I wrote a piece earlier this week on rape scenes. I know this is a theme that we return to at least once or twice a year on this blog, but given how often I see this abuse in stories, I think it's warrented to keep addressing this ground. For one thing, I can tell that each new post reaches people who had not seen the earlier posts. At the very least, it makes some writers give particular scenes a little more consideration, I feel it's worth it.
After that post, I got a very nice note from a reader named Diana. With her permission, I'm sharing it with you in its entirety:
Two Giant Thumbs Up on this blog entry/topic and your comments. Really important conversation that I hope will be an on-going one. Especially appreciate your pointing out the all too unfortunate occurrence of male writers "writing rape scenes that feel like they were getting excited while writing it." I'll tell you, as a woman, reading those kind of scenes (in books or scripts) freaks my shit out. And what is equally disturbing is that those scenes can come out of the nicest guys!
I remember a foreign film way back when about the brutality of the civil war in the former Yugoslavia and its affects on women. (can't remember the title). It showed the lawlessness during that time, and the resulting roaming gangs of men. And the violence that was regularly perpetrated against women. It showed a brutal gang rape scene (that must have lasted at least a full 5 minutes of film time!) of two women in their home. It included the act of anal rape. It was riveting. Horrifying. Visceral. And realistic. It was not sexy in the least. And it was not done for shock value, though it most certainly left most of us in the audience in shock.
And as it turns out, no superhero guy (or hubby/boyfriend) appeared in a fit of rage in that film to avenge the violence against these two women. After the rapists left, the women were simply left alone with their physical injuries and their shattered psyches. And their own rage. Of which they had plenty.
And I think therein touches on another part (I think actually it's the crux) of the (inherent) problem with these many rape scenes of women penned by men: It is that the man (boyfriend/husband/superhero guy) gets to feel the resulting rage for the violation. And to act on that rage. Not the woman who was violated.
Rape happens to women. A lot. So not ever showing rape of women would be sort of a denial of this horrible reality. And aside from the reality that some male writers might write such scenes a little too (disturbingly) gleefully,it's not even (just) the fact that the aftermath of the rape on the female victim is never really shown-- such as, say, the woman/girl sobbing and stuff. Or being an emotional/psychological wreck. Or even being terrified in the aftermath--maybe of men, maybe of just going outside. Whatever. No, it's not even just about those things. What's it's also about, maybe even more so about, is THE RAGE. And who gets to have it.
Rage-- the feeling of rage-- is damn powerful. It can act as a driving force--- to address/counter feelings of powerlessness-- which a lot of male writers know, as they use it to drive the superhero protagonist (and yes to get us, the audience, all engaged, and to let us feel along, too, that something is being done to avenge this wrong). Unfortunately, the women (the victims) of these rape scenarios almost never get to benefit from this powerful feeling of rage-- and the possibility of acting on it-- either during, or in the aftermath, of their own violation and powerlessness. Nope, that all still goes to men. So they are left not only victims. But doubly so.
As as you point out in your post "Let's talk about rape scenes", these scenes of rape/beatings of woman aren't being used as spring-boards for a female character's development. They are used so that-- I'm taking the liberty of loosely paraphrasing here a little-- the male protags gain strength from it (so they can dig down deep) and take (effective) action. Pretty f**ked up if you think about it.
I wonder what would happen, if only as an experiment (maybe a year?), men (and yes, it's predominately men who write these scenes) took it upon themselves (as in required of themselves) that every time they penned a rape scene of a woman, the script would necessarily include the victim/woman herself getting to feel the resulting rage of that violation, along with getting to be the one to act on that rage. I can't be sure, but I'd say it's a safe bet you'd see a hell of a lot less rape scenes being written.
So back to the Yugoslavia film. And how that brutal/shocking gang rape scene was eventually dealt with in it. As it turned out, at the end of the movie one of the two women who had been brutally raped comes across the 'leader rapist' in a refuge camp. Before he notices her, she slowly creeps/stalks up behind him and slits his throat (with a knife she'd just been using to cut an apple). It was plain and simple revenge. It wasn't particularly sexy. But it was very gratifying, I must admit.
Anyway, thanks again for broaching this issue, and for your comments.