Thursday, June 23, 2016

EDITORIAL: Rape in Romance

Fuck, fuck, fuck. No, that’s not the disgusting 4 letter word here. Fucking is beautiful when it’s between two people who want to be together. It’s revolting when it’s against either of the participant's will, forced on the victim by a person they have no desire to engage in any kind of sexual relations with.  

Warning: I’m going to veer away from the typical book reviews, cover reveals, and release blitz posts for a moment and make an editorial type of post. Or maybe I should call this a PSA because if you think about it, the romance reading and writing world needs a wake-up call on this subject.
So I’m stepping up on my soap box about a reading trope, often a plot twist, that has no place in the romance world. And I’m urging readers and writers alike to step back and think about why something so violating, so violent, and so demeaning is being used in a reading market which by definition is about love.

There’s nothing loving about rape so why do we see this theme crop up in contemporary romance novels?   

In just recent real world news a Stanford male (I refuse to call this person a man) was given nothing more than a slap on the wrist, a mere six months incarceration, for raping a woman. "You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice…” the victim reminded the world with her powerful statement. And the public was outraged at such a miscarriage of justice.

So I return to the question again, why does the romance reading community simply turn the page on scenes similar to what this woman endured and award glowing reviews to novels that depict such a tragedy for nothing other than shock value?  Or worse yet, so the author can make money off a story that creates a lot of buzz because of the content.

Now I’m not talking about novels where there’s some dubious consent between the hero and the heroine, dark romances where the two already feel a strong connection and lust for each other but the circumstances of their intimacy is shady or with nefarious motives.  I’m talking about novels labeled and marketed as “romance” books rather than “drama” or simply “fiction” where the heroine or the hero is forced to engage in sexual relations with another male or female against their will, and worse yet, the scene is graphically depicted for the reader. Because let’s be clear, that type of scene is not romantic in any way, shape, or form and should not be tolerated in the romance market even as a dark romance. The word romance should not be used to describe it.

When we as a society or collective group of readers accept rape as part of the romance genre we are contributing to a rape culture. And most romance readers have read it somewhere along the line, whether willingly or because we were duped by the marketing into thinking it might be a safe romance, no trigger warnings issued.  I'm not singling out any specific title. Sadly there are far too many where the rape card is played and not for any kind of awareness purposes. And thus the plot often pans out the same. For example, something like this…

Exposition: Heroine meets hero.

Rising Action: Heroine and hero fall in love.

Climax: Heroine and hero are ripped apart or separated, and heroine is taken or secluded somewhere where she is raped or attempted to be raped by some sicko (perhaps an ex or “the bad guys”) for no purpose other than to instill drama into the story as if the author is checking off “climax” on the plot organizer.

Falling Action: Hero arrives, often too late, to “save the day.” Hero and heroine are reunited.

Resolution: Heroine and hero live happily ever after with minimal mention of what the heroine has endured, all trauma seemingly washed away because when a rape is introduced at the climax of the story there is rarely sufficient time or development left to do it justice.

Show of hands—how many readers have encountered this plot? 

If the book was labeled as a romance and you’ve raised your hand, you’re one person too many. Sure it’s a fiction world but does that absolve it from social consciousness? And if you weren’t appalled or disgusted then you’ve already let a rape culture influence your way of thinking because it means that that type of abuse and violation has been normalized, trivialized, integrated into a genre designed for depictions of love.

Change can only happen when it's tackled by both fronts–the readers and the writers. While readers are free to read what they choose and writers are free to write what they choose, it begs reminding that what we read and what we write has larger implications than what we may realize, and literature not only reflects the values and norms of the society it represents, it also influences them. And isn’t there better representations of love and sexuality to depict in a novel rather than pollute a genre, established on positive depictions of relationships, with images of sexual violence?

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