Monday, September 10, 2007

Can a hero ever hit a woman?

Any woman?

Is it ever justified?

I should confess something here. The EC novel Anna J. and I wrote, that comes out in January, will most likely garner an X rating in part for this reason--violence against women. Sexual violence against women, specifically (but not limited to, and not rape of a woman.) It's not the only reason, but it is part of it.

When two people get off on violence, on hitting and being hit, is it wrong for them to hit each other?

How about if the woman is only of average physical strength but the man is particularly strong? (This isn't the sitch in the EC book, I'm just thinking out loud here.) Is it worse if, say, your superstrong vampire hero punches a woman, as opposed to your average guy?

How bad does a woman have to be before it's "acceptable" for a man to hit her? Just bitchy? Evil? Really evil? Mutilating puppies evil? I'm not talking about spanking or whipping or any type of ritualized BDSM play. I'm talking about hauling off and punching someone.

See, my immediate response--which I firmly believe is the response of every right-thinking person--is that it's never right. Men should not hit women. Only the most low-down, no-good type of worthless man would hit a woman.

But then the writery part steps in. And, okay, the slightly kinky part too. Maybe there is a situation where he could. Maybe there is a way to make it work. Maybe there's even a way it could be sexy.

Because what is violence but the triumph of emotion over reason? Emotion out of control? And high emotion is sexy. It makes the heart pound, the breath quicken.

The problem is, it's a very, veri fine line to walk. Most people would immediately see the man as lesser. Not a man. Certainly not likeable anymore. Not appealing. And then there's the old belief that when a man hits a woman once, he'll do it again. (Personally, I don't believe it's true 100% of the time. A large proportion, sure. But not 100%.)

This is an awkward thing to even write about, because I certainly don't want to sound like I condone or approve of domestic violence in any way, shape or form. I wouldn't like to be hit, and I don't know that I could ever forgive a man who hit me, or how long if ever it would be before I trusted him again (this is assuming it's my husband, where just walking out and ending it isn't an option.)

But I don't live the kind of lives my characters lead, either. My life isn't full of danger and intrigue and violence anyway. My husband isn't a vampire or a demon or a witch, or anyone for whom violence is a regular part of life. He's just a man. A very appealing one, but a man nonetheless.

Does it make a difference if violence is an accepted behavior in the society which the hero inhabits? Forty years ago, we thought almost nothing of seeing men hit women in movies. The "she slaps him, so he slaps her, then they kiss" scene wasn't uncommon (it wasn't in every movie you saw, but it wasn't uncommon.) I believe James Bond hit a couple of women in his sixties incarnation. I'm pretty sure there are others, too. Cary Grant hit Leslie Caron in Father Goose, and I still adore that movie.

Does it make a difference if she hits him first? If he then justified?

See, I guess part of me thinks it wouldn't bother me that much to read it, if it was done right. Because novels are novels; they're not reality. Much as there are still "forced seduction" novels out there to provide women with (let's be honest) a safe way to experience a rape fantasy (and I'm not saying this is the only reason, but then, I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with rape fantasies either. I fantasize about all sorts of things I'd never want to do in real life), is it possible that the use of something like that--and we're talking one hit here, not a crazed beating--might be worth exploring, if only to demonstrate high emotional intensity? To give a bad boy a reason to reform? To give a heroine the upper hand?

What do you guys think?


Robyn said...

I have always been of the firm opinion that any woman who hits first shouldn't complain if she reaps what she sows. I HATED the old spanking scenes in movies (John Wayne did it to Maureen O'Hara a few times) but I kind of enjoy the she slaps/he slaps/they kiss thing.

I remember that Diana Gabaldon caught it big time when Jamie beat Claire but that was one of the few times I found him remotely believable.

kirsten imma saell said...

I have one character who has been pestered and pursued by Big Beefy Guy for months, but she isn't actually tempted until he hits her. Not a slap, either--a hit that would have fractured her skull if it hit full on. Her problem isn't a pain fetish so much as the fact that she can kick a metric buttload of ass, but she doesn't want a man she can dominate. It's not that she can forgive him--it's that she honestly believes there's nothing to forgive.

I have no problem reading about violence. Most of my stories are loaded with it, and I've tried not to pull any punches when portraying sexual violence for what it is. I would have a hard time forgiving a hero for hitting an average woman, especially if he's extraordinarily strong. But that doesn't mean I couldn't forgive him. I really felt for Bud White in LA Confidential when he hits Lynn, because you can see the pain he's in, and the dawning understanding, even as he does it, that he's more like his abusive father than he ever realized.

And there is a big difference between a one-time incident that happens in the extremity of the moment, and "domestic violence". The former is more a function of terrible circumstances and stress, the latter is a pattern of behavior that doesn't allow for any kind of growth.

For a hero to hit his average Jane heroine, it can be done if it reveals his vulnerability at least as much as hers. Again--Bud White. The look of horror on his face when he realizes what he's done, you can tell he knows it's unforgivable--and then the fact that she forgives him. Makes me all misty.

That said--if my husband ever did that, he'd be out the door.


December/Stacia said...

Yeah, Robyn, I was never a fan of the spanking scenes--seems to me if a man's gonna hit me, he should at least have the courtesy of treating me like an adult while he does it--but the slap.slap/kiss never bothered me either.

And I agree, I actually loved the scene where Jamie hit Claire. Made him much stronger in my eyes, and more realistic. Aside from that he was so sappy so much of the time (although I really did like him.)

December/Stacia said...

OMG kis--BUD WHITE. I LOVE him. That's actually one of my favorite movies ever--the hubs and I watch it every Thanksgiving (not sure where that tradition started) but I love, love, love that movie.

And you're right. For the type of man he is, and for what she did, it was believable both that he would do it and regret it, and that she would forgive him. Yep, that moment when you see his face...oh! Makes me want to cry!

(And of course, my favorite "expression" scene, when the Captain asks Exley if he knows who Rolo Tomassi is, and Guy Pierce's face doesn't move, but you see it all in his eyes...stunning.)

I agree. Violence doesn't bother me in books or movies. Again, funny, because my husband is NOT a violent guy at all, but I do tend to be drawn to those sorts of characters. And yeah, most of my stories are pretty loaded with it as well, of all sorts, from fistfights to gunfights to any other sort of fight you can think of.

I can't wait to read that book, it sounds awesome.

BernardL said...

Fiction is fiction; but in real life, a man has to walk away from any violent situation with a woman, unless in physical danger. I can tell you this much, fist fights in real life ain't like in fiction. A man who has used his fists, can permanently damage a woman he hits. D, if a guy will hit a woman with a closed fist once, just cause he's pissed off, or even if the woman slaps him, he'll do it again. This is where the 2ond Amendment in the USA is a great protector of women. It's very difficult to fist fight with a woman holding a 9mm Glock. :)

pacatrue said...

There's like a thousand different questions in here, I think. If we are just thinking about simply doing the right thing, then violence from a man to a woman should follow the same standard as violence between men; i.e., you should only try to hurt someone when there is no other choice.

A harder one is when one has to fight back to keep respect. I go back and forth here. As bernardl mentions, one problem is that a real hit in real life can permanently damage someone. (And you know, Dec, that I am a total man-beast who finds it hard to control my own inhuman strength.) While I can, in general, imagine that one could throw a punch when being insulted to preserve dignity for yourself, it's pretty hard to have such respect later if the punchee has a permanently crooked nose, goes unconscious, could be killed, is oozing blood, or, even just suffers ongoing emotional harm, when she spends much of her remaining life afraid of men and violence. I guess it's that real life violence is such an unpredictable thing. You rarely know what the result will be unless you are highly trained. (I would actually think that our uber-heroes who do have extraordinary strength might kill a normal human on accident quite frequently if they allow themselves to act out often.)

Now, of course, in fiction, everything is predictable, in a sense. The hit can have just the effect the author wants.

I have a hard time going with the slaps as sexy thing. I have never been interested in the "I hate him so much I love him" relationships, or vice versa. Yelling and fighting is just not a prelude to great sex for me. Millions appear to love the idea, though. To go pop psychology on you, I think it has to do with issues of control. People who just go with the flow rarely have these sorts of relationships. But if you are someone who unconsciously demands that someone else love you / want you, then I can imagine fighting over it, trying to make it happen. When it does, it must be emotionally very hot to such people.

bettie said...

Great topic, and a tough one. People who love each other don't hurt each other--unless that's what they're into. Saying only that men shouldn't hit women is an unnecessary gender distinction, and is the justification I hear from friends in same-sex relationships as an excuse for domestic abuse ("We're both guys, it wasn't abuse, it was a fight." No. When one partner outweighs the other by 20 lbs of muscle and always wins, it's abuse.).

That said, my stories do tend to be violent, albeit in a paranormal/comicbook fashion. In the novella coming out in January, the heroine is an assassin who kills the hero on page 1. I think the level of violence works (for me, though probably not for everyone) because the H&H are two equal and opposite forces. Neither one can really get, or keep, the upper hand over the other.

In fiction, each person being able to hold their own is what, in my mind, makes violence a forgivable fight and not the unforgivable crime of bullying or abuse. Even the She slaps. He slaps. They kiss. scenario mentioned above is balanced and equal. She slaps. He slaps. They kiss. is sometimes hot; She slaps. He decks her. is always abuse.

And a fight is more forgivable when the physically smaller party starts it. Otherwise, even if there's superstrength or something going on, it still seems like the larger person bullying or abusing.

is it possible that the use of something like that--and we're talking one hit here, not a crazed beating--might be worth exploring, if only to demonstrate high emotional intensity
I have yet to read a Romance where the hero hitting the heroine is forgivable. Even when the hit is written as the result of a PTSD flashback or some other circumstance in which the hero is "not himself" I still think the heroine's dumb to stay with the guy.

Angie said...

I think it depends on the story, how it's set up and written. This is another situation where the writer could choose to make it incredibly abusive, or incredibly sexy, or anything in between.

I remember being all O_O in one of Jo Beverley's books (the Rogue book with Arden and Beth -- I'm too lazy to go pull it out and get the title) where they were having a fight and he hit her and it was all, Ack! He was shocked at himself and they almost broke up over it. Later when they ran into some of the other Rogues, all his buddies were glaring at him, like WTF did you do?! and it was clear that if Beth felt she needed protection from him, it was available, despite the fact that they were his oldest friends.

I think what made this work for me was that it was shown as being something unacceptable to both main characters and also within their social circle. And although Beth had a black eye for a while, I much preferred this scene to the spanking scene in North to Alaska (the one thing I loathe about an otherwise fun movie) where not only did both main characters seem to accept that it was cool for him to spank her and that she "deserved" it, but everyone in town thought so too and they all crowded around to watch and laugh.

That community approval and expression of enjoyment and even hilarity is what kills the scene for me. It would've still been sucky although not nearly so bad if he'd done it in private, with the spanking just between the two of them. And the community DISapproval is a large part of what makes Jo's scene work, despite the fact that it was arguably more violent and certainly did more actual damage to the woman involved.

I agree that if the woman (or whoever the smaller/weaker person is) hits first, all bets are off, at least up to a point. The she slaps him so he decks her thing is abusively excessive (although I could still see it being made to work in a story, with appropriate reactions and consequences) but slap-for-slap or even punch-for-punch wouldn't bother me nearly as much.


catie said...

A number of fans found the sex and violence of the Buffy/Spike dynamic ├╝ber-erotic. I honestly don't know, because I do believe the spectrum of human behavior is wide and deep. When it comes to consenting adults (the last two being the operative words), I truly believe people need to mind their own business. On the other hand, they're will always be individuals who manipulate and nitpick in order to achieve their own agenda--be it the person who abuses their mate, the politician who wishes to regulate every human action, the would be rapist who points to such fantasies as a means to justify their atrocities, or radical feminists who claim it is morally wrong for a woman to harbor such desires.

The fact is we're talking about such a gray area, it's just plain crazy trying to apply absolutes. No matter how you present your case in this matter, people are going to protest--loudly and with virulence. In such cases I say, do what you think is best and leave everyone else to fight it out amongst themsselves.

Anonymous said...

There are ways to be forceful in foreplay and sex without punching. There's pushing each other onto the bed, maybe even pinning the other person down or light slapping. To pull off a bit of violence the line, IMHO, is "One party shall not deal out more than the other can take". There's nothing wrong with the slap slap kiss. You would hear more complaints about a punch punch kiss.

The problem with people who like to actually be hurt as part of sex is that many people feel that the person must be sick to like that. (And I agree after a certain point. Anyone who equates mutilation or permanent damage is much like people who cut themselves "just to feel". It's a sign of a problem, and if you need to bleed to feel something during sex then you're doing it wrong...)

As for outside the bedroom, I have seen far too many women use the whole "Men should never hit women" against men. They step up and start violence because they know the man is not going to hit them back. That's not right. With anyone you should not start the violence unless you expect it to be returned to you. That said, if a woman slaps the man, or even punches him it DOES NOT give him the right to beat her into an ER. If she poses a genuine threat to his life (has a gun, or a knife, or other weapon, including is stronger than him due to paranormal powers) then he can neutralize the threat.

I saw it explained best on an episode of CSI. Blood marks proved that the woman hit the man three times in the head with a towel rod. She said he was trying to rape her. The ruling was that since the first blow knocked him out, and probably would have killed him if he hadn't gotten to an ER THAT blow was self defense. The other two happened while he was unconscious and there fore proved an attempt to murder. Male or female that's how I see the rules.

Bernita said...

"If she poses a genuine threat to his life (has a gun, or a knife, or other weapon, including is stronger than him due to paranormal powers) then he can neutralize the threat"
Or weighs 300 lbs to his 185?
Otherwise, it reinforces the idea that women are always lesser, weaker.
And what if she's hysterical?
I've seen a well-placed slap bring someone to their senses. Of course, the intent was strickly therapeutic and immediately recognized as such by the "victim."
If you posit a rough world where women are as dangerous as men (by our social terms) then why not?

Sam said...

I don't think there is a yes - no answer to this. In normal, every day activity, a man losing his temper and hitting a woman is horrid. In fiction, I cheered when Jamie beat Claire only because by then she'd gotten on my nerves so badly I wanted to hit her myself. I could never understand why Brianna never got the same treatment. Now there's a heroine in need of a good spanking.
In real life I don't think violence in the answer. Using brute force to get one's way is petty. Slapping a woman for hysteria is an interesting idea - but a cold shower works just as well (I cheered when that happened on 'Medium' - instead of a slap, her husband shoved her in the shower and turned it on.)
I think, in the real world, when men start hitting women it's unfortunately linked to abuse, and will deteriorate into abusive behavior.
In fiction, the heroine should immediately riposte with a kick to the groin followed by a clip behind the ear, rendering the hitting hero unconsious. Then she can tie him up and have a little fun when he comes around.

December/Stacia said...

Lol, Bernard. One of my favorite writers, Florence King, suggested guns as a solution to rape--every woman should be allowed to own and carry one, just by virtue of being a woman. (And if she is raped, she should be allowed to beat the rapist with weapons until her arm gets tired.) Very true. It's hard to reconcile a man who'll lose control like that with our definition of a man.

Yes, Paca, I know what a raging beat you are. You frighten me sometimes.
That's an interesting thought--if a relationship is about control, hitting may be the natural outcrop of that. Then again, using your superior physical strength in such a fashion is kind of cheating if that's the case. Hmmm.

Thanks Bettie! Glad you stopped by!
What an excellent point about domestic violence in gay relationships. I know very few gay men who haven't been in a relationship that turned violent at least once (I don't know a lot of gay men, just as a disclaimer, so I'm not implying the problem is widespread, just that it happened to the men I knew.)
I guess in a lot of ways it does boil down to physical strength, hers and his.
And yeah, it would be hard to accept her staying with him. I think it might actually be easier in movies, like with L.A. Confidential, as kis pointed out.
Can't wait to read that novella!

December/Stacia said...

And that's where it interests me, Angie, is the disapproval of the act and the emotional ramifications of both the hitting and the aftermath--how they both feel about it, and what caused it. I agree the disapproval is what makes it palatable. I'll have to read that book.

I should make clear I'm not planning to write a scene like this. Just that the subject came up elsewhere and it got me thinking. :-)

Heh, Catie, I was one of those fans--I thought Buffy/Spike was HOT and a much more interesting and passionate dynamic than Buffy/Angel.
True, it's something I think a good writer should be able to make work if they plan to use it--you'd have to really have strength in your conviction that this was the right thing to do, and be prepared for a lot of backlash.

Heh, Michele. Hubs and I watch Dexter and they were just discussing amputation fetishists in the latest episode (we're behind the States, of course.)
True, the line is drawn in what's acceptable to both. I guess for those who find violence sexy, it's a matter of purpose and strength.
And yes, he should find a way to neutralize the threat without requiring medical care.

Hmm, there's a thought, Bernita. In a world where people hit each other all the time, there's no taboos about it...

December/Stacia said...

Lol, Sam, I freaking HATE Brianna. She's the reason I stopped reading the books. Moron. Ugh!

Cold shower is a good idea. And yes, it certainly can be a slippery slope. Once that taboo is broken I can see it being forever weakened. And I personally don't believe in stuff like anger management classes, as a rule. It might be a Band-Aid, but I'm not sure how much whatever was beneath it would heal.

Kate Thornton said...

Stacia this is *such* a provocative topic!

I know from personal experience that violence begets violence and revenge - cold or not - never feels the way you thought it would.

But in fiction, I expect slightly larger-than-life emotional reactions and the latitude to experiment with actions you may never condone in real life. That said, I don't like men hitting women, even tough, sassy, or completely nasty and irritating women. I don't think I even like men hitting men, but if they have to hit someone, I guess other men will do.

Just don't ever have them hit animals - I gotta draw a line somewhere. Great topic.

Gabriele C. said...

In Roman law, the paterfamilias held the right over the life of his wife and children, and beatings ocuured under that law (though not very many actual executions). Since I write for our society, I make sure that the characters I want to come across as sympathic or at least tortured but redeemable won't beat a woman. But it does happen in my NiPs.

pacatrue said...

I just want to say that I was completely thrown off by the new avatar. I was wondering who this new person was reponding just like December would to each person who commented. Really had no clue it was you for about a minute.

Anonymous said...

One more word I want to add: Klingons

Camille Alexa said...

I think one of the main gender-political struggles of our generation centers on the desire for egalitarianism AND chivalry at the same time. These things do not have to be mutually exclusive, but they take some maneuvering, some jiggling if you will, to get them to fit together correctly.

Vicki said...

This one is a hard one for me. I really don't believe that a man should hit a woman. Yet, there are times when how can anyone say that a woman didn't ask for it or deserve it.

In a book where they both get off on that then I sure it's fine. Not so sure if I could read it and understand the reason anyone likes pain. But then it takes all kinds of likes and dislikes to make a great book.

I'm not saying I wouldn't buy the book and read it, but I'm more into reading the HEA stuff.

Camille Alexa said...

HEA and slapping have an established track record.

writtenwyrdd said...

that's a tough one. I don't have a glib or a well-reasoned answer for you, because like most everyone else I have absorbed so much PC-talk that it's difficult to separate that from what I really think or feel.

I do think that it really depends on how you treat the violence. YOu truly can get away with just about anything if you do it right.

Anonymous said...

My kneejerk reaction is no, never.

I think I'd really have issues with a hero who it a woman in anger or frustration. It just seems like such non-hero behavior. Even if he is dark and tortured and needs something to overcome; there are millions of other acts he can commit that require redemption.

That said, there's nothing wrong with a bit of spanking in the bedroom.

December/Stacia said...

Ah, we're always provocative here, Kate! Muahaha!
That's exactly what interests me about the question--the concept of larger-than-life emotions and actions. Interesting where the lines are drawn. :-)

True, Gabriele. Mark Henry commented on my livejournal that in historicals, the situation is very different and is viewed differently, especially the further back in history you go.

Um, Paca...that doesn't sound like a compliment. :-(

December/Stacia said...

Lol Michele, yes, Klingons are a perfect example of a world where violence is accepted, expected, and considered an integral part of sexual relationships.

You're so smart, Camille. So do you think perhaps a society that views violence against women as more acceptable could also be, in some ways, the more chivalrous one?

Oh, I'm into the HEA stuff to, Vicki! I guess the idea of there being such a taboo a couple couldn't get past it--or where the reader would stop wanting them to--interests me.

Again, one of my favorite books, a minor character remembers her marriage before her husband found religion. There was the occasional punch once in a while, but it was more than made up for by the fun they had the rest of the time and how well he treated her. But when the fun stopped... That isn't verbatim, but it's basically the idea. Which is partly what put all this in my head.

I sincerely hope I can get away with anything if I do it right, Written, and that I'm able to do ir right. How do you feel about ritualistic cannibalism? :-)

It does feel non-heroic, instinctively, doesn't it Seeley? Hmmm. Like I said, I have no plans to ever use it, but I do love little mind exercises like this.

writtenwyrdd said...

Ritualistic cannibalism has been around in human society for a loooong time, so I am sure there is a way to make it make sense. I doubt it would be highly palatable to readers, but you could, er, feed them the idea and make them eat it if you did your work properly.

Not sure why you'd want to, though!

I like the new picture, but I must say I never thought of you as blonde.

December/Stacia said...

Really, Written? Funny, as I am a natural blonde.

Why I'd want to make ritualistic cannibalism palatable?

Because I'm looking to write a cookbook with a difference?

Lol. Because...well, because that's what happened.

kirsten imma saell said...

Are we talking capture-some-hapless-explorer-and-boil-him-in-a-big-pot cannibalism?

Or is it more eat-the-ashes-of-your-dearly-departed cannibalism, like they used to practice in Borneo or wherever?

Or the Dahmerish I-just-wanted-to-feel-close-to-him-forever-so-I-kept-his-severed-fingers-in-my-freezer-for-snacks kind of thing?

Never mind, they all really squick me out. bleh


December/Stacia said...

It's the second one, basically, kis. It's a once-in-a-lifetime ritual, not, like, part of regular church services or anything.

Charles Gramlich said...

I'd say it would only be OK if the woman hit first and was big and strong enough to be a true threat to him, or if she were using a weapon and he felt in danger of his life. Playful spankings are another thing entirely.

December/Stacia said...

Yep, Charles, that was pretty much my feeling. It's funny how we can accept heroes who are assassins or who steal and kill for personal gain, but not ones who hits women. :-) I think it's a good thing, I just find it interesting.