Monday, September 24, 2007

The Unredeemable Sin?

When I did my post about heroes hitting women, Milady Insanity commented on livejournal that there is in fact a worse crime for a hero to commit than hitting a woman. Rape. Rape is the unredeemable sin.

Or not.

Because as we all know, men have been redeemed from it countless times. The most famous case is of course Luke and Laura from General Hospital back in 1981. I've spent some time hunting but can't find any other examples online, although I know there are, because I remember reading an article about it a few years back that cited more recent cases.

So why is that? Is it because we can believe a man might only rape a woman once, but once he starts hitting, he'll never stop? If the hero hit the heroine because he loved her so much he couldn't help himself, would that be any different?

"Forced seduction" is fairly popular still, as far as I know. Yes, the difference there is that the heroine always consents, even if it's at the last second. And I'll be honest. I don't see anything wrong with it. As I said before, and will keep saying, we sometimes enjoy things in books that would horrify us in real life, because books are safe. We can experience our less savory fantasies vicariously, and I think that's a good thing.

But I also wonder if I personally would be able to get past an actual rape in a book--not a forced seduction, but an out-and-out rape. I don't think so. I just don't think it's a storyline that would work for me. Not having rape in the storyline--again, yet another reason Demon's Triad will likely garner an X rating. The rape in that book is of a man, not of a woman, but it's rape just the same, and there's a particularly twisted reasoning behind it. Boy did we have to be careful writing and editing that scene, especially because of the identity of the rapist (you'll have to read it to find out.) It's a very, very dark book.

But I'll be honest. The scene worked. And we actually discussed writing a sequel where the rapist is redeemed but neither of us really had much of a taste for it. Redeeming the rapist not only from rape but from various other crimes simply didn't hold much appeal. Neither of us thought it was possible to do in one book.

What do you think? Is there any way you'd read a book--a romance, I should specify--in which the hero was a rapist? In which the hero raped the heroine? Or would you throw it across the room? Do you think such a book could even be published today?

And in other news, I had a great time on Saturday with Miss Caitlin Kittredge, who was gracous enough to listen to me drone on while I had her trapped in my car for hours. We drove to Cornwall (STUNNING) and went to the Museum of Witchcraft, which was fascinating and gave me a whole bunch of cool ideas. And now I feel all fired up and excited again, which is great because my enthusiasm has been flagging of late, what with the aborted Caveman attempt and all sorts of little projects on my mind. I'm refreshed again...even if I am having trouble again with my new Caveman tale, which I fear may not have the right voice for EC.

Anyway. That's basically it for the moment. I have some fun stuff for Wednesday. I think it's time we start having fun here again.

And I'll be blogging at the League tomorrow about when things go wrong...


BernardL said...

As a reader, I need to identify with the hero in a novel, or movie for that matter. I'm not Dudley Doright, but I don't ID with rapists or abusers, so I would probably neither read nor write about such a 'hero'.

Robyn said...

Forced seduction, or rape? It's a hard case to make. As for redeeming rapists, I think the only way I could buy it is for him to be violated (not necessarily sexually) himself so he could identify.

That said, I loved some of those old 80's bodice rippers, and always wondered why. I was molested by a team (a teacher and a janitor) when I was young, and someone suggested that reading about forced seductions helped because as a reader, I had the ultimate power. I could put the book down and walk away.

Angie said...

I started reading historical romances when I was twelve, which was in 1975. Back then, it was quite common for the hero to be a rapist. A lot of the acts were forced seductions but a lot of them were just plain rapes too, and it was just one of those things that was trendy, like huge, epic books which swept the heroine across three continents or whatever. It was just how things were done. The hero was always redeemed, the writer always gave me some reason to buy it, and usually I did.

Ironically enough, the one time I remember ending up not liking the hero, it had nothing to do with his being a rapist.

The heroine had been kidnapped by the villain, blah blah, also very common, and when she found her way home again at the end of the story, her beloved asked her if she'd been raped. Somehow she just "knew" to say no, which was a lie, but he was greatly relieved. Because, he said, he loved her too much to have been able to take her back once another man had had her, so he was very relieved that this hadn't happened, so they could live together happily ever after, the end.

My teenaged self, who had no problem forgiving guys for rape, was absolutely outraged by this attitude. The very idea that he could Love Her So Much that he'd refuse to take her back after she'd been raped?! Serious WTFage. And the fact that the heroine accepted this, and that the writer seemed to think that I would accept this?! [snarl]

I can accept a guy who's raped a woman and then is shown in some reasonably convincing way to have repented because if the writer presents it properly, then it's believable. If everything in the book indicates that he really does repent and will really never do it again, then it's true because the writer is god and there you go. I'm probably a product of my times but even now I could write a book where a guy was a rapist and was redeemed (and would be pretty damned sorry and would go through some serious hell on the way to redemption, but even so) and it would work for me and hopefully for at least a few people who read it.

I can't buy the other, though. The "I love her too much to take her back after she's been raped." Because that's not a matter of just trusting the writer with a promise made about the future. This is a statement about now and it's full of so much shit it's doubling the world's mushroom crop all by itself. I can believe that some guy realized he made a huge mistake and was horrified at himself and will never ever do it again, but I can't wrap my mind around a statement which is founded upon a world view which I find despicable.

Even at fourteen or however old I was, I wanted to work this jerk over with a baseball bat. She was raped you asshole! A guy who's bigger and stronger held her down and smacked her around and raped her! It was in no way her fault! But you can stand there and say to her face you LOVE HER TOO MUCH to take her back?!?!

A good enough writer can redeem just about any crime, if they work hard enough at it and put the erring character through enough hell to pay for it. But I can't forgive a crime committed by the writer and that's how I see that dumbass statement by that one hero -- as a crime commited by his writer. It's not a matter of forgiving him; it's a matter of forgiving her, as someone who let my innocent teenage self know that there really are still people in this world who can hold thoughts like that in their heads and smile while they do it, and think that they're all romantic. Spreading that kind of poisonous idea is a real crime -- next to that, rape is a mere misdemeanor.


Demon Hunter said...

I cannot identify with a rapist of any kind. Forced seduction, to me, is a nice way of saying rapist. I remember being traumatized when I was 12 and read Wicked Loving Lies in which the heroine was raped by the "hero" she later fell in love with. I was disgusted and haven't read mainstream romance since. Our society thinks that it's okay for women to be treated as objects, in books, and real life. I don't want to contribute to that...JMHO...

Charles Gramlich said...

I can see a rapist appearing in a book but I can't really see an easy way to redeem the rapist. To do so would require so much effort that for me, as a reader, I would have already lost interest and moved on.

December/Stacia said...

True, Bernard, it's hard to identify with such a character, isn't it, and that does ruin a lot of the pleasure of reading to start with.

I'm so sorry to hear that, Robyn. And yes, I can see the point about you having the power.
I once worked with a guy--a very nice guy, a Mexican immigrant who worked with me--who never drank. He told my boyfriend-at-the-time why, one night. Apparently a dozen years or so before he'd gotten very drunk and raped a woman. When he sobered up he was horrified at what he'd done and swore he would never drink again. (There was no way to find the woman, and trying to go to the police would have been pointless.)

OMG, Angie, what a dickhead! He loved her so much he would blame her for being abused? Way to spread that "It's the woman's fault" word far and wide. I would have thrown that book across the room too, and written a very angry letter to everyone I could get and address for.

December/Stacia said...

True, Demon Hunter. While I think there are times when the forced seduction can work, it still has to be a seduction, first and foremost. And it makes me sad to think how the idea of rape as a crime of desire is perpetrated in so many of these instances.

Very true, Charles. If you're not on the character's side because of what he did, why would you care enough to follow his "redemption"--and even after seeing it, would you really be able to believe it?

kirsten imma saell said...

I think rape in romance is largely a function of the times. In her follow-up to My Secret Garden--a book called Women on Top which got pulled from shelves in Canada, grr--Nancy Friday theorizes that for some women, rape is a "safe" fantasy because of the lack of consent. It's okay that it happened (we're talking fantasy, mind you), and okay that she enjoyed it, because as long as she didn't consent, she didn't have to think of herself as a slut.

I completely agree with Angie--that hero's attitude would make me want to rip his face off and feed it to him. Much easier to forgive a one-time loss of control on the hero's part than such a condescending, backward, fuckwaddy attitude.

In my WIP, I'm dealing with emotional recovery from a rape that occured in a previous book, and I'll tell you, it's hard. Dealing with issues of desire at the same time you're trying to be sensitive and nurturing and not further traumatize a character--I've been working on this scene for about a week, and it keeps making me cry.

sigh. And I can't even drown my sorrows in caesars, cause I just discovered clamato juice is a trigger for my migraines--yesterday was a total write-off.


pacatrue said...

I have to jump on the bandwagon of saying that, while I can imagine it is theoretically possible to redeem a rapist, as soon as the supposed hero committed such an act, I'd stop reading the book. Either the writer or a character would have to have built up tremendous trust me points to get me to keep going.

On the other hand, related to my recent revelations concerning alpha heroes, I will allow someone I am attracted to, namely a woman, get away with far more character flaws than a man, so maybe I'd be more open to a story of a redeemable heroine. Of course, only like 2% of rapists are women.

Anna J. Evans said...

Hey Dee,

I hear you on this, though honestly I would find it harder to redeem that particular woman because of her other crimes, not necessarily the rape. The rape was heinous and horrible, but at the same time, when the other character showed her mercy, you could see a change in her emotional make-up almost immediately. Which made it clear, to me, that she'd never been shown mercy before, by anyone, which probably contribued to what a waste of human flesh she became.

Not that tortured pasts give the character (or real life person) carte blanche to torture others--I'm certainly glad my own mother didn't pass on the legacy of abuse that her mom bestowed on her--it does offer a reason why the person became so screwy.

If she realized the depth of her wickedness and really tried to change, I might be able to forgive her for the rape, but the other stuff....hmm...that kind of makes me think she'd beyond hope of salvation.

It really is a dark book isn't it? And we two so sunny and sweet. Where did it come from? Lol.

Anna J. Evans

Rebecca said...

hmm - Demon's Triad sounds interesting... and I don't know if I would accept a redeemed rapist hero in a book ....although if the writer were clever enough....very hard to pull off though!

And on a completely unrelated note - Didn't I see 'The Secret History' in your library yesterday? Have you finished it? Did you enjoy? It was one of my favourite reads this year!

Scary Monster said...

Redeemable rape in literature has been around fer a long time.

The Bible still sells pretty well and there be all kinds of sanctiond pillaging and rape in there.


Anonymous said...

Rape only works when it's false claims there of, an jealous ex that made the claims out of anger or if it's a matter of being around a certain age and it's made clear that the couple are in love and consensual, even if one is still slightly a minor. Yes, note the slightly. We're talking the minor must be above the age of consent and it's also best if the major is no later than 25.

Of course these are the cases I don't feel are truly rape, but abuses of the system. It might make and interesting story of a hero who has been falsely accused and part of the plot is him trying to redeemed himself.

But no, I cannot tolerate a romance with a rapist. I read a certain book by a certain Undead type author about a werewolf who was kidnapped, held hostage and raped repeatedly by a vampire. when the moon rose and she could finally shift she broke free, and came back the next morning professing her love for him, and claiming he was the only one who ever understood her blah blah blah I was disgusted. Absolutely furious and I felt dirty (and not in a good way, like when I was sneaking reading bits of Blood Will Tell while the kids were out of the room ;) The poor hubby had to hear a long rant on how I thought it was horrid of a female to write a story like that and give men "proof" for their "Oh they'll say yes after we start because they'll like it" or "No is just them being coy. All women want it." I grew up with a father that thought that and it disgusts me that that kind of thing gets published. And consider myself and edgy person!

I haven't picked up another book by the same person and refuse to buy anything with her name on it. Other things have added to that decision in my mind, but that set me off.

Camille Alexa said...

Scary's comment was my favourite.

That whole "inspirational" (though toned down and cutesified) Bible-rape scenario was the premise for one of my favourite childhood movies: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. The men even go off to abduct a wagonful of women from town, singing their song about the Rape of the Sabine Women (justifying that if it's in the Bible, it's got to be all right). I think the song went something like, "Those women were Sabine, sobbin', sobbin' fit to be tied..."

December/Stacia said...

I've heard that theory before, Kis--about rape being "safe"--and I agree with it. When you don't make an active choice to do something you think is wrong, you're free to enjoy it consequence-free, and if you were forced into it you don't even have to feel bad about it later.

Wow. I so admire writers who can tackle stuff like that.

You know, Paca, this is a bit OT but I think it makes the point, in a dumb way. When I saw What Lies beneath--you know, the Harrison Ford/Michelle Pfieffer movie?--I could not believe Harrison Ford was the bad guy. Even when the evidence was irrefutable, I couldn't believe it wasn't all part of a plot to save Michelle's life or something. It wasn't until he confessed that I finally believed it. I guess it would have to be the same for a hero. You'd have to like and trust him enough to try and see his motivations or how he would get through it.

Oh, I agree, Anna. The other crimes were what really gave me pause when it came to redeeming her, because those were so awful. But the rape was pretty bad too, and...icky. :-)
No, tortured pasts can explain a lot of things, but not quite that!

December/Stacia said...

Yes, Rebecca, Demon's Triad is an interesting book, all right!
And yes, I have The Secret History, and I loved it! I wasn't crazy about the ending, but I did really like the book. Still don't have The Little friend though. I keep meaning to get it but I'm so behind in my reading.

Ah, SM, excellent point! Are the rapists in the Bible given literal redemptions? (I've never read the whole thing.)

Ooh, yes, the false rape accusations, Michele! I know them well. (I mean, not from experience, know.)

You know, that story sounds so familiar. I haven't read it but I know I've heard outrage about it elsewhere. Can't recall the book or author though. Is Undead a clue?

I have to admit, it sounds a little hot...if handled right. Obviously this wasn't, lol.

I've never seen SBFSB, Camille! I had no idea it was based on something so lurid. Amazing what they can get away with if there's a little song-and-dance mixed in, eh?

Bernita said...

Probably the only way it might work would be to have the female tease him past endurance and then change her mind at the last minute?

kirsten imma saell said...

Yanno, Bernita, I think you have something there. I think it's simplistic to assume that men all rape for the same reasons. There's a huge difference between the date-rape scenario, and the man who attacks a stranger in an alley. The first mainly stems from selfishness and a sense of entitlement--I bought dinner, babe, now you do your part--and the second is less about sex and more about hostility.

That's why marital rape in historicals comes across as more "acceptable". Because it doesn't even really reflect on a man's poor adjustment. He's only behaving in accordance with societal norms, and if he has a sense of entitlement that lets him justify what he's doing, well, he's a man in the 1600s, for godsake! Of course he has a sense of entitlement where his wife is concerned! And maybe the housemaids, too.

Man it would suck to be a woman back then.


Gabriele C. said...

I've come across some of those rape romances when they were popular, and strange enough, I could get past the man committing rape, but never past the woman falling in love with him later - all the books landed against the wall at that point, and after the third or so I didn't read past the rape because I knew the silly girl would forgive him, instead of hunting him down and cut something off.

I've read a few historical ones where the rape worked because of the context, though, and since it weren't romances, the woman usually didn't really forgive him, but might decide to stick with the marriage, or in one case became a whore for half of the book until she found happiness with another man (I didn't really like the heroine, though, because I kept to have telling myself that suicide was a capital sin in her time; for me, it would have been a more honorable solution, but I think Roman, not Mediaeval).

Myself, I've a m/m rape scene in one book, and I think it works. I don't know if I'll ever write a woman being raped, but if so, it won't have a romance ending. :)

Erica Ridley said...

Forced seduction is one thing, but I'm not a fan of the h/h rape scene, either. Irrevocably ruins the hero for me.

Angie said...

Stacia -- yes, SBFSB is just that icky. :/ It's pretty surreal, watching this bright and happy song-and-dance musical about seven nice young men who kidnap seven young women and then go singing and dancing along about how the women will be crying when they're raped, but how it'll be good in the end when they're married. It's grotesque, seriously.


kirsten imma saell said...

Bleh. Hear, hear, Angie.


December/Stacia said...

Hmm. There's a thought, Bernita. That could have some interesting repercussions later...

True, kis, there is a difference. I wonder if one is more acceptable than the other? I don't think so, really, but it's something to think about.
And yes, it is different in historicals. Especially considering how important consummation was to the legality of a marriage, and how vitally important the getting of heirs was.

Lol on the suicide Gabriele; might be interesting to see what effect that might have on the hero when he next marries, and if it might change his behavior?

Exactly, Erica. Seduction is key. As long as she consents before the actual act takes place, I can deal with it.

That does sound creepy, Angie! Yech! Although I've been informed by someone whose knowledge I trust that the rape of Sabine was done by the Romans, not the Israelites, and was in Plutarch, not the Bible. Apparently rape in the Old Testament was still a serious crime, which, when you consider some of the sexual laws of Orthodox Judaism, makes sense.

But the whole thing is very squick-worthy.

Anonymous said...

Rape is an infliction of pain and humiliation on another human being. It is similar to, but much worse than a beating. I can't imagine identifying with a character who could enjoy inflicting that kind of suffering on another person, especially when the victim's tears and screams make it very clear that suffering is occuring. I am a man, and I would have much difficulty accepting such a character as a hero in a fictional work. Perhaps, as suggested above by Pacatrue, I might be able to handle it if the character were to experience his own humiliation at the same level as that caused by the rape and thereby came to feel intense remorse. I'm not sure how appropriate that whole plot line would be for romantic fiction. Plus, it would take some skillful writing to generate enough sympathy for the character prior to the rape scene to keep me reading past the rape scene.

December/Stacia said...

Thanks Anonymous! Very true. I don't know that it would be appropriate, and I don't think I'd be able to get past it either.