caveats applied, make such sweeping judgements. Of course non-specialists and interested parties end up forgetting about the caveats and so the wrong things end up embedded in popular culture.
Information from Nicholas Orme, "Mediaval Children". Yale University press, 2003 paperback.

#117 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2012, 09:19 AM:

In a related battle, Rudy Milholland takes on comic-book T&A poses.

#118 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2012, 11:52 AM:

@OtterB: or even more distant alien archaeologists trying to study human behaviour with just a single reel of some Disney short cartoon as evidence.

#119 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2012, 12:11 PM:

The thing though, is that Tuchman presents this idea in her text as this marvelous fact that she discovered! Breathlessly! With tremendous excitement! And then builds out from there an entire ediface of theory of the psychology of the 14th century from this single erroneous non-fact, thereby invalidating an enormous amount of her book.

That is how it happens in fiction as well -- because she really didn't do her research or even think very hard. Really. Anyone who would think justa little bit about the bond between mothers and their children and particular, even if at the time it still wasn't fashionable to include fathers bonding with their newborns into the equation of parental love.

Love, C.

#120 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2012, 02:03 PM:

Constance @ 119:

Tuchman was following a long, scholarly tradition of creating sweepingly general theories from scraps. My favorite 20th Century example (aside from Freud, that is) is Bruno Bettelheim, who analyzed European fairy tales in Freudian terms, and created the "refrigerator mother" theory of autism. See Psychology Today for a recent article that tries to explain Bettelheim himself as a "psychotic savant", the opposite of a severe autistic. Even if the theory in the article is garbage it's his just desserts for his campaign against the parents of autistics.

#121 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2012, 02:22 PM:

I know little of BB's character or personality, but he has been presented as an authoritarian. He certainly appeared to me at least as at best disdaining women, so I've ignored him. But that's why I have ignored most men in these fields, because the unexamined underlying anti-woman bias is so often there.

But with Tuchman who is an historian, you'd think she'd have done a little more work, particularly about something that is such a fundamental to culture historically everywhere.

Love, C.

#122 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2012, 02:23 PM:

Niall McAuley @ 118:
or even more distant alien archaeologists trying to study human behaviour with just a single reel of some Disney short cartoon as evidence.

The UCLA professor I took mythology & folklore classes from suggested that trying to make grand deductions about prehistoric European culture from a few figurines (he was expressing skepticism about Marija Gimbutas's "ancient European goddess-worshipping matriarchy" theories) was like trying to figure out 20th Century American culture when all you had was a few episodes of "Gunsmoke".

#123 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2012, 02:58 PM:

Niall, #118: Quite, though I don't recall offhand the title of that story. Clarke, wasn't it?

#124 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2012, 03:06 PM:

There's also David Macaulay's 1979 Motel of the Mysteries, still in print.

It is the year 4022; all of the ancient country of Usa has been buried under many feet of detritus from a catastrophe that occurred back in 1985. Imagine, then, the excitement that Howard Carson, an amateur archeologist at best, experienced when in crossing the perimeter of an abandoned excavation site he felt the ground give way beneath him and found himself at the bottom of a shaft, which, judging from the DO NOT DISTURB sign hanging from an archaic doorknob, was clearly the entrance to a still-sealed burial chamber. Carson's incredible discoveries, including the remains of two bodies, one of then on a ceremonial bed facing an altar that appeared to be a means of communicating with the Gods and the other lying in a porcelain sarcophagus in the Inner Chamber, permitted him to piece together the whole fabric of that extraordinary civilization.

#125 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2012, 03:07 PM:

Bruce Cohen #120: Ooh, I like that "psychotic savant" theory! Enough that it'll take me a while to decide if I'm just being vindictive.... ;-)

#126 ::: Angiportus ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2012, 03:17 PM:

118, 123--the Clarke story alluded to is titled "History Lesson". The "Motel of the Mysteries" book provided great amusement for me, and some moments of wondering how far off any of us is when we try to figure out some mysterious thing from the past.
Don't get me started on Fraud or his spawn, inc. Bettelheim.

#127 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2012, 03:18 PM:

Possibly germane, though not about fiction, more about the devaluation of the term: http://bitchmagazine.org/post/douchebag-decree-stephen-date-rape-moore-politics-feminism

#128 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2012, 03:48 PM:

I like the bit from one of Delany's novels, where the future historian explains that the stories about the Beatles having their clothes torn off by screaming teenage girls is simply a late, watered-down version of the story of Orpheus being torn apart by maenads.

#129 ::: etv13 ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2012, 03:49 PM:

Constance @110, Guthrie @ 116: I once read a law review article that argued that people in the middle ages didn't love their children based on a episode in the life of William Marshal, who was taken hostage by King Stephen while his (William's) father was seneschal or castellan of some castle or other. When Stephen threatened to kill William, William's father replied something along the lines of "Go ahead, I have the equipment to make more sons." This was the article's sole support for the argument. It completely overlooked that (a) people remembered this story, which suggests that there is something unusual about it (of course, it could be just that it is an episode in the life of the very famous William Marshal), and (b) Stephen took William hostage presumably because he expected it might work -- i.e., he thought William's father would give up the castle out of regard for William. I think you could conclude from this episode that William's father was a particularly cold-hearted guy, or that he just had a very good read on Stephen's character (Stephen did not, after all, end up killing William). To make a sweeping generalization that medieval people didn't care about their children on the basis of this story, though -- that's just stupid.

#130 ::: etv13 ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2012, 03:52 PM:

Further to the point of parental affection for their children: studies have been done in contemporary societies with high childhood mortality rates, and they show that those parents care just as much about their children as we do.

#131 ::: colorlessblue ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2012, 03:54 PM:

Lila @103, Elliott @104, Mary @105:
I suspect the people who create these myths are also thinking on more ways to say it wasn't rape. "It wasn't really rape if she got pregnant", without of without "because it means she liked it", with bonus "then we can ban all abortion without exceptions for rape/incest because it's all a lie."
I find the "it wasn't rape if she enjoyed it" especially vile. Sometimes physical pleasure is just a physiological reaction to stimuli, and it doesn't make it less of a violation nor does it mean retroactive consent. It just adds the feeling that even your body is betraying you to the trauma of violation, gives people one more weapon to use against you, contributes to denial, makes you think maybe you really wanted it afterall...

#132 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2012, 04:56 PM:

etv13 #129: I've heard a similar story with a female protagonist; I suspect it may be a setpiece for "they were so hard-ass...".

colorlessblue #131: Why not the reverse? I'm amused to think of some charismatic ancient poet/orator getting stripped by overenthusiastic fans....

#133 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2012, 04:58 PM:

Sorry, that second response should have been to Xopher #128.

#134 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2012, 05:37 PM:

Historical novelist Sharon Kay Penman has characters in her Plantagenet series refer to that event of the first William Marshall frequently -- showing there was nobody more hardassed than this William Marshall. However, the politically savvy royals, who know King Stephen's character think its because William Marshall knew that King Stephen didn't have the same hardassedness to kill a child. His own counselors and mercenaries found him too soft, not the hard fiber that made a monarch, which Henry I possessed.

Penman based this characterization on the accounts written at the period.

However, this William Marshall was one hard man. But no harder than Henry I. Henry I had it in him to kill a child hostage.

Love, C.

#135 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2012, 06:08 PM:

David Harmon @ 132:
I've heard a similar story with a female protagonist; I suspect it may be a setpiece for "they were so hard-ass...".

Possibly Caterina Sforza? From the Wikipedia page:

The important fortress of Ravaldino refused to surrender to the Orsis. Caterina offered to attempt to persuade the castellan, Tommaso Feo, to submit. The Orsis believed the good intentions of Caterina because she left her children as their hostages, but once inside she let loose a barrage of rather vulgar threats and promises of vengeance against her former captors. According to a famous legend (without historical veracity) when they threatened to kill her children still in captivity she exposed her genitals from the fortress walls and said: "Ho con me lo stampo per farne degli altri!." ("I have the instrument to bear more!") With the assistance of Ludovico il Moro, she defeated her enemies and regained possession of all her dominions; she wreaked vengeance on those who had opposed her and re-established her power over Forlì.

#136 ::: Heather Rose Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2012, 06:45 PM:

As noted by etv13 @ 129, the flaw in using the William Marshall et al. stories as evidence for medieval parents not loving their children is that the very existence of the practice of giving children as hostages for good behavior had to have been predicated on a societal confidence that parents did care about their children as individuals (i.e., that they weren't trivially replaceable).

There's a similar child-hostage story with a different twist ... I believe from Giraldus Cambrensis, but maybe from the Brut y Tywysogion? At any rate, this is entirely from memory:

Man #1 and his son had been prisoners of Man #2 due to some political conflict. The son was killed and Man #1 was blinded and castrated and continued to be imprisoned. Over time, in planning his revenge, he befriended the only son of his captor (Man #2) and eventually arranged to seize the boy as a hostage while at the top of the castle tower and threatened to throw him off the tower to his death. As ransom for releasing the boy he demanded that Man #2 castrate himself, but since Man #1 was blind, he had to evaluate whether the deed had been done by Man #2's description of what the pain was like (because #1 would know, after all). Insert a literary trope of two false claims of the maiming that are dismissed due to the description not being "correct". But the third time Man #2 actually does the deed, provides the correct description of the pain ... at which Man #1 says something to the effect of, "Now you'll have no sons just like me" and jumps off the tower taking the boy with him.

But the point of all this is that here we have a counter-example medieval story where the rescuing of the child-hostage is considered adequate motivation for a man to mutilate himself in the most horrible fashion imaginable. Furthermore, it symbolizes the attitude that "making more sons" would clearly not have been considered an adequate substitute for the continued existence of the living child, since the ransom explicitly required the removal of that option.

I think my point here is that, like biblical quotations, you can find medieval morality tales to support almost any pre-existing conclusion you choose.

#137 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2012, 08:01 PM:

Peter Erwin #135: That sounds about right....

I'll also note that assigning bizarre habits or moral disabilities to "those people" is common between contemporaneous cultures, and "the past is another country"....

#138 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2012, 08:56 PM:

> some things written in various eras of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, were deliberately comic effect

I just had a vision of political scholars of the 25th century treating fragments of stories from The Onion as serious current events reporting.

I just wondered how seriously Procopius intended the Secret History. I mean, obviously the openly fantastic elements make it hard for a modern reader to take it all as true, but was it ever intended to be taken that way? Or was it somewhere between the Onion and the National Enquirer? (Or, I guess, what those publications would be if they had no standards against including sexual material.)

#139 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2012, 10:28 PM:

#138 ::: chris

One always has to take into account getting even in historical accounts.

Which isn't always that easy to do, the further distant in time and the fewer surviving documents.

It's a lot easier to figure out why who said what about John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay and Andrew Jackson because it's less than two centuries behind us and there are load and loads and loads of primary print document and newspaper to tell us. You just need to sift.

But going back as far as Julius Caesar and King Stephen -- before Gutenberg, before a post, before general literacy -- it's much more difficult.

But the longer one lives through political bs, the easier political bs comes recognizable even in the way back times. If, that is, one has the ears for style and rhetoric that can recognize these things that tend to employ the same rhetorical flourishes, tone and accusations that are still in use now.

This was something I finally achieved last year, and realized then how old I am, reading Benjamin Franklin's sockpuppetting letters to the press sneering at the English for abolishing slavery within England herself. He wasn't personally at all in favor of abolishing slavery himself -- he was being political on behalf of Virginia and South Carolina. He was relatively young at that point, his first time in England, and he knew well where his bread in the North American colonies would be buttered. BF's abolitionist thoughts only arrived very, very late in his life, when he was rich -- much of his fortune made faciliating the slave trade from advertising and so on, and when he could afford real servants, and not have slaves himself.

Love, C.

#140 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2012, 01:47 AM:

A few months ago I saw two movies within the space of two or three days that both, in very different ways, dealt with the lives of people who are rendered non-persons by the society they live in. And the motivation behind casting them out, once you got past the political, religious, and philosophical bullshit was selfishness and economic greed on the part of the rest of society.

I was so moved by the juxtaposition of those two movies, Water and Never Let Me Go that I wrote a blog post about them and how they were the same or different in the way they expressed those themes. It helps that they were both exceptionally well-made movies, and both are worth seeing completely aside from themes and messages. I recommend them both highly, but don't see them if you're feeling low; they pack a real punch.

#141 ::: etv13 ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2012, 04:43 AM:

Does anybody know anything about William Marshall's subsequent relationship with his father? Or about Isaac's with Abraham?

#142 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2012, 05:20 AM:

David Harmon @ 137:
I'll also note that assigning bizarre habits or moral disabilities to "those people" is common between contemporaneous cultures, and "the past is another country"....

True... though I suspect one of the reasons is also the influence of anthropology on history, including the recognition that people in past societies may not necessarily have been "just like us, but with different politics and religion and lower technology", and that arguments along the lines of "Of course they would share this particular value/perception with us -- it's just obvious that all humans do!" should at least be examined a little.

#143 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2012, 05:49 AM:

Peter Erwin #142: Anthropology has played on both sides there, as IIRC the earliest workers made some appallingly naive and often racist generalizations.

#144 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2012, 11:40 AM:

@etv13 #130: Indeed, I have heard the hypothesis that cultures with longstanding high rates of infant mortality tend not to hold welcoming/recognition ceremonies for their children right away because that way losing them in infancy might hurt a tiny bit less.

#145 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2012, 02:16 PM:

etv13 141: After the psycho near-murder, neither Isaac nor Sarah (IIRC) ever speaks another word to Abraham. They aren't chatty characters to begin with, but the answer to your query is no, at least about them.

Jenny 144: I'm not sure where I heard about the tradition of not naming a baby until it's two weeks old, or in what real or fictional culture it is or was practiced, but it was clear it grew out of that very sentiment.

I have enough of that sentiment that I feel a little discomfort when people tell me the name of their as-yet-unborn baby. Relatives who have lost babies at various stages may have contributed to this sense.

#146 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2012, 03:21 PM:

#141 etv13

Does anybody know anything about William Marshall's subsequent relationship with his father?

At about age twelve, John Marshall never more than a minor nobleman, sent William to Normandy. As there were no lands or fortune to inherit (William wasn't the oldest son), William concentrated on martial skills. One tends to think that his prowess in the fighting ways of knighthood were inherited from his father, and honed by his training, and William likely thought so too. He essentially made his living out of tournaments.

The office of Lord Marshal, which originally related to the keeping of the King's horses, and later, the head of his household troops, was won as a hereditary title by John, and was passed to his eldest son, also called John Marshall, and later claimed by William

He joined the household of Henry II, and trained his sons, particularly he who became King Richard Lion Heart, though not the youngest, John -- who maybe not coincidentally, the only one of Henry's sons without good weapons skills.

Much later, in his last days, Henry II granted William the hand of the heiress Isabel de Clare, who was only 17 years old. Richard confirmed the marriage, and William became Earl of Pembroke, making him one of the richest and most powerful men in the kingdom.

All this wouldn't have happened if John hadn't turned on King Stephen and joined the forces supporting Empress Matilda, the sister of Henry I and mother of Henry II.

Love, C.

#147 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2012, 03:30 PM:

There's also a very practical reason for not naming a child in a world where so many infants perish so early. Whereas baptism is a religious ceremony, it was performed usually within minutes after a child was born. The officiating priest expected a 'present." A christening is mostly a naming ceremony so it can be held off. The priest(s), lawyers, involved with the christening also expected presents or even payment. Though I do believe that the godparents on the other hand, give presents, at least to the baby, and often to the mother too. This is why the more well-off and higher rank members of the community stood so often as godparents. The christening was also often public, involves food and so on, and the less well off the parents the more costly it is to their resources.

One of the ways families coped with these many losses, right into the 19th century of Emily Dickinson, was to give the next child of the same gender the same name as the deceased infant -- particularly to boys.

Of course the two ceremonies can be combined, and sometimes were. But usually in those days, as mentioned, baptism was performed very soon after the baby emerged at birth.

Love, C.

#148 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2012, 03:34 PM:

O yes -- you know how all people everywhere have what we might call superstitions.

In a lot of places by not giving a child a name, it was hoped that would keep attention from the child by evil spirits that might take it away.

And in some cultures, children just don't have names, particularly girls. They have the patrynomic, or clan name. But no 'first' names. They are given numbers. As they become older and develop personalities, a nickname will get attached to that person.

Love, C.

#149 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2012, 03:45 PM:

Constance (147): One of the ways families coped with these many losses, right into the 19th century of Emily Dickinson, was to give the next child of the same gender the same name as the deceased infant -- particularly to boys.

Not just deceased infants, either. My great-great-grandfather*, the youngest in a large family, was named David Joseph after his oldest brother, David, who had died as a young man (late teen?) before he (my g-g-gf) was born. This would have been mid-19th century. (I can check the exact details when I get home this evening.)

*I think I have the generation right.

#150 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2012, 04:30 PM:

That's interesting. Thanks for sharing that.

I've read accounts of families naming the youngest after an older deceased sibling -- generally boys. Biographers tend to attempts to make something of this psychologically, for the inheritor of the name, and for the family generally. Whether there were reprecussions unless the people concerned ever left a record themselves, who can know?

There were so many customs around death in families that have so rapidly been almost forgotten entirely in our part of the world since innoculation, flush toilets, better nutrition, and better reproductive medical understanding and care for mothers in pregnancy, labor and neo-natal care.

It's shocking how quickly that can be reversed, which is happening rapidly in this nation with the wreck of everything. Our infant mortality rate is shocking and the rate of sickness and damage to mothers in pregnancy and labor and afterwards is rising at rates no one would have believed possible even ten years ago -- while at the same contraception and abortion are nearly impossible to get in many places for many women. Nutrition is hurt also as there are so many millions in the U.S. living in poverty.

I do wish the POTUS repuls would debate these issues and compete in plans to reverse these national trends.

Love, C.

#151 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2012, 04:33 PM:

The way a friend of mine puts it, William the Marshal is desperately in need of a good screenwriter. There were many filmic scenes in his life (according to the chroniclers) in which he won battles against great odds, or in old age stood up for someone that other people were persecuting (I think it was unjustly persecuting as well), and oddly enough people stopped the persecution because they were afraid of William in every possible way. No only that he was rich and close to the king but that they were certain he could still kill them all by himself.

#152 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2012, 04:46 PM:

Constance @150:
I've read accounts of families naming the youngest after an older deceased sibling -- generally boys. Biographers tend to attempts to make something of this psychologically, for the inheritor of the name, and for the family generally. Whether there were reprecussions unless the people concerned ever left a record themselves, who can know?

My younger sister is named for my father's elder sister, who died at 16 of a congenital heart defect. I know that she feels a special bond with this aunt whom she missed by a good quarter century, just as I feel a connection with the grandmother I missed by a year because everyone says we are so alike.

I think the challenge would be for the parents, calling a new person, with a new personality, by the name they associated with such a grief. If I lost one of my kids, I can't picture calling anyone by their name again, not by choice.

#153 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2012, 06:12 PM:

abi #152: But that's a prior generation, which is still pretty usual. My own eldest nephew is named for my father; if Dad had lived another year, my other nephew would probably have gotten the name.

#154 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2012, 07:45 PM:

Me (149): After checking, I see I misremembered a few details. Older brother David was only 6 when he died, in November of 1823. David Joseph (my great-great-grandfather) was born five months later, in April of 1824; he was the fourth of nine children.

David Joseph himself lost one child at the age of 14 months. Three of his other five died of tuberculosis in their late teens; he died of it also. My great-grandfather, the oldest and another David Joseph, was the only survivor; he was away most of the time, working, which may be why he didn't contract it.

#155 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2012, 07:59 PM:

Constance @ 94: "The writers and fanboys both of the so-called gritty don't know anything about it -- they insist the Great Rolling Rivers of Moola is a scholar [of] the medieval eras, and by golly, he so is not."

It strikes me as more than a little unfair to hold GRRM responsible for stupid things his fans say or to treat foolish interpretations of his work as definitive. It seems very much like just another way of making GRRM their bitch.

So let's look at what George has to say for himself.

I mean, I’m a huge fan of Tolkien. I read those books when I was in junior high school and high school and they had a profound affect on me. I’d read other fantasy before, but none of them that I loved like Tolkien. And I, indeed, was not alone in that. The success that the Tolkien books had redefined modern fantasy....

And as a Tolkien fan, I sampled a lot of it. And hated a lot of it. It just seemed to me that they were imitating Tolkien without understanding Tolkien and they were imitating the worst things of Tolkien. I mean, I loved Tolkien but I don’t think he was perfect. So I did want to do something that replied not only to Tolkien, but to all of the Tolkien successors who had followed that. ...

I was also reading a lot of historical fiction. And the contrast between that and a lot of the fantasy at the time was dramatic because a lot of the fantasy of Tolkien imitators has a quasi-medieval setting, but it’s like the Disneyland Middle Ages. ...And then you’d read the historical fiction which was much grittier and more realistic and really give you a sense of what it was like to live in castles or to be in a battle with swords and things like that. And I said what I want to do is combine some of the realism of historical fiction with some of the appeal of fantasy, the magic and the wonder that the best fantasy has.

Now there's things worth critiquing in there! But please let's talk about that and not what some pack of knobs on the internet is yammering about.

"What I, as a particular reader, find disheartening and non-redeeming about the so-called New Gritty is its disdain not only for women and anyone who isn't the protagonist - narrator, but its ignorance of the aesthetic traditions of medieval entertainments in general."

I can't really speak for the "New Gritty" as a whole, having only become aware of the term over the course of this conversation,* but if you think that ASoIaF is equitably described as having "disdain for women and anyone who isn't the protagonist - narrator", then I can only conclude we are reading entirely different books. I find it to have an extraordinary level of empathy for its characters; sometimes compelled to go to ridiculous lengths to make you feel for them. Of mercy it is largely bereft; not so of empathy.

I am also unsure as to why "New Gritty" fantasy stands out, against the backdrop of epic fantasy, in having particularly poor knowledge of the aesthetic traditions of medieval entertainments.

* Nor am I convinced that it has much of an existence beyond the minds of you and your opponents--none of whom I have yet encountered.

#156 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2012, 08:25 PM:

heresiarch @155: I can't really speak for the "New Gritty" as a whole, having only become aware of the term over the course of this conversation,* [....]

* Nor am I convinced that it has much of an existence beyond the minds of [Constance] and [her] opponents--none of whom I have yet encountered.

That seems somewhat rude, whether the dubious existence in question is the term "New Gritty" in itself, or the subgenre of fantasy which it's meant to represent.

Constance's post was also the first time I recall having seen that term, but about two minutes of Googling turned up a chain of blog debates about "The New Gritty" back in Feb. 2011, including one by author Kate Elliott.

The discussion was apparently kicked off in response to this post which uses the terms "nihilist"/"nihilism" instead and names multiple examples.

I don't think I entirely agree with the original premise of that "nihilism" post that this type of fantasy is inherently bad-- for one thing, I rather liked The Iron Dragon's Daughter, which is one of the few books in the list I've read-- but I think it does make the case that the subgenre does exist.

#157 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2012, 09:06 PM:

Julie L. @ 156: I also googled around in search of the "New Gritty" and found that same pair of bloggers--neither of whom are advocates of the new gritty. All I was able to find* were posts by people talking about how much the new gritty sucks. There wasn't a whole lot of use of the term New Gritty by the people who presumably make up the fanbase and writers.

A big red flashing light goes off in my head when a category is being named and defined by people from the outside who think it's awful. The danger of caricaturing and strawmanning is nigh inescapable: rarely do disdainful outsiders capture the distinctions, values and relationships that matter to the people within. The second post you link to is a case in point.

* Other than a fascinating conversation about genderedness in epic fantasy and the male/female gaze; highlights here, here and here.

#158 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2012, 09:14 PM:

heresiarch @155:

I can't really speak for the "New Gritty" as a whole, having only become aware of the term over the course of this conversation,* [....]

* Nor am I convinced that it has much of an existence beyond the minds of [Constance] and [her] opponents--none of whom I have yet encountered.

The same things dismissals were trumpeted in the past, including the declaration that "I've never heard of it (so therefore you whoever you are made it up)." The first time I heard these dismissals, it was cyberpunk. There have been so many since. And they all end up with their own publications too.

The so-called New Gritty tends to merge with Neo-Sword & Sorcery and the New Dystopia too. If that helps you. It is also quite dismissive of older writers a lot of the time. It's generational.

Nor did I accuse your favorite of anything in general. I was referencing what the fanboyz howl if anyone speaks in a critical forum of the problems in the narrative of their Biggest Favorite. I never said it was his fault. Rather I made a point of stating that I don't begrudge his success a bit. But you missed that in taking umbridge ... kinda like the you-know-whos that you also dismissed me for invoking as a big part of the problem in this culture of rape fiction.

#159 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2012, 10:39 PM:

Heresiarch, I know writers of New Gritty (whether by that name or not) and fans thereof also responded to the two posts in question, and I thought they had at bare minimum happily adopted the term, so I'm surprised that you failed to turn up articles from both sides.

And in any case, being wary of a term because it was coined by those who dislike a genre is at least potentially a fair cop, but your original footnote contained a level of dismissiveness and rudeness that goes beyond the point.

I only read the first two of GRRM's books, but I suspect that your view of what constitutes disdain of women and mine may vary widely. I do see some aspects of realistic "women had a hard time attaining any power in these societies" in the text -- but also more instances of something that could be read as accepting that above and beyond what's validated by history, and a few of very nearly taking glee in it. (Note: in the text. Not in the writer.)

#160 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2012, 12:45 AM:

StochasticBird @ 28: Alyssa Rosenberg responds to Sady Doyle's ASOIAF critique.

#161 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2012, 04:07 AM:

heresiarch:

1. Mod note: Back it off a bit on the way you address and discuss your fellow members of the community, please. You're being defensive as opposed to constructive, and, as frequently happens when being defensive on behalf of others, you haven't got your fine controls quite right.

2. That critique of Doyle's piece that you linked to in 160 includes an entire section complaining that she asserted [i]f you’re going to depict sexual or domestic violence, you need to justify that depiction according to a higher standard—but the criteria for doing that are totally unclear, with passages like:

No one, of course, should be forced to consume material that they’re uncomfortable with. And I appreciate the work of feminists who have created trigger-free safe spaces for those who need them. But I’m troubled by the fact that Sady and a lot of other feminist critics don’t seem to have a good explanation or brightline for when a scene of sexual or domestic violence is acceptable in art—not that I would necessarily agree with where they drew the line—because without one, they’re in danger of setting a standard where no depiction of sexual assault is ever permissible.

and, quoted approvingly from another writer,

What’s really interesting to me here isn’t that some people might find that scene in “Game of Thrones” to be sexy or arousing–no, what I’m fascinated by is the fact that we view sexual violence as a completely different class of behavior than (for want of a better phrase) nonsexual violence. Because, let’s face it: movies and TV are full of tons of scenes of people getting murdered, maimed, and killed…and while it’s sometimes brutally realistic and painful to watch, more often its highly stylized, very pretty, and–dare I say it?–even sexy. Yet outside of a few occasional grumblings, we never seem worried about what enjoy these candy colored scenes of brutal mayhem might say about us, or if it means we’re harboring some secret desire to be a serial killer. No, we seem perfectly aware that one can enjoy the fantasy of horrifically violent actions without actually being a violent person–in a way that we don’t seem to be able to accept with sexual violence in pop culture.

The water, it is getting rather painful in here...

#162 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2012, 08:19 AM:

Constance @ 110:

Ah, I see what you were saying now; thanks for making it clearer to me.

However... I don't think it would be fair to say that claims for violence in the Middle Ages are based entirely -- or even mostly -- on misinterpretations of medieval fiction. (Nor, I would argue, is your personal reaction to a modern staging of a 400-year-old play necessarily an accurate guide to how medieval audiences perceived their contemporary literature.)

There's a fair amount of scholarship on this issue, including examination of chronicles and legal records. A little googling turns up, for example, a volume entitled Violence in Medieval Society. The introduction (by Richard Kaeuper) notes that it's important to avoid the twin errors of "popular portrayls of medieval society as romantic, with any troublesome violence washed out in pastel tones, or as some 'dark age', with its somber hues highlighted only by bloodstains", but late on points out that

... kings led out their mailed hosts ... in the course of licit, 'public' war which left despoiled and charred villages in its wake; lords did the best they could with their own armed followings in 'private' war ... the privileged likewise retained an unalterable fondness for the violent sport of tournament, and for settling judicial quarrels by formally arranged combat; schoolmasters beat their students as a demonstration of office, no less than as a means of correction; male heads of households disciplined all subordinates under their roofs, servants as well as family.
and
The story might be more palatable and hopeful to modern sensibilities had the medieval folk only regretted violence and sought in all ways to reduce and repress it; but they seem -- in company with many people in other times -- truly to have enjoyed it, even while worrying about the order and stability that makes settled life possible...


From one of the essays in that volume ("Aristocratic Violence: Trial by Battle in the Later Middle Ages, by Malcolm Vale):

... in so many instances, what appears to mark off later medieval society (or societies) from their more modern equivalents is the readiness with which resort was had to violent behaviour in the settlement of disputes. What may seem to have been the most minor and trivial of incidents could lead to sudden, violent death or gratuitous wounding.


And this review of Ruth Mazzo's Sexuality in Medieval Europe: Doing Unto Others, by a medieval historian (whom the author, in her reply, refers to as "the pioneer of the history of sexuality in the Middle Ages'), notes that

While rape undoubtedly occurred frequently, it was not necessarily a matter of great concern [i.e., to medieval authorities]. Proving rape was difficult, and implicit in the general sexual understanding of the time was that the idea that the man takes what he wants, and there was not much attention given to whether the woman consented or not.

#163 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2012, 10:03 AM:

I've gotten kind of tired of The Woman Who Doesn't Like Embroidery and Would Rather Be a Fighter.

Offhand, I can only think of one male character who was being trained to be a fighter and who didn't fit in-- Sam from ASoIaF, and he's not what I'm looking for, because to put it mildly I have no faith he'll get a chance to shine at what he's good at. Geder from The Dragon's Path might be another, but he also doesn't exactly offer the sort of fun I'm looking for.

It's occurring to me that part of the problem with the embroidery thing might be Victorian ideas (or possibly modern ideas about the Victorian era) of what an upper class woman ought be getting imposed on the Middle Ages.

What if you had a female character who was more interested in fighting than in learning how to run a castle? (Ok, I'm assuming a more or less noble protagonist. I guess I'm in cliche territory here.) She still might be sympathetic, but perhaps not as obviously so for adult readers.

Actually, we do have a male example in King Robert from ASoIaF, and his lack of interest in the boring work of ruling is quite reasonably presented as a disaster.

Two more for the New Gritty that I don't think were mentioned: K.J. Parker (Colours in the Steel) and Mary Gentle (Grunts and the Ash tetrology).

#164 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2012, 12:13 PM:

I would say that Grunts is a thorough piss-take of military adventure fiction in general, and only incidentally New Gritty.

There are certainly a good few examples of noblewomen who took a hand in military affairs, across medieval Europe. And one of the examples to me, Lucy of Lincoln, seems to be rather confusingly documented on the internet, compared to what I was taught about her.

Wikipedia has Lucy of Bolingbroke who married Ivo Taillebois, but the details get messy. According to the first article, Lucy's third husband was Ranulf le Meschin, who became Earl of Chester, but according to the second, the Lucy who married Ranulf was not Ivo's widow, but an illegitimate daughter of Ivo.

The dates are intriguing. Lucy's year of birth is not surely known, but her first marriage was in about 1083, which is enough time for a daughter to be old enough to marry Ranulf in 1101. And she was herself still young enough to bear children (as well as being a very wealthy widow). So which story do you choose?

The stuff that is harder to nail down is that Countess Lucy was constable of Lincoln Castle, (hence the existence of the Lucy Tower) but Lucy of Bolingbroke doesn't quite fit that story (the tower isn't quite old enough). Besides, she was certainly dead by the time the Anarchy started, when all and sundry were trying to get on the winning side in the struggle between Stephen and Matilda.

It looks as though, over my lifetime, history has been changed and Lucy isn't quite what she was. Powerful woman, or a confusion of wives and daughters of the same name?

If somebody wants to write New Gritty kick-ass medieval adventure about Lucy de Taillebois (the daughter) sidelined by shenanigans over her legitimacy, she'd still be in her fifties when things get lively. Oh poot! Never mind.


#165 ::: jennygadget ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2012, 02:39 PM:

"I am also unsure as to why "New Gritty" fantasy stands out, against the backdrop of epic fantasy, in having particularly poor knowledge of the aesthetic traditions of medieval entertainments."

I don't think that it does. I think many people are pointing out that grimdark it isn't, in fact, all that realistic not in order to take potshots at it that they don't aim at epic fantasy, but rather in response to the typical defenses given by the respective fans of these subgenres. In my experience, epic fantasy fans are more likely to claim "but it's fantasy!" while grimdark fans are more likely to claim that the sexual violence is just as realistic as the other violence. The implication of the last being that the sexual violence portrayed can't possibly be any more problematic than the inclusion of any other kind of violence.

Case in point: the quote abi pulled out from the post you linked to, which is not only about all of it being fantasy, but also about non-sexualized violence (supposedly) being as realistically portrayed as other violence.

While my larger objection to that particular quote is the fact that the person making the argument fails to make a distinction between violence between equals and institutionalized violence, there is also the matter that such systematic and hierarchical violence is, in fact, usually not as realistically portrayed as a direct result of many writers failing to recognize this distinction.

#166 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2012, 03:18 PM:

I for one do criticize the constant beat of violence of all and every kind that permeates our daily life in every way:

@)the violence of the system that speaks from side of its mouth of how sad it is that so many people who qualify for and NEED food stamps don't apply, while the other side of the mouth does everything possible to keep these same people from having them;

@) the violence of the system that has returned, homeless veterans begging on the subway in 17 degree temperatures -- while having granted the DOD medical arms over 3 billion to work on head trauma injuries and -- have no idea where it went;

@ most television and video games.

One does get hardened to violence via our entertainments. I've lived without television most of my life. Then came dvds and computers capacity to play them. The first time around watching Buffy I had to leave the room constantly because I simply could not take the slugfests and the blood. By the fifth time around I shrugged.

The thing about the vengeance tragedies and all those other depictions of violence whether tongue in cheek or with more serious intent: the audiences were not in 24/7 mode to see this violence that isn't 'real' only fun. Nor would they need to, considering the everyday violence around them, if they lived in a city, from executions to people starving to death in the streets.

Rome had the gladiators.

It's not good for a culture to be that permeated with violence as entertainment for all kinds of reasons. Particularly for the reason to keep the disenfranchised and oppressed quiet -- bread and circuses.

We didn't have that capacity here in the U.S. from the 1830's up to the Civil War. Instead, we had in those decades riots that killed mostly black people broke out in every city, frequently, every year. Never ever were those who killed the black citizens, burned their houses, their churches, anywhere too where white and black abolitionists met punished for this, even on the rare occasions they went to trial. It was a safety valve for the poor whites -- the Irish, mostly at that time. The culmination was the horrific draft riot in NYC during the Civil War.

Social violence as entertainment is a very cheap way for the power elite to manage the exploited.

The more history I read the more I see how important the mob and riot is to governing. I also know not everyone would necessarily agree with my conclusions. OTOH, so many historians have just glossed over these parts, particularly in U.S. history because of its connection to labor history.

But -- I'm a wimp, and an eccentric and a crank. We all know that. What can ya do? :)

Love, C.

#167 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2012, 04:20 PM:

If something's going to be part of "The New Gritty" (scare quotes because I share heresiarch's skepticism), shouldn't it be new? Mary Gentle's Grunts! was published 20 years ago.

#168 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2012, 06:03 PM:

Would the opposite of New Gritty be Urbane Fantasy?

#169 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2012, 07:18 PM:

OK, I'm finding a few hits for r scott bakker "new gritty" that indicate that it was being used as a subgenre descriptor as early as 2010. But man, that took a lot more work than it should have. (And I still haven't found any cases of Bakker himself using the term.)

Just googling for "new gritty", Joe Abercrombie's name comes up a lot, usually in Amazon reviews by Liviu Suciu, but most frustratingly by this reviewer, who writes "Much has been said about the 'new gritty' and Abercrombie's part in that" without linking to or repeating any of those things that have supposedly been said. (And the closest I could find to Abercrombie using it to describe his own work was in an interview where he responds to the Leo Grin post by admitting that his work is gritty.)

So I dunno, maybe there's something going on. Have people been talking about this at conventions? I'm left with the impression of conversations taking place mostly somewhere where Google can't see them (which'll be a handy skill in the coming Machine Wars).

#170 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2012, 07:59 PM:

Lenora Rose @ 159:"I know writers of New Gritty (whether by that name or not) and fans thereof also responded to the two posts in question, and I thought they had at bare minimum happily adopted the term, so I'm surprised that you failed to turn up articles from both sides."

Maybe my google-fu is not strong enough. I'd love to see something written from the other side, if anyone can find it.

"in any case, being wary of a term because it was coined by those who dislike a genre is at least potentially a fair cop"

I think it goes beyond potentially in this case. Did you read the second link that Julie posted @ 156? A taste:

Soiling the building blocks and well-known tropes of our treasured modern myths is no different than other artists taking a crucifix and dipping it in urine, covering it in ants, or smearing it with feces. In the end, it’s just another small, pathetic chapter in the decades-long slide of Western civilization into suicidal self-loathing. It’s a well-worn road: bored middle-class creatives (almost all of them college-educated liberals) living lives devoid of any greater purpose inevitably reach out for anything deemed sacred by the conservatives populating any artistic field. They co-opt the language, the plots, the characters, the cliches, the marketing, and proceed to deconstruct it all like a mad doctor performing an autopsy. Then, using cynicism, profanity, scatology, dark humor, and nihilism, they put it back together into a Frankenstein’s monster designed to shock, outrage, offend, and dishearten.

I'm going to take a wild leap into the dark and suggest that perhaps scatology and shock value isn't what, say, Elizabeth Bear finds valuable about Joe Abercrombie. It certainly isn't what I find valuable in Martin.

"but your original footnote contained a level of dismissiveness and rudeness that goes beyond the point."

This is the point I meant to make: I am unconvinced that Constance's claims--offered entirely without evidence--that the writers and readers of the new gritty are "rapey" "fanboyz"* and "disdain[ful of] women and anyone who isn't the protagonist - narrator" and "like saying the antebellum slaveowners did not rape their slaves because slaves weren't persons in law" and something she finds "personally vile" accurately describe the people and the work she claims to be addressing.

I am not saying that this kind of statement is always an illegitimate statement to make about fans, authors, or works. I'm disputing its accuracy in this instance. Constance provides no references. I have gone and looked, and haven't found it. It is not consistent with my experience of ASOIAF as a text or as a fandom. It is the construction of an opponent who as far as I can see does not exist within the conversation: a strawman. I do not say this to be rude or dismissive. If that's how it came out, I apologize.

"I do see some aspects of realistic "women had a hard time attaining any power in these societies" in the text -- but also more instances of something that could be read as accepting that above and beyond what's validated by history, and a few of very nearly taking glee in it."

So do I! I find in ASOIAF moments that are incredibly nuanced and insightful glimpses into the construction of gender; that are unflinching portrayals of sexism in action; that are kinda/totally squicky characterizations; that are disturbingly fan-service cheesecake, for very male-gaze values of "fan." And I really want to talk about them, to pick them apart, to see what they say about the characters, about sexism, and the world. And I think the way Constance has been talking shuts that conversation down before it starts.

* Because of course all fans of ol' Great Rolling Rivers (as Constance names him) are male. And the gender ratio of a work's fanbase is a clear predictor of whether it's sexist or not.

#171 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2012, 08:02 PM:

Try the term 'neckbeard(s), which is a favored term to refer to the men who write the rapey-rape, women as refrigerators, such as The Wind-up Girl, particularly is the young woman is Asian -- that novel in particular raised Asian ire.

These discussions happen in magazine forums, blog and other social network fora that are populated mostly by readers -- the fans of the New Gritty are mostly male, and those who call them neckbeards are almost entirely female, with a few male allies.

There are enormous numbers of fan sites.

I am the messenger, not the perpetrator.

But if you prefer to believe I made it up, what can a poor girl do?

But why do you think this subject was put up on ML at all? Where do you think this came out of? You think one day abi thought, "Oh let's have a really good time and think about rape and violence against women in the entertainment media?" Why would she be thinking about rape and violence against women and men cheering it in entertainment at all? Why do so many males out and out threaten women they feel have gotten out of hand with rape online, or wish them to be raped, graphically describe what they'd like to see happen to them this way, as happens, for instance, so often to women like Ginmar who won't let this subject just be laughed off, and keep documenting the endless instances of this stuff as evidence that this is a rape culture? Why do you think even little boys threaten little girls that if they don't stop disagreeing with them, if they won't do what they want, they should be raped?

These things don't happen in a vaccum. They are not isolated events that happen only fantasy fiction or video games or computer sim games -- the place where people play rape????? Kathleen Giffords announced she was stepping down because her recovery though remarkable is far far away from being enough to resume her place in Congress. An Oklahoma writer says that immediately after that a warning shooting target showed up on the doors of local women holding local office.

I stay away from it all as much as possible, and keep my online circles to a minimum. But I do like to keep up, so you know, I won't say something like, "I never heard of it so it it doesn't exist," when indeed it turns out to be so.

Love, C.

#172 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2012, 08:15 PM:

O another term you might like to google is "grimdark."

The writers of these novels are the ones who like "New Gritty." I was respecting their choice.

But others, not so much polite. Neckbeards who love the grimdark rapey-rape fantasy, etc. They also will employ even less pretty terms such as circlejerkers, dudebros, racist-sexist dicks, mansplainers.

Again, remember I am the messenger, intrepidly researching where others may not wish to tread. Also, again, this isn't about ASOIAF. It's about proliferation of graphic and violent rape in entertainment.

Love, C.

#173 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2012, 08:18 PM:

164
The source I have to hand says Lucy was living in 1130, and she was the widow first of Ivo Taillebois and then Roger fitzGerold, before marrying (ca 1098) Ralph or Ranulph le Meschin (third of the name). He died about 1129 and was buried at St Werburg's in Chester.

#174 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2012, 08:51 PM:

abi @ 161: "Back it off a bit on the way you address and discuss your fellow members of the community, please."

It's frustrating and depressing that pointing out the empty signifier of Constance's argument is seen as more rude and more dismissive than the blanket generalities and offensive assertions that adorn her argument's structure.

"You're being defensive as opposed to constructive, and, as frequently happens when being defensive on behalf of others, you haven't got your fine controls quite right."

If you think I am being defensive, and on behalf of others, then you are twice wrong. I have no interest in defending ASOIAF from criticism of even the most damning sort--rather, I am interested in whether that criticism is valid or not.* Nor am I speaking here on behalf of others: I have spent dozens of hours engaged in feminist critique of ASOIAF. I am defending its worth as a feminist text because I know it to be so.

"The water, it is getting rather painful in here..."

Very true: it's quite annoying how pointing out the prevalence of non-sexual violence in the media is used as a way of shutting down discussions of sexual violence. Something of the "but women are being mutilated in Afghanistan" school.

* That is why the whole question of historicity strikes me as so misguided, regardless of whether it is blind lovers or mad haters deploying it: we wouldn't worry about it when engaging in a feminist reading of The Handmaid's Tale;** why bother with it for pseudo-historical stuff?

** An example which also exposes the meaninglessness of Sady Doyle's method of critique: counting the number of rapes does not yield a measure of its position on the creepy-to-feminist spectrum.

jennygadget @ 165: "I think many people are pointing out that grimdark it isn't, in fact, all that realistic not in order to take potshots at it that they don't aim at epic fantasy, but rather in response to the typical defenses given by the respective fans of these subgenres."

First off--I'm not responding to "many people", but to Constance. But it seems like a counterargument that obscures rather than emphasizes the central objection: even if it was rigorously-documented hyper-historical rape porn, it's still problematic! Even if it's totally ahistorical feminist work, it's still awesome.

#175 ::: forgot the name ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2012, 09:04 PM:

Constance, I don't entirely agree, but I don't entirely disagree either. I think the main thrust that I'm getting from your argument is this from your post at #171: But why do you think this subject was put up on ML at all? Where do you think this came out of? You think one day abi thought, "Oh let's have a really good time and think about rape and violence against women in the entertainment media?" Why would she be thinking about rape and violence against women and men cheering it in entertainment at all?

I think it's easy to derail into specific discussions of things like Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, or ASOIAF, and I think that ease is part of why it's so hard to convey the sense I also get from grimdark, or from new gritty (I've heard grimdark a lot more than new gritty). It's easy to fall into specific examples of: this series, this book, this movie, this thing here. And I think the key word that you've used is proliferation.

Debating the ins and outs of specific examples is one thing, and worthwhile, but I also think that it obscures the larger issue as though a worthwhile depiction is more important than the fact that there are so many.

For me, even the rape scenes that are well-executed, that are handled sensitively, blur with the bad ones, the tasteless ones, the jokes, the conversations, so on and so forth, in a stream of 'this is what someone would do to you. This is what someone has done to someone you know. This is what someone will do. You aren't watching fantasy. You're watching someone's life. And you can put yourself in her shoes because you know it's real.' A lot of the time when I watch rape scenes, I'm watching what happened to me. I'm watching what happened to my friends. Details vary, but so much remains the same.

And I think that's a lot of what I dislike about grimdark, or new gritty, or things that claim to treat sexual violence as ubiquitous or normal or whatever. It's a distancing from how things are, while simultaneously claiming the right to be 'shocking' and 'awful'.

Well, if it's so distant and ubiquitous and inevitable, then why is each and every rape treated as a single instance? I think this goes back to what I said earlier -- it's missing the mark to fill a book with unconnected rapes and say 'oh, that's how it was, I'm just being realistic'. To be realistic would be to at least try to portray interconnection. Rape isn't something that happens to a character as a single event. It's something that happens to who they know, too. And not in the sense of retribution or vengeance by Knight of the Day, motivated by the rape of their dearest to ... go off and kill/hurt the rapist, completely ignoring the victim! Because they care so much! Okay then!

It's so easy (for me, too) to point at instances and talk about that instance. It's a lot harder to talk about how many instances there are, how many flavours on the same theme. The continuity of watching it over and over again. I think the article abi originally linked was a really good description of that ubiquity, or at least a starter toward discussing it.

#176 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2012, 02:41 AM:

My previous comment seems a little foggy to me. In case anyone was wondering, I was noodling around, trying to figure what annoys me about the Woman Who Doesn't Like Embroidery and Would Rather Be a Fighter.

Something else I think I could stand to never see again is "Happily ever after....isn't" announced as though it's something new and interesting.

#167 ::: Avram

Science fiction doesn't have to have significant amounts of science, so I don't think the New Gritty has to be all that new.

The earliest example I can think of is David Drake's The Dragon Lord (1979). It definitely qualifies for cynicism though I don't remember whether there were enough revolting details to make it a full member of the club.

In any case, I remember the magic premise fondly. Dragons can't live in our universe, but you can get the effect of invoking a dragon by grabbing a sequence of dragon moments from universes where they do live. Considering how much I like flipbooks.....

IIRC, neither the computational costs nor the possible injuries to dragons are addressed.

I found that the book was slightly revised in 1982. Anyone know what the details are?

#170 ::: heresiarch :

That reminds me-- I was wondering whether Martin was unduly stereotyping female characters in ASoIaF (do we need *two* mothers who've ruined their sons by overindulging them?), but then I realized that King Robert is very much a negative male stereotype. Does this make things better? Worse? Different?

#175 ::: forgot the name

That's an interesting point-- that there's so damned much of the grimdark, and it's ideologized.

Also, (and this is the thing which sets a low limit on how much of it I'm willing to read), it tends to seem like unsustainable cultures. How can the thing work if it's impossible to do useful work or raise children?

Abraham's A Shadow in Summer (I haven't read the rest of the series) is a nice counterexample-- a nasty society which has enough life support going on that it's possible to believe people live there.

As for the general social thing, is there any way to track how violent typical art is and compare it to how cultures are doing?

Also, is judging people by their taste in fiction a universal thing?

#177 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2012, 03:53 AM:

heresiarch @174:
It's frustrating and depressing that pointing out the empty signifier of Constance's argument is seen as more rude and more dismissive than the blanket generalities and offensive assertions that adorn her argument's structure.

I can't believe you just pulled that one. That's a Troll Bingo Square, for crying out loud. That's My Truths Are More Important Than Your Feelings, the home of people who can't, or won't be bothered to treat the other human beings in the conversation with respect because they're so afire with their message. (In case you're wondering, that's deprecated both because the people in a conversation are, in point of fact, important and because it's an ineffective way of presenting information.)

You accused a fellow commenter—a fellow participant in the conversation—of Making Shit Up, rather than allowing for Knowing Something You Haven't Encountered Before. You didn't explain why you did that (previous research in the area); you just dropped that accusation into the discourse.

Look. As a moderator here, my primary role is ensuring that the conversation goes well. Expressed contempt for other people in the conversation is a material impediment to that goal; it's a marker that someone is either moving into, or is drawing the other person into, conversation-as-competition mode. And one of the conceits of this community is that conversation-as-competition is less pleasant, and less effective at making people smarter, than conversation-as-collaboration. Ideas may be dismissed; people not.

Guessing why you leapt immediately to your conclusions may have been rude; I apologize for any offense I have caused you. But you're displaying the symptoms of partisanship, or something equally blinding. Look at the way you linked to an article that is so busy defending GRRM that it does the very thing I'm complaining about in the original posting. And that you, observant, nuanced, intelligent heresiarch, completely failed to notice that until I point it out.

Whatever the issue is, deal with it in a fashion that is more respectful of your companions in this conversation. Or don't participate. It's that simple.

#178 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2012, 04:39 AM:

Constance @171 & 172, well, I just spent an hour of my life that I'm not getting back googling for neckbeard, grimdark, and grimdark neckbeard (which would be a pretty good name for a pirate), and checking every link that came up on the first page of each search. Not so much as a single hit for "new gritty" on any of 'em. Turned up a My Little Pony fanfic site, but nothing about "The New Gritty".

Not that I really expected any different, since both those terms are widely used in various geekish circles outside of the circle of blogs that talk about rape fiction or whatever. "Grimdark" is common in tabletop RPG forums, coming from the tagline of a quarter-century old RPG, Warhammer 40,000.

"Neckbeard" I'm familiar with as a derogatory term for nerds, generally used by someone who is also a nerd, but thinks the person talking thinks the guy he's talking about is more of one, or the wrong kind of one. Googling for that turns out photos of guys who look a lot like I do, three days out of every five, which apparently means that I'm one of the "men who write the rapey-rape", or maybe just 60% of one, even though I don't even read the stuff. Gee, thanks.

#179 ::: forgot the name ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2012, 05:59 AM:

Avram, 178:

That's the part where I disagree with her. I think judging on looks -- the neckbeard term -- is a bad, bad sign because I think it circles right back around to "this is what a rapist looks like". Not true. The fact that there is no "what a rapist looks like" is one of the constants when discussing this sort of thing, and I find that categorisation disturbing. I'm sorry I didn't address that in my earlier reply to Constance.

I think new gritty/grimdark is one of those things that's more of a shorthand for an experience of a text.

My experience of grimdark is that the way I feel when I am casually watching things, not particularly seeking anything out, just watching, and there is a rape scene, and another rape scene in something else, and another, and another, and another; all different texts, each treating this rape as Unique Rape (but oddly almost all the same formulation), and yet other texts, each treating this particular rape threat as its own threat (but oddly almost all the same formulation), is what grimdark distills into something unbearable. It's the chilling effect of all those dislocated moments of isolated victims, isolated incidents, all of that pain and fear and none of the compassion or painful shared stories, compressed into a nasty little package of dry ice.

I think everyone's compressed chill is different, but the feel of it happening is usually so similar that it's easy to shorthand, point, and say 'this is grimdark'.

#180 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2012, 07:49 AM:

#140 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers)

re: Water and Never Let Me Go

Me, too, with same reactions. Is it possible Netflix suggested one from the rental of the other, or that they both came from an ur-movie?

#181 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2012, 08:05 AM:

Constance @172:
Again, remember I am the messenger, intrepidly researching where others may not wish to tread.

I think you might want to either come in with a better comet-trail of information sources or return to talking about things as you yourself believe them to be. This middle ground of bringing up heated and heat-generating matters without attribution, but not being able to back them up with your own words, isn't working very well in the thread.

Also, again, this isn't about ASOIAF. It's about proliferation of graphic and violent rape in entertainment.

Threads become what they're about, you know? It is about ASOIAF, just as it's about Larssen's work, and Donaldson's, and everyone else's. Those are drops in the flood of proliferation, and they're the axes of discussion that are already current in the ongoing conversation of fandom.

#182 ::: rat4000 ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2012, 09:23 AM:

Constance @ 94 and onwards

You seem to say that medieval writers dealt with violence better, or that their audience was better equipped to understand the way they dealt with violence (particularly when portraying it as common or funny) because they had a reality in which it was commonplace to look at. That is on its own largely irrelevant, since the situation is the same today; we have a reality of violence to look at, much like the medieval public did. Your argument, then, seems to be that writers display violence as comic or forgettable in otherwise serious books, possibly with an added implication that this is especially true of their treatment of women. At least for Martin (his are the only books of the genre being discussed that I've read, so I'll focus on them) this is really not true.

He takes a world in which violence is more commonplace than in this one and makes out of it both a social commentary (very applicable indeed to this world with, say, all the domestic abuse that gets brushed under the rug) and a critique of the way in which violence is treated in fantasy; it is telling that part of the impulse to write his series came from Tolkien who (as, incidentally, even the serious medieval texts I have so far read seem to) glorifies violence, forgetting how personal and, yes, how terrible it is. In ASOIAF violence is brutal, realistic, disgusting; surely this is a commendable position?

The same is true of the special instance of sexual violence. Martin cannot afford not to portray it because in a world of battles where women are viewed as inferior it has to happen; he portrays it in a way which never misses the (again, realistic!) consequences for or forgets the agency and personality of the woman.

As for your later point regarding violence as entertainment... Violence should occur in entertainment partly for a pragmatic reason - violence exists in this world, and it is easier for us to consume fiction whose world is similar to ours - but mostly because narratives reflect the way we view reality and because they can reshape that way more easily than almost anything else. This is, indeed, what Martin appears to be doing - presenting a way to look at violence which he had hitherto missed in mainstream fantasy and which is largely missing in mainstream entertainment in general, a way I can readily accept as better, or at least worthy of pursuit; the ubiquity of brutality in his world can be viewed as a way to make his task easier.

This is my first post here, and I hope I treated the poster I'm replying to well and didn't make a fool of myself otherwise. Hello, everyone.

#183 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2012, 09:45 AM:

Nancy Lebovitz @ 176:
As for the general social thing, is there any way to track how violent typical art is and compare it to how cultures are doing?

I'd guess that the first part of that is even tricker than the second part. Tracking how violent society is in different ways is at least partly possible, using crime statistics.

Trying to track "how violent" art is more difficult; identifying which art qualifies as "typical" might be even harder, particularly for past societies. (It could be done -- one of the essays in the Violence in Medieval Society book I linked to above tried to measure violence in a "test-case" medieval romance: a part of the 13th Century romance Lancelot, from the Vulgate cycle of Arthurian prose romaces. The author found "something approaching a hundred individually described combats", including "at least eight skulls ... split ... eight unhorsed men ... deliberately crushed by the ... victor's war horse... five decapitations ...", etc. The problem is that this can clearly be a lot of work, especially if you want to characterize some depicted acts as "more violent" than others...)


Nonetheless, there have been attempts to do this sort of analysis for contemporary societies, and the evidence seems fairly strong that's no real correlation.

This 2007 paper has some examples, and makes the general observation that

... After about 1980 the rate of violent crime leveled off in the US until about 1992. At that point, we will had lots of violent programming on television, we had vivid and more and more realistic violence in films, we had violent lyrics in rap music, and we had the rapidly growing popularity of video games... If violent television causes aggression, and if ... violent movies, violent lyrics in rap music, and violent video games cause aggression. the rate of violent crime should have gone through the roof.

That did not happen. Instead, there was a sharp decline in violent crime that started in 1992 and continued to the point where it is now below what it was before television became popular.... this was not due to a change in demographics, since the drop in violent crime rate was particularly sharp among young males who are the ones who commit a disproportionate number of such crimes.


See also this 2004 review. Among other things, it mentions two studies from the 1980s which dealt with this issue: one comparing violent crime rates with viewership rates for violent TV programs in different US cities (which found a negative correlation: cities where violent TV programs were more popular had lower crime rates), and another comparing "film violence" and homicide across 20 countries (no correlation).

#184 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2012, 09:49 AM:

I haven't read the series. But I'd like to underline forgot the name's point, if we're going to get into the matter of whether the violence in it is portrayed realistically.

Can someone tell me whether any of the female characters who are abused have a community of friends and family with similar experiences to fall back on? How do they deal with the aftermath of their experiences? Do any of the characters befriend one another, discuss their injuries (physical and psychological), and support each other thereby?

Because if not, then we're not portraying that particular kind of violence at all realistically. Which rather erodes that argument.

(There's a whole 'nother point about whether just because it's one facet of our lives, we should wallow in it in our fiction. Do the portrayals of rape in movies and books reflect, like a dark mirror, that which we should care more about and work to reform? Or are they just bidding up the shock value to our jaded palates? And is it fair that the 1 in 6 women who have been sexually assaulted in their lives have to risk flashbacks and painful echoes for this realistic portrayal?)

#185 ::: rat4000 ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2012, 10:45 AM:

You have to factor in that most of the interaction in that series is not between people who like or respect each other. Jaime's relationship with Brienne begins at least in part because they're both violated. Jaime has his hand cut off, which I guess you could say is different to what you meant, but they're each other's only serious friend, at least up to book four. Cersei talks to Sansa, who's afraid of her husband, about domestic violence in general, saying largely that that's the way things are and she has to deal.

All of the other POV characters I recall having to deal with rape who understood what was happening to them as improper (i.e., excluding Daenerys) are too proud to talk about it; also, they largely do not have friends. I'm thinking of Tyrion and Cersei here, mostly.

Your parenthetical point is exactly what I meant. Martin in ASOIAF seems to be trying for the dark mirror, which I find commendable. Dan Brown in Angels and Demons (to name an example) was trying for the shock value, which I don't.

Regarding survivors: that's a very thorny problem. Would you rather have no portrayals of rape in fiction? That can work, particularly in future societies which have changed since the time it was a constant threat; in fiction depicting humanity the way it is or used to be, it's as much of a fact as war, which is to say that it's not something you have to deal with but it's definitely something that is present in your world. I can't say how fair it is to survivors, not being one myself; nor do I think I can offer a solution.

#186 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2012, 11:09 AM:

rat4000 @185:
You have to factor in that most of the interaction in that series is not between people who like or respect each other.[...]they largely do not have friends.

That doesn't sound very realistic to me. What kind of a world is it where no one has friends, confidantes, trusted companions? Not this one, that's for sure. Even queens had ladies in waiting; even kings had knights and squires. Extended family and long-term servants (how many people kept their nursemaids on staff long after they were grown?) created a support network. Convents were refuges for (wealthy) women who needed to be out of the world for a while.

I'm more and more inclined to forgot the name's point: the whole pattern of depiction of these things, even in "dark mirror" stuff that means well, is deeply and damagingly broken. It's like showing violence with no bodily healing mechanisms at all, as though if a character scrapes her knee her body can't even make a scab, much less grow new skin.

Would you rather have *no* portrayals of rape in fiction?

I think that's a reductio ad absurdum. Most of us would be able to tolerate or avoid a triggering portrayal or two, the way that other people with painful histories route around problematic topics. But this stuff is pervasive and near-continuous, badly portrayed and, frankly, shows an overwhelming contempt for the "weakness" of people who are bothered by it.

It's one thing to ask the one in six to deal with reflections of reality, I'd say. It's something else to ask them to tolerate what we have now.

#187 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2012, 12:10 PM:

#183 ::: Peter Erwin:

Thank you for doing the research. Of course, that sort of study can't address an increase of callousness, which I think is what Constance is concerned about, but such a study would be even harder.

I've heard that Japanese popular art includes a lot of violence, but it's a low-crime society.

#185 ::: rat4000

You have to factor in that most of the interaction in that series is not between people who like or respect each other.

That's probably one of the reasons that society seems unsustainable, though it does add some poignancy for me. I want to reach into the book (or at least I did, I'm not as interested as I was) and shake the characters, and say, "Don't you know winter is coming?".

Am I the only person who thinks the first book was brilliant, but there's been a slow downhill slide, with book four showing remarkable deterioration? I haven't read book five yet-- I've heard it's good.

#188 ::: jennygadget ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2012, 01:16 PM:

heresiarch @ 174

"First off--I'm not responding to "many people", but to Constance."

Who, herself, was speaking of common arguments she has seen. And it was her general complaint about such arguments that you pulled out and quoted. It's a complaint that I have seen elsewhere, and you expressed confusion regarding it's motivation.

"But it seems like a counterargument that obscures rather than emphasizes the central objection..."

And I disagree. When people are, essentially, implying that critics are asking for writers to give women special treatment - by claiming that said critics are asking for unrealistic portrayals of sexual violence, but not asking for the same when it comes to other violence - pointing out that the fictional sexual violence being discussed is not, in fact, realistic, is often a necessary foundation of more nuanced argument.

Nancy Lebovitz @ 176

"Also...it tends to seem like unsustainable cultures. How can the thing work if it's impossible to do useful work or raise children?"

This. It's not just the pervasiveness of sexual violence that bothers me, it's the pervasiveness coupled with the disappearance of the necessary work that women do in non-industrial societies. I don't expect it to be shown in detail, but I have to believe that it's possible for it to still be going on.

#189 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2012, 01:36 PM:

#188 ::: jennygadget

It isn't just women's work that's blanked out in ASoIaF, it's men's [1] work as well.

Work isn't onstage in a lot of books, but they aren't necessarily annoying in that way. I think it's partly that there's enough detail of daily life in the series that it matters if something big is missing, and partly that there's so little reward for virtue that it seems as though trustworthiness has dropped too low for the culture to work.

[1] The foxfire spellchecker accepts "women's" but not "men's". What' up with that?

#190 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2012, 04:19 PM:

forgot the name @ 175: "For me, even the rape scenes that are well-executed, that are handled sensitively, blur with the bad ones, the tasteless ones, the jokes, the conversations, so on and so forth, in a stream of 'this is what someone would do to you. This is what someone has done to someone you know. This is what someone will do. You aren't watching fantasy. You're watching someone's life. And you can put yourself in her shoes because you know it's real.'"

Yes. This. This is why rape scenes can and should be held to a higher standard than "hmm I guess I should flash some tit at some point in this film" or "oh man this book is gonna be so grim! and so dark! so grimdark!"

"Well, if it's so distant and ubiquitous and inevitable, then why is each and every rape treated as a single instance? I think this goes back to what I said earlier -- it's missing the mark to fill a book with unconnected rapes and say 'oh, that's how it was, I'm just being realistic'. To be realistic would be to at least try to portray interconnection. Rape isn't something that happens to a character as a single event."

For what it's worth, I think that ASOIAF does portray sexual violence as an overt social institution. Part of the way it does this is deeply problematic in its own: far more than rape is constantly happening, it's constantly mentioned, constantly flung at every woman in earshot. I really noticed this in the part where Arya is dressed as a boy--and everyone is STILL threatening her (him) with rape! WTF, GRRM. But it does make the role of (threatened and actual) rape in policing societal gender boundaries pretty clear.

It's also clear that rape happens--particularly in war--because people are allowed, expected and encouraged to do it. At one point someone (Jaime?) is considering another character, and thinks: "Here is a man who in wartime will go and rape and kill, and when the war is done, return home to love his wife and take care of his farm." (Not that it necessarily works that way: soldiers often carry their war home with them.) Even for a complete psychopath like Gregor Clegane, he isn't a lone agent: his actions are condoned by his faction, deployed as a weapon. Rape doesn't happen in Westeros just because this Clegane fella is such a bad seed, but because the entire society conspires to let it happen.

Nancy Lebovitz @ 176: "I was wondering whether Martin was unduly stereotyping female characters in ASoIaF (do we need *two* mothers who've ruined their sons by overindulging them?), but then I realized that King Robert is very much a negative male stereotype. Does this make things better? Worse? Different?"

I think it makes it a richer text, but it doesn't really excuse that he messes up what he messes up. I guess you could say it shows that he's trying to critique this entire society, but again that's somewhat orthogonal to the question of "did he do a good job of it? Where didn't he?"

(Who is the second mother?)

abi @ 177: "That's a Troll Bingo Square, for crying out loud. That's My Truths Are More Important Than Your Feelings, the home of people who can't, or won't be bothered to treat the other human beings in the conversation with respect because they're so afire with their message."

And here I meant to aim for "But Everyone Else Is Doing the Same Thing Even Worser So Why Pick On Me!"

"Expressed contempt for other people in the conversation is a material impediment to that goal; it's a marker that someone is either moving into, or is drawing the other person into, conversation-as-competition mode."

Agreed; do you think this community or this conversation was free from people who are fans of Martin or Abercrombie or Lawrence before I posted @ 155? Do you think that Constance's comments on this thread didn't express contempt for them?

I wrote a couple comments, trying to express what I find valuable about ASOIAF, and scrapped them because I felt I couldn't talk favorably about it without allying myself with rapey-rapist fanboyz. Then I thought: this kind of silencing is exactly as detrimental to having a real conversation about sexual violence as "It's just a book, jeez!" or "It's just being realistic!" It doesn't seem to me to be a question of truths versus feelings at all, but rather of both versus neither.

"Look at the way you linked to an article that is so busy defending GRRM that it does the very thing I'm complaining about in the original posting. And that you, observant, nuanced, intelligent heresiarch, completely failed to notice that until I point it out."

And when you point it out, I said "Ah yes, very good point." When I point out the deeply problematic nature of part of the conversation happening in this thread, you say--what?

@ 184: "Can someone tell me whether any of the female characters who are abused have a community of friends and family with similar experiences to fall back on? How do they deal with the aftermath of their experiences? Do any of the characters befriend one another, discuss their injuries (physical and psychological), and support each other thereby?"

No, they don't. And that is a very profound gap in his portrayal: communities of women are rarely seen, and then only from the outside. What's more, when women do interact on the issue, it's quite the opposite of mutual support--it's women tearing each other down and making each other more vulnerable to assault.

#191 ::: Giorgio ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2012, 04:55 PM:

heresiarch @ 190: Agreed; do you think this community or this conversation was free from people who are fans of Martin or Abercrombie or Lawrence before I posted @ 155? Do you think that Constance's comments on this thread didn't express contempt for them?

I wrote a couple comments, trying to express what I find valuable about ASOIAF, and scrapped them because I felt I couldn't talk favorably about it without allying myself with rapey-rapist fanboyz.

This. I've been reading Making Light for years, and I'm baffled that nobody objected to Constance's comments until now.

That said, I'm unimpressed by the whole "the Middle Ages weren't so violent/the violence in ASOIAF is exaggerated." I'm not an historian, but there's nothing, absolutely nothing, in Martin's depiction of war that you couldn't find in the proceedings of the ICTY. If it could happen in Europe in the '90s, it's not unrealistic in Westeros.

#192 ::: Giorgio ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2012, 05:00 PM:

In my previous comment, "Martin's depiction of war" should probably have been "Martin's depiction of war crimes." I suppose the meaning is clear enough.

#193 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2012, 05:03 PM:

Constance, I apologize for the implication that this only exists in your head. That was unfair of me, and inaccurate to boot.

#194 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2012, 05:37 PM:

Avram @178 I just spent an hour of my life that I'm not getting back googling for neckbeard, grimdark, and grimdark neckbeard (which would be a pretty good name for a pirate)

No disrespect (and no derailment) intended, but I am currently writing a space opera with PYRATES!!!1!, and I am so stealing that name, okay?

We now return you to your regular programme schedule ...

#195 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2012, 06:04 PM:

For some reason a movie poster just popped into my head. The title of the movie seems to be "PYRITES OF THE CARIBBEAN IX: Fools Gold."

Sorry.

#196 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2012, 06:09 PM:

Xopher, that sounds like a Gilbert-and-Sullivan kind of movie. Funny but possibly a bit silly, all the time it's making pointy remarks about the society watching it.

#197 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2012, 06:36 PM:

me @ 193: And it was sexist--that is important to acknowledge explicitly, in this thread of all places. "It's all in her head" is a common strategy for disregarding women's concerns, and it was blinkered of me not to pay more attention to that implication. For that as well, I apologize.

#198 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2012, 07:42 PM:

#190 ::: heresiarch

Thinking about it a little farther, I think King Robert was a cruder gender stereotype than any of the women, though I'm still not sure if it matters.

Cersei was one of the over-indulgent mothers, resulting in the mess that is Joffrey.

The other is Lysa, and her son is "Make him fly!" Robert.

So far as silencing is concerned, not only did I like ASoIaF (especially the first book), but I read the first six Thomas Covenant books, and while I didn't love them and probably won't ever read them again, there was a fair amount I liked about them.

I don't know if I was mistaken, but I was willing to cut Covenant some slack for that rape because he had very good reason to think he was hallucinating.

I even developed some fondness for the out-of-control vocabulary. It gave a weird intensity to the Land.

#199 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2012, 08:13 PM:

Definite side note here, but I think it's pertinent. It is my understanding that with Google's current algorithm, two people who search on the same string can get very different results depending on their previous search history. True? (If so, discussions like this one are a possible illustration of one reason I think that is a Bad Idea.)

#200 ::: StochasticBird ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2012, 08:18 PM:

Heresiarch, I don't disagree that Sady's post goes a bit overboard, but I love it nonetheless. I am so tired of mind-numbingly cliched, awful depictions of women who exist as rape receptacles defended in the name of "art" - and yes, some of that frustration was generated by other books (The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi was another one I absolutely couldn't stomach; got to the second graphic rape scene and just gave up), but GRRM has earned all of it and more.

There are many ways to deconstruct the tropes of high fantasy that nonetheless involve complex, realistic depictions of human beings who happen to be female (and not coincidentally, don't make rape a nauseatingly constant plot point). Two that come to mind right offhand are Patrick Rothfuss' books - who don't have huge numbers of female characters, but do a pretty good job with all of them; or conversely, Jo Walton's King Arthur books. Those are grittier than anything GRRM wrote, because it's not just the glorification of nastiness for its own sake. It's just a complex, difficult, interesting world. To claim that somehow the constant overuse of rape is artistic necessity strikes me as disingenuous at best.

The piece at ThinkProgress is...interesting? But I disagree with almost all of it. The comments that were deleted on the original post at TigerBeatdown were pretty uniformly hitting sexism-apologist troll bingo. Some of them were probably well-intentioned troll bingo from men who really thought everyone else needed to hear their opinion. Sure, deleting those comments silences them, and in the long run it doesn't do any favors as far as education, but I'm not going to bash another feminist for getting tired of trying to educate a horde of clueless men in her space. We get tired of it. Sometimes there is someone with the patience to repeat feminism 101 and sometimes there isn't, and deleting dumb comments is, often, unfortunately, necessary if the conversation isn't going to be completely derailed.

Some of Alyssa's other critiques make some sense, many I think are just missing the point entirely. It's kind of ironic that she accuses Sady of missing the point of the books, repeatedly. And I have to admit I laughed when I got to the point in the comments where one commenter said "Are there even really that many rapes in the books? I mean, of course, there are X, Y, Z, Alpha, Omega, and #37; but that's not that many." That right there is...what, a goldfish in an adjoining fishtank, wondering why frogs bother complaining that it's gotten hot over on the stove?

#201 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2012, 08:57 PM:

Lila @199: That's correct. When Google uses things about you in returning search results, two people entering the same string get different results. That is actually already the case, because Google search already uses your search history, but it will get more so. Here's an explanation of why it happens already.

#202 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2012, 09:30 PM:

199/201
You can get different results with the same search string on different computers, too. Which makes it hard to re-find something that was found using That Other Machine.

#203 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2012, 09:38 PM:

Results are not likely to differ, though, if two different people type the same thing on the same computer (under the same login). At least not yet!

#204 ::: Gray Woodland ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2012, 11:22 PM:

Search subthread: I've recently discovered other services that explicitly promise not to trap the user in these personalized 'bubbles' - I'm using the wonderfully-named DuckDuckGo at present, which bills itself as a privacy-respectful, non-profiley, non-tracky search engine.

Nothing else has Google's sheer mass and interconnectivity - yet - but, especially with the way they've been trending, that ain't everything.


#205 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2012, 01:18 AM:

heresiarch @190 & Giorgio @191:

Rereading the thread, you are absolutely correct to highlight the issue. I'd appreciate it if next time, instead of firing back or simply being surprised but silent, you called it out in the clear. It's much less conflict-generating, even if a moderator isn't by straight off.

Constance, I think that the things you have said about GRRM readers have been offensive and inappropriate for this conversation. It's one thing to hold opinions about a subset of them; it's something else to express those opinions using the vocabulary and phrasing you have. Avram's already pointed out some of it, but it's been pervasive in your comments for some time.

I expect, if you want to rejoin this conversation, that you follow heresiarch's extremely graceful example and apologize.

#206 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2012, 01:23 AM:

Giorgio @191 & 192:

As several people have pointed out, it's not just the acts themselves that make for realism in a portrayal. It's also in what context those acts and their aftermath occurred.

To the extent that realism is the reason for including scenes of rape and sexual violence in fiction, this is a significant and wide-ranging problem.

#207 ::: rat4000 ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2012, 04:13 AM:

abi @ 186

You know, that's actually a criticism of the series I hadn't seen before or thought of myself. I can only think of three interpersonal relationship in ASOIAF which were abusive on neither side. It's not even just regarding sexual violence: some people are kind of disgusted on Tyrion's behalf when he gets half his face cut off, but no one he actually trusts and considers his equal sympathizes with him.

Naturally, this kind of destroys my defence of the books, seeing as how in order to depict violence realistically and thereby criticize the way society is dealing with it you don't really need to excise from your world all the ways in which society is actually doing well. I suppose it could also be a reductio ad absurdum of the way fiction generally portrays strong people as loners, but there's a point past which you've altered society so much to criticize it that it's become unrealistic, and I don't think this is what ASOIAF intended.

I am in complete agreement with you that the way sexual violence is depicted is pervasive and lazy; it's just that I'm of the opinion that a work which tries to be sensitive and/or is concerned with the issue per se (rather than, for example, using it as shorthand for "bad") is justified.

#208 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2012, 04:53 AM:

Moving away from the merits of individual works of fiction, a British prosecutor ruminates on how juries are affected by myths about rape in The Guardian.

Incidentally, there are some figures for the numbers of cases, trials, and convictions. Only half the alleged rapes go to trial (there are rules requiring a reasonable chance of a conviction, amongst other things, but I know that doesn't sound good), and about half of the trials result in acquittal. The Police Officers, Lawyers, and Judges all get special training, to help discount any of the myths.

And another little detail: lawyers going all electronic with tablet computers in court, rather than stacked of paper files.

#209 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2012, 06:54 AM:

Heresiarch @170: My google-fu is nigh nonexistant since my computer time is so limited, but it looks like Avram has gone out of his way and found little or nothing. I'd swear I saw the term taken in and embraced, and it is more polite-sounding, regardless of source, than grimdark, and vastly more than neckbeard.

"I think it goes beyond potentially in this case. Did you read the second link that Julie posted @ 156?"

I read it when it was new, and yes, your sample is representative; part of why it sparked a lot of response, both in agreement (I think I read it via Sherwood Smith, who is decidedly against a lot of uber-dark works). I know I also read something by Joe Abercrombie at least that was an intelligent defense -- even if it missed things like forgotthename's point.

(FWIW, I think there's a place for dark. I've written dark and like sometimes to read dark. But not unrelenting dark, and I agree with Nancy Lebovitz that the unrelenting grimness often makes for an unsustainable world. But I have that issue with many high fantasy lairs of evil even if the rest of the world is brighter.)

"I'm going to take a wild leap into the dark and suggest that perhaps scatology and shock value isn't what, say, Elizabeth Bear finds valuable about Joe Abercrombie. It certainly isn't what I find valuable in Martin."

Absolutely in agreement.

"This is the point I meant to make: I am unconvinced that Constance's claims--offered entirely without evidence--that the writers and readers of the new gritty are "rapey" "fanboyz"* and "disdain[ful of] women and anyone who isn't the protagonist - narrator" and "like saying the antebellum slaveowners did not rape their slaves because slaves weren't persons in law" and something she finds "personally vile" accurately describe the people and the work she claims to be addressing."

Since you're conflating arguments she made against the work, arguments she made against a specific (and`real, but by no means Only) branch of fandom, and arguments about the authors, where she has in a couple of places made an effort to differentiate (and specifically not to blame the writer for his fandom) I think you're undermining yourself. Which is bad as you have a point.

"It is not consistent with my experience of ASOIAF as a text or as a fandom."

I can't speak too much to the text (I read the first two books a while ago and won't reread them, or read the rest, until there's a fair chance it's Finished -- though I have read spoilery discussions of the series as a whole), but I will say that fandom is legion and contains multitudes. Some of whom really are that bad. And like fen flock. I mostly read commentary from fans who are, among other things, unlikely to be disdainful of women, and to discuss the issues of violence in fiction reasonably, whether condemning or approving or simply picking apart. (and often writers, which means a lot of analysis`of behind-the-curtain technique.) But I've seen the dark edge of the other kind of fans, the sort of whom Constance speaks, who cite history or realism as sufficient excuse for any kinds of guts on the floor or any form of graphic sexual predation, but where it sometimes seeps through as thin justification for their own (not the author's) enjoyment.

"It is the construction of an opponent who as far as I can see does not exist within the conversation: a strawman. I do not say this to be rude or dismissive. If that's how it came out, I apologize."

Not within the conversation Here, true. And apology accepted for my part.

"I do see some aspects of realistic "women had a hard time attaining any power in these societies" in the text -- but also more instances of something that could be read as accepting that above and beyond what's validated by history, and a few of very nearly taking glee in it."

"So do I! I find in ASOIAF moments that are incredibly nuanced and insightful glimpses into the construction of gender; that are unflinching portrayals of sexism in action; that are kinda/totally squicky characterizations; that are disturbingly fan-service cheesecake, for very male-gaze values of "fan." And I really want to talk about them, to pick them apart, to see what they say about the characters, about sexism, and the world. And I think the way Constance has been talking shuts that conversation down before it starts."

THere may be some truth to that. It is a difficult discussion to have, as fans of near any stripe and opponents alike will get defensive.


forgotthename@ 179

"My experience of grimdark is that the way I feel when I am casually watching things, not particularly seeking anything out, just watching, and there is a rape scene, and another rape scene in something else, and another, and another, and another; all different texts ... is what grimdark distills into something unbearable. It's the chilling effect of all those dislocated moments of isolated victims, isolated incidents, all of that pain and fear and none of the compassion or painful shared stories, compressed into a nasty little package of dry ice."

To me, this adds one more petty beef with rape-as-titillation, AND rape-as-random-motivator after the misogyny, triggering, lazy writing and all; it means that one is so burnt out on being abused and misrepresented (and just plain sickened) that it leaves even less room for a story attempting to address it compassionately or thoughtfully. The audience is being taught to flinch and close the book at its presence, before they have a chance to see, "oh, this one is actually reflective of real experience, and does it in a positive and cathartic way!" . I'd so hate to see books as rich and worthwhile as Deerskin get missed because of that.

rat4000:
Martin cannot afford not to portray it because in a world of battles where women are viewed as inferior it has to happen;

Pulling this quote out because I want to think about that "has to". Does it?

Could one portray a gritty misogynist world without someone getting raped on the page? I can't see why not, and I wonder if anyone would notice its absence.

And yet...(apologies for invoking the dreaded "in My book..."), whilst writing in a world far less gritty, with the conscious choice that no character was going to rape, be raped, be threatened with or almost raped, or be motivated by past rape, its spectre does come up -- it definitely Happens, and at least one incident directly confronts its potential (the lovely Happy Religious Sex Festival trope). It couldn't *not* come up, as background. And I'm wondering if it's just because I didn't try hard enough.

#210 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2012, 10:16 AM:

rat4000 @182 (talking about GRRM): it is telling that part of the impulse to write his series came from Tolkien who (as, incidentally, even the serious medieval texts I have so far read seem to) glorifies violence, forgetting how personal and, yes, how terrible it is.

That may have been his experience of Tolkien, but it was hardly mine. At nine years old, I was not much given to weeping over books, but I wept over the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. Particularly over Snowmane's death. And that has stayed with me for over thirty years. (Enough so that when I saw War Horse last month, I checked back to see if Tolkien had been in the cavalry in WWI. No. Infantry. Worked anyway.)

With that one death, he made it personal and horrible in a way that gets me weeping STILL.

#211 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2012, 10:21 AM:

Nancy @189: I think the thing that's causing the spellchecker to balk at "men's" in your post is that it believes the apostrophe in "it's" is an open-quote, and therefore the one in "men's" is a close-quote, and that you've stuck a close-quote in the middle of a word. This happens to me a lot and makes me want to take white-out to the screen.

#212 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2012, 10:23 AM:

My commennt at 210 or thereabouts (after the one at 209) has been gnomed.

#213 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2012, 11:16 AM:

I strongly agree with Rikibeth. Tolkien doesn't glorify violence, in my experience; Faramir is his exemplar of the ideal warrior who fights to defend what he loves but otherwise has no use for violent confrontation, and the Scouring of the Shire is this attitude in action in a community. If Tolkien had glorified violence, I think we'd have seen more examples of violence rewarded and less of the violent coming to nothing in the end. Forgetting how personal and terrible violence is? What about the heads of the fallen catapulted into Minas Tirith?

Tolkien wasn't in the cavalry in WWI, but he had trained with King Edward's Horse in his pre-war time at Oxford, so had a pretty good understanding of horses and the use of horses in modern war. He was said to have gotten fairly good at training them.

#214 ::: Heather Rose Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2012, 12:06 PM:

Spinning off of, but not necessarily intended as a direct response to rat4000's comment (@182) about GRRM:

He takes a world in which violence is more commonplace than in this one and makes out of it both a social commentary (very applicable indeed to this world with, say, all the domestic abuse that gets brushed under the rug) and a critique of the way in which violence is treated in fantasy

Given that the series in question is fantasy and set in an invented world, it would seem more accurate to say that "He makes a world in which violence is more commonplace ...." And this emphasizes a Truth about art that is present even in straight historical fiction, much more in fantasy, however historically inspired. Art, by its nature, presents only a small selection -- both consciously and unconsciously selected -- of the "real world". And the existence of that selection process brings into question any assertion that some particular aspect of the setting, plots, or characters is required by a quest for historic accuracy.

If an author -- in the name of gritty historic accuracy -- takes a statistic that, in the setting of the story, X% of all women are raped at some point in their lives and uses that as support for showing X% of the female characters getting raped on-stage, what does it say that 100% of all human beings take a piss at least once a day but each and every one of those events is not shown on-stage? Or that nearly 100% of the characters will eat one or more meals each day and not every single one of those meals is depicted on-stage? (Just to stick to events that might reasonably be considered "gritty realism".)

To assert that a particular event or characteristic is required to be foregrounded by a quest for setting-authenticity is to ignore or deny the essential artistic act of selecting the extremely small subset of the world that can/should be included in the artistic work. "Realism" is only one particular type of artificiality in fiction, and the decisions made to create it (never mind the decision to depict "realism" in the first place) are as validly subject to analysis and critique as those for other types.

For that matter, critique of the selection/filtering process is just as relevant for non-fiction as for fiction, starting with the simple act of choosing a topic. We cannot escape our subjectivity. (Yes, I know this is starting to sound all post-modernist, but it's one of the few parts of post-modernism that I think is worth taking away.)

For me, this is the key point on which arguments about "but it's just being historically accurate" fail. Because they rely on denying the author's Art, and once you deny that, there's nothing much left to say.

#215 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2012, 12:10 PM:

I agree that Tolkien doesn't glorify violence, though I can also see the point (from Tolkien and the Great War) that Tolkien managed an unusually good balance between war as horror and war as having glorious moments.

Anyone who thinks Tolkien glorified war wasn't paying attention.

There was a bit somewhere in Delany's non-fiction about no one ever reading texts completely accurately, which seems reasonable to me. I haven't seen any discussion of what that means if you're going to talk about how people react to what they read, nor do I know if Delany developed the point further.

#216 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2012, 01:25 PM:

1) Repeat: I did not personally criticize or assess ASOIAF further than saying I quit reading it after #4 because there was a negative return for this reader's time investment.

2) Repeat: I am the messenger not the perpetrator of these terms about this kind of fantasy. They're there, and subjects of discussion because these scenes that are also supposedly plot and characterization elements are offensive to a variety of readers/watchers; some of these readers classify this kind of fiction/entertainment rapey-rape -- even when women write it -- just like some readers think that characterizing it as rapey-rape is offensive to them for many reasons, from the argument that it's historically realistic to it's just entertainment and you can do whatever you want when you make up stuff for fun, and if you don't get that you're an ignoramous and worse.

3) Repeat: this isn't about ASOIAF, but it has been used to derail the discussion here from the subject of this subject, which is the proliferation of graphic detailed frequent rape (and often torture) in popular entertainment -- and those who object to that are derided as being ignorant of the facts of what medieval life was.

4) Repeat: There's nothing I can do about any of this. I look at it, report on it. I think about it. Like you, of course I have formed opinions, several of them in fact, and some of them are in conflict too, after reading a lot of this kind of fantasy and seeing the predictable pattern of how women are treated, even as protagonists. But those who have responded to this increasingly common deployment of rape and torture in sf/f, vid and computer gaming, movies, etc. by coining terms that readers/players/watchers who like these works find personally offensive -- I didn't coin those words, and I can't stop others from employing them.

Wasn't the messenger bearing unwelcome news frequently killed in those days because that's how it really was back then? :)

Love, C,

#217 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2012, 01:52 PM:

Constance @215:

Given that you feel that all of the above choices are, for you, immutable facts, I think it would be unwise and unproductive for you to participate further in this discussion.

Or, indeed, in any other discussions where you find yourself so constrained in conversation.

#218 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2012, 02:54 PM:

#31 Paul

MPAA is about power, control, and greed. Remember Max Headroom and Robocop? The MPAA members producing and distributing those, were willing to parody and caricature themselves mercilessly so long as the advertisers liked the results in terms of the advertisers having the viewer demographics the advertisers wanted, and paid the entertainment industry the ad revenue bucks....

#43 Bruce
A long time ago I was acquainted with Tony Cherubini, a video producer who'd left the Hollywood and PBS ratraces for life as an indie producer in New Hampshire. He told that the content of commercial TV is completely driven by the advertisers' interests in not only demographics, but interests in condition the viewing audience for receptivity to the commercial messages, and the control extends to the mix of characters and character traits on the TV shows. Manipulated socially clueless husbands such as on the Bill Cosby show, are there to give female viewers a sense of control and empowerment over the dumb manipulatable males, for example.

Obviously there have to be hooks to get people to try the TV shows in the first place, and then continuing hooks and content to keep them watching--but the content must have the materials in it to condition the viewers, again, to be receptive to the messages of the ads that the advertisers' brands and products will make the viewer more attractive to others, make the viewer happier, more successful... if the viewer is satisfied with their existing life, then the commercial ads won't appeal to the greed/dissatisfaction/urge to buy to "improve" the viewer's life... so the TV content is aimed at making the viewer more rather than less anxious, to be ready for the commercial messages carrying "patronize the products of the advertiser/the advertiser, and your life will be happier and wealthier and more satisfying. But first, like the Republicans, the viewer must be made anxious and scared and worried, so that the Republicans/advertisers can quack the public with their solutions (which benefit the Republicans and the advertisers, with the public as chumps or fish on the hook, about to be fried....)

#46 Raka
How many women have ever reached executive control of content positions in the comics industry? ...


#47 Raka
I seem to recall hearing/reading that people with leprosy wind up with the same nasty vicious etc. outlook that Thomas Convenant had in the books, and that the author apparently was exploring that.

#61 Fade
Perhaps if you started making a list of dark secrets and traumatic events to be the Bad Things for character backstories to contain, and reread the list each day for several weeks, then once or twice a week, you could train/reprogram yourself out of the rape-as-iconic-Trauma meme.

#71 Brendan
I surmise you're being satiricl. HOWEVER, I think you're overestimating the processing sophistication in use in most of the populace in their daily lives. Two examples: S. M. Stirling a couple decades back describing corrspondence to him in which the people failed to realize, The Draka are the bad guys!, and
even earlier, people quoting Augustine's Law that based on straight line extrapolation, in the year 2020 the US military would have one fighter jet, shared half the year by the Air Force, the other half year by the Navy, and on leap days, the Marines, without knowing or caring that Augustine was writing satirically--he was the ultimate defense industry industry, with time in the government and then later rising within then-Martin-Marietta to the position of CEO of the merged Lockheed-Martin....


#94 Constance
a) Whom do you mean with "Great Rolling Rivers of Moola"?
b) Christine de Pisan keeps getting rediscovered... She was the leading light writer of her time. There were trouveres who included e.g. Marie de France, and Poul Anderson in his trilogy which Hrolf Krakis Saga was the first book of,
in a foreword said that most of the Norse equivalents of the troubadors were women.... Also, there were female cathedral architects. Inheritance laws outside of the aristocracy did not cut women out--wives inherited businesses from their husbands, and often married one of the dead husband's apprentices or journeymen--and the new husband had no rights for the estate, the heirs were the widow and her children.

#119 Constance

Not allow mothers bond with their offspring. Runts of litters often are runts because they're the ones shoved away at the feeding sessions. Mothers may reject their offspring entirely. And there were Paris and Florence etc., where the wealthy often sent their infants and children off to wetnurses, in Paris they sent them out to the country... In Florence the wetnurses of the wealthy sent their babies to less affluent for nursing and rearing to whatever the term is for ending being wetnursed (or today, bottlefed), and those people, fostered their babies out with people in the countryside....

#163 Nancy
I managed to knit a miniskirt once when I was in college. Other than that, abandoned knitting, crocheting, and embroidery projects litter my history and my house.... I flunk stay at home homemaker requirements, flunk, flunk, FLUNK, as anyone who has ever seen my housekeeping deficiencies could tell you from direct first hand experience. My native empathy is emphatically NOT for homemaker females, not, not, not, not, NOT!

# Nancy
Tyrion Lannister is hardly a male positive stereotype. Marginalized by his society and his own family because of his physical imperfections, he gets revenge large and petty by being deliberately obnoxious in all sorts of different ways. Jaime Lannister's affair with his sister is not the action of any parfait, gentile knight, and his treasons to his brother-in-law also aren't.

At the other extreme other end from one of the foci of grimfant, is Michelle Sagar's Cast in... series. The characters mostly like one another. Regarding the comments about rape-as-continuing process, one of the characters experienced that serial abuse (though it comes out in one of the later books in the series, not the early books). The authors' character generally who get raped, are aversive to discussing it with the author. Traumatic backhistory of characters, rape is one of the issues, but far from the only one. Others include kidnapping and massive abuse that -could- include rape as one of the abuses--and in one case the rape is not for domination, but for intentional forced impregnation. Murder of loved ones and relatives, sometimes by not always preceded by threat of murder, is more common, along with threats of exposure of secrets and such, and growing up in poverty, or abusive conditions where rape isn't necessarily part of the abuse. Betrayals are another trauma source--one;s Lord murdering one's family because the family's seen as interfering with potential achievement/being a distraction, betrayal by family members, etc.

The women in her societies often DO have support systems, including in the polygamous cultures, the primary wife being the ones picking harem members to be -her- wives, and secondarily her husband's.

#183 Peter
One of the hypotheses for the decrease in violence was reproductive choice control--mostly effective, available, relatively inexpensive birth control methods, and unwanted pregnancy prevention/termination, with the result of there being a major drop in the number of unwanted, abused childing growing up as social deliquents.

#195 Xopher

Pyre rites of the car rib being.... Fuel's goals.

#219 ::: tw ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2012, 03:49 PM:

What I find particularly eye brow raising is how Game of Thrones fans were complaining that HBO made Danni and Drego's wedding night "too rapey" in the tv adaptation. A whole lot of people were more upset that that the hebephilia wasn't as gentle and eager consensual like it was in the book rather than it was hebephilia in the first place. Add to that the actor's off the cuff remark about the awesomeness of being paid to rape beautiful women at comic con and you know something isn't right in the world.

#220 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2012, 04:03 PM:

#217 ::: Paula Lieberman :

That reminds me of an article Ms. ran when the magazine was revived-- that women's magazines were completely owned by the advertisers (advertisers had complete control of "editorial" content)-- and then the triviality of women's magazines was part of the cliche that women are only interested in trivia.

ct me: To put in mildly, I'm not a homemaker myself, but I can still enjoy presentation of skilled homemaking in fiction. Offhand, the only example I can think of is Lifelode. Others?

As for needle crafts, they aren't much represented in sf. They show up in some of Jo Clayton's later novels.

In general, I appreciate fiction which includes people who do skilled work with their hands, but I don't insist on it.

****

I'm not saying that any of the men in ASoIaF are good guys, but Tyrion isn't a standard anti-male steretype. Robert was the great fighter in his youth, but now he's fat, drunk, and irresponsible. This is a cliche in a way that incestuous Jaime is not.

By the way, I'm cranky about what Martin did to Tyrion. Tyrion was probably the most benevolent major character in the series, but enough injustice was piled on him that the benevolence went away.

#221 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2012, 04:05 PM:

Paula Lieberman @217: Whom do you mean with "Great Rolling Rivers of Moola"?

What well-known author, whose works have been discussed in this thread, has the initials GRRM?

#222 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2012, 04:10 PM:

It greatly amused me when I asked some of GRRM's frequent collaborators what 'RR' stands for, and they couldn't tell. They do know it's not 'Rail Road' or 'Ronald Reuel' though.

#223 ::: forgot the name ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2012, 05:57 PM:

abi at 184&186:

While I was writing my earlier posts I was thinking of the women who aren't that one in six/four/three who grow up with this and are surrounded by it. Who watch their friends and relatives deal with it, and watch these stories and read these stories with their inevitabilities.

I think some of the most fearful women I know, who truly fear rape the most, are the ones who haven't been raped themselves, because there's this sense that it's inevitable, that it's going to happen someday, but the uncertainty in not knowing when and how, while they're surrounded by it -- well, that's a lot of pressure, that's a lot of fear.

So I think, paradoxically, sometimes people who have been raped handle these things better, or can make better sense of them, than ones who haven't but are surrounded by portrayals of this particular depiction of what rape is, this particular abandonment of responsibility to the victim, this particular sense that a rape is just one of a long, miserable line with no comfort to be had and that is all that awaits them when it is their turn. And the likelihood of it feels so high, and often it really is that high, and it's harmful to have that sense of isolation selected over and over and depicted as realism.

So following from that, this thread has me really wondering what this kind of grimdark looks like when written by a woman. Would it be like what is called reality when it's depicted by men who don't have women talk to each other? Would it be cited as a realistic depiction of violence? Would it be defended as 'it's really that ubitiquous!'? Or would it look just like ASOIAF?

Would the common points of 'this woman, and this woman, and this man, and this woman', and this moment in the kitchen, and this telling, and this story over beer, and the roaring laughter at descriptions of what really can be done with a bucket if the situation is dire enough, and this quiet, and this woman rolling her eyes and offering the only support that has worked for her even if it's cruel to this particular woman because that's all she's got in the face of this shit happening to someone she loves again, and this leaning together, be touted as a dark mirror of things? Or not? Or as a 'feel-good flick', because friendship and closeness never cut?

Is reality unrealistic? Is reality 'a feel-good chick flick' if it's a woman writing it?

Is it a feel-good chick flick if one of the most horrific moments in my life wasn't rape or abuse, but one of these incongruously awful and in retrospect bleakly funny things where I and a friend had stacks of pancakes, and maple syrup, and the light through the windows were that sort of buttery-caramel yellow that comes from that particular kind of thick circular glass one sometimes sees in parlours like this one, upholstered in leather and festooned with cartoon caricatures on the walls.

I don't even remember why we were on the topic, but she asked me if I'd been raped, and I'd said yes, and she stared and began to count on her fingers. Very slowly, very deliberately, very thoughtfully. Processing it, lining up the stories she'd been told, gears visibly going. That look. The look of having stories to line up, and enough that she had to concentrate to remember them all. Up went the fingers, one by one. "You know," she said, "I now know seven people who've been raped, and they were all kids."

I'd never met any of her other friends. I'd never really talked to her about these things to her before, not in any detail. General detail, but not quite like that. She's several years younger than me, and I'm sure you've all guessed I'm fairly young as these things go. She hadn't been raped herself. And yet. And that.

How to even begin to convey the banal horror of this moment? It so helped me to hear that I was not the only one that had told these stories, and told them to her, but ... that moment of watching her count. How could that not affect her?

And yet the fact that we were talking to each other about it at all, as friends, as women, -- I can guess that this would put it into 'feel good', territory, as though that could be anything other than horror.

I'm not really sure how to think about these things. I'm not sure how to write these things for people who don't already know what I'm talking about, which is an approach guaranteed to fail on Making Light.

Heather Rose Jones at 213 makes a good point: "Realism" is only one particular type of artificiality in fiction, and the decisions made to create it (never mind the decision to depict "realism" in the first place) are as validly subject to analysis and critique as those for other types.

I think what I want to say, condensed, is: it's worth critiquing those decisions because it's not just the ones who've had it happen that are affected by all this. It's the ones who are afraid of it happening, and think, and know with a sad degree of accuracy, that it's going to be their turn someday, and this is what they're being told it is going to be like. Because realism. It's easy to argue with one depiction of it, to point and say 'realism? Hahahaha!' -- but again and again and again? How much arguing can anyone be reasonably expected to do before they begin to believe it themselves?

#224 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2012, 11:18 PM:

forgot the name @223

First and importantly, witnessed.

When I started thinking about writers who really bother me with their casual use of the "by the way, he's also a rapist!" throwaway villain-intensifier, the two first names that came to mind were women.

I think the more relevant dividing line may be between someone who has experience with or around rape (or something like it), and someone who is trying to understand it but who has limited context within which to set up a framework for that sort of thing. I keep having this discussion where people say "I think rape must be the most terrible thing that can happen to a woman," and I keep thinking "you don't think very much of women in general, do you?" But those same people often think of themseves very much as womens' allies, and they're trying in good faith to witness in a way I personally find discomfiting.

I feel like the authors who most annoy me with their handling of rape are kind of like people who want to witness the seriousness of rape by making it "worse than death." It may be, for some people. It is certainly not universally so. But when almost every rape I see in fiction is sort of an exaggeratedly horrific afterthought committed by an excessively wicked person, it feels like losing track of all the lesser situations in which people get raped, where it's some drunk guy in a bar, who goes home and sleeps it off the next day and never thinks about it again.

But I also worry about that sense of inevitability. I've been trying to figure out how to say this for days now -- it really bothers me, when nearly every strong woman I run across in fiction gets raped. Every single one, almost without exception, and especially if she's around for longer than one book. It's not just that women get raped in fiction all the time, which is also a problem -- it's that rape really feels inevitable for a strong female character in certain genres, and grimdark is just the stark extreme of something that goes on everywhere else too, to a slightly lesser extent. It's like, we've decided that a woman can't be strong and unmarred, so if she starts getting too self-confident and independent and capable, we start constraining her -- and really, really frequently, the way we knock her down a peg is by having her raped. By contrast, male characters may have problems, and a few of them do get raped, but it is nowhere near that consistent. We find other ways to make men interesting and complex and to present them with challenges.

So the flip side is problematic too -- I agree it's not appropriate to eliminate rape plots entirely, or to pretend everyone has the same post-rape community support experience, but I think overuse of rape as a plot device is concerning too. I mean, not every woman gets raped in real life (one in three? four? That's sickening, but still leaves a good 66-75% of women who aren't directly harmed that way), but most long-term heroines do, with something that feels like 90% probability, get raped at least once. And I can't see it as anything other than misogyny, no matter who the author is. It's a cheap way to put female characters in their place, which is to be weak and afraid and emotionally crippled. I like my gritty dystopian horror as well as anyone, but rape, in specific, is a disproportionately prominent plot device, which is being used in ways I find very suspect.

#225 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2012, 11:24 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz @ 198: "Thinking about it a little farther, I think King Robert was a cruder gender stereotype than any of the women, though I'm still not sure if it matters."

(I was forgetting Lysa. Ugh.) My read on it is that Robert is a pretty crudely drawn figure, but his relationship to the world he lives in is complex. One of the themes of ASOIAF is the tension between what people are told is noble and worthy and what actually works in practice; Robert lived the archetype of daring young warrior-king, inhabiting the role fully, only to find that it brought him no joy and equipped him in no way to do what the kingdom needed him to do. That's his catastrophe, and his tragedy is that instead of growing and adapting he drowns himself in drink and memory.

Nearly the same thing can be said of Ned.

I've been thinking on the question of what it is that distinguishes critical portrayals of [socialphenomenon_x] from fetishistic portrayals. Why is it, that for all the sexual violence and misogyny of The Handmaid's Tale, we are certain that it is done to condemn and not celebrate? Then I think: in ASOIAF, none of this gender stuff works. It doesn't hold society together, it doesn't describe the realities of their world, it doesn't make people happy. It clashes and grates against their humanity in every way; it sets them up to fail. Is that it?

StochasticBird @ 200: "I don't disagree that Sady's post goes a bit overboard, but I love it nonetheless. I am so tired of mind-numbingly cliched, awful depictions of women who exist as rape receptacles defended in the name of "art" - and yes, some of that frustration was generated by other books (...), but GRRM has earned all of it and more."

I'm going to duck past that "a bit" because I really want to ask: where do I and other feminist GRRM fans fit in your schema? I mean, how do you explain our existence? If GRRM is Mr. Gayng-Raype and his books are uncut rape-porn, then us critical fans are--what? Deluded? Insane? Secret rape-fetishists? Just way too generous? Presumably you're reading the comments on this very thread! engaging in a critical feminist reading of ASOIAF, discussing particular characters and scenes and what not--and yet somehow we and our reading of ASOIAF doesn't even register as a possibility. It's you versus the whining uncritical fandom and their idiotic "but it's art!" "but it's realistic!" red herrings, and that's it.

"Two that come to mind right offhand are Patrick Rothfuss' books - who don't have huge numbers of female characters, but do a pretty good job with all of them;"

You mean the story of the Kingkiller, "All women in my vicinity are first and foremost described by their bang-ability though of course I am incapable of rape" Kvothe? The heroine of which is lovely and talented but just can't believe she deserves to be loved? Now, I like that series quite a bit, and in some aspects it is as deep as anything, but as a feminist text I find it a shallow, shallow pool.

"Sure, deleting those comments silences them, and in the long run it doesn't do any favors as far as education, but I'm not going to bash another feminist for getting tired of trying to educate a horde of clueless men in her space."

Oh, enthusiastically seconded. There's no way to run a feminist site without being willing to ban and delete comments ruthlessly. No, it's Sady's method of analysis and style of argumentation that leave me cold, not her commenting policy.

"It's kind of ironic that she accuses Sady of missing the point of the books, repeatedly."

Yes, why would she accuse Sady of missing the point just because Sady's criticism leans heavily on the conservative politics implicit in much Tolkienesque fantasy just because ASOIAF is a searing critique of precisely that nostalgic "just king" narrative.

abi @ 205: Will do.

Lenora Rose @ 209: "I'd swear I saw the term taken in and embraced, and it is more polite-sounding, regardless of source, than grimdark, and vastly more than neckbeard."

It seems to me to be a term that can be useful in describing a certain style, a certain set of tropes that can show up to a greater or lesser degree in all sorts of works, even if not as the definitive category for a novel or for a cohesive fandom. Does that make sense? I definitely agree that "grittiness" and sexual violence have a very problematic relationship: one that needs close analysis.

(I kind of think grimdark is adorable. Grimdark! I imagine it as a chibi Wolverine-looking fellow, all broody in his trenchcoat, thinkin' about that time he had to murder that baby. It wasn't his fault! It was a satan baby.)

"fandom is legion and contains multitudes....I've seen the dark edge of the other kind of fans, the sort of whom Constance speaks, who cite history or realism as sufficient excuse for any kinds of guts on the floor or any form of graphic sexual predation, but where it sometimes seeps through as thin justification for their own (not the author's) enjoyment."

I don't mean to give the impression that I think those kinds of people don't exist. They certainly do. It's to what extent they are representative that's the question; to what extent they can be used as a synecdoche for all of ASOIAF fandom. The same for bad arguments made in defense of the sexual violence: there, I'd say that most fans make bad arguments in defense of it. That doesn't mean good arguments don't exist, no more than bad arguments from critics of the series mean that good critiques don't exist.

#226 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2012, 11:31 PM:

forgot the name @ 223:

The first example that comes to mind of grimdark written by a woman?

Dorothy Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina.

Not sf/fantasy - lightly changed autobiography, if you've read her autobigraphical essays "Trash" - but as dark, in its way, as what I'm hearing about ASoIaF.

And VERY like what you say about your friend in the kitchen.

#227 ::: shadowsong ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2012, 12:30 AM:

I stopped reading ASOIAF not because it was violent and rapey and depressing, but because it was, to me, UNRELENTINGLY so. Earlier comments in this thread about the questionable realism of rape when shown without follow-through of the impacts of that act and how it affects the way those involved interact with people in the future (....breathe....) seem to be related to my complaint. Or to put it a different way: "It gets better"? That shit don't fly in Westeros.

I'm not sure if "unrelentingly depressing" settings and plots are commentary on our world, or insufficient worldbuilding, or glorification of rape and sexism and etc., but they certainly are a theme woven throughout the books mentioned in this thread.

#228 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2012, 12:35 AM:

Rikibeth @ 226: I was thinking of Dorothy Allison just recently for other reasons. I know her essays, especially the book Skin, and not her fiction. What I read there is strong but I wouldn't call it grim (though the fiction, I'm told, is).

A couple of incidental anecdotes. I'm rot-13ing the first one because the banality of evil:

V guvax vg jnf avagu tenqr--vg yvgrenyyl pbhyqa'g unir orra yngre, orpnhfr guvf pbairefngvba gbbx cynpr qhevat onaq, ba gur fvqr bs gur cenpgvpr svryq, naq V qvqa'g gnxr onaq va gragu tenqr--jura n ohqql nfxrq zr guvf dhrfgvba:

"Vs lbh unq gb encr bar bs gur ZpK fvfgref, juvpu bar jbhyq vg or?"

Gurer jrer guerr ZpK fvfgref va bhe fpubby, bhe ntrf, tvir be gnxr n lrne be gjb. V unq n pehfu ba bar bs gurz.

"Jryy, V jbhyqa'g jnag gb."

"Ab, ohg vs lbh unq gb."

Naq fb ba. V arire qvq trg zl cbvag npebff.

Not too long after I found Susan Brownmiller, and that helped me understand, but this one thing never made sense, ever.

The second thought, on second thought, I think I'll keep to myself. It spoils exposed to any air.

#229 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2012, 12:41 AM:

heresiarch @225:

I'm going to duck past that "a bit" because I really want to ask: where do I and other feminist GRRM fans fit in your schema? I mean, how do you explain our existence? If GRRM is Mr. Gayng-Raype and his books are uncut rape-porn, then us critical fans are--what? Deluded? Insane? Secret rape-fetishists? Just way too generous? Presumably you're reading the comments on this very thread! engaging in a critical feminist reading of ASOIAF, discussing particular characters and scenes and what not--and yet somehow we and our reading of ASOIAF doesn't even register as a possibility. It's you versus the whining uncritical fandom and their idiotic "but it's art!" "but it's realistic!" red herrings, and that's it.

I think this paragraph might have read more smoothly with fewer strawmen and more open questions. And we're all about the smooth readings, here.

Please address individual commenters on their individual comments, rather than on what the community of people with whom you associate them may have said elsewhere and in other contexts.

#230 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2012, 02:19 AM:

Kay Tei @ 224

"I like my gritty dystopian horror as well as anyone, but rape, in specific, is a disproportionately prominent plot device, which is being used in ways I find very suspect."

I think that is a very good summary.

I can think of some past tropes of adventure/thriller fiction which have the same excess of use in their time, and some of them which keep warping into new versions. Sax Rohmer's Fu-Manchu is the Yellow Peril incarnate, but he's also the exotic outsider with evil intent, the obvious immigrant threat. He's in the same territory as the Mafia and the Jamaican "Yardie" and the current Al Qaeda myth.

#231 ::: rat4000 ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2012, 07:47 AM:

I don't know if I'm going too far off topic with any of this; sorry if I am.

Rikibeth @ 210

Caveat: I last read LOTR a while ago, so if my facts about the book are wrong just say that and I'll admit I can't discuss it well right now.

In Tolkien's world, violence is generally brutal and terrible when it's happening to the heroes. There are some occasions in which we are made to feel compassion for the heroes' enemies, but they're not the rule. When the heroes are violent the only feeling of wrongness in the scene comes from the probability that they suffer... while the violence they commit is always right, proper, justified.

Don't get me wrong: Tolkien is far more nuanced than he is given credit for, generally, and the fact that all of his heroes dream of a world without war is obvious. But war or violent action in general, when done by the heroes, is as right as everything else the heroes do; violence is not wrong by itself but wrong only when used as a means to the wrong goal. A result of this is that he portrays the heroes in war as glorious (which is what I intended to say when I said "glorify, fogetting that it actually has a different meaning) -- poignant and sad though his scenes may be, you can't say they're not beautiful. He does not do the same to, say, the Uruk-Hai; I remember Snowmane's death as sad and Eomer's slaying of Ugluk as morally equivalent to killing a mad dog, only prettier.

Heather Rose Jones @214

Total agreement on the make-take point; also, I agree that historical accuracy can't really be a motivator for a text intended as artistic. I entered the discussion thinking that grimdark authors were trying for realism, but the more it goes on the more I move away from that thought. Maybe they're doing the exact opposite? An unsustainable and therefore unrealistic society which is not immediately incompatible with ours is a very good way to criticize a tendency in the real world... any tendency: Bradbury's society in Fahrenheit 451 is a reductio ad absurdum of a part of our life; perhaps Martin's society in ASOIAF does the same with another.

And, of course, those books and others like them are also a response in some way to all the other fiction before them which approved of the tendency or of that part of our lives, implicitly by letting it stand and not taking it to a logical conclusion or explicitly by revelling in it. The books forgot the name mentioned (Cormac McCarthy's bittersweet, largely bitter, All the Pretty Horses is an example of what I think she meant), where we have an actually realistic depiction of society, are not feel-good flicks; however, because they actually have hope, the feelings they bring forth are different. In one place we have "This is how it is, and it might suck but there's the possibility of happiness" and in another "This is how it could be but how it obviously should not be" and the second message is easier to get across if there's no hope at all on the horizon.

And this all ties in with the specific question of sexual violence. Too much work with no hope at all on the horizon might let people think that that's the way things are, but this is hardly a problem in modern entertainment--heroes win, heroes ride off into the sun after one of them died, heroes revenge falles comrades with tears in their eyes and live on, etc.--unless we're dealing with sexual violence, where there is in fact largely no hope left to avoid it in lots of entertainment, and even less hope of dealing with its consequences properly. Maybe the "no hope at all" works, criticizing the way lots of modern fiction deals with violence in general, end up dealing with sexual violence in the exact same way as the things they're responding to, because this is the one kind of brutality which is irreversibly and uniformly terrible even for the mainstream.

#232 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2012, 08:07 AM:

rat4000 #231: Hmm. Dorothy Allison + "with hope" -> Maya Angelou?

#233 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2012, 09:59 AM:

KeyTei:

Off the top of my head, I can think of a lot of strong female SF/fantasy characters who are, as far as we ever see, never raped. Most of the many strong female characters in the Wheel of Time books aren't--which is one reason that when it does happen to one major strong female character, it has impact and it continues to affect her for a long time to come. (The WOT books assume a much more feminist default than I'd expect from fantasy, perhaps because at the beginning, only women can safely channel. Also, a major male character is raped, repeatedly, in the "he was askin' for it" and "he secretly wanted it" sense, and it mostly is turned into a joke by the other characters. I suspect this was an intentional inversion of the older trope, but it was still creepy as hell.)

Ravna, Della Lu, Johanna, Elena Bothari, Lady Alyss (who came close, but was saved by a local non-monstrous officer and backstopped by Cordelia and company), Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan (who came very close, steeled herself for the worst, and was able to turn the situation around mainly due to her basic compassion and decency alongside good luck), Susan Ivanova, Delenn, Katherine Janeway, Jadzia Dax (I haven't seen every episode of those shows, but I don't think any of them were raped--that would be a pretty major plot point!) She's not a major character, but I assume nobody ever raped Lady Galadriel (you'd have to be incredibly stupid to try), nor the cousin of the king of Rohan that fell in love with Aragorn. Kaylee and Zoe are strong characters we never see (or see reference to) being raped, though there's an episode where a bounty hunter threatens to rape Kaylee). I imagine Zoe would be a remarkably bad choice of target in a number of ways.

It's not that none of these women suffered anything nasty--each endured a lot of bad stuff at times. But I don't recall any of them suffering rape, either onscreen or as a backstory. All very strong female characters.

#234 ::: StochasticBird ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2012, 10:02 AM:

Heresiarch, you and other feminist readers can fit into ASoIaF any way you want, and I'm not being flippant. I loved Sady's piece because somewhere in the hyperbole, it expressed a long-term anger that I have felt. I don't actually have a problem with other people not feeling that anger (including you) - or, more accurately, I guess I do have a problem with people thinking all the rape stuff is Totally!Cool!, but I don't think anyone here has expressed that point of view. I don't think the massive rapiness of ASoIaF is justified by any kind of narrative or artistic necessity, but it's a work of art, and people interpret and react to things like that in different ways. If you (general you, not you personally) acknowledge that it's problematic, unpleasant, and maybe not a great authorial choice, but somehow the books still work for you, and there's X Y Z you like; well, cool.

For example - and I honestly can't explain this - Lord Foul's Bane was an awful series, and one I never was able to finish. But somehow, with where I was in my life at the time, Morn Hyland from Donaldson's Gap series totally resonated with me; something about taking the pieces of a shattered life, gluing them back together with rage and will, and making something of it. I don't know if I'd react the same way now, and frankly I'm scared to re-read the books, because if there's something due to be hit by the Suck Fairy of Feminist Awakening, it's that series.

So I have weirdly good memories of those books; but I wouldn't attempt to defend them as some kind of masterpiece, which those lousy feminists dare not touch - they are wicked problematic! There are fanboys (not you, as far as I can tell; I'm trying not to strawman you) who do react that way to any criticism of GRRM. Thems I got a problem with.

#235 ::: Heather Rose Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2012, 11:23 AM:

rat4000 @ 231 (in response to me @214)

I agree that historical accuracy can't really be a motivator for a text intended as artistic. I entered the discussion thinking that grimdark authors were trying for realism, but the more it goes on the more I move away from that thought.

I'd like to clarify that I was not creating a dichotomy between "realistic" and "artistic" fiction but rather pointing out that "realism" is simply one particular variant of artistic expression. "Realism" as a literary style is not at all the same thing as real life. Historic accuracy can absolutely be a motivator for a text intended as artistic, I just don't think that those who use it get absolved of ownership of their artistic choices.

Parallel example: when European painters began exploring realism as an artistic style (I'm talking about small-r realism of the early Renaissance, not necessarily the capital-R Realist movement), it was still the case that each and every element in the composition of their paintings was chosen, placed, and executed by conscious thought and with specific intent and meaning. A realist painting is not the equivalent of a random photograph (and I mean truly random -- most photography also involves vast amounts of artistic intent and selective filtering). A painting of the Virgin and Child that uses an actual baby as the model for the infant Jesus is saying just as much (but different things) as a painting that portrays Jesus as a miniature adult standing in the Virgin's lap.

A more banal comparison might be current fad for "reality" tv shows and their relationship to real life, but I don't want to explore that analogy because it would simply get off track into an entirely different set of rants.

#236 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2012, 11:49 AM:

@Nancy Lebovitz #220: FWIW needlecraft gets a mention in David Weber's Honor Harrington series as one of the supreme arts of a planetary colony that was founded by a crunchy-conservative Christian cult, apparently from the former United States. (One of the other great art forms of the planet is their classical music, which is based on early 20th century C&W and 19th-century American hymnody.)

#237 ::: rat4000 ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2012, 02:25 PM:

Heather Rose Jones @231

Correction: I can't see realism as the sole motivator of artistic texts. (Same thing with photographs: being realistic is one goal, but even if you take a random scene for your realistic photograph, the randomness is an artistic choice. This is what you meant concerning postmodernism, I think.)

In that comment I was talking about realism as a means, specifically a means of artistic critique of reality -- thinking about whether in grimdark the intention really was such critique and I'd simply been wrong about the way chosen to realise it.

#238 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2012, 02:50 PM:

#231 ::: rat4000:

I'll have to think about whether I think Tolkien's portrayal of violence is pernicious in that sense. By modern standards, it's rather surprising that they're never in a situation of killing enemy civilians. I do consider the death rate for the major good guys to be suspiciously low.

****General question about ASoIaF: Are the women at plausible levels of risk for non-sexual violence?

*****I know it's cheesy to do mind-reading, especially on large numbers of people I haven't met, but I'm going to do it anyway.

I don't think folks who like gritty fiction like it because it's realistic in any literal sense. I think they're feeling attacked for liking what they like, so they grab on to a respectable-sounding excuse.

My current theory is that people like the fiction they like because it resonates with something in the back of their heads. And it's hard enough to get an accurate idea of what's in the back of your own head, let alone a bunch of other people's.

This is a different angle on realism. It's about women entrepreneurs, especially after wars, but more generally it's about resilience and possibility, and how they're a lot more common and worth supporting than is generally perceived.

Offhand, I can't think of much sf that's about rebuilding, especially if it includes adding new stuff along the way. For the former, there's Brin's The Postman, and there's John Barnes' Daybreak series, which I find to be sort of a fascinating mess. (Does anyone know what's going on with the third volume?) What else?

#239 ::: Gray Woodland ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2012, 02:54 PM:

I've been known to call the style of fantasy I write and like best to read 'gritty', but what I mean by it is so unlike grimdarkery that maybe I ought to find a less abrasive metaphor: something that suggests a world that gets traction from both stones in the road and stars in the sky.

Maybe the problem with 'grit' is that it suggests an absence of just that quality several commentators have been asking for - a sense of implication, a sense that people actually try to do something human about the good and bad and quirky in their world, rather than sit back resignedly while the author sets the dials and grinds the mills. Does 'grainy' (I want this to be read in the sense of wood, not pictures) sound any better? Any other suggestions?

Heather Rose Jones @ 235: Whilst realism is certainly one literary style amongst many, I think there's a just concern with observing - or at least acknowledging - realistic implications. I think the question, for me, is when a fiction starts to look like a deceit. And this, reflexively enough, partly depends upon the level of 'realism' attempted in the story.

If I'm reading a fairly conventional Western fantasy story with fairly traditional furniture, I want to see the implications of that furniture - within the level of realism chosen - as well as the fact of it. At the lowest level, I want to believe at least that the characters are actual people. At the highest, though, I want the social arrangements to have full consequences, such as actual human beings reacting on each other might produce. If somebody is going to watch the logistics of their fantasy military campaign like Alexander the Great's quartermaster, an unreasonable voice within me starts wanting them to watch the logic of their social arrangements like Jane Austen, or G K Chesterton, or Octavia Butler, or some other beggar who has thought about it and cares - quite possibly even somebody from the present millennium.

As a writer, I find picking the right level of abstraction and then telling the honest truth within it one of the very hardest things to get right. If I do finally get my yarns out into the Wide World, I think that would be a pretty fair yardstick to judge them by.

#240 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2012, 03:10 PM:

Heather Rose Jones @ 235:

each and every element in the composition of their paintings was chosen, placed, and executed by conscious thought and with specific intent and meaning.

I agree with this completely. "Realism" is a strategy for creating art, and art is the use of illusions to create a seeming of something coherent that may or may not depict reality. And to add to your example of the realism of Renaissance painting: the techniques that the painters used to depict reality were carefully constructed illusions that were intended to trick the viewer into believing in the realism. Perspective, use of brush strokes, stipple patterns, juxtaposed colors are all used to make the viewer see 3 dimensions where there are only two, or smooth gradations where there are dots.

And the same is true of any art. The closest thing to realism I know of in drama for instance involves one-to-one realtime presentation of action, like Andy Warhol's hours long single-shot movies, or the play written (I don't remember by whom) about a Marine brig that consisted of several dozen repetitions of the prisoner presenting himself at the door of his cell and reciting his name, rank, and serial number. And while I won't argue that these works aren't art, I will argue that they don't communicate as much to the viewer as more dramatic works might.

The problem with "realism" as an artistic objective is that it can become an excuse for portraying acts of violence like rape1; recognizing that realism is a technique, not an end in itself is one way to prevent that.

1. And I am not saying that anyone in this discussion has done so; I'm talking about writers doing it out of laziness, or trying to titillate the audience.

#241 ::: Gray Woodland ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2012, 03:22 PM:

rat4000 @ 231, Nancy Lebovitz @ 238: On Tolkien... One example might be in the Scouring of the Shire. Merry, in particular, is wise and kindly and ingenious as well as being brave and gallant. He is shown as half in love with Rohirrim heroic values - which are themselves shown off to rather scary advantage - and a war-captain of the best sort.

Frodo, who is presented by Tolkien and deferred to by all his companions as the moral centre of the group, restrains him from the beginning. Reading that chapter again, I don't think Merry would have left many of the ruffians alive, left to himself. (Pippin actually wants to kill Lotho, who is clearly no great threat; Merry, at least, is afraid that Frodo will be "too gentle" with him.) We're not talking malice, here. It's never suggested that any of the company would have killed surrendered men. But I more than suspect Merry would have ambushed with arrows and without defiance, to keep the casualties down on his own side.

Frodo's position is pacific and militarily problematic throughout. It's also presented as much more right than that of his gay and glorious companions. And - this being Tolkien-land - they accept he's right, too, precisely because they've become sadder and wiser and more genuinely heroic.

#242 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2012, 03:37 PM:

Nancy:

It seems like a lot of post-apocalyptic stories center heavily on rebuilding and adding new stuff to adapt to the changed world. I'm thinking of Stirling's Nantucket and Change books, and Pounelle and Niven's _Lucifer's Hammer_. There's some of that going on in the Chtorr books, where the whole society is trying to adapt to the new invader-species-changed world in order not to be entirely assimilated. There's some of this in _The Peace War_, where the good guys have been rebuilding as much as they could under the Peace Authority. _Children of the Sky_ is centered partly around Ravna's desire to build back up technology. And so on.

Am I misunderstanding what you mean by rebuilding?

#243 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2012, 05:57 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz @238: Elizabeth Moon's Vatta's War - a fair element of re-building, really - and that's not what you expect at the start.

#244 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2012, 06:06 PM:

albatross, you've understood me correctly, I just didn't think of those, even though I've read most of them.

#245 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2012, 07:48 PM:

heresiarch, I'm really interested in the reading of ASoIaF as a searing critique of the "just king" narrative. I read all but the most recent book and never twigged to that. I thought GRRM was trying to write a completely different kind of story than Tolkien-style epic fantasy, to do something totally orthogonal to it, rather than to comment on it.

My main problem with the books was that the plot felt like it was meandering more and more, as though it was just a series of events without any kind of narrative arc. Because of that, the violence -- and especially rape -- did start to feel completely gratuitous to me. It felt as if they were almost incidental, almost pieces of scenery. They establish that Westeros is kind of a dystopia. But a non-specific dystopia, whose elements aren't recognizable to me as exaggerations of the real world (or fantasy tropes) for purposes of commentary. And after four books, I said "Okay, I get it. Everyone has selfish, greedy, vengeful, ambitious, etc. motivations. Nobody is really a good guy. So where are you going with this?"

I would genuinely like to hear more about how you understand it. This thread may or may not be the correct place for that -- mods, should I take this question to the open thread?

#246 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2012, 09:09 PM:

I am completely confused. I didn't insult anybody. I reported. I'm now told that reporting is offensive.

Repeat, repeat, repeat -- confused, don't get why I particularly am reproved when reporting what others who are commenting also speak to.

I don't get it. However, as you respectfully request I remove myself from this subject which was about rape in entertaiment and now is about ASOIAF.

Mostly though, I remove myself because I know personally all too much what happens to girls and women who are tortured and raped. I do this in respect of what their lives were until their lives ended.

Love, C.

#247 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2012, 09:45 PM:

I've been composing and discarding attempts to post in this thread for days now, trying to find a way to explain my enjoyment of ASoIaF in this context. I can at least say something about the narrative as critique of other kinds of narrative.

I read ASoIaF as incredibly anti-war, and that's a point of view I've seen echoed a lot of other places, especially from boys who have been brought up reading things like Tolkien and all his imitators.

I know it's come up before in this thread that Tolkien didn't intentionally glorify war, but that's not what guys growing up with the movies and modern high fantasy get from it. They're all reading stories that are about glory for the kingdom, or glory for the space emperor! Let's have some wars! Defeat the great evil, or join up with him and rule the universe! Wars are great! While Tolkien may not be trying to glorify war, it wasn't necessarily a mistake to start fighting Sauron. So even if war is bad and sad, it's something that a man's gotta do. A lot of modern readers don't even get as far as the "war is bad and sad" thing, in my experience.

For a lot of SF/F people in my generation, this is the first time they've encountered a narrative where war goes horribly wrong simply because it was a bad idea to go to war. They're used to narratives where war is going badly because humanity is romantically doomed to struggle against the overwhelming forces of zombies/aliens/chaos/chaos-alien-zombies, but there is not another popular work of fiction right now that so strongly hammers on the idea that going to war can have negative consequences for all sides involved, and usually does.

In a lot of modern popular narratives, the person who is saying "hey, maybe we should stop this war" is portrayed as useless, cowardly, or stupid. Nobody I know thinks that about the people in Westeros who are trying to make peace, because Winter is Coming.

That's the entire point of "Winter is Coming" as a philosophy: soon we're going to have to pull together, so why are you breaking everything?

Heck, right now the story is showing two parallel wars, one fought for what is pretty universally considered a "good" reason (ending slavery) and one that is fought for damn stupid reasons (the game of thrones). It doesn't matter how just your war is, it's still going to have the same horrific side effects. You've just got to decide whether or not it's worth it. In the case of the game of thrones, it definitely is not worth it. In the case of the war to end slavery, it's probably worth it... but good intentions are no excuse for not having a good plan on how to end the war, and provide security after.

I think the unremitting awfulness in ASoIaF largely exists to reinforce this whole "war is bad" thing, hoping it'll get bad enough that even the reader most thoroughly brainwashed by the "glory of righteous combat" narratives of most mainstream SF media will realize that, in Westeros, war is bad and war made all these bad things happen.

A huge majority of the horrible things that happen in Westeros can be traced directly to war, slavery, or the oppression of women. All the societies and people who perpetuate these systems are portrayed as wrong and culpable for the resulting awfulness. It's very clear that stopping those things is the key to making the world not suck so badly.

That's why I can stand the awfulness, I think: because as far as I'm concerned, it's not intended to be the "default state," rather it's a direct result of war and societal inequality. I got the impression that they are intended to drive the reader to think "man, these things are not right and need to be changed!"

#248 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2012, 09:48 PM:

Nancy, #176: I was noodling around, trying to figure what annoys me about the Woman Who Doesn't Like Embroidery and Would Rather Be a Fighter.

Perhaps that, as a fantasy trope, it's seriously outdated? We've heard that story, over and over again, and while it was still fairly current 30 years ago, the best F&SF writers have moved on to tell stories in which the female protagonists are given as strong, capable, and generally accepted as being both. MZB addressed this issue in the foreword to Sword & Sorceress XX, noting the difference in both the quality of the submissions she was getting after 20 years of the series AND the plots of those submissions.

The only place where I find that trope not jarringly dated any more is in YA fiction, and there the plot is frequently not just "fighting the stereotype" but "escaping from an abusive situation" as well.

Constance, #216: I did not personally criticize or assess ASOIAF further than saying I quit reading it after #4 because there was a negative return for this reader's time investment.

contrasts very poorly with:

The writers and fanboys both of the so-called gritty don't know anything about it -- they insist the Great Rolling Rivers of Moola is a scholar the medieval eras, and by golly, he so is not.

The Republican-style name-bashing of Martin is especially offensive. So the man's finally got a smash hit -- it's not like he hasn't been writing things that didn't get on the mainstream radar for the past 30 years. Being that kind of petty doesn't say anything nice about you.

KayTei, #224: I keep having this discussion where people say "I think rape must be the most terrible thing that can happen to a woman," and I keep thinking "you don't think very much of women in general, do you?" But those same people often think of themselves very much as womens' allies, and they're trying in good faith to witness in a way I personally find discomfiting.

What I hear in the statement that's bugging you is an updated version of the "fate worse than death" thing. Yes, being raped is terrible -- but in all honesty, I think there ARE worse things. One such happened to a friend of mine: her primary doctor brushed off some troublesome symptoms for a year, until she finally got worried enough to seek a second opinion... by which time the uterine cancer had metastatized all over her body, and she lived only another year beyond that. Another friend of mine had SIX miscarriages before she finally stopped trying to have children -- children she badly wanted. I bring up these things as possible counter-examples to use when you hear that line in conversations with allies.

rat4000, #231: Tangentially, you've reminded me of one of the most terrifying moments in the LOTR movies: the point at which the orcs besieging Minas Tirith look up to see the army of Rohan bearing down on them. Bad guys or not, I couldn't help thinking about a verse from an old SCA song:

"At a hundred yards we see their blades,
But the horses' hooves are what you fear --
Five hundred tons of steel and flesh,
And you bar the way with an 8-foot spear.

and feeling sorry for them. Knowing Jackson, I wouldn't be at all surprised to find that he intended that moment of empathy.

albatross, #233: I can't think of any major female character in any of S.M. Stirling's Changed World books who has been raped -- and there are a lot of major female characters. He does show that rape happens, but (1) it tends to happen offscreen and (2) Our Guys Don't Do It, and avenge it if possible when they find out about it. Supporting characters who might be the sort that would rape tend to end up dead, often at the hands of the female characters.

Honor Harrington was threatened with rape, but fought off beat the shit out of her attacker. However, she didn't report him, and that decision came back to haunt her several times.

#249 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2012, 11:55 PM:

StochasticBird @ 234: "Heresiarch, you and other feminist readers can fit into ASoIaF any way you want, and I'm not being flippant. I loved Sady's piece because somewhere in the hyperbole, it expressed a long-term anger that I have felt. I don't actually have a problem with other people not feeling that anger (including you)"

That's genuinely wonderful to hear--part of why I've been so on edge comes from feeling a strong vibe of "with us or against us" in a conversation where I don't feel represented by either, and I'm glad to hear that was just my worry talking. Still, there is one thing--it doesn't demand resolution, but it is worth recognizing. It comes up here:

"If you (general you, not you personally) acknowledge that it's problematic, unpleasant, and maybe not a great authorial choice, but somehow the books still work for you, and there's X Y Z you like; well, cool."

What I'm saying is a little different. In my reading at least, some large chunk of the material you find unpleasant and problematic and poorly thought out is--while definitely unpleasant--feminist in implication and judiciously employed. This is in contrast to a work like The Wind-Up Girl, where I'd adopt exactly the position you describe: while the book works for me, I would never try to defend its use of sexual violence. No. Well--no.

I don't insist that anyone agree with my interpretation. That would be nice, of course. =) I do insist that it exists.

Gray Woodland @ 239: "Whilst realism is certainly one literary style amongst many, I think there's a just concern with observing - or at least acknowledging - realistic implications. I think the question, for me, is when a fiction starts to look like a deceit. And this, reflexively enough, partly depends upon the level of 'realism' attempted in the story."

I think you've drawn a nice distinction between realism and--plausibility, perhaps?

Caroline @ 245: "I'm really interested in the reading of ASoIaF as a searing critique of the "just king" narrative. I read all but the most recent book and never twigged to that. I thought GRRM was trying to write a completely different kind of story than Tolkien-style epic fantasy, to do something totally orthogonal to it, rather than to comment on it."

I think Leah Miller says a lot of smart things @ 247, but I'll add: take the character of King Robert. He's great at becoming king, at war and combat and inspiring loyalty and so on, and yet utterly unsuited to being king. That's pretty fundamental tension in the nature of feudal rulership that is rarely explored in epic fantasy--generally all the things that kings-to-be get up to, from jousting to lurking about taverns to fighting the usurper somehow perfectly prepares them for kingship. Their experience of injustice has left them magnanimous and benevolent, and they rule wisely. Robert is still bitter about the injustices done to him, and forgives nothing.

The comparison between Robert and the standard epic royal heir is especially apt because, remember, King Robert isn't even the worst king out of the last two: the one before him was the Mad King, ranting and delusions of grandeur and the whole epic evil ruler package. Robert was supposed to be the savior, and became--fat, inattentive, drunken, whoring Robert. In this sense, ASOIAF opens where most epic fantasy leaves off, and shows how none of the problems of the last big war were actually solved. It's a epic-scale demonstration of the failure of redemptive violence.

"My main problem with the books was that the plot felt like it was meandering more and more, as though it was just a series of events without any kind of narrative arc. Because of that, the violence -- and especially rape -- did start to feel completely gratuitous to me."

That's an interesting point. Even if the level of degradation and pain inflicted on the characters had stayed level (and I think it really jumped in book five), the plodding pace and aimless plot sucks the meaning out of it, removing the grimness' animating purpose even as its form remains intact.

#250 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2012, 01:09 AM:

albatross @ 233

Sure, that's fair. I had a similar conversation with my husband. Some of it is probably the distribution of books I've read recently. Some of it is also apparently the way I read between the lines. Once my husband and I started talking, it was interesting and surprising how much darker an interpretation I had of... well, a judicious handful of rape, near rape and implied rape scenes. So I'm perfectly willing to cop that some of that is personal bias and interpretation.

But there's also a particular type of strong heroine that... I'm always just waiting for her to get raped, even if it hasn't happened yet. Especially if it hasn't happened yet. I don't quite accept that that came out of nowhere, as specific a twitch as it is.

I have to apologize, because I'm only familiar with about half the charas you listed, so I may not be exactly on point, but I'm hesitant to include minor characters as evidence that rape doesn't always happen to strong women. Because I feel like in writing, it very often seems to happen to strong female protagonists, in particular, and especially if they've had three or four books in which to get around to it.

I'm also hesitant to dismiss attempted rape, even if she gets out "unscathed" -- because again, it is a threat aimed specifically at women because they are women, and even if it unrealistically doesn't affect the protagonist that way, it's a plot point that reinforces the idea that no woman is really ever safe. There are a small handful of writers who've addressed male rape, but I can't think of a single instance of that kind of close escape applied to a male protagonist. Not that it doesn't exist, just that I don't think I've seen it.

(I couldn't actually speak to whether the way SFF shows and movies handle rape is different from what I observe in written works -- it's been years since I watched consistently, and I don't have as broad a feel for the genre conventions there. I'll defer to your experience in that arena.)

#251 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2012, 01:15 AM:

Lee @ 248

Yes, exactly. Thank you.

#252 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2012, 01:19 AM:

Constance @246:
I'm now told that reporting is offensive.

Oh, please. ObRealismInArtSubthread, what you report and how you report it is a choice. You can find all kinds of crap on the internet. If you choose to bring it here and smear it all over the conversational walls, it's not its existence that's objectionable. It's your decision that it's worth including in the décor.

If you can't figure out why bringing a bunch of contentious and insulting elements of a wide-ranging discussion elseweb into this thread—unlinked so that we can't check or find context—and presenting it as fact is inappropriate and disruptive; if you can't understand how own your words means even the ones you borrow from others; if you can't grasp that you don't get to determine what is and is not to be discussed here, but only what you discuss here; if you don't see how all of these choices you made on this thread are choices you made on this thread, not historical inevitabilities upon whose tide you were swept: then you should seriously reconsider your relationship with the Post a comment box. Because whatever universe you're living in doesn't have enough overlap with the one that all five of the moderators, and the remainder of the commentariat, inhabit to make it a viable one.

But, you know, I don't buy it. I think you wanted to have a defensible go at a bunch of folks, and some of the people in this thread fit your spec. And now you've been called on it, and your explanation is, quite frankly, embarrassing to the body of commentary you've produced on this site.

Mostly though, I remove myself because I know personally all too much what happens to girls and women who are tortured and raped. I do this in respect of what their lives were until their lives ended.

OK, look, bullshit. You're removing yourself because that was the last comment that you're making on this thread with its full compliment of vowels.

If you hadn't earned the ban before, you did with that line. As someone whose life includes sexual assault, I'll thank you very much not to say that it "ended" on that day in the garage when I was six years old. Really, how are you not doing exactly what I'm complaining about in the original post right here, in front of us, using a casual and ignorant reference to Horrible Rape to bolster your personal position?

Get thee hence. And watch your words on the remainder of Making Light very carefully, because you are a hair's breadth from a site ban.

#253 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2012, 08:25 AM:

Lee:

Yeah. Most of the major characters in that series are notable badasses with lots of badass friends, male and female. Trying to rape Tiphaine D'Ath or Astrid Loring, say, would almost invoke the mugging a monster trope. (Choose Astrid as your target--that way, at least you'll die quickly. D'Ath is too likely to smile that chilly smile and turn your death into a long and bloody lesson in human anatomy.) In general, we don't see a lot of powerless people with no protectors to fall back on, though it's clear that, say, Association nobles can probably get away with a lot of maltreatment of their peasants, including rape.

#254 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2012, 08:52 AM:

Re #253: Someone did try to rape Astrid in the very first book--and didn't succeed only in the most technical of senses. She was only 14 at the time, and traumatized to hell, and still contributed in a non-trivial way to fighting the guy off, once presented with a chance to.

Of course it seems likely to me that that experience helped break her brain, but it broke it in a way that made her rather more of a badass, not less.

#255 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2012, 08:58 AM:

KayTei:

I can see that. Lots of worse things than rape happen to many of those strong female characters. (One has her entire home world destroyed in a war, another has her unborn son massively damaged by soloxine gas, another spends a couple months having a bunch of people try to more-or-less beat her into submission, one is an outcast from her people whose choices help lead to a civil war on her home planet, etc.)

I think there's a broader trope, in which someone is made strong or noble by having awful things happen to them. And I think that can be done well or cheaply, and rape is one of the more straightforward ways to use this trope. (For a male character, the usual trick is to have his wife/girlfriend raped, or raped and murdered, or just murdered, in order to propel him into superherodom via making him a monster who casts aside all human decency and rules in favor of seeking revenge.)

Now, characters *are* shaped by the hardships they've endured. The story of how someone is shaped by those hardships, or how he or she survives years later, still marked by them, is often very much worth telling. And those hardships will sometimes sensibly involve rape. But it sure looks, to my casual (and not especially sensitized on this issue) eye, like rape is massively overused in order to both amp up the drama, and to slip in some sex and nudity.

#256 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2012, 09:02 AM:

Carrie S:

Good point. Also, Tiphaine's internal dialog tells us she and her first girlfriend spent a lot of time after the Change being worried about both being raped and being eaten by cannibals. And Astrid's mother is raped, leading to her death. (She's not a major character, because she dies early in the story.)

#257 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2012, 09:18 AM:

albatross:

Do you want my big ol' dissertation on mirrored pairs of characters in the Change books? :)

The short form, for this discussion, is that Tiphaine and Astrid are a pair. Annoyingly, the evil one is also the lesbian, which leads to some Unfortunate Implications.

#258 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2012, 09:29 AM:

albatross @ 255:
(For a male character, the usual trick is to have his wife/girlfriend raped, or raped and murdered, or just murdered, in order to propel him into superherodom via making him a monster who casts aside all human decency and rules in favor of seeking revenge.)

This is certainly true. (Having a child killed is another variation on this.) The (additional) problem with this is that it relies on (and reinforces) the traditional patriarchal trope of Man the Protector. It's very unusual to see a female character motivated by having her husband/boyfriend[1] killed -- or even threatened -- though there are some examples.[2]

What's perhaps less clearly gender-skewed is the idea of motivation through the death of one's parents (or other close relatives) when the character is a child. The first Conan the Barbarian movie is an example, as is the standard origin story for Batman. Similarly, you can have both male and female characters motivated by the desire to protect a child (their own or others).


[1] And, of course, it's very rare to see someone motivated by the murder of (or threats to) a same-sex partner.

[2] Off the top of my head, for film there is, perhaps, the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie, where Luke Perry is the Cute Boy in Distress; somewhat more seriously, Angelina Jolie's character in Salt is partly motivated ol univat ure uhfonaq xvqanccrq, naq fhofrdhragyl fubg va sebag bs ure rlrf.

#259 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2012, 09:36 AM:

Peter Erwin, re Salt: That part was originally written to have a man in the lead role.

#260 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2012, 11:20 AM:

#247 ::: Leah Miller: Very good point about ASoIaF being anti-war in a general sense. It may be problematic that the characters seem to have no hope of anything better, but some wars really are like that for a very long time.

And it makes me realize that rebuilding after a disaster that's nobody's fault has a different feel than rebuilding after a war, at least from my point of view.

I think people (at least where I hang out) tend to do a weird off-the-books accounting of the costs of war. Killing one person is a murder, killing ten to the nth in a war isn't just a statistic, it's a background of the way things are. For example, the Holocaust overshadows Hitler's war to the point where the latter doesn't seem like it's especially outrageous. (Or am I not following enough WW2 stuff?)

And even if the dead and injured are counted, the material destruction isn't taken as seriously as I think it should be.

#245 ::: Caroline

I think it's reasonable to say that there's too much fantasy which is naive about kings and nobles, and ASoIaF is a semi-reasonable look at that. Not quite reasonable, because if real-world nobility were generally that bad, the system wouldn't have lasted as long as it did.

However, my first reading of your comment was that it was an indictment of the anointed king narrative, which would be fun, and which I don't think I've seen. What if it looks as though you've got the prophesied King, and he's a disaster?

Was the prophesy misunderstood? Is it just that the King was promising, but he's got free will? (Aragorn was very aware of that problem.) Have the gods lost interest? Or no gods at all? Or limited gods who didn't get it right?

As for Danerys and her war against slavery, I have a notion that Martin has a clueful/clueless axis which is at least as strong as good/evil is in most fantasy, and (as of book 4, but I don't mind spoilers) Danerys doesn't know nearly enough about what she's doing.

#248 ::: Lee

It's not just Republicans who do name-bashing, though I agree that they're probably doing more of it. It's something I don't do because I think it just dumps contempt into the conversation.

Peripheral, but I think the two things from sf which have made me most upset on the subject of rape were the bit from Lensman when on of the young women with a Lens is asked about whether she's afraid to go out by herself. No she isn't, because she can take on the appearance of a terrifying monster and scare off any man who threatens her. What about the rest of us, who aren't projective telepaths?

And likewise for Tehanu. If the only hope is to be a dragon, there's no hope. Sometimes that kind of thing can work as metaphor, but not for me, not in a novel that was realistic for most of the story.

#249 ::: heresiarch

Thanks for the first bit. I have a wide streak of shutting up when I've been told that my reactions are unfit for civilized company, and I'm very glad this conversation has taken the turn it has.

****My take on ASoIaF (aside from that I hate acronyms which mix upper and lower case) is that Martin has lost control of his plot threads, which I suppose is a less well-based way of saying that the story doesn't work as well for me because it doesn't have as much drive.

Also, the first book had just the right amount and type of redundancy for me. I'm not the best at keeping track of large numbers of characters and relationships, but Martin would drop in just enough reminders so that I knew what was going on.

By book four, he was repeating things (like a description of that religion based on artificial recusitation) that I knew, and not reminding me enough about things I didn't remember.

#258 ::: Peter Erwin

Two examples of women avenging men:

"Madeline" by Hambly in Sisters of the Night. In 1920s Paris, a vampire kills the wrong blond photographer-- his girlfriend (wife?) is a witch. The witch lays a curse on the vampire that she'll hear the internal monologue of each person she kills.....

Dan Simmons' Carrion Comfort has a major character who's a woman that's avenging her father's murder. (More vampires, though not blood-drinking.)

#261 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2012, 11:26 AM:

Nancy Lebovitz @ 260... my first reading of your comment was that it was an indictment of the anointed king narrative, which would be fun, and which I don't think I've seen.

"The Lady of the Lake, her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water, signifying by divine providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur. THAT is why I am your king."
"Listen, strange women lyin' in ponds distributin' swords is no basis for a system of government."

#262 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2012, 12:48 PM:

Peter Erwin @258: It's very unusual to see a female character motivated by having her husband/boyfriend killed [..] though there are some examples.

I missed an opportunity to see a showing of The Bride Wore Black, though I did get to see the theatrical trailer for the movie — the Bride's husband is shot and killed on the steps of the church following their wedding, and she sets out to get revenge on the men responsible. This film is mentioned as one of the inspirations for 'Kill Bill' (which also had a similarly motivated bride).

#263 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2012, 12:49 PM:

Peter Erwin #258: And, of course, it's very rare to see someone motivated by the murder of (or threats to) a same-sex partner.

Gilgamesh comes to mind....

And, just to complicate the feminist currents out of all bejesus, Rooney Mara‘s Dragon Tattoo character is being cited for bringing small breasts "back in fashion". I have my own ideas about that shift, but hey, if they want to declare Mara the new Twiggy....

#264 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2012, 01:06 PM:

Another one for rescuing a same sex partner-- Duane's The Door into Fire.

#265 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2012, 01:45 PM:

albatross, #253: the Association nobility did get away with an awful lot of that, until they were forced into the agreement at the end of the Protector's War which allowed serfs to leave an abusive overlord. That would have cut down on it considerably. But again, that's the sort of thing which generally gets discussed, not graphically shown; Stirling isn't glossing over the fact that it happens, but neither is he beating the reader over the head with it. The most graphic example I can think of in the books is on the trip up to Tillamook, when they encounter the corpse of the woman who was raped and murdered by Haida raiders -- and that one is told in flashback.

Carrie, #254: Yes, and the leader of Tiphaine's Girl Scout troop was killed by would-be "mountain men" who intended to enslave the whole troop as their private harem, and they were the first men Tiphaine and Katrina killed. But that's told by way of Tiphaine's memories, not directly.

The argument I'm making here is that, while the series definitely does not try to pretend that rape doesn't happen, it does a very good job of avoiding the issues that the original post complains about. Stirling's female characters are well-crafted, fully-rounded people, so he doesn't need to employ the lazy-writer's method of motivating them.

Carrie, #257: I'd love to see that lengthy dissertation!

Also, Tiphaine is definitely an evil character in the first 3 books, but when he moves into the next stage of the series, she becomes a lot more sympathetic. She's not a nice character and never will be -- but once the people she's working for are no longer the Big Bad, her portrayal is more Strong Leader than anything else. The latest book in particular gives her a major viewpoint role, and it's become very hard for me to think of her as evil by now.

#266 ::: Heather Rose Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2012, 01:48 PM:

And, of course, the problem with stories that might use revenge-for-harm-to-a-same-sex-partner as a character motivation is that it intersects badly with the theme of "Teh Gay Must Be Punished".

#267 ::: Heather Rose Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2012, 02:10 PM:

I see the discussions in this thread as illustrating perfectly the problem that we read (and enjoy or fail to enjoy) each work in the particular, but the temperature of the water is composed of the aggregate. The issue of how the prevalence of rape as a literary/cinematic motif affects the overall social climate doesn't really negate the point that each individual work that contributes to that climate may have other redeeming features -- or may even have valid immediate justification for including the rape. (Not saying that all, or even most, do.) Just as when the aggregate of rapes in a particular work create an emergent effect that it independent of the circumstances of each specific plot-point, the aggregate effect of multiple works that use rape is independent of the literary merit (or not) of each individual work.

It's similar to the problem of gender (or other categorical) imbalances in functional groups: each individual has specific and valid reasons for participating or not participating, but if the overall result is imbalanced it will affect the value of the group's functioning.

To my mind, this means that discussion of the function of rape within a particular work or with regard to a particular character is not entirely germane to the problem of a literary rape-culture. And yet, as readers and writers and critics, our first response tends to be to interact with each work in the particular.

There are books that I really enjoy in the particular that contribute to larger cultural miasmas. (One of these days I'm going to write a personally cathartic critique of social subtexts in A Little Princess.) I don't have to deny my enjoyment in order to recognize their problematic contributions. But conversely, the fact that I enjoy the books doesn't mean they aren't problematic.

#268 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2012, 02:14 PM:

Heather Rose Jones @267 we read (and enjoy or fail to enjoy) each work in the particular, but the temperature of the water is composed of the aggregate

Yes, this.

#269 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2012, 02:34 PM:

Heather Rose Jones @267: (One of these days I'm going to write a personally cathartic critique of social subtexts in A Little Princess.)

I would dearly like to see such a thing; that was a book that managed to hit some of my "I love this story! ...but there's a problem here!" buttons even as a child, and I would appreciate an adult dissection of it now.

#270 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2012, 03:38 PM:

Heather Rose Jones #267: Yeah... also, successful works spawn imitators -- remember how after Tailchaser's Song, the fantasy shelves were crawling with cats and other critters? It took years for the crap to clear out! (Though we did get some decent survivors.) I'm not sure what would be the root work for a current rape fad, though.

#271 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2012, 03:59 PM:

David, #270: And Tailchaser's Song itself was a riff on Watership Down.

#272 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2012, 04:10 PM:

War and peace: A marginal case, but Poul Anderson's "The Barbarian" (a parody of Conan) has the barbarian spreading joyous destruction, and then it's made clear that he's damaging a carefully arranged peace and (iirc) has wrecked a gate of historic and artistic importance which is valued even though it belongs to the other side. Everyone is portrayed as somewhat ridiculous.

Unfortunately, I don't remember as many of the details, but wasn't the main character in Curse of Chalion a diplomat arranging a peace?

#263 ::: David Harmon

Does anyone remember a science fiction story (probably written in the 50s or 60s) about whole body cosmetic surgery for women because the fashionable body type keeps changing?

The premise was that women generally would do superficial makeovers, but there'd be one woman who'd be the ideal type, and she'd be stuck with it for the rest of her life.

#273 ::: John M. Burt ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2012, 06:02 PM:

Serge Broom @261: Strange women lying in ponds passing out swords is no basis for a system of government, but it does make more sense than the Electoral College.

#274 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2012, 07:05 PM:

John M Burt @ 273... Watery tarts in the Electoral College would be an improvement.

#275 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2012, 08:21 PM:

This thread is pretty challenging for me, because I find myself in an odd place. I weighed in early about a time when a depiction of assault completely ruined a work for me, but I'm also largely OK with one of the most popular works that is considered problematic.

This is why I consider Heather's post at 267 especially difficult.

I feel the need to engage specific works about their depictions because, well, it feels like doing so is the only way it would be possible to make progress on this issue. Whenever anyone in an argument says "there is too much _____," my first instinct is to say "ok, then what _____, specifically, do you think we should cut first? and why?" I agree that there is too much rape in fiction. I agree that most of it should be eliminated. At the same time, I don't think anyone here is arguing that there should be no acknowledgment of its existence anywhere in fiction.

I've also been having difficulty understanding exactly what people are finding troubling about ASOIAF specifically. The only common thread I've been able to discern is that the abuses are endemic in several of the societies that GRRM portrays.

I'm not trying to say anyone is wrong for finding these books troubling. There are simply some things I'm curious about, so I have a few clarifying questions for people who consider these books to be firmly in the "troublesome" column.

Is there a reason these depictions are especially bothersome other than their prevalence in the stories?

Do you think we should never portray worlds where such abuse is endemic?

If you think it may sometimes be useful to portray worlds where abuse is endemic, why do you find the world in ASOIAF more objectionable than other works that depict endemic abuse?

#276 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2012, 09:24 PM:

Lee #271: While there are certainly common factors and conceits, I'd say that Tailchaser's Song stands on its own -- notably for explicit myth rather than just the mythic tropes found in Watership Down. And of course it's pretty late to represent a "follow-on"....

Leah Miller #275: Even in worlds where rape is endemic, it's another matter for the author to rub the readers' nose in it. There's also the issue that in societies where rape is endemic, women will at least try to defend themselves against it, and in fact there will be feedback factors, because above a certain point, massive rape does make a society unsustainable.

Of course, GRRM's society may well not be sustainable -- remember, his world is confronted by a global crisis, and quite possibly responding to that in openly dysfunctional fashion, just as we aren't handling global warming too well....

#277 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2012, 02:00 AM:

I have a notion that there are at least three different things going when people are unhappy and/or outraged with art. One piece is that you go into a trance [1] and are thrown out of it because it grates too badly and/or you find that you're disquieted after a while, and then realize there was stuff in the story that you're unhappy with and/or is inimical to you.

Another angle is that you're not just looking at the work of art and its effect on you, you're looking at how much of the world is against you if that work of art is popular, or in some cases if it got produced at all.

I think there are also group effects. If other people are encouraging you to foreground various aspects of the story, they may not be what you would have noticed that much if you hadn't been primed.

I was thinking about misogynistic fiction, and I remembered John Norman's Gor series. They were published as mainstream sf and were popular in the sixties, and possibly into the seventies, and then faded. They were written with the explicit premise that women really want to be enslaved by men.

They seem to have made little difference in the real world. If fiction (especially popular fiction) is a clue to what other people are really thinking, does the decline of Gor and its lack of a clear successor mean that things have become more wholesome?

[1] I think appreciating art involves an altered state of consciousness, but I may be overgeneralizing.

#278 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2012, 05:46 AM:

Carrie S @ 259:
Yes, I think I'd heard that -- Tom Cruise was originally cast for the part, yes?

Which makes me think of His Girl Friday, one of the more oddly feminist (or proto-feminist) films of the 1940s[1], which was based on a play in which the Rosalind Russell character was male. (Which in turn makes me wonder how often major characters get gender-switched like that, and if it's mostly or always been male-to-female.[2] And whether something like that happens in the writing of books, as well -- though obviously it's much harder to find out about that.)


Rob Rusick @ 262:
Right, I should have remembered Kill Bill. (Don't think I'd ever even heard of the Truffaut film.)


David Harmon @ 263:
Hmm... interesting example. That immediately suggests Achilles in The Iliad, as well.


Nancy Lebovitz @264:
Ah, good call. It's been a long time since I read that book; I'd forgotten it.


[1] In that its message ends up being "Some women will really be happier doing professional work than they would be as housewives" (even if it requires a manipulative male to make her realize that...)

[2] OK, I shouldn't be surprised that TV Tropes has some examples.

#279 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2012, 06:38 AM:

Nancy Lebovitz: #277: IIRC, "Gor" was more-or-less pornography in an "SF" form-factor. Nowadays, I suspect the equivalent would actually be marketed as such (and likely fail in that market because of changed standards).

#280 ::: alsafi ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2012, 12:33 PM:

Leah Miller @ 275, I think--at least for me--the crux of the question is in what someone upthread pointed out. Where you write "the societies GRRM portrays", I would write "the societies GRRM creates" and I think that represents a major difference in perspective. It's in part the difference between asking "why am I so (un)comfortable with these societies?" and asking "what is the author conveying with their creation and highlighting of societies in which THIS social problem is one that so consistently comes up?"

I think it's possible to take a broader view than just looking at individual works, in large part because authors, no matter what anyone thinks about their works, are as much a product of rape culture as all the rest of us. To sideline authorial... "intent" isn't necessarily quite the word I want, but neither is "control"... "power," maybe? Anyway, to disappear the author from the equation by thinking of them as a reporter rather than a creator is a very deconstructionist way of looking at it. Not that it's wrong, but it's important to be aware of, because otherwise it's easy for people taking the deconstructionist view and people taking a more intentionalist view to talk past each other.

So I don't think there's necessarily anything wrong with authors choosing to create worlds in which rape is endemic. But I do think it's important to ask ourselves why the violent sexual abuse of women is so mainstreamed, and why, both as writers and as readers, these are the dreams that set people afire.

#281 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2012, 01:01 PM:

Creates vs. portrays is a neat way of putting the issue.

Pern gets on my nerves because it's set up so that it has to be authoritarian. There's a threat which only comes around every two hundred years and is unconnected to anything else in life, and the people under threat are generally (completely?) illiterate.

Just to be clear, this doesn't mean I think there's anything wrong with liking Pern. Perhaps because my annoyance is shared by so few people, I think of it as a personal quirk.

#282 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2012, 04:12 PM:

Bruce Cohen @240: The problem with "realism" as an artistic objective is that it can become an excuse for portraying acts of violence

When Stargate: Universe premiered, it was touted as being "more realistic" than the other entrants in the franchies.

Which rather left me scratching my head. So, are we talking more realistic wormhole travel? Ancient spaceships flying through the cosmos? Alien attackers? Transposition of minds between bodies?

Or is is the perpetual petty conflicts between characters, with occassional physical attacks and attempts at murder?

I love the series, but "realistic?" Srsly?

#283 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2012, 06:22 PM:

Jacque, it was more realistic about how people would behave in that kind of nightmare scenario. Some would try to keep order, some would go crazy, some would try to take control from others, some would try to cheat...and some would go on as if they were still in civilization. No one was all good or all bad (well, Rush was pretty close to all bad, but that's another conversation!).

I thought most of the characters behaved in a realistic (human) way, even if the scenario itself was not realistic.

#284 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2012, 07:16 PM:

Xopher HalfTongue @283: Jacque, it was more realistic about how people would behave in that kind of nightmare scenario.

I'm not so sure. I'm thinking about the thread a while back about how people in a disaster react; fiction tends to portray a fractured, competitive, conflict-ridden social reaction. Non-fiction accounts seem to indicate that people tend to become very cooperative. (I'm not pulling enough keywords out of memory to go find the thread.)

Contrariwise, a situation like Nazi concentration camps, or government collapse like Somalia, tend to produce the sort of social breakdown presumed by the writers of SGU. Which is one of the things about the show I found grating and implausible enough to be a problem for me.

Rush was pretty close to all bad

I see Rush as serving sort of the function that Spock served in the original Star Trek: logical and practical to the nth degree.

I'll grant you, he's a control junkie who gets in over his head without realizing it. Some of this comes from arrogance, but I could also see that as coming from a fear of trusting people, or believing that it's possible to communicate adequately with the people around him.

He has compassion, when he has the time and energy, but he places a lower value on that than the practical necessity of getting as many people through a situation alive as possible. It doesn't help that he's indifferent to the good opinion of the people around him and impatient with social convention, which makes him come off as insensitive and abrasive.

One wants to grab him by the lapels and slap some sense into him, but I like him a lot.

but that's another conversation!

:-)

#285 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2012, 07:34 PM:

He has compassion, when he has the time and energy

Too bad he never did have the time and energy during the series. Which makes me wonder why you think so.

he places a lower value on that than the practical necessity of getting as many people through a situation alive as possible.

And he places a lower value on that than on doing the science he wants to do. And a lower value on THAT than on getting his way. In short, he'll sacrifice the survival of the group for science, and science for ego.

It doesn't help that he's indifferent to the good opinion of the people around him and impatient with social convention, which makes him come off as insensitive and abrasive.

Funny, I thought it was his utter insensitivity that made him come off as insensitive.

#286 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2012, 07:58 PM:

Xopher HalfTongue @285: "He has compassion, when he has the time and energy" Too bad he never did have the time and energy during the series. Which makes me wonder why you think so.

In the episode "Air," when Cloe attacks him after her dad dies: "I'll do my best to make sure he didn't die in vain." When Scott pleads with him to try to get them home, "What makes you think I won't try?" In "Light," while answering Eli's question about how the end will come, he realizes Cloe is freaking out, hastens to add "It'll be quick." In season 2, when Eli regrets not having gone after Simeon for killing Ginn, points out that, if he had, he'd have Simeon's blood on his hands and Ginn would still be dead. Dealing with Franklin when he comes out of his catatonia....

In short, he'll sacrifice the survival of the group for science, and science for ego.

The science is one of the places where his ego gets in the way, sure. But I think he sincerely sees the science as being of supreme value: "Destiny may be the most important discovery to mankind than the stargate itself."

He is certainly the supreme oportunist, but even so, he's not irrational. Young: "Dial the gate to Earth!" Rush: "We can't risk the explosion translating through the wormhole."

Funny, I thought it was his utter insensitivity that made him come off as insensitive.

Except that he's not "utterly" insensitive.

Xopher: "Is too!"
Jacque: "Is not!"
Xopher: "Is too! Is too!"
Jacque" "Is not, is not, is not!!"

:-)

#287 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2012, 08:11 PM:

I've been abused by assholes like him IRL, and your defense of him is pushing my buttons (not your fault), so I'm going to stop now.

#288 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2012, 08:14 PM:

Xopher HalfTongue @287: Ah! I wondered where the vehemence was coming from. Thank you for letting me know.

Also be aware that, given that I can (and do) like him, your attacks on him (and especially on the actor who plays him—who is, by all accounts, a very sweet man) have been pushing my buttons, as well.

#289 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2012, 08:17 PM:

I never said anything against the actor. I said he seemed only to play nasty rotten characters, because I'd only seen him play that kind. A long list refuting this followed, but I haven't seen any of them.

Never said the actor was a bad guy. Don't accuse me of that one.

#290 ::: tw ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2012, 09:17 PM:

Hey you two, the issue with SGU was those stupid Ancient communication devices that got nicknamed rape stones by fandom for a reason.

#291 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2012, 10:13 PM:

Trying to be a catalyst for another fight, tw?

#292 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2012, 10:23 PM:

Xopher HalfTongue @289: I said he seemed only to play nasty rotten characters, because I'd only seen him play that kind.... Never said the actor was a bad guy.

Okay. The tone of your comment about his roles put me in mind of those viewers who confuse the actors with the characters they play. I figured you are smarter than that, and am happy to be reassured.

Don't accuse me of that one.

Fair point. Thank you for being clear.

#293 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2012, 10:31 PM:

tw @290: the issue with SGU was those stupid Ancient communication devices that got nicknamed rape stones by fandom for a reason.

There were many issues with SGU, of which the stones was one. And there were many potentially interesting ramifications of the stones, of which consent was only one. Unfortunately, they didn't really have a chance to touch on that issue more than very glancingly. I may be forgetting something, but the only times I recall the stones being used without the consent of both parties was in SG1, before the writers had really fleshed out the mechanism, and in SGU when they stumbled onto some, what one might call "unanticipated modes of operation."

I credit the writers with at least being willing to have a go at some of these more problematic questions. I'll grant SGU this much: they were clearly trying to move beyond the classic space opera / action adventure model of the previous series. The degree to which they were successful...? In some ways, yes; in others, not so much.

#294 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2012, 09:27 PM:

Coming into this conversation late, and going back to the more general case:

@250, The idea of kind of fantasy series where you are just waiting for the strong female lead to be raped... I recognized that concept.

And I hate that it's a recognizable trope.

I see one reason that hasn't been mentioned why "rape is easy for writers": it's not like getting both hands cut off, or getting badly burnt, or becoming paralyzed from the neck down. [All of which are much closer to 'the most terrible thing that can happen to a woman', I'd say.] Physically, a person should function more or less the same (say) a month later. So it's a Bad Thing You Can Do that doesn't leave you with a main character stumbling around the place like Inquisitor Glotka from Joe Abercrombie's First Law books.

I'm not saying this is, by any means, the only reason it's used, or even a large percentage o the reason it's used; but it is ONE reason it's used.

I still hate it.

#295 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2012, 01:00 PM:

Not sure if I should put this here or in the current Open Thread, but let's try here.

One of the things I picked out of this thread earlier was the idea that it was possible to believe simultaneously that (1) there exist works in which rape occurs which are excellently done and sensitively handled, and (2) in current genre literature rape is "too common" and too much of a default "need a bad thing to happen here." And there was discussion of what this said about gender attitudes in general, and how that might be changed.

I was thinking at the time, but never got around to commenting, that we see a similar process of change when we reread stories we used to like and the suck fairy has visited them. The fact that we can notice a visit from the suck fairy, usually of the sexism or racism species, means that social attitudes have shifted enough that something once commonplace now stands out in a negative way. It stood still; the culture changed around it.

I'd like to think that, over time, we may see the same kind of change in attitude over sexual violence. It's not that it shouldn't be written; it shouldn't be written unthinkingly. Similarly, it's not that there are no racist or sexist characters any more. (The one who leaps to mind is in Brenda Clough's "May Be Some Time", but I'm sure there are others.) The key is that the character might be completely oblivious - but the author no longer is.

I was reminded of this by a recent piece of Jo Walton's at tor.com on rereading Piper's Omnilingual, and that the characters' constant smoking and drinking cocktails really stood out. That marks yet another area where attitudes have changed enough that what once went unremarked now does not.

cf an old thread on Bending the Arc. Change happens. This gives me hope.

#296 ::: fidelio sees more spam ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2012, 02:56 PM:

All the comments by this poster were made to day. All are generic, and some are repeats.

#297 ::: anatidaeling ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2012, 09:12 PM:

I've been listening to --and really enjoying -- the audiobook of The Diviners by Libba Bray. Until SPOILER

the detailed rape scene. That was pretty much a deal-breaker for me. I was enjoying the book. People I respect had recommended the book to me. I like Libba Bray generally, but that rape scene did me in. And I don't think it was necessary.

I remembered reading this post, and I wanted to come back and find it to help me articulate why I was done with the (otherwise excellent) The Diviners once we got to the raping of the strong, independent female character.

So, thank you for this post. Very valuable resource.

#298 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2012, 12:59 AM:

I have started using "rape" as a tag on books in LibraryThing. I'm considering encouraging my friends to do the same. If enough people do it, we can get it into the tag cloud on books that portray rape; this would both be useful for people who want to avoid reading such books, and possibly open the door to further discussion about why it's such a common trope.

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