The Rape of James Bond

On Sexual Assault, and “Realism” in Popular Culture..


This essay discusses rape of both women and men throughout. No specific real-world cases are mentioned nor are any scenes described graphically, however as it’s about realism, it does necessarily shuttle rapidly between incidents in fairly silly texts and grim facts about the real world.

Spoilers for Skyfall, The Dark Knight Rises, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and minor spoilers for various older texts.


Last year, halfway through the second book of the series, I gave up reading A Song of Ice and Fire. I had enjoyed the first novel very much – I liked the sense that the fantastic elements were providing a different lens on the Middle Ages, removing the sense that there was something default or inevitable about mediaeval European culture, and re-revealing the fundamental strangeness of a world of knights and kings. I enjoyed the resonances with specific episodes in real history – the War of the Roses, the Jacobite rebellions. It reminded me of the songs by the Corries that I, a fake Scot, grew up on. I even enjoyed all the freaking heraldry and food.

That sense of history seemed to be dwindling away a bit in the second book, but in the end, that wasn’t what drove me away.


Instead, it was all the rape.


This surprised me. After all, I’d known going in that there was quite a lot of it, and though I was prepared to find its treatment at least somewhat problematic, I’d  also expected to be able to handle it.  I’m usually able to read fairly graphic scenes without getting more distressed than the story called for, and friends of mine who I thought were more readily upset by that sort of thing had read the books just fine. And, as it turns out,  a lot of the rapes in A Song of Ice and Fire aren’t graphic at all.









And occasionally they are really graphic. But that they’re mostly not almost made it worse for me. That made it possible for the narrative to load that many more of them by the casual handful into chapter after chapter. Rape as backstory, as plot point, as motivation – however badly handled, I can usually cope with it.

I found I couldn’t cope with rape as wallpaper.

When there had been two rapes of children (one of whom was also murdered) within about twenty pages of each other, when I realised I was physically tensing up every time a male and female character were in the same scene as each other, because something always happened, even if it was “just” sexualised verbal abuse, it occurred to me I was no longer having any fun with this book.


This is where the fans, whether of G.R.R.M or Rapey Pop Culture in General  say,  “But! That’s the point! That horrible sense that sexual violence permeates everything — that’s realistic.

Because it’s not only George R. R. Martin, of course. It’s comics and film and video games and TV. Buffy couldn’t get through her entire series without one drawn-out attempted rape scene and the eventual revelation that sexual violation was the ultimate source of all the Slayer’s powers. In this  the series fell into line with a longstanding trend. When rape in fiction isn’t stage-dressing, as it is in so much of A Song of Ice and Fire, it’s frequently a Campbellian Call to Adventure. Your girlfriend was raped, (and probably murdered)? You were raped yourself, but at least you’re alive and the protagonist? Go forth and kick some ass! Recently it was decided that Lara Croft couldn’t get by any longer without some rape in her origin story, because her new incarnation was going to be all rough and dark and gritty.

And “realistic.”

Some feminists counter the “realism” defence with the argument that if your world is full of dragons and magic then it’s nonsense to complain about anything being unrealistic.

I see the point of this argument – it’s certainly true that a lot of readers, male and female, use even would-be “gritty” works for escapism and it’s fair to argue that female readers should get more chances to enjoy that without constantly being reminded of the miserable realities of the real world and, in many cases, their own lives.

But I’m not completely on board. Firstly, I don’t accept the implication that it’s silly to use the word “realism” in relation to SFF and other forms of genre fiction. That a text departs from reality in some way – by introducing magic, or impossible technology, or even just a very improbable premise – doesn’t mean the human characters should stop acting like humans. If it did, Fantasy would be only about escapism, ever, and could never have anything meaningful to say about, well, anything.

Secondly, to  make the argument that fantasy is unrealistic anyway so why not extend that unrealism to the depiction of rape,  is to accept that what we currently have is realistic, and that it cannot be changed without sacrificing that realism.

So first it should be said that it’s not a given that the Middle Ages were actually a wall-to-wall rape-fest. And while rape is appallingly prevalent in our modern world, it’s still something like a 25% chance a woman will be raped over the course of her life, not a 25% chance that she’ll be raped today. That’s still a majority of women not being raped, though nowhere near as overwhelming a majority as it damn well ought to be.

I think it is true that, sometimes, failing to acknowledge the risk of rape in circumstances where it would be particularly likely to be present can diminish the authenticity of a text. I remember a friend of mine coming home from a modern dance piece about the torture of political prisoners (yes, we were the sort of people who would go to see modern dance piece about political prisoners). The prisoner, in this case, was female;  her captors were male. Even in a dance piece, from which “realism” might seem to be even more distant than from a fantasy novel, my friend found it jarringly unrealistic that there was no hint of a threat of sexual violence in the depicted torture, to the extent that it left the whole piece feeling superficial and slight to her, too afraid of its own subject matter to engage with it honestly. “Come on,” my friend said. “Really?”

I’ve been in the position of plotting out a novel, and suddenly realising I had placed not one but two female characters in circumstances that sexual violence seemed almost overwhelmingly likely. (One of them was, indeed, a political prisoner).  Every time I thought hey it was my book and I could just wave my hands and declare that  bad stuff would happen, but not that kind of bad stuff, I got an uneasy feeling I wasn’t being honest. It wasn’t true to either the characters or the power-structures I’d depicted. When I thought about having the rape actually happen, I got uneasy in another way again. So what the hell was I to do?

More of that later.

For now, though, let’s just agree that in so called Genre fiction, we love to strip away protection from our characters to give them an interesting job of coping on their own; parents are dead or absent or  abusive, homesteads are burned down, authority figures are blinkered or oppressive; you can trust no one, for  no one can hear you scream… And all these things will, in the real world, heighten a person’s vulnerability to all forms of violence, including sexual violence. So yes, realism does sometimes mean dealing with that vulnerability somehow or other.

But that heightened vulnerability to sexual violence applies to men too. So where are they, all the raped male characters?    People say, it would be unrealistic if she wasn’t raped, but take it for granted that of course he wasn’t.

Why is that?

About one in every 33 men is raped. That’s much lower than the one in four chance that an American woman (sadly I only have US statistics for the most part) faces over the course of her life, but it’s still a significant number.

And that’s your statistically average, real life man. Despite all the privileges and protections of being male, he still faces a non-zero risk of rape.

He also doesn’t have a horde of enemies explicitly dedicated to destroying him. He  doesn’t routinely get abducted, and tied up. Facing a megalomaniac psychopath gloating over causing him pain before taking over the world is not the average man’s average day at the office.

All of those things would surely raise one’s risk of being raped. And all of those things happen to fictional male heroes all the time. Not just once per character, but repeatedly.

My go-to example for this used to be James Bond. “Is it realistic that James Bond has never been raped?” I would say. How many times has he found himself utterly at the mercy of men who want to hurt, degrade and humiliate him before killing him? I will accept, on any one such occasion,  the odds might be in his favour. I suppose it is plausible for many of his enemies – even most of them – not to think of raping him or having him raped by others, despite having captured him, tied him up and possibly removed some of his clothes. But all of them? Here we have scores of horrible, destructive, evil people, and not a single one of them is evil in that way? Now, all right –it might be unlikely we would actually see a completed rape on screen even if Bond were a woman, the rating system sees to that. But rape is suggested in PG or 12 rated movies all the time, which in practical terms means female characters get threatened with it a lot.  Off the top of my head, there’s Marion in Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, there’s Elizabeth in at least two of the Pirates of the Caribbean films,  Kristen Stewart’s Snow White, and even Jasmine in Aladdin (or shall we forget what forced marriage/ “enchant her to fall in love with me” means? )!  So wouldn’t we expect a female James Bond to be, at least, tied to a chair at gunpoint while the villain unbuttoned her top and suggestively touched her thigh?

Then Skyfall came out. And the villain has Bond tied to a chair at gunpoint, while he unbuttons his top and suggestively touches his thigh.

I found reactions to that scene fascinating.  I got the sense a lot of male viewers found it particularly unsettling. Some  (and not only men) felt it was homophobic – suggesting the villain was that much more evil because he was “gay.” The fact that entering “Bond Silva” into Google prompts it instantly to offer “Bond Silva Gay” is a genuine concern, though for what it’s worth, the narrative does make clear the character has sex with women.  Personally I didn’t think you could tell anything about Javier Bardem’s character’s orientation from the scene  – that he got a sexual thrill from a dominating a helpless opponent, yes. But that he’d get the hots for a consenting Bond he met via a dating site for fucked up spies or that he wouldn’t have got that same thrill from dominating an unwilling female opponent… well, at least, I don’t see the film provides any evidence for it.  Yet I did see a lot of men reading it as Silva “trying to turn Bond gay” or “seduce” him.

Erm. When you’re tied to a chair and there’s a gun at your head, unless you have very specific tastes and agreed to all this beforehand, that is not a seduction! It is something else, something quite specific. That scene is, to coin a phrase, not about sex, it’s about power.  And it is the most literal way I have ever seen a male hero (and the ultra-masculine Bond at that) treated like a female character.

And it only took fifty years.

I was gobsmacked, and I wasn’t the only one. Because it was a man, this has been a Big Thing, even though what happens to Bond in that scene never goes past a few buttons undone and an unwelcomed caress of his thigh. In Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, Marion is subjected to a protracted assault with clothes-tearing and thrusting and gasping – you know, for kids! But that was just normal.

But  Bond is far from the only male character who, going by the particularly brutal definition of “realism” we’re using for this post, realistically ought to have been raped by now. In the real world, your risk of becoming a male victim of rape rises dramatically if you go to prison. Again, I only have US figures, and I’d like to hope that here in the UK and elsewhere, the picture may not be quite so bleak, though I fear I may be too optimistic. In any case, in the US, the figure  is thought to be somewhere around one in six. That’s much closer to the risk a woman runs over the course of her life. Can life as a superhero really be less dangerous than prison? Wow, imagine if you were a superhero and in prison! And if it was a really lawless, awful, violent prison… oh.


Here we have Batman, in a physical state that left him spectacularly unable to defend himself, at a phase in the story which was supposed to represent the lowest low from which he’d have to fight his way back… and no one, in what was supposed to be the most godforsaken horrific hellhole on the face of the world,  thought to take advantage of the vulnerable newcomer? Are we supposed to believe all these men, who sometimes tear people’s faces off for fun, who never ever get out of the prison, are entirely chaste? Or is it that all the sex they are likely to be having with each other is completely consensual? I’m sorry, we were talking about realistic?

Everyone was quite nice to Batman, really.


To briefly return to A Song of Ice and Fire: The Black Watch, an all-male organisation that’s a bit like the Catholic church and a bit like the military, has a bit of a bullying problem. Some of the recruits are explicitly “rapers.” But none of the bullying turns sexual, not even from characters who  have form as perpetrators of sexual violence. None of the boys suffers rape. Neither do any  of the male peasants who are taken prisoner at various points by various factions. Despite being smaller and weaker than most of his male peers, Tyrion does not get raped, nor is he made to fear rape, either when captured by enemy noblemen or surrounded by hundreds of violent, volatile outlaws. They threaten to kill him, even to mutilate him, but not to rape him. Why not? Isn’t this supposed to be a grim, ruthless, realistic world?

Men, if you’re feeling a bit queasy at the idea of so many beloved characters suffering rape –  if you’re feeling creeped out by someone enthusiastically arguing in favour of them being raped because it’s too bad if it upsets you, it’s realistic… Well, hi. Welcome to the world of women.

This is not, I promise, the opening of a ghoulish campaign to see more male characters get raped.  Not exactly. Though I will confess that I appreciated that in the novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, when the male hero  wanders like a little lamb in to the lair of a serial killer/serial rapist, and once he has been, to the surprise of no one but himself,  overpowered and tied up, the villain immediately shares his plans to rape him before murdering him. Why? Because this man has a bloody dungeon for raping and killing people, and the hero is in it, why would anything else happen?  Of course it actually doesn’t. Completed rape remains reserved for the female characters – but I liked that at least threatened rape wasn’t: that Blomqvist was almost raped, diminished a sense that being raped was part of what Lisbeth Salander was for. And I liked that a woman got to do the burst-in-and-save-the-love-interest routine, like Kevin Costner’s Robin did for Marion. I’d been waiting since the age of 12 to see it.

Noticeably, the Swedish film (I haven’t seen the English language one) omits this specific threat against Blomqvist. I’ve always wondered why that was – if it was just about pacing or length, or whether someone felt Blomqvist would be emasculated as a hero, if he were even threatened with what Lisbeth Salander actually undergoes.

But my point. I do have one – in fact, several. My first point is not that I am arguing for all this rape; it’s that if you are going to argue in favour of the  current level of fictional rape of women and girls, you should be. You, if you care so much about realism, must demand the rape of Batman and James Bond. In fact, given not only that so many male fictional characters find themselves in such high-risk environments but that male fictional characters outnumber female ones about 2 to 1,   we should be seeing nearly as many raped men in fiction as raped women.

But my other point is that there is another way. Even if “realism” does demand that your setting include a lot of rape, there is more than one way you can communicate that to the reader. I want to come back to the anecdote I started with – my friend, who found the dance piece inauthentic because it didn’t address the risk of rape. Two things about that.

1) The fact that I can tell that anecdote says that my friend lives, and I live, in a world where rape is fairly common, no? Look, worldbuilding, no hands.  And no rape scene at all.

2)  It doesn’t mean my friend wanted to see an explicit rape scene. She wanted to see the threat somehow addressed.

So how can that work?

You can have the victims and potential victims refer to it. Not necessarily at great length or in much detail – if it’s such a huge presence in their lives, a daily risk, they won’t need to. They’ll know what goes on. You can have characters who are less likely to be raped worry about the ones who are more vulnerable. We do not need to watch every rape that happens or can be assumed to have happened in the course of the story.  And though from time to time, it may be interesting and revealing to show us how the rapists think about it, if you depict rape mainly from the view of the male perpetrator, the vengeful male lover of the victim, the male  witness—and rarely or never from the perspective of the victim –   there’s a strong risk you’re reinforcing a social narrative in which rape is fundamentally a power exchange between men (rapist and husband… male author and male reader).

Or, if you’re writing another kind of text, and you use rape as your motivating crisis for a female hero  again… well, it can be done brilliantly, inspiringly — but as it has been done so often, you risk adding to a cumulative implication that women’s lives revolve in smaller, more sexualised orbits than men’s, that there’s only one kind of bad experience they can have, the whole rest of the world of potential risk and response is closed off to them. You risk implying that female lives are defined by the presence of rape; almost that an un-raped/unthreatened woman is a boring woman.

These things aren’t harmless.

In the course of writing this post it struck me that unlike Westeros, Romanitas-world has  a whole class of people who can be raped with near  impunity. “Realistically”, there must be at least an equivalent amount of rape going on, if not more. And yet it never occurred to me that unless I had a rape scene every ten pages or so, my portrayal of that world would be unrealistic.

So I decided I’d count the number of rape scenes that I’d put in my own trilogy and think about the way I treated rape in general. I’ve written up my findings in some detail but this post is already really long and I can summarise pretty easily:

Number of times completed rapes that actually happen on the page in the entire trilogy? One.  

(It happens in the course of a short paragraph).

And I do not believe this was unrealistic.

That one rape is by a slave-owner, of a slave. It is plainly neither the first nor the last time; both victim and perpetrator treat it as routine. (though we will later discover that this does not mean the survivor is not profoundly angry about it). The story does not let you assume that that’s somehow the only rape to occur; an unquantifiable number of rapes are shown to have happened, in the way people behave, the situations in which some characters feel at risk,  the signs they exhibit of trauma, the way they worry about each other, the assumptions that other characters make about why someone is present or how they can be treated, the language they use. One character outright states that a lot of rape is going on alongside other forms of violence against slaves. I want the reader to know that, to empathise with it. But that doesn’t mean I have to force an endless parade of rape into her brain without regard for what memories or daily fears may already be there.

That one scene is not, actually, the result of the small crisis I mentioned having at the start of this post — the one time I felt “realism” placed  two female characters at particularly severe risk of rape, when I thought, “Now what do I do?”

Well, I continued thinking. I thought about it for ages. I talked about it to people. Because the answer wasn’t immediately obvious to me. I seriously wondered if  I should have the risk realised, especially in  case of one of the two women.  But in the end I asked myself, “Is the rest of the story going to be about the repercussions of this rape? Is it going to be at least, an extremely significant narrative strand? No? Then I won’t put the reader through it.

(The threat is made, the risk is not glossed over, it’s made clear  it could have happened, but in the end in the end the women manage, partially, to protect each other. The rape would have been realistic, yes, but that doesn’t mean the way it’s averted is unrealistic.)

That question I asked myself, “Is a substantial part of the rest of the story going to be about the repercussions of this rape for the survivor” is a question I would like writers to ask themselves more often before writing rape. Because anything less than that, you might not be taking it seriously enough.

But here are some other questions:

“Do I need to put the reader through this?” Because you have as much as a duty to  your reader as you do to “realism”— especially as you may find “realism” a far less solid and singular thing than you might imagine. Your readers are more real than “realism” and can be hurt much more easily.

“Would I ever write a story in which the male hero is raped as part of his origin story, or as the nadir he had to fight back from, or to inspire someone else to take revenge?”

And if you would, yes, I think perhaps you should go ahead and do it. If done very well, and respectfully, it could even help to destigmatise the experience of male survivors. It could help to diminish that sense that rape somehow defines female experience.

And if you would not, ask yourself why not. And if there’s any part of you that answers, that you wouldn’t find a male survivor of rape heroic, that it’s too humiliating to even think about – then, for everyone’s sakes, until you can honestly find a different answer within yourself, you need to not be writing about rape at all.




Update: If you want to point out an instance of male rape in fiction, please be sure you have something interesting to say about it and are not under the illusion that just noting it exists amounts to a demolition of the argument (also, please be sure you are not pointing to the same four movies as everyone else). I have never said that all fiction ignores male rape all the time.  I have attempted to  examine  the “realism defence” of the rape of women in fiction and concluded that if “realism” is applied consistently, we should expect to see male characters raped or threatened with rape routinely, because fiction consistently places men in circumstances where the threat would be signifiantly raised above the baseline.  I have also suggested that even when  it really is realistic to expect a lot of rape to be happening in a setting, (whether mostly to women or not) there are more compassionate and nuanced ways to depict that reality than just to slam one rape scene after another in the audience’s face. That’s the argument, if you can’t engage with it or understand with it, go elsewhere.

Example: “I thought the rape of Male Character X in Work Y was surprising because it reversed audience expectations in such-and-such a way…” = fine.


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  1. Posted March 13, 2013 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

    I had a whole little rant about this last week

    But I think you put it better (slightly less vitriol too!)

    • rin
      Posted March 17, 2013 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

      Agree! I’ve had this rant a *lot* lately with everyone who’s been into GOT, True Blood, and, well, pretty much most new cable tv shows and many many movies. I’ve grown so tired of rape as a plot device and I find myself really grossed out that it’s par for the course that female characters are, if not raped, put in the company of men who are aggressively, creepily sexual towards them in a way that demeans the female and I feel like is only there to, in some way, toss some sexual ‘atmosphere’ into the scene. It’s as if unwanted sexual aggression toward females is a ‘given’ now and so easily tossed around no one even blinks anymore. I pointed out to several friends that Shawshank Redemption addresses rape in a way that gets the point across without overt sexual scenes and actually shows nothing explicit; it gets the point across very effectively without leaving anyone in the audience feeling vaguely violated. Similar scenes with females, however, are graphic, long, (i.e.”realistic”) to somehow emphasize the horror. I think people should ask themselves why it seems ‘real’ to have close-ups on female’s horrified faces and nude breasts during rape scenes, but in Shawshank what would they think if Tim Robbins’ rape was shot the same way?? What’s happening these days is an excuse to flash female flesh and get sex on screen any way it can be had. (My opinion.) I really appreciate how Sophia counters this trend. Thank you!!

  2. AlexB
    Posted March 13, 2013 at 11:22 pm | Permalink

    I have to say, I found that bit in Skyfall to be awesome. And Bond’s response was pretty suggestive too. It lead me to wondering:

    1) Having slept around with women for the job, had he’d done it with men too?

    If so, how much of his sleeping around could be considered a form of rape? I mean how much was sleeping with someone “for the job” a case of using the mission as an excuse for having a bit of fun vs it being a form of institutionalised coercion dressed up as duty — you must do anything it takes, including sex that you would not ordinarily consent to.

    2) Whether he was referring to being in a situation where a man took advantage of him once he was in their clutches.

    Something that also happens in reality, though probably has even less statistics, if female on male rape. I think a lot of people assume this one doesn’t exist; a women can’t rape a man. They can, and there have been cases of it. Perhaps this one needs a little airing as well, in the name of “realism”.

    • lisa simpson
      Posted March 19, 2013 at 4:53 am | Permalink

      Two TV examples I can think of for female on male rape:

      1) In Stargate SG-1, Daniel Jackson was raped by a “goddess”—an alien parasite wanting him to impregnate the female body it was controlling. (Rape was somewhat of a theme in SG-1. Daniel’s wife had also been taken by a parasite and was helpless in her body as she was mated to another “god.”) The show was more “episode of the week” about psychological impacts of events, so didn’t really go into the effect on Daniel other than a quick moment of “ew” at the end of the ep.

      2) The first example I immediately thought of with the description of what characters are put through (parents are dead … homesteads are burned down) was Derek Hale in Teen Wolf. When he was a teenager, he was seduced by a twenty-something woman who used her closeness to him to burn down his house and kill his family. She comes back six years later to capture him, torture him, and taunt him with sexual domination. So far the show has played it as sociopathy, not titillation, and it seems like it will be an integral part of his emotional arc.

  3. stuart
    Posted March 13, 2013 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

    Bond is sexually assaulted, but not penetratively raped, in the very first novel, Casino Royale. He is often degraded in the novels, sometimes with sexual overtones–see Diamonds are Forever, etc. Maybe you want to re-write this piece now after doing a bit of actual research.

    • Sophia
      Posted March 15, 2013 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

      1) I’m primarily talking about the movies as an example of pop culture in general 2) if you think that happens to Bond in Casino Royale or Diamonds are Forever is genuinely equivalent to rape or the specific threat of rape, the onus is on you to demonstrate it, and kindly to do so with a modicum of respect. Maybe you want to try writing this comment again when you’ve learned that condescenscion isn’t a substitute for an ability to citations and an actual argument?

      • Scot
        Posted March 16, 2013 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

        I would humbly suggest that the torture scene in Casino Royale IS a true rape, even if not penetrative. If a woman were stripped naked and had her genitalia literally flogged, would you consider that a true rape? I thought the essence of rape was violence channeled though sex, not any particular sexual act per se.

        Although I cannot recall specific titles, I believe there were several episodes of “CSI” that addressed male rape, at least once by Grissom’s “friend,” the bondage queen Lady Heather. I never watched the HBO series “Oz,” but I find it hard to believe that male-on-male rape never occurred therein.

        As a man watching Skyfall, I took Silva’s “move” on Bond “merely” as a tactic to rattle him. Silva’s true erotic fixation was on Judi Dench’s M. As for Dark Knight Rises, those prisoners were men who had angered Bane, R’as al-Ghul, or Talia al-Ghul. When Talia’s mother was cast into the prison pit decades before, THEN it was a prison for the worst of the worst; R’as returned later with the League of Shadows and killed all of the prisoners who had been there with Talia, her mother, and Bane, replacing them with *his* enemies, such as the physician who had the audacity (in somewhere suspiciously like Afghanistan) to become addicted to heroin.

        • Sophia
          Posted March 17, 2013 at 10:41 am | Permalink

          The torture scene in Casino Royale was the closest I’d seen to a rape of a male character– until Skyfall. But no, I wouldn’t say it’s actually rape == as far as one can see, from the torturer’s perspective, it’s just a matter of going for an area with a lot of nerve endings, he isn’t specifically going for ¨sex¨ and the perverted intimacy at all. It might not be any less traumatic in real life, but the difference matters from an audience perspective. It’s not something that happens to 1/4 women and 1/33 men. You may wince when you watch it, but it’s probably not something you have to actually worry about happening to you.

          Silva’s “true” erotic fixation is neither here nor there (and I saw nothing erotic in his obsession with M) — I was arguing against the notion that that scene was an expression of sexual attraction, not for it. And of course it was a tactic to rattle Bond — by raising the possibility he might be raped.

          You think the prison in TDKR was full of people far too nice to rape anyone, is what you’re saying?

          • Jonathon Side
            Posted March 18, 2013 at 10:50 am | Permalink

            The only thing I can think of regarding the prison in TDKR is that they’re too afraid of Bane to mess with Wayne.

            Then again, they seemed a placid bunch all around. Supportive too, when you consider the chanting and what not for escape attempts…

          • Mary Branscombe
            Posted March 18, 2013 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

            The Ian Fleming books have even more sex and violence than the films; the genital beating in Casino Royale is from the book and very explicitly explained in the text as being about ‘unmanning’ Bond in terms that make it clear it’s domination & punishment & torture. i.e it’s sexual violence, it’s about power games rather than sex, it’s intended to break him in a way that’s about a lot more than finding a lot of nerve endings in one place. it’s described with that kind of disturbingly explicit detail – the way the chair is arranged, the textures of the chair and the cane, the physical progression of the act… The fact that it didn’t make it into the Bond movies until the Craig versions actually underlines your point rather than weakening it.

      • Stuart Glover
        Posted March 21, 2013 at 11:26 am | Permalink

        Sophia, I had actually apologised for my hostile tone only a few minutes after my initial post, and I did suggest that you dont post my comment–but to be clear you dont actually address the criticism in my post.

        There is a fair deal of sexual violence in the Bond books. And given that you chose Bond as a focus for this piece the onus is really on you make your case. I am just responding to point out that you are happen to be wrong in matters of fact. And it undermines your argument.

        Even if you wish to limit your survey to consideration of the Bond films, there is, just from memory, the scene in “Skyfall”, the threat of same sex sexual assault in “Diamonds as Forever” and the threat of castration in “Goldfinger”. I haven’t been raped–but i have been sexually assaulted–and i am not sure how rape, non-penetrative sexual assault, and castration should stand against one another–but they all seem bad to me.

        And beyond Bond, various forms of sexual degradation of men is common in film and books, as someone else i know noted: in Diana Gabaldon’s Cross-stitch (Outlander), a best-selling novel, the hero is repeatedly raped by his adversary as both power-play, torture and part of his backstory, with the heroine as rescuer. Also JR Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series, several of the male characters have been raped and forms part of their origin stories. Likewise “The Sparrow” by Mary Doria Russell.

        And these examples are without looking hard. Respectfully, your central is undermined by the examples you choose.

        • Sophia
          Posted March 21, 2013 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

          1)I am very sorry to hear that someone did that to you. Thank you for being willing to talk about it.
          2) I reply to the comments in the order I find them. And this post had a lot of comments all, at first, coming in at once. Your “sorry” I found after clearing and replying to your original, extremely rude comment, separated by several others. And if you don’t want an irritated response, frankly, you need to have enough control of yourself not to condescend to people in the first place. If your apology was sincere, not just an “I want to get away with what I just did without facing any consequences or other people seeing that it happened at all” then you need to accept that being a dick to people does have consequences and your “oh, whoops, sorry” may not always get there in time to mitigate them.
          3) Please see the update to the post. You are not abiding by it. If you really think that “hey, I found some examples of male rape in fiction, they EXIST and this changes EVERYTHING” really amounts to a good argument that the risk of rape men realistically face in dangerous situations such as prisons, warzones and kidnappings (apparently it can rise to about EIGHTY PERCENT) is treated equivalently to the experience of women, (and therefore presumably women should just shut up about how the rape of women in fiction affects them) well… I don’t see the point in engaging further with an argument that is so far detached from the reality I live in.
          4) Please also see the new comment policy. You are right that had it been in place, your initial comment would not have got through, but you may want to think about whether it’s something you can abide by in future.

          5) Please see ERose’s excellent comment to the no-longer-with-us Tim Hall below.

          6) And mine about why the threat of castration is not the same as the threat of rape when portrayed in fiction, even if it might be equally bad and traumatic if experienced in real life.

          7) Dude, a whole section of the post is about the scene in Skyfall! Why are you pointing it out as if I’d never mentioned it? And as you are saying that that kind of experience is nothing out of the ordinary for Bond in either the books or the film, because the threat of sexual domination happens to him all the time, why do you think so many viewers, especially male viewers, were surprised and freaked out by it? Why is there the misunderstanding of the scene as a “gay seduction”? Why wasn’t it just “Oh, there’s Bond getting tied up and threatened with rape again as happens to him and most/many male heroes all the time, just like female characters in all our popular entertainment”?

          8) If you had said “I actually think the Skyfall scene is quite reminiscent of the treatment of Bond in the books, which does amount to rape or sexual assault, because [x] happens in this book while in [y] happens in that book and though it’s not always read as rape/sexual assault I think it should be because [reasons] and these are the conclusions I draw from this about depictions of rape generally” and if, while saying that, you had acknowledged for a single second that this is not what happens in the films (which I was talking about), while we would expect to see a female Bond routinely threatened with rape onscreen, as we expect to see female characters threatened with rape almost any time they’re in a remotely dangerous situation even in works for children, we would never have had any problem here. That was all you had to do, and then maybe we could have had an actual discussion about that. Was it really that much to ask?

          • Christian R. Conrad
            Posted April 6, 2013 at 1:30 am | Permalink

            FWIW, as an isolated data point, the torture scene in Casino Royale was mentioned as verging on, or indicative of, rape-like sexual intimidation somewhere above… And I, a male middle-aged Scandinavian male who read a few of the Fleming novels before seeing my first film (because the public library didn’t have or enforce any age ratings like the cinemas did), The Spy Who Loved Me (all this background just to illustrate that I have a lot of experience with the franchise), I saw Casino Royale at a movie theatre with my stepson back when it was new (2007, 2008?) — and I never for a second grokked that scene as sexual in nature! Utterly humiliating, yes — but my association was solely “Oh, he’s spanking him on the butt, thereby humiliating him by treating him like a small child! (But he must also inadvertently be hitting his balls some of the time, and I bet that hurts as hell, too.)”

            Now that I read it here, it’s obvious that it was primarily a genital spanking, thus a sexual humiliation — and I hope the fact that I totally missed this says something not only about my naiveté, but about the general atmosphere we’re brought up in. Bond being raped?!? But he’s a man… Heh.

  4. stuart
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 12:09 am | Permalink

    sorry, that was hostile. I like your general point, but really your examples are not quite correct. Feel free to delete rather than post both these comments — cheers stuart.

  5. Brendan Ragan
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 5:36 am | Permalink

    I’d like to note that my comment in no way invalidates your argument or article, one missed followup (which wasn’t anywhere near as widely publicised as the original gaffe) doesn’t make your *many* other points invalid, nor does it excuse other games such as Far Cry 3 (which I refuse to play) from similar objections.

    I take issue with the mention of the new Tomb Raider game, though that producer should have shut up and let Rhianna Pratchett (the game’s lead writer) detail the storyline instead of opening his mouth and saying what he *thought* the writing was instead of what it actually was.

    If you read the interviews delivered by Rhianna after the wraps came off with respect to her being the writer ( is one good one) she explains that said producer gave the wrong impression. She also wanted to write Lara Croft to change her from the “sex symbol” to something that young women can see as a hero.

    The reviews I’ve seen (by both media outlets and via my friends) have been, in the large, positive, and it looks like they’ve managed to not be exploitative – i’m looking forward to playing through the game myself when I get a chance.

    • Maddy L
      Posted March 14, 2013 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

      Knowing that the story writer for the new Lara Croft game is a woman completely changes things for me. The producer is a moron; “gamers will want to protect her” is the complete wrong impression to send of Lara Croft. She is a bada$$ lady who (based on the rape backstory) is capable of defending herself and protecting herself. I think a MUCH better message is Rhianna’s “something that young woman can see as a hero.” Honestly, this is why I have put off playing the LC games. She’s awesome, but I honestly am uncomfortable with her previous body type, not to mention how not-realistic it is. This new game is what Lara Croft has always deserved; respect as a “human,” not being treated like a sex symbol. Thanks for this info!

    • Belty
      Posted March 16, 2013 at 4:23 am | Permalink

      Not sure if you’ve seen the interview with the Far Cry 3 writer about how people missed the point, but here it is, for what it’s worth:

      Whether he argues his point convincingly or not, I don’t know.

  6. Susan MacNee
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    I couldn’t bring myself to read all of this piece, because the two bits I skimmed to first were so misinformed.

    “Recently it was decided that Lara Croft couldn’t get by any longer without some rape in her origin story,”

    It doesn’t bother you that the (female) writer of Tomb Raider said the scene in question WASN’T about rape, then?

    “”She’s not thinking, ‘Oh my God, I was almost raped.’ She’s thinking, ‘Oh my God, I’ve just taken a human life.’ It’s unfortunate that if you have a female protagonist and male antagonists, and they’re coming after her, people see that vibe.” “

    And then we get this:

    “I found reactions to that scene [in Skyfall] fascinating. I got the sense a lot of male viewers found it particularly unsettling. Some (and not only men) felt it was homophobic”

    Um, Bond’s reaction to the supposed implied gay “threat” is to smile, look at Silva with a twinkle in his eye and say “What makes you think it’s my first time?” That’s a funny kind of homophobia.

    Frankly, if the rest is as clueless as these two passages I’ll save my time.

    • Stephanie
      Posted March 14, 2013 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think that viewers saw that Bond/Silva scene in Skyfall as homophobic because of Bond’s reaction, but because it was the villain that was the one portrayed as homosexual. I also know a number of men and women who were actually uncomfortable with Bond’s implication that he had engaged in homosexual activities of any sort in the past, as if it ruined his masculine image, and I think that reaction from viewers is quite homophobic.

      Your points would have more salience if you had actually suffered through reading the entire post before responding.

  7. Posted March 14, 2013 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    I can’t think of a better treatise on rape in fantasy, and it has made me think far more about my treatment of my own female characters than any other piece I’ve ever read. Thank you so much. It’s weird isn’t it, that men even invented the word bugger, as though rape was only ever male on female?

  8. Michiru
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    I love Song of Ice and Fire. In the defense of “realism” as far as all the rape goes, the liklihood of it goes up in situations like war, which is why I never questioned it.

    Only when I read this essay did I nctice the lack of male rape, and how unrealistic that is. And it’s not just rape; lesbian sex is shown graphically, while the only gay relationship is written so subtly I never noticed it until they played it up in the TV show!

    The series is good writing, good storytelling. But Martin is writing to his own, ha ha, tastes as much as any writer, it seems.

    • Lauren B
      Posted March 15, 2013 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

      I don’t know how far into the books you’ve gotten, but there are at least 6 instances of male-on-male and 1 female-on-male rape in the series (I’ve been counting this re-read, and I’m not through book 4 this time around). The male-on-male rape may not have stuck out so much, because it’s treated like, ah, wallpaper.

  9. Sensible Survivalist
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    I have to say; I’m impressed. You expressed a lot of opinions I have often thought myself and did it very eloquently. One thing I would like to mention is that since there is so much rape in our pop culture, are we not in some way encouraging it? Is it possible that all the rape scenes depicting a male perpetrator taking power and selfish satisfaction from a female victim is causing more men to desire this kind of exchange and to fantasise about it? A friend of mine is studying law and recently attended a lecture discussing homophobia. During the discussion the lecturer asked the males if they have ever had a homosexual crack onto them and how it made them feel and why. A male in the class told of how he’d been chatted up by a man in a bar and he had felt quite threatened by the man’s advances. The conversation then moved on to rape and the lecturer then asked this same male to read a text depicting a rape scene. He mentioned that, while the room was filled with females and only a handful of males, the lecturer asked the male to read. I think she did this intentionally to demonstrate a point. The male class mate became flushed in the face as he read and showed many other signs of arousal (it probably didn’t help him being surrounded by twenty year old girls). When he had finished reading and sat down in an uncomfortable silence the lecturer then started a discussion on how quickly an unwanted advance from a male can turn from harmless flirting to physical force. She casually mentioned that the threat a male feels from a homosexual male’s advances is the same as the threat a woman feels from ANY male’s advances. At this point the male reader got up and left the room nearly crying. The realisation that the rape scene that had so excited him could easily apply to him was more than he could handle. It seems to me, if males saw more males being raped they would likely empathise more with the rape victim and less with the perpetrator.

    • Catherine Kehl
      Posted March 15, 2013 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

      When using a similar analogy, I’ve had men try to tell me that for a man to be raped (by a man) is of course far, far worse than a woman being raped by a man. Because, after all, she’s a woman so she’s basically okay with having sex with men, so being raped by a man would be less of a violation.

      Apparently this makes sense in their heads.

    • Lee
      Posted March 16, 2013 at 6:07 am | Permalink

      What you’re talking about here is something I’ve heard described as “de-privileging the rapist”, and I agree that it would be a good thing to do. There are multiple ways of going about it, of course, not just showing more men being raped, but also de-sexualizing rape scenes, and having other characters react to finding out about a rape by showing contempt for the perpetrator (rather than just the “hur-hur” or “business as usual” responses which are more common). And probably some other things that I’m not thinking of just at the moment as well.

      The idea that rape is the only (or even primary) motivation for a woman to do anything is lazy writing. I think most writers are better than that, if they will just allow themselves to be.

      I’m also pushing for people to start using “rape” as a tag on LibraryThing, both when it occurs in the story and when it’s used as a background motivator. If we can start getting it into the tag clouds, more people will become consciously aware of just how common a trope it is. And awareness is the beginning of change.

  10. Posted March 14, 2013 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    Hi Sophia,

    great post. I’m an incredibly avid fan of the ASOIAF books and I will provide a defence for them, but it won’t be based on the “realism” defence. I’ve grown to despise the sort of realism that is usually applied in fiction because it normalises the sort of brutality that you’ve mentioned and diminishes the possibility of the fantastic and wonderful. I don’t think anyone’s doing it to be edgy but it does seem that people needlessly place limits on what they can and can’t write and, worse, re-enforce social norms, thus participating in their perpetuation. As you’ve pointed out above, when female characters get trapped by male villains then the “realistic” thing is to have them threatened with sexual violence. (As a side note, and something I’m surprised wasn’t mentioned in the Lara Croft news stories, in Far Cry 3 a male character does have to fight against someone who is trying to rape him, though no one tried to defend it in the same way as they did with the Lara Croft scene.) I fully agree with you about Bond and Batman, though the

    Having said all that, I think I can provide a defence for the abundant use of rape in GRRM’s books. You’re entirely right about the sheer propensity of it. The levels of rape in Westeros are worse than common, they’re endemic. It’s not the only terrible violence committed in Westeros but it’s very heavily used and that’s because Westeros has such a strong rape culture. It’s engrained everywhere, from the Ironborn’s tendancy to take saltwives right through to the sealing of alliances by marriage. Westeros is a terrible, terrible place for women where even the highest born and most privileged can and are used as commodities to seal alliances, further dynasties and pump out little princes and princesses. In six of the seven kingdoms, women are institutionally repressed to an amazing degree (Dorne is very, very different as shown in book 4). Rape culture is so engrained in Westeros that it’s even included in the marriage rituals as both of the newly married couple are stripped by the guests and shoved into their bedroom, and even in the sex as doggy style seems to be the most common position described in the books. When these rituals are subverted or ignored entirely, as they are in the third book by two characters (won’t spoil it just in case you decide to start reading them again) a healthier, more equal relationship emerges (before ending in tragedy of course. There’s a reason that this series has been nicknamed “oh they die too?”)

    In later books, male characters are subjected to sexual violence as well, though not in the same numbers as female characters. One POV character in book four is heavily implied to have been molested as a child and one POV character in book 5 is subjected to prolonged and horrific torture for quite a while before the book starts and for a large part during it. Again there is an implication, though no direct confirmation that this includes a sexual component as well.

    On the subject of Tyrion, while he is never threatened with rape when he is captured or nearly captured in the first book, there is the incredibly tragic tale of his marriage which ended when Tysha was gangraped at the orders of Tyrion’s father. Tyrion himself is forced to go last and this is a violation of both of them to satisfy his father’s need to assert his authority.

    Again, you’re entirely right that rape is fairly frequent in the books but I don’t think it’s used solely to present a threat to female characters or to show that some male characters are particularly villainous. Instead it is woven into the politics and the very fabric of Westerosi society, to show a place that is institutionally biased against women.

    Very much enjoyed reading your blogpost and it has certainly given me a lot of food for thought. As I’ve said, i largely agree with your points,


  11. Posted March 14, 2013 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    “Is a substantial part of the rest of the story going to be about the repercussions of this rape for the survivor?”

    Exactly. Thank you. THANK YOU. This is the question I actually never had to ask myself when I wrote my book, because I know from the start that a major part of the story was triggered by a rape.

    The rape was plot critical; the story couldn’t have happened without it. I wrote it and the aftermath moderately graphically, and included the entire event (which only lasted about a page). On the other hand, regular, consensual sexual encounters were, by and large, not plot critical, except in that they happened. So I didn’t describe them (I find almost all written sex descriptions in fiction pretty boring, and skip through them when they show up), but did a fade-to-black. I jokes that this was one male/male story that had no description of a throbbing member, no squicky euphemism for intercourse or the component parts thereof.

    What was interesting were the reader reactions. Some refused to believe it could have happened. One thought it was hot (this was someone I’d almost dated twenty years ago, which alarmed me). One — a beta reader — thought it a pity that the only male/male sex in the book that was fully described was a rape scene, and didn’t I think it wrong to promulgate that view of male/male sex? A lot wondered why I didn’t write out all of the sex scenes, and felt cheated (“They weren’t plot/character critical” didn’t fly as a reason, apparently). And one — another beta reader — offered to write the consensual sex scenes if I didn’t feel like doing it.

    So, i agree with your article and your point, but carry it farther, into other aspects of sexuality. If it’s there, and it’s clear, why be incredibly graphic if it isn’t necessary to the plot? To me, it interrupts the story flow.

    I had a clearer, less “this man is a prig” point when I started, but it’s early morning, and I’m sleepy still.

    Thank you for a good post!

    Donald L. Hardy

    • thene
      Posted March 17, 2013 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

      I think that it’s generally troubling that rape scenes are much more likely to be fully described in fiction than consensual sex scenes are. When I look back on the things I read in my teenage years, I got through a lot of rape before ever laying eyes on any explicitly written consensual sex. Even if you’re confident in your reasoning, I do feel that you are becoming part of a problem.

      • jmb
        Posted March 19, 2013 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

        The movies too — there is a documentary “This Film is Not Yet Rated” which goes into the way that the people who hand out R ratings rate CONSENSUAL sex as WORSE than rape in het scenes! Yes, really!

  12. sporenda
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    Great post, it deals with the ultimate taboo.
    In popular culture, rape is only for women, even in prison stories (there are quite a few movies about those), the movie directors never deal with it.
    You may not realize it, but you are breaking a major omerta.

  13. RiverVox
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    What a tremendous, thought-provoking post! I do want to mention another male rape in cinema – Lawrence of Arabia. If memory serves, he is tied up, stripped, tortured and laid out on a bench and at the critical point a door closes on the camera (1962!) and we next see him thrown into the street. There is little doubt in the viewers mind that he has been raped. This represents a nadir for the character and he goes back to the British Army for a time.

    • Sophia
      Posted March 17, 2013 at 11:30 pm | Permalink

      Poor T.E Lawrence, the film was indeed brave to be honest about it. And yet he remains an example of the erasure of male rape — I’ve read articles saying that he was lying or else that he must have wanted it even within the last ten years or so. The consistency with attitudes to female rape victims would be almost commendable if it weren’t so horrific

  14. Posted March 14, 2013 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    “Do I need to put the reader through this?”
    I wish more authors thought about this question. Violence for violence’s sake, for shock value is exhausting and off-putting as a reader. I’m glad to see an author asking that question, and hope others do as well.

    • Christian R. Conrad
      Posted April 6, 2013 at 1:37 am | Permalink

      Violence for violence’s sake, for shock value is exhausting and off-putting as a reader.

      On a somewhat tangential note, I think that’s why I can’t abide horror stories or films any more. A whole fricking genre that is about nothing else than exhausting and off-putting shock value!

  15. Stephanie
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    So this started a very interesting conversation with me and my husband, who are both big fans of the most recent Bond movies. We’ve come to the conclusion that the reason that many men see that specific Bond/Silva interaction as a seduction and not a threat of sexual violence is because it didn’t even cross their mind that it might be anything else. Rape of male characters, specifically ones portrayed as the pinnacle of masculinity like Bond, just doesn’t even register on most male viewers’ radars as a possibility. Further, as my husband pointed out, there is a distinct disconnect in our culture between what men think is masculine (and therefore what they think is the object of women’s desire) and what women see in the same interaction… so in the Bond/Silva scene in question male viewers would see the dominant/powerful male behavior that Silva portrays as behavior that would have a good chance of seducing a woman in the real world (i.e. that is the type of man a woman is looking for and therefore it would lead to consensual sex), hence it is seduction or Silva trying to turn Bond gay, while female viewers see that type of behavior as a threat of sexual violence.

    Another thing I thought of while reading your post is that a good number of the fanfiction that I’ve read for Bond, particularly Daniel Craig’s Bond, includes at least a passing reference to Bond having been threatened with sexual violence (at the very least) in his past… and most fanfiction is written by women, to whom rape is a much more tangible factor in their everyday lives. I don’t know if that is an actual conscious thing, or if I am just making that association in my head, but it was an interesting thought.

    • Julie
      Posted March 17, 2013 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

      Also, many men would see sexualized banter and button popping of a tied up woman protagonist to be an attempt at seduction, I think, rather than a threat of rape. I don’t think that a lot of men would automatically acknowledge or intuitively understand that the threat isn’t just a sexy detail, a flirtation, but rather the threat of degrading violence. Some men would, but I think most (and probably a smaller portion of women) would let their minds skip over the uglier, more realistic implications. Some may enjoy the threat of rape and find it arousing. But few would expect anything different, if it was a woman in Bonds shoes in the sky fall scene. The issue of consent is often glossed over, she might be seduced!

      Similarly my issues with GRRM are mainly two: 1) he took back the consent scene for Dany, upon which the whole relationship was based, in the tv script, apparently saying he wussed out in the original text and it should have been rape all along. That scene also established a “barbarian” alpha male who preferred not to rape his new wife, an important counterpoint to most of the western culture (though there is at least one western example of this later.)
      2) much later in the series there is a scene in which a scene starts out described as rape and then turns into consensual sex between two lovers. Just so very wrong. That was the breaking point for me, where GRRM went from a writer overly obsessed with gritty realism to one with some seriously disordered thinking.

  16. Posted March 14, 2013 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    I used to work for Victim Support in a London borough with a high incidence of rape. For several years, I was solely responsible for supporting male rape victims. There was an enormously lower take up of our services on the part of male victims than female victims. In fact, in spite of my efforts over those years, I only saw two male victims. One of these had been bullied into seeing me by someone who was concerned about him. The other was a very atypical victim — a gay man who had reason to think he’d been given rohipnol.

    My work left me with the conviction that not only did fewer men than women seek support, but that non-reporting was much more common amongst men than women. The proportion of rape victims in the male population is, I strongly suspect, much higher than statistics would lead us to believe.

    Vis a vis James Bond’s assailant being gay, I was told during my training that almost all of men who rape other men are heterosexual. The aim of the crime has to do with hurting and humiliating others, rather than gaining sexual satisfaction. The man who gave rohipnol to my client was presumably a rare exception.

  17. Posted March 14, 2013 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    This is a powerful article. Thank you so much for writing it.

  18. Helen
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

    Its the “Nights Watch” in ASOIAF not the “Black Watch”. If you can’t get a very simple fact about a book series then how can you expect people to take you seriously?

    • Sophia
      Posted March 15, 2013 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

      I dunno, about the same way you expect to be taken seriously despite believing that pointing out I got a detail of a book I admitted to having stopped reading a year ago wrong (by one word!) amounts to a rejection of an entire argument.

  19. Mark
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

    To say that Hollywood has never deals with male rape is disingenuous. Two movies immediately come to mind: American History X and Shawshank Redemption. The latter implied the rape of the male protagonist, the former displayed it explicitly, complete with nudity, grunting, grimacing and blood. Granted, both of these movies are placed in the context of prison, where male-on-male rape is something of a trope, but it also demonstrates that strong, male protagonists are not emasculated by rape. Male viewers may be made uncomfortable (I certainly was), but I think it does demonstrate that the depiction of male-on-male rape isn’t as taboo as depicted in this column.

    • Sophia
      Posted March 15, 2013 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

      It’s a good job I never said that male rape has never been tackled by Hollywood, then.

      I’m saying that male rape is invoked far more rarely than it “ought” to be, if it were held to the same standards of “realism” that female rape is. I’m saying that female rape is invoked far more often that there are more nuanced ways of dealing with sexual violence even when it *is* realistic for it to be present in a setting.

  20. The New Original
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

    Actually, world-wide, it’s more like 7 out of 10 women who have been raped or sexually assaulted. Most of them repeatedly. That’s something like 2.5 billion women who have been raped. Definitely the majority. And how sad. Thank you for your writing and for getting pissed off about this! :)

  21. Posted March 15, 2013 at 2:56 am | Permalink

    So are we not counting the time Bond was mounted by May Day in A VIEW TO A KILL, then? The way Roger Moore looks askance as Grace Jones places herself over him in the film, that could well double the count of incidences right there…

    Whether this changes the argument significantly or not, the count needs to be made. If anything, it’s a further buttressing of the argument in terms of incidence to track…

    • Jonathon Side
      Posted March 18, 2013 at 10:54 am | Permalink

      Not sure that would count as ‘rape’ so much as reversal of roles. Who is on top, as it were.

      Granted, I haven’t seen the scene in question, so maybe there’s other nuances to consider…

  22. Warwick
    Posted March 15, 2013 at 6:02 am | Permalink

    Isn’t it the case (however inconvenient and unpalatable it may be) that the idea of rape of women by men has been made somehow titillating in fiction, in a way that rape of men by men is not? I’m thinking especially of the way it’s so prevalent in women’s romance fiction for example. Certainly with GRRM, I think the claims of realism are at least in part a cover for the fact that he (and many of his readers, probably) thinks it’s actually quite fun to write and read about this sort of scene.

    • Lee
      Posted March 16, 2013 at 6:23 am | Permalink

      Romance fiction is weird, and I’m not sure you can use the prevalence of rape in it to bolster your argument, given that so much of that rape is presented as “forcible seduction” — the woman is overpowered by the man with whom she desperately wants to have sex but thinks she can’t for one reason or another. And when it’s not “forcible seduction”, it’s usually the beginning of a relationship which will eventually end in marital bliss, which is BEYOND unrealistic (see also: Luke & Laura).

      That said, it is definitely true that the rape of women in non-romance fiction is frequently sexualized — written for the male gaze, as it were. Which leads to bullshit like someone actually asking Seanan McGuire when one of her female characters was “finally” going to be raped, as if this reader had been patiently waiting and waiting for his payoff and was tired of not getting it. (Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “self-insertion fantasy”.) And that’s a HUGE problem.

    • Posted March 17, 2013 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

      I think it is true that a lot of readers of ASoIaF probably accept without question (or at least too much questioning) the presence of rape because the world has gone to hell and in that sort of situation rape does occur (and contrary to the OP, male-on-male sexual violence is present to a significant degree in the series) without further analysis. The sexual issues in the books being problematic is something that GRRM was aware of when he wrote them. When asked about the highly uncomfortable Dany/Drogo relationship, for example, he usually responds that that was written to make the audience question the relationship and the power values inherent in it (Drogo having power over Dany, but Dany using sex to gain power over him later on), which is the key theme of the series. The TV show is much more overt about this, with both cast and crew pointing out it was rape and Dany’s later emotional feelings towards her abuser may be a form of Stockholm Syndrome.

      Whilst I’m sure some people get their jollies off this kind of thing, the overwhelming majority (of at least 5 million readers) clearly do not, and I find it somewhat condescending to suggest they do.

    • Posted March 19, 2013 at 7:00 am | Permalink

      Just how many titillating rapes have you read in recent romances? The “forcible seduction” trope mostly dried up and blew away after the 1990s; modern romances tend to focus on sexually empowered heroines. Even the dreckiest modern BDSM contains way more consent than the old bodice-rippers did.

      I agree with you that the rape of women is seen as sexy in a way the rape of men is not. However, with people all over demanding absolute correctness in tiny details of ASOIAF, I feel like somebody should stick an oar in for romance, since a lot of rape apologists like to say that “women write this stuff themselves” and, well, no, not for 20 years, really.

  23. Just wanted to say
    Posted March 15, 2013 at 6:36 am | Permalink

    This was a really insightful post and even though I absolutely love the series of A Song of Ice and Fire I do think this is valid criticism of it; there is a lot of rape and rape implication. But I do think that essentially you are arguing for more depiction of male rape, or at least, if you’re going to depict rape and the threat of rape to women as “realistic,” then you should get as gritty with all aspects of fiction.

    To your ending point, though, I immediately thought of Shawshank Redemption because there was a male hero who was raped, and that scene also really made the movie stand out for me because of inevitability of how the situation was handled. There have been depictions of males suffering sexual violence in fiction, but I think it’s more than obvious that female characters almost always have the threat of rape implied in mainstream work, almost as a given. The rape scene in Shawshank Redemption was handled off camera and with a a sense of horror, and the brutal rape scene in American History X leads the main character to re-evaluate his life and is instrumental to his new realizations. Which brings me to Skyfall. That scene in particular didn’t make me feel uncomfortable, it made me smirk because that’s what James Bond was doing (and because I figured he was more concerned with the Checkov device Q had given him and knew rescue was on the way). We saw James Bond get sexually abused in the first film (if you consider genital mutilation sexual abuse), and this scene where the threat is genuine, as a viewer I felt the tension but it was more of “good guy staring down bad guy” kind of trope. That it was handled so casually, though, perhaps is progress and more male heroes should realistically face this kind of threat (in a real, grim and realistic way).

    One little side note and sorry as a guy to come to the defense of another one of your examples but as a Batman fan I can’t defend everything about the character, his stories or movies. But I will add that in the comics (recently) there is a hint of sexual violence through the Joker’s obsession with the caped crusader. The Joker calls him darling, says they are made for one another and is physically suggestive to try and have control of the situation to a very creepy effect. It could be nothing, or it could be that more male writers see the way rape is handled with female characters and maybe the flood gates for this tension to apply to male characters is beginning to open.

  24. Posted March 15, 2013 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    Lifting some of what I said elsewhere: Rape has been a difficult topic for me both in real life and in fiction. I spent some of my teen years, the sex-role formative ones, in a culture where rape carries a huge stigma, and that stigma is used as a tool for punishing whole families or villages. Then, in later life, working with humanitarian organizations, rape has always been, in my experience, a tool of war or oppression on both the small and the grand scale. Most torture victims whose narratives have intersected with my work have some element of rape in their background.

    So, I’ve often tried to use fiction as my own talking cure for the effects of rape. Rape is about power and possession, revenge, and frustration, not sex. So the placement of rape in terms of gender relations has a little bit of an “armchair history” side to it, true. I’m not saying that if you haven’t experienced rape, you don’t have the right to write about it. But when you use it so casually, like any of the other chestnuts of the genre (from black boxes that open safes to knocking out people to get them out of the way), you are being lazy and writing bad stories. The badness is accentuated by handing a particularly serious topic with callow hands.

    But there is an undercurrent in Western fantasy about rape, where it intersects with bedroom games, BDSM, and all that. It makes me remember that one of the main driving forces for why rape and the threat of rape is so powerful a social normative force is that there is that prurient fascination with it, where Fantasy the literary form becomes a vehicle for fantasy of the sexual form. Which is fine, if you’re writing porn. The case can be made that GRRM writes softcore porn into his midiaeval fantasy. Which is understandable, what with a background in TV, where visual male-gaze scenes are intentionally created as a matter of course, and are incorporated in the HBO series with high production value.

  25. Anna
    Posted March 15, 2013 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    Watch Pulp Fiction for a MUCH earlier example of male rape, and they go all the way.

  26. Nicola Smith
    Posted March 15, 2013 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    Very interesting post, thank you. I had a lot of the same feelings about that moment in Bond. I loved it, it was so complex and challenging, not something you’d ever expect from such a genre. I did want to point out that Shawshank Redemption does have prison rape, plenty of it, and it is even more graphic in the book than the movie. I am trying to write a fantasy at the moment in which the threat of rape is strong for my female main character, but we later come to find out that the same threat was faced by the male MC from exactly the same source. I am still chewing over how to reveal this, whether it needs to be explicitly stated or not. A lot of the build up to the revelation of the circumstances that led to his rape involves him trying (successfully) to prevent her from suffering the same fate. I don’t feel that I need to state what happened to him because I have illustrated it elsewhere (with a female side character), and the use of sex as part of the magic of my fantasy world is explicit and does not remove the possibility of rape. I guess, long story short, that I’ve been working through a lot of the issues you raise regarding sex and violence against men and women in this blog post in my story. I hope I manage to do so as well.

  27. Sean Fear
    Posted March 15, 2013 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

    There is actually quite a lot of sexual violence directed at men and boys in Martin’s series, both actual and threatened.

    Arya Stark’s chapters in Book 2 are pretty disturbing, but they’re written from the point of view of a 10 year old girl who’s trying to stay alive in a gigantic killing zone. It’s not that rape, murder, and torture are the norm in this killing zone (most people in Westeros view them in the same way that we do), but rather that moral norms are breaking down under the stress of civil war.

  28. Eva
    Posted March 15, 2013 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    What a great post! Thank you.

  29. Max
    Posted March 15, 2013 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

    I agree with your general assessment that there is a lot of rape in fiction. However, there are some things that I have to criticize and add.

    First, there are two typical ways how writers provide their characters with back stories. Either they’ve grown up with hardship (rape, orphanage) and struggle with it to this day, or they’ve grown up well protected (possibly spoiled) and now have to face hardship. I find it difficult to say that being an orphan is a good alternative to being raped. But both do make for an interesting back story and possibly plot. From the top of my head I can’t remember a single good fiction story that doesn’t use this schema.

    Secondly I think that you don’t understand the concept of ‘realistic fantasy’ , or even fantasy. At the very least we have a very different understanding of fantasy. To me fantasy is all about a world that seems alive and realistic despite the obvious parts that aren’t realistic. This is why LOTR is such a great series of books despite the relatively simple plot: it has a super rich back story – it feels alive.

    The Song of Ice and Fire does have a lot of rape. However you can’t point out that men get raped infrequently in the ‘real world’ and complain that there is no man rape in ASOIAF. While can’t remember that there is any man rape, there are certainly a lot of threats (the phrase ‘fuck your arse bloody’ comes to mind). Also homosexuality is certainly a taboo in westeros – it would certainly be difficult for any outlaw or soldier (who do most of the raping) to rape a man and keep their face among their peers.

    • Sophia
      Posted March 16, 2013 at 12:12 am | Permalink

      Secondly I think that you don’t understand the concept of ‘realistic fantasy’

      You damn near didn’t get your comment unscreened for being so deeply condescending. And not only in this one quote. Do not try it again here. Having published three works of SF one can reasonably describe as realistic fantasy I think I do, in fact, understand quite a lot about how it works, and also, amazingly enough, how to construct a backstory. That there’s only one way to do it or all decisions on how to do it are somehow equal in their implications is ludicrous.

      However you can’t point out that men get raped infrequently in the ‘real world’ and complain that there is no man rape in ASOIAF.

      I’m not sure why I’m trying to explain this to you when you’re clearly wilfully misunderstanding, but I don’t say simply that men “get raped infrequently in the real world.” I say the relatively low baseline risk rises in certain situations, to approach the risk faced by women. In ASAOIF, as in the other texts, these situations arise *frequently*.

      While can’t remember that there is any man rape

      Well, there you are. There are lots of raped women and girls. And I can remember them.

      Also homosexuality is certainly a taboo in westeros – it would certainly be difficult for any outlaw or soldier (who do most of the raping) to rape a man and keep their face among their peers.

      You seem to be under the impression that male-on-male rape is an expression of homosexuality, and male rape can only take place in an atmosphere of LGBT rights. What very odd ideas. Do you suppose homosexuality is super okay hunky-dory among the regime forces in Syria? Or that the person who violated Gadaffi in his last moments was attracted to him?

    • Jen
      Posted March 16, 2013 at 12:33 am | Permalink

      I think you misunderstand the point of prisoner rape. It’s not something men do because they’re homosexual. Straight men can rape other men. It’s about power, humiliation, degradation – it’s not about gratification or preference. It can also be carried out using objects other than the penis. You think Biter (I think it’s Biter?) threatens to fuck Arry with “his” sword because Biter is gay? I have my doubts… Outlaws and soldiers in Westeros wouldn’t risk losing face in front of their peers, because their peers would be in line behind them.

      As for the idea that rape is a necessary plot device to provide a character with a harsh background… This is called “lazy writing”. There’s the entire range of human experience and emotion to draw on. People can experience a massive range of traumas. Sometimes rape is the one that serves the necessary dramatic function. Sometimes it’s just what a writer falls back on when they can’t be bothered applying things like depth and subtlety.

  30. Posted March 15, 2013 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

    1. In the comics, Batman has been raped numerous times, both figuratively and literally, and has even had a child born from that rape. (We won’t even mention various and sundry mind controlling villains such as the Mad Hatter and Poison Ivy.)

    2. James Bond has been the victim of sexual violence and torture going all the way back to his very first novel, Casino Royale. Castration threats on film go back as far as Goldfinger.

    • Sophia
      Posted March 16, 2013 at 12:21 am | Permalink

      I don’t want to dismiss the rape of men by women, but it’s nowhere near as big a risk to men who find themselves in dangerous and violent situations as rape by men. Yet the former allows male writers/artists to draw titillating (to them) images of beautiful, lusty women ravishing men, and the latter doesn’t, so in the rare situation that a man *is* sexually victimised, it’s almost always the former.

      And castration threats and rape are nowhere near identical, I’m sorry.

      • Posted March 16, 2013 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

        Being from the UK, you probably weren’t familiar with the restrictions put on Batman comics by the Comics Code Authority, which banned all discussion of homosexuality until 1989. Batman in particular had been singled out for scrutiny, having a young boy for a sidekick, up to and including Congressional investigations during the Lavender Scare of the 50’s. DC Comics stopped submitting their comics for Code approval in 2010.

        As for castration threats and rape threats not being equivalent– I suspect we’re going to have to either agree to disagree here, or get engaged in a much longer discussion.

        • Sophia
          Posted March 17, 2013 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

          1989 was 24 years ago. I’m not sure what relevance this has here, especially as this is very far from a discussion of homosexuality in American comics in the eighties.

          Castration threats and rape threats might, possibly, be equivalent to the person experiencing them, but are not remotely equivalent to the viewer when portrayed in fiction. Every single time I see a woman threatened with rape I am seeing something invoked of which I live in constant fear. Being put in situations where I think I might be about to be raped is not abstract to me. I have experienced it. I am thinking you have not been in a situation where you thought you were about to get castrated. But you, as a man, are *also* at far greater risk of being raped than you are of being castrated. “Aha Mr Bond, I am going to laser you up the midline, starting with your groin” may make the audience wince, but it invokes a far less intimate fear.

          • Christian R. Conrad
            Posted April 6, 2013 at 1:50 am | Permalink

            1989 was 24 years ago.

            You say that as if 24 years were a particularly long time. I suspect you must be quite a bit younger than I… :-)

            (That is, the relevance here is that both American comics in the eighties and James Bond films in the early oh-tens are examples of recent popular culture. At least for some of us.)

  31. GarrettC
    Posted March 15, 2013 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

    There is, eventually, a case of male rape in A Song of Ice and Fire. Jon Snow is coerced rather forcibly into having lots and lots and lots of sex. This does not a counter-point make, though. The depiction remains problematic. The problem Jon Snow has is not that he’s been violated as a person, physically, emotionally, or sexually, but that he’s been made to tarnish his honor by breaking his vows. There is a bit of realism in the idea that he faults himself (as an oathbreaker)following the trauma, but I’m not convinced that the thing he feels guilty for is not still an unrealistic depiction, or at least an effed updisplacement, of what that guilt should actually be.

    Also, he enjoys all the sex. There’s remarkably little anguish or conflict over the sex itself.

    I haven’t read far enough to see if he displays any lasting signs of trauma or, significantly, any depiction of the recovery process (the exclusion of the latter being one of the major faults of many a rape narrative’s conclusion).

  32. Elizabeth Pickett
    Posted March 16, 2013 at 1:03 am | Permalink

    I nominate you for Wonder Woman of the Century. I haven’t read your books. I will now.

    • Sophia
      Posted March 16, 2013 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

      Aww, thanks!

  33. jmb
    Posted March 16, 2013 at 1:34 am | Permalink

    I’ve noticed that in multiple other “gritty” fantasy books — male characters may be threatened with rape by slavers or child molesters, but they’re ALWAYS rescued/manage to escape in the nick of time, however unlikely.

    Female characters don’t get that charity, though. Their rapes are completed, often in on-screen detail…

  34. Jonathon Side
    Posted March 16, 2013 at 2:34 am | Permalink

    Very well written post. A lot of food for thought, something else I shall have to keep in mind when writing and reading…

    It’s also a question (or series of them) that I have struggled with in my own work. At one point, I had considered a situation of peril for the heroine… non-sexual peril, I’m pleased to say. Wrongfully imprisoned and forced to fight to the death in a bloodsport arena. But, being the heroine, she refuses to kill… and that’s where I started to go off the rails. What happens next? They could kill her, sure, but then the story ends. Ok, what else… well, how about the guys running the arena also run other shady businesses, like brothels… and to soften the effect on the reader, I could gloss over things, she could be drugged, and…

    … and I got very uncomfortable with my line of thinking. Over how EASY it was to go down that path. So I reined in that horse before it went off the cliff, and… ok, maybe she gets sold into slavery. It’s a peril, not specifically or necessarily sexual… but, as with the torture scene your friend watched, it seemed like sexual peril should be addressed. REALISM, amirite? So maybe one of the guards escorting her to her fate decides to ‘sample the wares’ before handing her over… and conveniently gets killed by her friends rescuing her. Or something.

    Except that still didn’t sit right. Too much in line with common depictions of women, with all the ugliness I read about in articles like these. Too much like the things I want to change and do differently.

    So that’s all shelved until I can work it out better. Maybe it happens to one of her male adventuring buddies. Or something.

    Of course, before I can write any of it, I have to get past the first page of the book.

    • Paul T.
      Posted March 17, 2013 at 2:22 am | Permalink

      Here’s my first thought in reaction to your dilemma:

      Can’t you present that kind of theme in the story without necessary dealing with rape? For instance, maybe a female slave carries a much higher price if she’s “inviolate”, or the slave pit owner, despite any other kind of moral flaws, has a soft spot around this issue and all the guards are scared to death of facing his or her wrath?

      It’s unpleasant enough that she’s a slave and supposed to kill or die, and is now being sold. Does it have to be rape? Some scenes where the danger might be her being sold into a certain kind of slavery could underscore this just as well.

      But now, having written that, I wonder whether I’m helping or just adding to the problem. Does dealing with the character’s “value” as an object of desire lead us back to the same problem no matter how we present it?

      The only solution I can think of is to always present rape and sexual violence from the perspective of the victim, whenever possible. Don’t make it a cliche “backstory event”; only include it if it’s truly significant to the characters and the story, and make damn sure you address the consequences – make those the focus rather than the event itself, perhaps.

      • Jonathon Side
        Posted March 18, 2013 at 11:07 am | Permalink

        Part of the problem, I think, lies in that the story has to move, events must happen, and perhaps I’m just piling too much on the scales.

        And no, that’s the thing, it doesn’t have to be rape, I’m just trying to be careful as to how and whether I use it as a story device.

        And yes, I certainly want to avoid giving any indication that women only have value as objects of desire.

        I’ll keep your advice in mind. It’s certainly not in her backstory at the moment… an attempt was, come to think of it, but that’s scotched, largely because her backstory keeps shifting. I keep finding other flaws and problems. Like “Wait, why DO they live on this island? How am I going to get her to where she needs to be??”

        And so on.

    • Sophia
      Posted March 18, 2013 at 12:04 am | Permalink

      First of all, I’m not saying that no one should ever have female characters raped, or threatened with it. Sometimes an unskillful aversion can even be somewhat offensive; lately I began reading a book which had a teenage girl as slave to a middle aged man. They hate each other, she’s openly disrespectful of him all the time, he beats her a lot, and “wants” her, but he doesn’t rape her, because he knows she’d kill him if he did. Which blithely implies that women who are raped just aren’t tough enough to scare their rapists out of it, displays absurd ignorance of the most basic facts about how slavery works, (YOUR SLAVEOWNER THINKS YOU MIGHT KILL HIM, YOU END UP SOLD SOMEWHERE WORSE OR DEAD!) while also just being really… stupid. (If she’s that willing to kill him, why doesn’t she just do it and escape? Why is this an response reserved for rape?). Anyway, sometimes it *is* realistic, in which case it’s a matter of working out how to handle it thoughtfully. And I do want authors to worry about this, I think worrying is important and I do it a lot,, but it’s a process you go through, not an end state! So, worry, examine where your ideas come from, that’s great, but don’t take your discomfort as a sign it’s hopeless and you’re never going to be able to tell the story, nor that you’re never allowed to stop worrying long enough to put pen to paper. (Or pixels to screen).

      All that said, it seems to me your problem is that your heroine has too many problems: first she’s flung into the arena, presumably as punishment/execution, but then that doesn’t take, so instead of just killing her which really is kind of the point of the arena, they decide on a new form of punishment, which has to be extra-bad to somehow outweigh the arena, hence your problem…? If it’s the *second* punishment that’s where the story is actually going to go next, why not just skip the arena? They could condemn her to work in some sort of awful mine or what-have-you, or doing… something…with some toxic substance — some form of hard labour that everyone knows kills workers slowly and painfully within like 6-18 months. The exact nature of what she ends up doing will naturally depend on the nature of your world… I kind of like the idea of being made to muck around with something radioactive … but there are more classical precedents: (among others).

      • Jonathon Side
        Posted March 18, 2013 at 11:30 am | Permalink

        Yes, well, worry is my default state of existence when it comes to writing. It’s not just this topic that gets me wound in knots. But because I’ve been more alert to it (and other issues like racism), I’m trying to be more sensitive to how things might appear to the reader. How, and what, to communicate.

        Granted, I’m not going to please everyone, but still…. A while ago, I saw an author criticised for not having many coloured people in his work, not even in the real-world neighbourhoods that, historically, are predominantly coloured. His reaction was kind of an angry bewilderment, because to him, those neighbourhoods were not the same as they are in life. To him, despite using the name of the city, and neighbourhoods, and landmarks, in his head the city was completely fictional, laid out differently, not remotely similar. And the thing is, I’ve read his books and NONE of that is telegraphed in any way that I recall, certainly not in any way that people not from that city would pick up on. (While clearly, those from the city DO pick up on things, and just think he got it wrong).

        So yeah. Mostly I want to avoid looking like I’m using rape as a gratuitous throw away thing. To expand a little further on the issue, at one point the sketchy outline I had for her was something like….

        – she’s an important person in her home town. She thinks her boyfriend loves her, but he’s really only interested in how her status can help him. And, among other things, being the father of her child would raise his status. So when she leaves on this big quest, he tries to convince her to get pregnant before she goes. She refuses because, well, she doesn’t know how long she’ll be gone. Or if she’ll return. So he tries to force the issue, forgetting she has warrior training, and he gets hurt. End of relationship… and one use or threatened use of rape on the tallyboard.
        – While travelling between cities, she runs afoul of bandits, manages to fight off a couple and escape, and they show up later to get revenge. And bandits being unsavoury…. another threat, another tally mark.
        – And then the arena/pit scene. Mark three.

        So, as if the arena/pit mess didn’t make me uncomfortable enough, the number of times I’d casually loaded this into the rough outline bothered me. Is this really the only thing I can think of to confront the heroine and raise the stakes?

        So, yes, I worry. I want it to be thoughtful and considered. And if it ever is, I will then try to write it as such.

        As for the specific problem, you might be right. Maybe I am just putting too many weights on the scale. And it might also be a lack of worldbuilding and outlining, come to that. As you say, the nature of the world might lend itself to other options.

        Thanks for the advice! :) As Fagan says in ‘Oliver!’, I think I better think it out again!

        • Sophia
          Posted March 19, 2013 at 10:53 am | Permalink

          Erm, by the way, “people of colour” or such, not “coloured people.”

          Best of luck with your story!

    • Posted March 19, 2013 at 6:16 am | Permalink

      Maybe the threat of harm to her loved ones ups the ante on the arena? IRL threats or retaliation against one’s children or family are very often used too keep people in line. That, and humiliation.

  35. Posted March 16, 2013 at 3:05 am | Permalink

    Brilliant article first of all, thank you! I haven’t read your books, but I’m gonna! :)

    As a fan of fantasy fiction, I’ve struggled with this new “gritty” bent the genre has taken recently with the likes of GRRM and Joe Abercrombie making “wallpaper” (to borrow your phrase) out of rape and violence.

    One of the more egregious examples from the genre is from “The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant”. In the first book, “Lord Foul’s Bane” Thomas Covenant, the protagonist and a leper, wakes up in an alternate magical reality where his disease disappears. In the exuberance of sensation and the joys thereof returning to his body, he rapes a young woman who is trying to help him. Sure, the rest of the series is all about his penance for that original sin in many ways, and he does feel horrible about having done it, but I remember reading this at 18 years of age and being just… aghast… for a time. It was the first time I really thought about rape as an issue.

    It is wonderful that you are asking writers to adopt a more compassionate approach to their readers. And the points about Bond and Batman are well taken too…

  36. Posted March 16, 2013 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    Been very busy in the few days since I first read this, but this is excellent and one of the best things I’ve read about rape in fiction and film.

    Anna mentions Pulp Fiction, which I thought of also, but it isn’t the equivalent of the rape that typically happens to female protagonists; it is act of revenge and it is (I feel, although I have argued with folk who tell me I have to watch it again) somewhat played for gross-out laughs.

  37. Posted March 16, 2013 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    This is an excellent and much-needed post, and I’m glad it’s generating a lot of discussion.

    The odd – and disturbing – thing about Silva’s threat to Bond is that it seems to be being interpreted (by men in particular) as an attempted seduction, rather than a threat of rape. I think this is part of a more general problem of representation, whereby the only instances (in mainstream media at least) of male-male (I don’t want to say ‘sex’ because it’s not) sexual interaction (for want of a better phrase) are predatory and non-consensual. That is, unwanted predatory attention on the part of one man towards another is more commonly depicted in mainstream media than consensual gay relationships. I think this lack of representation feeds into the unfortunate, homophobic and damaging stereotype of gay men being predatory.

    As far as your own works go, the depiction – or lack of multiple, explicit depictions of rape on the part of that character works for two reasons. Firstly, as you say, it is quite clear on the one occasion it is depicted that this is something that happens frequently, offscreen. And secondly, you establish him as failing to think of slaves as human beings and consistently violating their bodily integrity in myriad other (non-sexual) ways, so that a pattern builds up of someone who repeatedly denies their humanity (I’m thinking of one scene in Rome Burning in particular, which is one of the most chilling things I’ve ever encountered in a work of literature).

    • Jonathon Side
      Posted March 18, 2013 at 11:34 am | Permalink

      Well, the whole scene was an attempt at seduction. At least, overtly, with Silva trying to convince Bond to turn on M and join him. Choose your missions! Do whatever you want!

      That was my interpretation, anyways…..

  38. Posted March 16, 2013 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    James Bond was a British public schoolboy who went to Eton and later Fettes College. Many of those viewers, at least in the UK, who were aware of this would have watched on the assumption that he had been involved in some homosexual activity during his adolescent years. Possibly non-consensual occasionally.

  39. TB
    Posted March 16, 2013 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    I’m very glad to read this. The two relevant feminist premises: 1) that rape is more common than men think, and 2) that it’s not great to read constant rape scenes in fiction, are easy enough to reconcile as a reader. But one year I felt like taking a crack at NaNoWriMo, and I had a basic idea, a historical fiction about three women (I had a couple dudes, but they were pretty incidental) in the Persian Empire, and their adventures around the Ancient Near East, and when I came to write it I found myself completely stymied. I really, really didn’t want any rape scenes or anything like it, but I had women in ancient times in a war zone (it was kind of a Mulan sort of thing) and it just seemed dishonest if I completely ignored the possibility–I felt all these (feminist!) voices in my ear saying, “lots of women get raped every day, in much less dangerous circumstances, why are you erasing that?” but at the same time my own voice saying “but I don’t want to read it, I don’t want to write it!” (It didn’t matter that I wasn’t planning to show it to anyone, it felt like a moral issue.) I couldn’t figure it out and I never wrote the book. Maybe I will someday, though, I feel like you’ve given me a healthier way to look at it. Thank you for this post.

  40. Posted March 16, 2013 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    Excellent, thought-provoking essay! However, for two examples of male-on-male rape in bestselling genre fiction:

    Jamie Fraser in Diana Gabaldon’s OUTLANDER
    Vanyel in Mercedes Lackey’s “Last Herald-Mage” series

    • Tansy91
      Posted March 18, 2013 at 8:14 am | Permalink

      I can think of a few others:
      Felix in Sarah Monette’s Doctrine of Labyrinths series
      Rape (by both men and women?) is part of Finnick’s backstory in the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins
      What I find immediately notable is that all of these books are written by women, who are probably more aware of the reality of rape than most male authors. Another thing is that both Vanyel and Felix are gay – it seems more common/acceptable to deal with male-on-male rape of the victim is gay, possibly because it’s not seen as emasculating in the same way as it is if the victim is straight… which seems pretty fucked up to me.

    • LF
      Posted April 9, 2013 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

      Vanyel was the first thing that jumped to my mind. And no, absolutely not as a way to detract from the arguments in this piece. The circumstances of his rape are exactly the culmination of the things Ms. McDougall mentions in her article. Powerful man overpowered and taken prisoner. While the language of the guards makes it clear they’re aware of Vanyel’s orientation, I think it’s also abundantly clear that it’s a relatively minor detail to them — their actions would not have been different had Vanyel been straight. This much is clear by the young boy the bandits keep in their “employ”.

      Much respect to Ms. Lackey for the size of her metaphorical balls. All things considered, she’s definitely a hero of mine.

  41. Jhana Bach
    Posted March 16, 2013 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    This was a fantastic piece and I enjoyed it from beginning to end. I think it’s fascinating the vitriol that pointing to sexualized violence (or threat of violence) brings out in some people. Perhaps people don’t want to acknowledge their own vulnerability, or perhaps they have never felt threatened, but for adult women, I don’t see how that would possible.
    This may sound sadistic, but I LOVE the fact that Daniel Craig has been in films often gratuitously show him nude more than his female counterparts, and that we saw him stripped and tortured in Casino Royale (I swear I’m not into that sort of thing but it was so refreshing to see it happening to a man). On the Bond scene with Silva, my reaction was that while Bond is always cheeky when he’s in danger, he didn’t seem threatened, which was perhaps a missed opportunity if a Bond film were going to address the vulnerability to rape we all face. Whether one should do so is another discussion.
    What I would like to add to your piece is an awareness of how, for the last five years or so, even consensual sex scenes in film have gotten raunchy and violent. They so rarely, rarely focus on women’s pleasure and I find them increasingly difficult to watch. I had to stop watching True Blood for that reason and didn’t get through more than one episode of Rome because of what I describe as the ‘HBO rape aesthetic.’ I blame this on bleed-over from porn into mainstream culture, and I shudder at the degree to which the objectification and domination of women has become normalized.

  42. Scot
    Posted March 16, 2013 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

    It occurs to me that there is an enormously prominent SF (not fantasy, by common parlance) book that features a fair bit of male rape: Frank Herbert’s Dune. Baron Harkonnen has slave-boys taken to his quarters for his sexual pleasure, and the Baron is far from a gentle man. It’s also overtly stated the Baron would love to rape Paul Atreides (as it turns out, his own grandson!) and most likely would rape his designated heir, his nephew Feyd al’Rautha, if the Baron didn’t have wider plans for him.

    There are also strong implications that the Emperor’s nigh-unmatchable military force, the Sardaukar, are “groomed” on a survival-of-the-fittest prison planet, Salusa Secundus, where male “bonding” in a perversion of ancient Spartan practices is encouraged.

  43. Paul T.
    Posted March 17, 2013 at 2:17 am | Permalink


    I just wanted to leave a note saying that your article made my day. It’s intelligent, articulate, and to the point, on a very difficult topic, and makes its points in a firm yet gentle way.

    There’s a lot to think about here for anyone who is a consumer of fiction/media as well as anyone looking to create fiction.

  44. Sean Fear
    Posted March 17, 2013 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    Rape of male prisoners is a constant fear in Harry Sidebottom’s Warrior of Rome series.

    But, going back to ASOIAF, we encounter a renegade priest who rapes and kills boys, boys getting sold into sexual slavery, a Maester who gets “used as a woman” by Ironborn, male sex slaves who have to service their masters, a man who’s been sexually abused by his brother, and threats of sodomy directed at both men and boys. Martin depicts a pretty grim world for both men and women, but mostly compassionately, IMHO.

  45. Posted March 17, 2013 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    As has been pointed out above, the rape of men by other men is present in ASoIaF, though it does not become a bigger issue until later on. One of the key POV characters in the series suffers severe degradation (including, it is implied, rape and then castration) at the hands of a captor. It is unpleasant, and is meant to be. The threat of rape against a member of the Night’s Watch does appear later on. No less than three notable male characters experience some form of sexual abuse from older siblings (though two are rather vague on it). A minor male character experiences a rather horrendous gang-rape (off-screen).

    However, I do have to contradict the above assertion that a female wildling raped a member of the Night’s Watch. They fancied one another previously and her ‘blackmailing’ of him is implied to be a joke (and it’s never presented as non-consensual). There is actually a HUGELY problematic depiction of female-on-male rape in THE WHEEL OF TIME novels which is considerably more divisive than anything similar in the ASoIaF books (mainly because the author played it, unsuccessfully, for laughs).

    However, I don’t believe that ‘rape as wallpaper’ was GRRM’s intent, though certainly for many fans (who do not question it) that was the outcome. We do get a good look at peaceful Westeros at the start of the first book, and in the prequel novellas set eighty-odd years earlier, and it’s actually an okay place to live, much more like an actual realistic depiction of actual medieval England (complete with rape being a lot rarer than you’d think, due to the punishment being castration, death or exile to the Wall, which isn’t much better). The issue in the books is that what happens is that the continent descends into an all-out warzone where the laws fall silent and everyone gets away with horrendous crimes that wouldn’t even be contemplated in peacetime. It’s not even the same as during traditional medieval battles, as the war takes place guerrilla-style over a large area with lots of roaming bands of soldiers making their way through civilian areas. Parallels can be drawn with the situations in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, and less so than the big set-piece battles of real medieval times, which tended not to take place in civilian locales.

    • GarrettC
      Posted March 20, 2013 at 11:19 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for responding to my comment about Jon Snow, and I’d like to clarify my position about him. I really don’t think we should understand the sex he had as consensual. He’s tortured for chapters and chapters by the possibility that in order to follow the orders Qhorin gave him (and to escape detection as a mole), he’ll need to have sex with Ygritte. He resists it for as long as possible and does not do it initially because he wants to but because he feels he needs to. That’s my reading of the event and those leading up to it, anyway. He certainly fancies Ygritte, but I think it’s a dangerous edge to walk to suggest that romantic feelings are grounds for presumed consent.

      I don’t see how her coercion is implied to be a joke, either. She’s actively pursuing him sexually, and when the moment comes that his life is in danger she plays it in such a way that the only way he can escape being killed is to start sleeping with her. Even if she is joking, there is a major problem with the actual consequences that would follow if he did not decide to do it. He would have been killed.

  46. Posted March 18, 2013 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    This is a really interesting thoughtful article: thank you. I haven’t read the books you’re referring to, but I did think about this when I saw Skyfall. I felt a bit jaded watching that scene as it’s getting so common to use sexual violence as a cheap trope in fiction, film and TV. I do find it, often, to be a cheap trick by lazy writers. I also think that the commonplaceness of it in fiction helps to make us inured to its existence in real life.

    That given, I wanted to raise the question of what is ‘realistic’? I have, in real life, travelled a lot on my own. I have been in some vulnerable situations, pre-mobile phones, when no-one knew where I was. It would have taken weeks to find me missing or to report a crime. And yet, I passed perfectly unscathed. Not everyone – even in poor, violent societies succumbs to their worst instincts. How realistic is it to have the worst happen all the time? Of course it is realistic to have the threat of sexual violence – all women feel the threat of sexual violence, sadly – but honestly, how ‘realistic’ is it that it is always carried through? Isn’t it really more about cheap tittilation and a lack of imagination on behalf of the author, than being ‘realistic’?

    I also feel that the prevalence of these ‘stock events’ presupposes the reader to expect them. This is a problem for a writer. I am halfway through writing a novel and one of the characters in it is gay. I really have no interest (nor any plot relevance) in his early sex life, but there is a love affair, as an adult, which is enormously important to him. I wanted to only write about this plot-and-character-crucial relationship, but the more I thought about it, the more I came to think that if I just brought in his gayness at that point then it would produce a load of inaccurate assumptions by the readers. People would assume that he had been abused at school (he isn’t) that his mother is domineering (she isn’t) or that his father is cold and distant (he isn’t). He actually has a very happy childhood. He’s just gay because he is. But I’m feeling like I’m having to write a load of things that really don’t matter, just to fight off people’s expectations.

    Thanks for writing this.

  47. Patricia Bray
    Posted March 18, 2013 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    Great essay! I’ve seen several posts on this topic, but yours stands out as a thoughtful, evenhanded approach, while so many of us were still at the flailing stage.

  48. Posted March 18, 2013 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    First reaction: Definitely true, both of current shoot-’em-ups generally and the World of Westeros in particular.

    Second reaction: As with Inglourious Basterds and, AIUI, the Dragon Tattoo stories, a ramping-up of violence (both in incidence and in graphic depiction) does not actually bring the reader a lot closer to the reality of violence as people in the real world experience it.

    Third thought: “I could just wave my hands and declare that bad stuff would happen, but not that kind of bad stuff”. Yes, but it all depends on which way you wave your hands. Simply not mentioning the possibility of rape is bad. Lampshading it by having the heroine admit she had been expecting to be raped is not a lot better. How about having a mid-level official saying sternly to the chief interrogator, “Never mind what is typical. You know what happened to my family during the Poltroonian invasion. There had better be no sexual mistreatment of female prisoners” — is that better?

    Fourth thought: “Facing a megalomaniac psychopath gloating over causing him pain before taking over the world is not the average man’s average day at the office.” Well . . . reports differ on that point.

    Fifth thought: “[I]f there’s any part of you that answers, that you wouldn’t find a male survivor of rape heroic . . . you need to not be writing about rape at all.”, that’s a very good point right there, and very good advice.

    Sixth thought: Years ago I read a story in which the hero was a man who held a relatively privileged position in a society dominated by barely-humanoid alien conquerors because he was occasionally visited by one of the aliens, who enjoyed raping him in an inadequate simulation of the aliens’ form of copulation. Said performance ended with the alien ejaculating from his “fingertips” onto the man’s chest — one of the challenges of this experience was to avoid coming into contact with the jellylike ejaculate, which caused intense pain, although at the end of the story, the man accidentally gets some of it on his skin, and embraces the pain as a kind of pleasure, or at least a kind of release.
    I found the story memorably creepy. Long after I read it, I realized that it almost certainly began life as a story of a woman in the same situation*, and had to admit to myself that I would have found the story in that form less memorable, and more titillating. Some would say that the protagonist’s gender was changed solely to make the story more “edgy”. I would argue that it makes the meaning of the story come through more clearly, much as does the resetting of a story from human history onto an alien planet / species.
    *It might also have begun as the story of a woman and a Nazi in occupied France, for that matter.
    By the way, does anyone recognize this story? I think it ran in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in the 1970s.

    Seventh (though by no means final) thought: The Bechdel Rule asks whether a movie has two or more female characters, two of whom talk at some point about some topic other than a man or men. The Claremont Rule asks if there is any definite reason a character could not be a woman. As John W. Campbell took it upon himself to list the Laws of Robotics which Isaac Asimov merely referred to, I will take it upon myself to phrase a set of McDougall Rules: 1) If a character in this story is to be raped or has been raped, is this an essential part of the story, or just an “extra”? 2) Would rape be just as essential to the story if the person being raped were a man?

  49. Heliopuase
    Posted March 19, 2013 at 3:17 am | Permalink

    Thank you for this — it’s been an issue I’ve been pondering for a couple of weeks now, having read Seanan Mcguire’s short and terrific post on LiveJournal of September 28 last year. I’m also finding the ideas useful to help me consider how to deal with writing about non-sexual violence.

  50. Kalice
    Posted March 19, 2013 at 6:13 am | Permalink

    I appreciate you bringing up all these points. This was a recent topic of discussion on Vaginal Fantasy (a paranormal romance book club created by Felicia Day and friends). They discussed Diana Gabaldon’s novel, Outlander, which has both male and female rape. It might be enlightening to bring that novel, or those women’s discussion of it into this conversation. It can be found on YouTube on the Geek and Sundry channel.

  51. Tim Hall
    Posted March 19, 2013 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    An entire article on male rape in fiction….and not a single mention of Deliverance?

    • Sophia
      Posted March 19, 2013 at 10:45 am | Permalink

      Look, this is not just aimed at you, but I am not compiling not a freaking compendium of rapes in fiction. As mentioned above, I never said at any point that male rape has never been written about or portrayed *anywhere*. I’ve said that it is not held to the same standards of “realism” that female rape is *across the board*. That the odd counterexample stands out as memorable and shocking whereas we don’t blink at rape threats against women in films for *children* underscores the point, it doesn’t rebut it.

      • Tim Hall
        Posted March 19, 2013 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

        Except you’re saying that mald rape “isn’t held to the same standards of realism” by cherry picking only examples that support that argument. You specifically raise the issue of male rape statistics ballooning in the context of the prison population and then fail to raise any make prison films except for one sequence in a Batman film. Even The Shawshank Redemption, one of the most populist of prison films, contains rape. Its also hilariously hypocritical to attack me by saying you never intended to create a “compendiun of rape in fiction” in one breath, then turn around and say that me bringing up “the odd counterexample” somehow reinforces your point. Here’s a fact: Dekiverance is not an outlier, it’s simply one part of a large number if films and books that deal with make rape that you’re conveniently ignoring to make your argument.

        • ERose
          Posted March 19, 2013 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

          Do you even realize that you dug up an example from 1972 – 41 years ago, here – as an example of a *common* trend she ignored? Or that Shawshank Redemption is 19 years old? Your big examples are 20 years apart – 20 years ago – and your argument begins and ends with their existence. If you think that qualifies as a legitimate engagement with this argument, you clearly didn’t pay that much attention to what she actually said.
          Case in point – this article isn’t about “male rape in fiction.” It’s about applying a common justification for female rape as a plot device to a different kind of character arc to test its merits and point out potential inconsistencies, particularly as they apply to fantasy. All of which you ignore in favor of a “gotcha” that doesn’t actually get anything.

        • Sophia
          Posted March 20, 2013 at 12:08 am | Permalink

          “Case in point – this article isn’t about “male rape in fiction. It’s about applying a common justification for female rape as a plot device to a different kind of character arc to test its merits and point out potential inconsistencies, particularly as they apply to fantasy. All of which you ignore in favor of a “gotcha” that doesn’t actually get anything.”

          Quoted because it’s perfect. As ERose so eloquently explained, Tim Hall, you are not engaging with the actual post. Check the attitude, please, or future comments from you will not be getting through.

          • Tim Hall
            Posted March 20, 2013 at 3:37 am | Permalink

            [Has a lot of feelings, boasts about how he’s clearly “touching a nerve”, cannot take a hint, won’t be posting here any more]

            Yes, Tim, when women talk about sexism and rape and men jump into say how THAT THING YOU SAY HAPPENS TO WOMEN EVERY DAMN DAY HAPPENS TO MEN EVERY NOW AND AGAIN, THEREFORE NO DOUBLE STANDARD EXISTS AND THE STATUS QUO MUST NEVER CHANGE, it does touch a nerve. It’s really fucking tiresome.


  52. Posted March 19, 2013 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    This post is wonderful. One may wonder why men do not face fictional rape at the same rates as they do in reality, when the writer claims “realism” compels him or her to write rape as a plot point for many women. One could just as easily wonder why more elders are not raped in such, considering the high rates of elder sexual abuse. I’d guess because it’s not considered titillating.

    Of course immediately upon reading this I tried to think of instances of male rape, and though it happens in fiction rape is overwhelmingly associated with women. You pointed out that even children’s entertainment focuses sexual violence on women, and that is certainly true– I’d go even farther and say that children’s fiction and entertainment practically defines femininity as rapability, particularly in those ensemble casts where every character is simply a character, except The Girl, who is a sexualized character, therefore anything that is sexualized happens to her. And having The Girl consent to every bit of that enormous amount of sexualized interaction would probably raise some parental eyebrows whereas apparently parents are ok with repeated suggestive kidnappings and harassment. I’m thinking of everything from the Ninja Turtles to Disney princess movies– though Dot on Animaniacs didn’t really play into that formula if I remember; she was more like Elaine on Seinfeld.

    Anyway, what you said about it not being necessary to X number of rapes in order to convey that there is a lot of rape in X society, reminded me of misconceptions that people seem to have regarding rape in real life. No matter how much a rape or rapist may follow a pattern of behavior that is well documented throughout society, so so many people will regard it as a freak occurrence, one isolated, remarkable tragedy involving a sick weird rapist. And no matter how many times these types of thinkers learn of another rape, it’s always another isolated incident. Nowhere is the recognition of the effects of living with a threat of rape, the way the prevalence of rape affects SO many facets of life for a vast number of people. Perhaps the decision of a writer to convey a “rape culture” as a string of isolated rapes rather than focusing on the quality of life in such a society, is a reflection of this “freak occurrence” attitude. The lack of understanding that a “rape culture” is more than the sum of the rapes (though that would be horrible enough)– it is a way of life within that culture.

    • Sophia
      Posted March 19, 2013 at 11:03 am | Permalink

      That’s very well put.

  53. Sami
    Posted March 20, 2013 at 6:30 am | Permalink

    I think you make good points. That last challenge, though – I don’t think I could write a story about a man recovering from rape in that way, because I don’t think I could write it from the perspective of a man, sufficiently.

    Which really just reminds me of how many stories I’ve read where a male writer seems to think he can write a woman’s process of dealing with that kind of thing, and it’s terrible.

  54. Charlie
    Posted March 20, 2013 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    Excellent article, and something I’ve often thought. Have you read this article from the Guardian on male rape in warzones? The Rape of Men. It argues that it is significantly more prevalent than most people believe, and incidentally much more prevalent than you suggest here. If your male hero is a prisoner of war in a fantasy or science-fictional warzone (a pretty common situation in genre books), it sounds like the odds of him NOT being raped are pretty low. I remember noticing this in one of David Weber’s books when a man and a woman are taken prisoner by a mixed-gender group of really evil pirates, and mysteriously only the woman gets raped (the man gets traumatised by _watching_ the rape, a very common trope).

    • Sophia
      Posted March 20, 2013 at 9:08 pm | Permalink


      A study of 6,000 concentration-camp inmates in Sarajevo found that 80% of men reported having been raped”

      Later on I speak with Dr Angella Ntinda, who treats referrals from the RLP. She tells me: “Eight out of 10 patients from RLP will be talking about some sort of sexual abuse.”

      “Eight out of 10 men?” I clarify.

      “No. Men and women,” she says.

      “What about men?”

      “I think all the men.”

      I am aghast.

      “All of them?” I say.

      You know, I thought the real figure would be higher worldwide/in warzones — that’s indeed the exact point I’d making — I’d even seen a quote from that article (subsequent to writing this piece). And I have some issues with the way that article’s written (it gets a bit close to “female rape survivors have it easy!” at times). But damn, those figures. I didn’t think I’d be shocked and I still am.

      I felt it was appropriate to start with a relatively conservative figure for this piece because, though 1/33 is a long way from 1/4 or from what’s depicted in that article… think of all the times you’ve been 1/33, you know? That’s higher odds than you have when applying for most jobs now.

  55. Posted March 20, 2013 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    This essay is fantastic. Absolutely fantastic.

    (Also: I really should know better than to be shocked by the number of ignorant gits commenting on this post. But I live in hope.)

  56. Levicus
    Posted March 20, 2013 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    If a related form of media isn’t unwelcome, there was an interesting treatment of this subject in the video game “Dragon Age 2″. The element I found intriguing is that, as far as I am aware, the only character in the story who has experienced rape is a male, as a slave to a male owner. Now, this is an entry in a very, very dialogue and content heavy pair of video games. Consequently, it is not unthinkable there is information I am not acquainted with that would revise this assessment. But to the best of my knowledge he is the only character to have experienced sexual violation.

    That being said, it is an extremely dark setting. Characters of both genders are subjected to monstrous and invasive acts that could be described in similar terms. But this is the only incident of “conventional” sexual assault, rather than supernatural violation.

    I’m a little unsure of how to interpret its handling, however, and would welcome input from other commentators. The subject never comes up until an encounter with the character’s former master, who strongly alludes to it (bringing it up as a means of tormenting the character). It is never mentioned explicitly, nor is the term “rape” used. The character does seem to harbor a deep, prevailing resentment of said former master, but while it’s a primary motivator, it’s not a sole one, as it is for many female characters in similar positions. His desire for freedom seems to dominate, and he has secondary ideals sprinkled in as well. He seems more interested simply in retaining his autonomy than in revenge, as far as my reading went.

    I think this case is a bit noteworthy because if anything, in my admittedly subjective and finite experience, this may be an even more rare phenomenon in the arena of interactive media. The subject itself is by and large shied away from, but for it to befall a man is probably proportionately much more uncommon than in movies or literature. It is perhaps worth noting that the game was created by Bioware, a company that has not typically been shy about LGB topics, so this is perhaps a little less exceptional coming from them (quite a few of their games raise same-sex/bisexual romance/sexuality as a topic and even an option for player characters). If this isn’t too out of line with the non-interactive media being discussed, this might warrant some discussion. I’d be interested to hear what others think.

  57. Posted March 20, 2013 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    This is a great and thought-provoking post.

    Unfortunately, I have nothing “interesting” to say about my contribution (I don’t present it a a counterpoint at all), but I am a little surprised nobody has mentioned Michael Crichton’s Disclosure as an example of a fictional setting where a man was raped.

    Indeed, the entire book is centred around the rape of the central male character. (I’m not sure how the movie was treated as I haven’t seen it)

    • Sophia
      Posted March 21, 2013 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

      Oh, I’ve just realised what story you’re talking about(I’ve seen bits of the film). The one where a man thinks he should get a promotion, but then a strong, highly sexed woman gets it, and then she sexually harasses and rapes him, then claims that he raped her , right? It’s… incredibly problematic. (I know you’re not offering it as a counterexample, I’m just talking about where I think it fits). Not that a woman doing that in real life isn’t a piece of shit, but the film’s effectively an unacknowledged discrimiflip, with the man suffering the glass ceiling, the harassment, the rape and the woman inflicting it. And, just as writing about a world where black people are the oppressors and white people the oppressed, even if intended to make white people more empathetic, just ends up reinforcing oppression by casting the white people as innocent victims and the black people as evil, this effectively appropriates women’s typical experiences, casting women who challenge the status quo as so dangerous oppressing them is the best thing for everybody. AND with the false-accusations myth, too. Also there’s a strong implication of “if we let women have power they’ll act like men! I.e they’ll rape people!” which is one of those “the patriarchy is actually really offensive to men too” things.

      It’s notable how many of the fictional rapes of men being noted are by women. WOMEN CAN ABSOLUTELY RAPE PEOPLE! AND WHEN THEY DO THEY ARE TERRIBLE! But in the society we live in, a conventionally attractive, lust-filled woman who won’t take no for an answer is much easier to portray as titillating than a man raping another man, which is much more common, ergo, more “realistic” especially in the kind of narratives I’m talking about. I’m not sure that many of these examples are that different from the old school “bodice ripping” romance — a fantasy of losing control to an attractive, demanding partner, though in those old romances the male rapist would get to marry the heroine while the female rapist probably ends up dead or at any rate defeated.

  58. Simmah
    Posted March 21, 2013 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    Hi Sophia,

    I really enjoyed the article, a lot of what you expressed about GRRM’s books resonates for me and I still am trying to work out where I stand on the fantasy/realism/under-age/sexual violence/jousting continuum, if there is such a thing.

    I’m also amazed that so many people are so quick to be abusive about a well-thought out piece, even if they disagree. I can’t say I agree with everything you’ve said but it’s got me thinking and I appreciate that!

    For me, an important factor is that so much of our fiction and, therefore, our pop culture references are written or formed by men (or women who are writing male-oriented fiction). I don’t mean this in an agressive sense; that male writers and directors are fixated on rape or that they enjoy creating stories centred on sexual domination. Rather, I would suggest (from observation of my own reactions and those of the people around me) that the empathy with the male character makes it harder to put him in that situation. I think that these things operate very much in the collective sub-conscious, but I think it’s easy to put yet another female rape in a narrative, whereas the male equivalent would have to be some sort of statement. As a result you even sometimes get sexual abuse/violence of men smuggled through as tomfoolery, almost to avoid the gravity of the situation. The first example that springs to mind is the conclusion to 40 Days & 40 Nights. I remember being mind-boggled when I saw it as a teenager that Josh Hartnett’s character felt compelled to beg forgiveness from his beau after his ex-girlfriend had raped him. “But he loves sex, and this is a fun film so don’t worry about it!” the director tried to reassure me.

    The taboo of male rape, and the lack of education which you refer to in your article may also lead a writer to think that including such a scene in their work is either forced or has some sort of homosexual undertones that they aren’t aiming to include: because male rape “only happens in prison.” As you mentioned, the act of rape for either gender isn’t explicitly a statement of sexuality, but of power, the desire to hurt and to humiliate, especially in a work of fiction, where every creative decision seems to carry a symbolic importance. The very fact that so many people have wasted their time dredging up the same examples of sexual violence against men proves that it is still very much symbolic and that it sticks in the memory. If you asked me to name the films and stories in which there was an example of rape or sexual violence towards a woman, I would probably have to sit down with a very thick notepad in order to catalogue them all.

    I worry that sexual violence and specifically rape of women have now become part of the fictional furniture, deployed whenever you need to express the hostility or brutality of a situation. Sometimes that’s in an american suburban idyll, sometimes it’s in a war zone. Until the rape of men is seriously discussed in society and in literature, I think it’s going to continue to be a rare and therefore memorable narrative feature in most fiction. As well as it being a serious problem I actually think it’s a huge shame, even if that does sound slightly odd at first. I can vividly remember the first time I watched American History X (I was way too young) and Derek’s rape, amongst the other ills that befall him, led me to feel a deep compassion and empathy and understand a little something about sexual brutality that I could never have put into words at that age. I think that’s when cinema is truly powerful.

    The problem is that it’s rarity ensures it’s novelty and therefore it can’t be remedied by one or two films that attempt to tackle the issue. The attitude has to change and then the stigma is lessened and more film makers feel emboldened to include something that they have learnt to accomodate in their conception of violent society. It will be intriguing to see whether this happens in the coming years or whether it’s a taboo too far.

    Thanks for the great article!


  59. Posted March 22, 2013 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    Very interesting and well-expressed article, thank you. Between this and several other discussions on the topic, I’m reminded that the problem with the “realism” argument is that people use the term to mean their concept of what reality is/was like – which is often ahistorical and illogical, and always affected by their prejudices and preconceptions. It’s gotten to the point where I trust someone who explicitly states that they’ve created a fantastic world and that these were the rules that they created to underpin it much more than I do someone who claims to have written their world realistically.

    Something that only occurred to me this morning regarding your discussion of The Dark Knight Rises is that there are in fact two characters who are imprisoned in that novel. Like Bruce Wayne, Catwoman is sent to a prison full of violent degenerates (all of whom appear to be men, despite the fact that the guards explain that the prison population isn’t separated by gender) who have been left to their own devices with little or no control from the guards. And the very first thing that happens to her there, before she’s even been left alone by the guards, is that someone threatens to rape her. Granted, she immediately breaks the guy’s hand, which is supposed to be a sign to the audience that we don’t have to worry about her – whether we’re meant to worry about the other women in the prison, or indeed less powerful men, or draw conclusions about Gotham from the fact that it has willingly created its own hell-pit in the middle of the city, is an interesting question that I suspect I know the answer to – but after reading your post I think it’s very telling that it’s the woman who is even subjected to this threat, while the man is never faced with it.

    • Sophia
      Posted March 22, 2013 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

      You’re so right. I thought after I posted “Wait, doesn’t Catwoman go to prison and there’s a little ‘It’s okay, she won’t get raped, here’s how we’re averting it’ scene?” (It’s telling that this is pretty forgettable). Yet Bruce is at that point in the story, far more vulnerable than she is, and no such aversion is bothered with, it’s just assumed he doesn’t need it.

      Have they dispensed with gender separation completely? I thought it was just her. Either way, not cool, Gotham.

      • Posted March 22, 2013 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

        Yes, when they’re bringing her into the prison Joseph Gordon Levitt’s character asks the guards why she’s being housed with men, and they say that the Dent law (the one passed after Harvey Dent’s supposed martyring, which also made it legal to throw anyone defined as a criminal in prison and throw away the key) allows them to do so. And because this is The Dark Knight Rises we’re talking about, this is only the tenth or twelfth most skeevy and problematic thing that happens in the film.

        • Sophia
          Posted March 23, 2013 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

          I’ve just realised who you are and that I really liked your post on The Dark Knight Rises along with others at Asking the Wrong Questions! (I had slightly higher tolerance for Selina’s ending, but agree with you on I think everything else). Nice to “meet” you!

  60. Posted March 23, 2013 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    In writing my previous comment, I took out a sentence before posting which diluted my main point and made it sound crap…so as you’re moderating anyway I thought I’d have another stab at it. Hope this makes more sense!

    Hi, I thought this was an interesting blog – but am not surprised you’ve taken a lot of abuse about it which is unfortunately how the internet now seems to work.

    I was wondering, however, if a male hero being raped wouldn’t just make men queasy – would it also make the hero less attractive to a lot of women? Surely, part of the appeal of James Bond is that he’s someone we’d like to sleep with because he’s a strong “man’s man”. The old “men want to be him, women want to be with him” cliché. As such, anything that undermines that alpha male masculinity could be a problem for his character and maybe a risk too far for a franchise seeking to make a lot more movies. As such, I’m not sure this sexism is totally down to pandering to the male audience.

    On a related issue, the website TV Tropes has a very interesting section on sexism – listing examples for both male and female characters that are equally as long.

    • Sophia
      Posted March 23, 2013 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

      It’s a sad thing that when I say “Hey, at least no one’s told me to get raped/ that they hope someone rapes me!” …I’m not joking. I actually am relieved about it, based on the experience of other women who’ve written on these issues.

      Your point about women being less attracted to a male rape survivor… well, I don’t really think the decision to not go there is made that consciously in the first place, so I don’t think that’s *why* it’s not there. I think it’s just never considered in the first place, it’s a bit of reality that’s completely disregarded by the same people who take it for granted that the rape of women is “realistic.” Whether a susbstantial proportion of female viewers *would* respond that way if it were included, I can’t say — I hope they wouldn’t, but women are not immune from being victim blamers. Remember I’m not only talking about completed rapes — Abigail above mentions Catwoman being threatened with rape and breaking her would-be-rapist’s hand in the same movie that doesn’t even appear to notice how acutely vulnerable Bruce is to the same thing in the same circumstances. But why shouldn’t a male character go through the same narrative beat? The threat, the aversion — whether that’s by them defending themselves or someone else defending them.

      But certainly, if a writer considering the topic as I suggested they should in the last paragraph comes up with “but he would be less hot!” as a reason for not writing a male rape survivor then I would go ahead and apply the rest of my advice — in that case, you need not to be writing about rape at all, of women *or* men.

  61. Posted March 25, 2013 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    I wrote a male rape (by a female) into the third book in my urban fantasy series (the only rape in the series), and I AGONISED over it. I wrote and rewrote the scene, finally settling on a “this is what I know happened, and if you read between the lines and recognise how the incident changed him, you’ll understand this is what happened, but if you want to not think about it, you can easily pretend otherwise” way of dealing with it. I had his “rescuer” arrive five minutes too late, instead of just in the nick of time (a device that drives me crazy.)

    So I read your article with interest. It reflects a great deal of how I think about sexual violence in fiction. Like any scene, one involving rape should move the plot forward or not happen at all.

  62. Posted March 25, 2013 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    This is an awesome post, and says as clearly as anything why rape is both over and under used in genre fiction.

    I realized two of my most favorite heroes had faced rape, both threats and actuality: Lymond of Dorothy Dunnet’s Lymond Chronicles, and the hero of Dragon Bones and Dragon Blood by Patricia Briggs.

  63. Posted March 26, 2013 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    It seems to me that many of these comments have forgotten your central point, which is, surely, not that rape doesn’t happen to men enough in fiction, but rather that false assumptions about rape DO happen too often in fiction, and too often in a stupid, melodramatic context.

    I think your comment about not doing a rape scene if it doesn’t add to the story really sums up the article. That goes for everything in fiction. A rape scene shouldn’t be used as a cheap bid for reader sympathy or antipathy, or as an attempt to get your readers to think your world is realistic by playing on misconceptions and stereotypes, comforted by the knowledge that your readers have done even less story research than you. Take, just as an example, and since you mention historical fiction, ancient times. Rape was insanely common among the upper classes. The more cossetted the aristocracy, the worse it was. I literally had trouble eating for days as I read about how the Romans and the Chinese treated their servants. Many people seem to think it occurred more throughout history wherever people were more wild. Not so. To make sense of this, one only needs to remember that rape is about power, not sex. Likewise, among those aforementioned upper classes, rape was commonly performed on men, too. Remember, it’s about power, not sex. The truth is often, sadly, far more sinister than the misconception, and more worth writing about.

  64. Posted March 28, 2013 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    Good post, and very closely connected with my own thoughts (which are expressed, and which reference this post, here).

    Rape can be a cheap drama-crutch for bad writing, but that trivializes the crime and propagates the view of rape as “normal”. Writers (for all media) need to fix this.

  65. Posted March 29, 2013 at 5:26 am | Permalink

    “How many times has he [James Bond] found himself utterly at the mercy of men who want to hurt, degrade and humiliate him before killing him?”

    — well, yeah, but how many of those men would be -sexually aroused- by that, in the sense of getting it up and wanting to put it in James?

    Rape -sensu strictu- in the old-fashioned legal definition — forcible penetration by an erect penis — requires, well, an erect penis. And that requires, for the most part, a specifically -sexual- interest on the attacker as well as a simple desire to hurt (or culpable indifference to inflicting pain).

    So to be clear, here I’m leaving aside other aspects of sexualized assault, sexual degradation and so forth. Shoving objects, mutilating the genitals, that sort of thing.

    So yup, Batman should have been threatened with rape when he was helpless in the hellhole lifetime prison; that’s spot-on. I would have reacted with “yeah, that makes sense” if they’d put that in the movie.

    The Night Watch? Maybe. Depends on how segregated the Watch is in fact as opposed to theory. (And leaving aside the pederasty thing.)

    And I’d guess that male-on-male sexual assault is more common in cultures with extreme gender segregation in everyday life, particularly during the post-pubescent latency period.

    But to put it on a personal level, I’ve had people (all men) seriously try to kill me… oh, between one and six times; hard to say exactly, since obviously they didn’t succeed and I’m trying to judge their intentions after failure, but it certainly seemed like a real risk at the time. Rather more have tried to seriously hurt me.

    But IRRC I’ve never even been threatened with sexual assault, unless you count getting kicked in the crotch. Not even when I was at an all-male boarding school. Granted it wasn’t the sort of boarding school where you’re isolated from the surrounding social environment.

    I don’t think, alas, that it would have been possible for a woman to have those life experiences and -not- have been threatened with sexual assault.

    So while not a struck-by-lighting rarity, threats of rape simply aren’t a ubiquitous part of a man’s life except in a few well-defined special circumstances.

    • Sophia
      Posted March 29, 2013 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      Rape with an object is still rape. But even leaving that aside for the sake of argument, nope, a man does not have to be attracted to somebody to rape them. Even he did, how likely is it that no one among Bond’s enemies would either feel “a sexual interest” themselves or have a minion who did? But this is reinforcing the myth that rape is about whom you fancy. How, then, does one explain the fact that during the Bosnian war, out of 6000 male concentration camp victims in Sarejevo, eighty per cent had been raped? (WARNING: that article is very upsetting). The use of rape by the Syrian regime forces of rape as a weapon of terror against both women and men? I think it’s certainly true that gender segregation raises the risk, but not that it defines it entirely, or things like this wouldn’t happen:

      From the Guardian piece:

      “Along with six other men and six women he was marched to a forest in the Virunga National Park.

      Later that day, the rebels and their prisoners met up with their cohorts who were camped out in the woods. Small camp fires could be seen here and there between the shadowy ranks of trees. While the women were sent off to prepare food and coffee, 12 armed fighters surrounded the men. From his place on the ground, Jean Paul looked up to see the commander leaning over them. In his 50s, he was bald, fat and in military uniform. He wore a red bandana around his neck and had strings of leaves tied around his elbows.

      “You are all spies,” the commander said. “I will show you how we punish spies.” He pointed to Jean Paul. ”

      Each of the male prisoners was raped 11 times that night and every night that followed.

      I’m not sure if the female prisoners remained untargeted, but in the first instances, the rapists *specifically* targeted the men, (and specifically framed it as punishment) despite having an equal number of female victims available.

      I’m glad you were never threatened sexually, despite finding yourself in violent and dangerous circumstances, but that doesn’t mean that these things don’t happen. Just as that did not happen to you, despite your theoretical risk being at least somewhat elevated by the circumstances, women do not always get threatened with rape even when in dangerous situations. That’s part of what I’m asking for here — for the full range of women’s violent, unpleasant experiences to be considered in stories in which some kind of peril is a narrative necessity, rather than going straight to the “sexual danger” well every time.

      So while not a struck-by-lighting rarity, threats of rape simply aren’t a ubiquitous part of a man’s life except in a few well-defined special circumstances.

      At no point did I say it was a ubiquitous part of a man’s life — I quoted a US figure of 1/33 as a possible baseline (it’s hard to be at all precise about these things). A large part of the article is pointing out that male characters repeatedly find themselves in those more risky circumstances, which might be 1/6 or, (according to the Guardian article), 4/5. A large part of the article is demonstrating that many male characters fall into those “special circumstances” repeatedly. And even then, I would say, consider all the times you’ve been 1 in 33, (applying for a job? Picked by the teacher out of an overlarge class to do something?) and not thought it strange or surprising.

      Finally — a gender segregated society is also a patriarchal society. Well, yes. Ingrained beliefs about the place of women, and what you may do to put a woman in that place, or reduce a man to a woman’s status, is an enormous part of why rape happens to both women and men. There are circumstances in which those attitudes can get particularly toxic. But 1) our stories go into those places a lot and 2) we don’t yet have a place on Earth in which they’re not present at all.

  66. Tom
    Posted March 30, 2013 at 4:57 am | Permalink

    An example of female-on-male rape that I can think of comes from the video game Metal Gear Solid 2. Otacon, Snake’s tech person, tells his dying sister (as he weeps) about having “had a relationship with [her] mother” (Otacon’s stepmother). Through his tears, he says that she “seduced [him] . . . it was all my fault”. That’s all he’ll say about this event, but from the language he uses, the audience is meant to infer that he was raped. Fan reactions were mixed, ranging from appropriate sympathy to the worst jokes.

    • Sophia
      Posted March 31, 2013 at 10:49 am | Permalink

      I’m approving this as you don’t seem to be trolling or generalising from this one instance that no double standard exists, and the fan reaction is a relevant point. But please check the update and bear in mind that we’re not just compiling a list of male rapes in fiction here.

      It remains very noticeable that the overwhelming majority of male rapes mentioned in these comments feature a female rapist, and no penetration of the male body. I think that’s pretty revealing about what kinds of experiences creators, as a general rule, find palatable to think about.

      • Tom
        Posted April 20, 2013 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

        Ack, I’m sorry for not having read carefully enough. Thank you for bringing the update to my attention, first of all. I definitely didn’t intend to troll, and you are welcome to delete this at your discretion if you don’t feel it’s relevant enough.

        In the world of Metal Gear Solid (primarily military, full of male characters who are considered ideally masculine in contemporary American culture), Otacon does not embody those characteristics. He is physically shorter and slimmer than other men in the series. His emotional reactions come more easily to him (he is shown crying a disproportionate amount) and is often in positions of both physical, and emotional vulnerability throughout the first two games.

        In light of all this, the sexual assault in his backstory seems to underscore the disturbing point that we shouldn’t consider Otacon a “real” man when placed next to Solid Snake, the great super-solider who is very physically strong and intimidating. The more I think about this instance, the more I suspect that Otacon’s character is meant to be a replacement for a female who would have a similar backstory, as there are female characters in the series who are these tough military women.

        I’m not sure this really challenges anything, and fan reactions seemed to play into this. Some fans treated the assault with the appropriate respect it deserves, but there were jokes made that challenged Otacon’s masculinity, insinuated that he should’ve been happy about it, and other really vile things that I don’t care to repeat here.

        I hope this clarifies; I think I was just having trouble putting my thoughts about this particular case into words (and I think this reply still smacks of that), but I hope this was useful.

        (Sidenote: I should be clear that this assault is only alluded to, and we don’t know the details of what Otacon was subjected to by his stepmother, so it’s hard to say whether or not this involved any sort of penetration of his body. I should also mention that we don’t really know a lot about the stepmother, so it’s also hard to say a lot about her motivations or anything, though there is a lot of speculation)

      • Tom
        Posted April 20, 2013 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

        (Other sidenote: I do not necessarily agree with the assessment that we should not consider Otacon a “real” man. I read him as a character who has tried to cope with the obstacles he’s faced to the best of his abilities, and the fact that he has this rape in his past does not, in my mind, make him a “weak” character or “less of a man”.)

  67. Kristyn
    Posted March 30, 2013 at 6:05 am | Permalink

    I stumbled across this post and agree with what you are saying. I do think that Diana Gabaldon portrays a very realistic male/male rape scene in book one of the Outlander series.

    The rapist is portrayed as a sadist control freak who responds only to others pain. To me, that sums up a rapist pretty well as rape is all about power over another person. The victim, Jamie Fraser, is originally described as tall, strong and a natural leader who is in charge of his own person. When he is raped it is ugly and vile and Gabaldon doesn’t shy away from the more horrific details which Jamie finds he can only speak of to very few people as he carries the shame of his rape with him. He finds himself broken and humiliated, the man that he was a stranger to him since his entire world has changed.

    As the story unfolds more his grief and the inner struggle to regain his own security, both mentally and physically, are the centerpiece to a lot of his actions. He struggles in the same way many female rape victims do and at no point is his rapist romanticized or forgiven. Instead, you as the reader are acutely aware of the mental trauma that this man has endured.

    I found Gabaldons portrayal to be extremely accurate in that the shame, confusion, anger, loneliness, self loathing and rage that a female victim would feel, is also felt by the male victim. Her stories go for another 30 years and Jamie Fraser is still dealing with what happened to him.

  68. AfroShero
    Posted March 31, 2013 at 1:48 am | Permalink

    Thank you so much Sophia for being among the brave and posting this, even while knowing trolls will be trollin’. You should really get a medal for this!

    This topic is very much needed, and if I can toss in my cents I’d like to add:

    1. With you feeling dread after awhile when a female character would come around a male character while reading GRRM, that’s pretty much how I feel while watching movies/shows, playing video games or reading a book with a female protagonist. I find myself chanting ‘please don’t get raped, please don’t get raped, please don’t get raped.’ because that’s just how common it is. Which is just sick.

    2. I also think books should come with ratings, because I think seeing 1 out of every 3 books that has rape or threats of it in its rating will truly raise up red flags.

    3. While I refuse to watch TDKR [even if it does have a shirtless Tom Hardy in it.Hawt] because of my grudge that I hold for the second movie, I still find it odd that this last movie was supppse to be darker, grittier and showing Batman being broken and then rising up as something stronger because of that [That pretty much sums up every cliche female rape surviver in fiction] but instead just sorta took the safe path. If we look closely, we’ll see that we have two chances to REALLY break Batman and his ego. The first is when he’s fighting Bane, who was far stronger then Batman, could have easily raped him to show off how much he just owned Batman [So Batman truly would have been a broke back mountain?]. Or, if Bane really wanted to mess with Batman, he could have told the prisoners to have their way with Bats. Either way, this could have still played out as Batman doing his recovery thing, and, again, rising above from what just happen to him. But, no, ‘Mancode’ has kicked in and protects Bats from such a thing. Causing Bane to have too much respect for Batman to the point of only leaving him with a broken back [which a lot of males talked about as if he was raped…]. But it’s like it’s cool for a male to rape/threaten a female, but if a dude does that to another dude then he gets his mancard taken from him..
    [I know about TDKR from my family who watched it, and my brother who showed me a Bane parody on Youtube.]

    4. Ugh, also, so tired of it not being sick for a female to rape a male because it’s just too ‘sexy’. As if she can’t blackmail, drug or use sex toys/objects to penetrate a male, because she’s just a sexyweakfemalelol…[wut?]

    5. And I’m not shocked by those stats regarding rape in wars with males. While tragic, I always kinda figured that. I remember reading a book awhile back that was trying to argue why women shouldn’t be in the frontlines. You can already put two and two together on what he was saying. But one example he gave was that it would be traumatizing for a male to see a female soldier get raped while in a Pow camp. But if rape is about control and power, then wouldn’t you go for a high ranking male soldier first? Isn’t that how you break a teams’ spirit? That while both would be traumatizing to watch, wouldn’t it be even more of a morale blow to watch your high ranking male officer, who is suppose to be strong, a leader, the foundation of the team, be knocked down and broken? That just seems like that would be the tactic in wars: take the leaders out first if you can.

    And the last thing on my mind is that I am so sick of rape, that I right out flat refuse to add it regarding any of my female characters. I remember when I was growing up I thought the only way for me to have a strong female character and keep it realistic was to have her raped. I didn’t want to and struggled with this. But now, I find that I like the challenge of coming up with new ways of why she wasn’t raped and is still strong [because that shouldn’t be a standard], or creating a female character that just didn’t face rape while in a situation that could easily go down that path. These are the females I wish to create just so that I can get a break from rape culture. This is my fantasy and I’m stickin’ to it.

  69. Chris
    Posted March 31, 2013 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

    *Thank you* for making this post. I don’t really know what to say, since you expressed everything I would have liked to say about this topic. I’ve seen, far too many times, people on the internet who seem to, yes, demand that female characters who are captured or imprisoned should be raped because it’s realistic, while assuming that a male character in the same situation would of course not be raped.

    I thought the “Skyfall” scene was great, by the way. Like you, I didn’t think that it showed that Silva was gay or bi (though he might very well be, we don’t know that), any more than his forcibly kissing the tied-up Séverine showed that he was straight: it just showed that he would sexually assault a prisoner in order to hurt him/her and assert his dominance.

    This article has given me a lot to think about. You rock.

  70. Linden
    Posted April 1, 2013 at 5:21 am | Permalink

    Great post. I’ve read the ASOIAF books, and after the last one, I think I might just quit. They’ve always been more rapey than I generally tolerate in my entertainment reading, but “A Dance with Dragons” was flipping ridiculous. Except for one character in one scene, I don’t think anyone in Martin’s world ever had sex for enjoyment — it’s always about rape. Makes me wonder what his personal life is like.

  71. Fenrir
    Posted April 4, 2013 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

    I agree with almost everything you said. I only have one really big problem:

    The whole thing with Buffy? Yeah, you kinda missed the point. It wasn’t ‘hey, rape Buffy, it’s good drama’. It was ‘Massive drama with the soulless monster she was in an abusive relationship with leading up to there’. And the Slayer wasn’t raped to be made. They gave her all the strength of a powerful demon. Hell, the demon is more the victim. It DIED.

    • Sophia
      Posted April 4, 2013 at 11:54 pm | Permalink

      I don’t recognise the distinction you’re making. “Massive drama with the soulless monster she was in an abusive relationship with leading up to there” just makes a case for WHY raping Buffy is “good drama” — it does not oblige us to agree, nor does it in itself provide an answer as to whether Buffy really had to experience attempted rape for any reason. There’s a narrative case to be made for practically every fictional rape I mentioned, Buffy‘s not exceptional there. Even the moment with, say, Jasmine in Aladdin — it fits with Jafar’s characterisation, and what we know of the society (even good guy Aladdin has to be dissuaded from thinking of Jasmine as a ‘prize to be won’ not that the film really supports the lesson) — it’s in one way, an exciting moment of peril. It’s still worth saying — hey, that was actually a character being threatened with rape in a cartoon for children — is that all right? If so, what does it say that we’re all right with that? What does it say that we didn’t notice? (I certainly didn’t really think about it until writing this piece, anyway)

      As for your second point, well, Buffy disagrees with you:

      (After the smoky demon dust tries to penetrate her body while she’s tied up):

      Buffy: You think I came all this way to get knocked up by some demon dust? I can’t fight this. I know that now. But you guys? You’re just men. Just the men who did this… to her. Whoever that girl was before she was the First Slayer.
      Shadow Man One: You don’t understand.
      Buffy: No, you don’t understand! You violated that girl, made her kill for you because you’re weak, you’re pathetic, and you obviously have nothing to show me.

      Buffy sees it as a violation, and “knocked up” strongly suggests she sees it as a sexual one.

  72. Alasdair
    Posted April 6, 2013 at 12:48 am | Permalink

    Good post, though inevitably given the subject matter, rather uncomfortable to read (which is of course the point). I don’t have much to add, just a couple of points:

    I haven’t read A Song Of Ice And Fire, only watched the TV series – but what does it say about me that when Tyrion was surrounded by barbarians, even if it wasn’t stated, I *did* assume the implication that they intended to rape him? Maybe just that as you say, Westeros is a very rapey world; so I read in a rape threat where none may have actually been intended.

    Re Silva and his sexuality – I think even though the character is not written or described as gay, the way he looks and sounds in the movie (particularly in that scene) *does* recall homophobic stereotypes. Rightly or wrongly, that scene was clearly playing on audiences’ homophobia to discomfort them, as well as fear of rape; it’s worth remembering that for heterosexual males, fear of rape is often the root of homophobia. Silva might be turned on by power rather than gay, but the audience is supposed to read him as gay and be afraid/disgusted nonetheless.

    • Sophia
      Posted April 6, 2013 at 9:24 am | Permalink

      Those are fairly largge claims. That some of the audience did read him as gay is irrefutable as we have the evidence — that it was “clearly” “written to play on the audience’s homophobia” is something else entirely, and is about responding not to the content of the scene but the writers’ presumed intentions. John Logan, the writer, said indeed that it was about making the audience uncomfortable and used the word “homoerotic” but cited “sexual intimidation” as the source of the discomfort. He’s gay himself.

    • Sophia
      Posted April 6, 2013 at 9:31 am | Permalink

      Oh, and with a performed text, you obviously have a lot of non-verbal content — you also have a whole host of extra “authors” — the actors playing Tyrion and the outlaws, and the director and screenwriter, any or all of whom may have made a deliberate choice. So reading the body language and facial expressions of Tyrion and the outlaws the risk of rape may well have been much more obvious and I don’t think it says anything about you other than you have a capacity to recognise that. But it really isn’t there in the book at all. On the page, you have less content, but also less ambiguity — we’re in Tyrion’s head, and we KNOW the possibility of being raped doesn’t cross his mind.

  73. Steve Thomas
    Posted April 15, 2013 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    “Completed rape remains reserved for the female characters”

    I also find it interesting that you completely ignore the fact that the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo does contain a man being violently assaulted and raped. However, because it’s “revenge rape” by the heroine of the story against an abusive man, it’s treated in the story as completely justified and normal. Even to the extent that you don’t seem to have noticed that it happened at all. “He deserved it” apparently applies when it’s a bad man being raped. I wonder what it would take for a female character to deserve it.

    • Sophia
      Posted April 15, 2013 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

      I hardly think Lisbeth’s revenge is treated as NORMAL. That it’s exceptional and the last thing the perpetrator expects is kind of the POINT.

      Yes, I will cop to having, in this instance, made the mistake of treating rape-with-an-object as not rape, and it is. So on that, fine. A rapist rapes a woman several times and is finally raped by her in revenge. But, you know, this is mainly about risk, realism and reader experience and I just don’t think the risk a rapist runs when he rapes a woman that she’ll take rapey revenge is has much relevance to the realities the reader faces. I would think the experience of reading that scene and thinking “oh God, if I serially raped the wrong person, that could be me!” is pretty rare, no? At least I would hope so?

      “He deserved it” apparently applies when it’s a bad man being raped. I wonder what it would take for a female character to deserve it.

      …uh huh. You sound aggrieved. Or wistful. Like it’s so UNFAIR that a male author thought that a heroine brutally avenging her own rape on her attacker might be quite an appealing story to a lot of people! And yet if you said a female character or an actual woman deserved to be raped, people would get all upset! How unreasonable!

      What would it take? Well, we could start by moving to a world a quarter of men were raped by women but rape of women by men was vanishingly rare. In this world about 1/33 of women are raped, but the great majority of such attacks are by other women. A world in which even men who were not raped by women could expect to be threatened with such if they wrote or talked about the subject or even, you know, just wandered around, being male in public. A world in which there simply wasn’t a man alive who hadn’t lived with the fear of a woman attacking him his entire life (and in which they frequently did get blamed for their own attacks). In short, a world with a rape culture that oppressed men and privileged women, might be a world in which creating a female character who got raped in revenge for committing rape herself would be punching up against that hegemony rather than punching down. I don’t think you’d want to live in that world, and despite the fact that I would be so incredibly much safer there, neither would I. But for writing a female rape victim who “had it coming” not to be misogynistic? A world in which “misogyny” and “victim blaming” had no meaning in any woman’s life. That might do it.

      And even then, I would continue to believe that in real life, no one deserves rape, not even rapists. But in that world, as in this, I might not think the revenge fantasy in which a multiple rapist of the privileged sex gets raped back in rare-to-impossible circumstances was particularly comparable with endless depictions of the rape of the oppressed sex.

  74. Craig
    Posted April 26, 2013 at 12:40 am | Permalink

    I’m not going to comment on the article, which made some very good points that I agree with completely.

    I’d just like to make a few points about male rape. It is far rarer than that of females, and the fact that female rape has become somehow institutionally acceptable in places like universities where many women are raped and do not bother reporting it due to lack of action is disgusting, yet following on from one of the previous posters I’d like refer to some of my experiences of living in South Africa for over fifteen years before moving back to the UK.

    In prisons there, male rape is expected, overlooked, ignored. Documentaries have been shown about male prisoners forced into becoming women and repeatedly raped on a daily basis and by multiple people(exactly like what happens in the tv series Oz) yet nothing is done. The government actually broadcast an anti-drunk driving advert that made a thinly veiled threat that if you were arrested and sent to prison you would be raped. That’s a government using male rape as a policing tool, which should have seen far more outcry and international condemnation than it did.

    I heard anecdotal evidence of men who had been jailed in communal holding cells for only a few hours being raped because they were sharing cells with far more dangerous men despite not having been convicted as well as not being in the same ‘class’ of crime as the other prisoners. Male rape was not something that happened far away, it was happening all around as was female rape. And still no one did anything.

    Anyway, I digress. In order for SF/F to give greater agency to female characters, men have to have some of their impenetrability (forgive the pun) taken away. Men and women are equally weak or strong. As GRRM (i’m not a fan by the way) did say well about writing women – just write people (I’m paraphrasing). Which seems ironic considering the topic being discussed in this article.

    One last mention – I remember watching Moon-44 when I was young (definitely too young for that film) and a young prisoner gets raped in the shower. And I don’t know why, but that particular scene still disturbs me more than any other similar scene I’ve seen since. He does get his revenge though, which is where I’d like to bring it back around to female rape.

    Rape is the complete perversion of something that is inherently consensual, a complete negation of a person’s agency and autonomy. And this is where depictions of female rape need to change the most. They’re not going to disappear, but give the victim the agency to avenge herself, or choose not to. Having someone else swoop in and rescue her, or go on a rampage on her behalf is not empowering, but just another way of leaving her powerless. Write characters who are people, not cut-outs who are ‘men’ or ‘women’.

    Anyway, that’s my 2 cents and I’m late to this particular discussion so I hope someone’s still reading these.

  75. Posted May 2, 2013 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    Here from Abigail Nussbaum’s blog. Thank you for an amazing article. Can I translate it into Russian to post on our website (it is actually a community in LJ where metais discussed)?

    • Sophia
      Posted May 2, 2013 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

      Wow — sure, go ahead!

      • Posted May 2, 2013 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

        Thank you! I’ll post a link when done.

      • Posted May 9, 2013 at 1:45 am | Permalink

        A comment by LJ user casus_kazi on the translated post struck me as an interesting view of the topic. I translated it with her permission to share it with you:

        The subject I was most interested in was realism in depiction of violence against oppressed/underprivileged. Because it is really difficult to prove sometimes that an author is exploiting and delighting in depiction of such violence, and not (only) tries to arouse a noble anger in his readers. I think that the argument in the post are applicable not only to rape, but to a wide spectrum of violence, e.g. such widespread depictions of abuse of children or cruel murders of animals. Such scenes are common in Dostoyevsky’s prose, for instance.

        The trouble with these scenes lies in the declared goal “to induce aversion to such atrocious behaviour”. This goal presupposes its target audience, and it consists of those who by default do not associate themselves (and are not associated by others) with the survivor or victim of the violent act. That usually means a privileged person. The plan is that reading such a scene would let them understand a bit more of the vulnerability of the underprivileged to violence. (It must be said that this will not necessarily be the actual outcome. The readers may enjoy the show and do not feel it as being contradictory to authorial intent.) So the potential readers who are already associating themselves with the victim, because they are also vulnerable, are not seen – are in a blind spot. It is no discovery for them that the victim of such violence is a person with feelings; and the detailed depiction of the violent act, by its design excluding them from the audience, is re-traumatizing, because it makes them re-live or recollect similar acts of violence against them or other members of the underprivileged group with whom they associate themselves.

        I remember an incident from my vegan past. On the anti-animal abuse forums vegans discussed pro-animal clips and movies, using such phrases “you have to watch it, I cried for 4 days”. When I asked why do I have to cry for days, they accused me of insensitivity and callousness. The movie, planned to nudge non-vegan audience towards becoming vegans, was inflicted by vegans on each other, so that they could escape an imaginary insensibility to animal suffering; in reality it created neuroses. It was an example of self-stigmatization, which happens when people ignore their own existence as a group sensitive to a particular kind of violence.

        I’m not sure at all that authors have such intent (to teach compassion to their readers), but no doubt some readers read that way.

  76. kantra9000
    Posted May 4, 2013 at 3:29 am | Permalink

    I got to see the US “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” in theaters, and the scene where Blomqvist is almost raped IS in there, just to say. It’s the first time I recall seeing in the victim position of a sexual rape (“Skyfall” wasn’t out yet). I thought it was intriguing. I haven’t finished reading the book, so I don’t know how accurate the scene is, but if I recall correctly, Blomqvist’s shirt is opened and I think Martin then starts to undo Blomqvist’s fly before he stops and says something like “Huh. I’ve never done this with a man before. I don’t know what to do.” Then the rescue.

    Interestingly, Daniel Craig played both movie versions of Blomqvist and Bond who were almost raped. I don’t know if that says anything or Craig chose that purposefully after he read the scripts or if it’s interesting beyond being coincidence… but they’re the only two instances I can recall in my own movie-going, television-viewing experience of seeing a man as a victim of sexual assault. I know there are others out there. I just haven’t seen them. Although “Hunchback of Notre Dame” (Disney version)… chill OUT Frollo. Jeez.

    I remember watching the scene in “Skyfall” in the theaters and wondering what the writers were trying to accomplish with the scene (well, after the “And then a MILLION fanfics were born” thought, once I realized what was going on). Is this character exploration of Bond and/or Silva? Is Silva concerned and just very touchy-feely when he’s concerned (because it reminded me a bit of the possessiveness The Joker feels towards Batman sometimes)? Is this one of those “People who sleep with same-sex people are evil” things? Is this “the writers got bored and thought to give something new a try and see how it went” things? Is this an improv session? Is this a “we really wrote this for the fanfiction writers” thing? I didn’t mind it being there, and I actually found the possible implication of reboot Bond a) being bi, b) at least having experience with same-sex partners, c) possibly going through this experience in some sort of prison or with trainees or something, like you elaborated, or with one or more of the villains he’s faced, since he’s lived an interesting life and faced some really screwed-up people interesting.

    Although I’m still confused about the author’s purpose. I at least partially blame the earlier sex scene with the grown-up child prostitute-abused-throughout-my-life-constantly-under-guard-still-not-in-control-of-my-life where Bond had no relationship with her beyond one conversation where, honestly, nothing happened – no, he’s not that “good” – and just walked into the shower with her and had sex with her. Great job there, screenwriters. Great job. Yeah, it’s Bond and it gets gratuitous sex, but really? He basically took advantage of a random sex worker he met who’s been abused all her life. Not a good way to lead into an odd story technique (insomuch as it was a guy as the victim of the rape/almost rape – I’m not saying rape is a new “story technique”). At least in the other movies, it’s implied that he’s very good at convincing these women to have sex with him off camera. On the other hand, we see their ENTIRE relationship and just no. No, that’s not how it works. Even if that was, THIS IS NOT A GOOD THING.

    • Sophia
      Posted May 4, 2013 at 8:39 am | Permalink

      Yeah, others have told me that the threatened rape of Blomqvist happensin the US film — that is, indeed, an interesting specialisation Daniel Craig’s developing!

      The Severine plot was just awful and pointless, yes. Jesus, Bond, could you at least fucking knock? It didn’tcolour my view of what happens between Bond and Silva much, personally, partly because I took it as just another instance of how easy the forms of rape culture are to slip into and partly because well, nothing about Bond’s actions there could exert any influence over Silva’s — that Bond is, shall we euphemistically say a “dominant” sort of fellow, but that this doesn’t make him immune to this kind of threat, is even quite an interesting point. The writer of Skyfall is gay himself, apparently, so I don’t think the intention was homophobic although obviously parsing intent is tricky and problematic.

  77. Temmere
    Posted May 4, 2013 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

    I wonder if you’ve seen the recent Spartacus TV show? The first season had implied male-on-male rape when a gay man refuses another, much-stronger man’s advances. (I’m assuming they were both gay since we never saw either with a woman; it’s possible one or both was bisexual.) In the third and final season a man (of unclear gender-preference) rapes a female slave, and then, when confronted about it by a male (non-slave) military subordinate, rapes the subordinate too. All instances are presented as revolting crimes, but the final one is particularly shocking (partly because of who is getting raped).

  78. Alan
    Posted May 5, 2013 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    What about male-male prison rape being played as a joke a la “don’t drop the soap!”
    I can’t think of any specific examples, but that does seem to be a common theme.

    • Sophia
      Posted May 7, 2013 at 9:51 am | Permalink

      It’s shitty, is the short answer.

      It also ties into a lot of the assumptions this post examines, that rape only happens to women, and is thus a way of putting a man in a woman’s place, making him laughable and pathetic. Hence my conclusion — if you can’t consider writing a male rape victim without regurgitating those kind of assumptions, you shouldn’t be writing rape of women either.

  79. Posted May 24, 2013 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

    “. You risk implying that female lives are defined by the presence of rape; almost that an un-raped/unthreatened woman is a boring woman.”

    I’m really late to this discussion was sent here from another blog that listed this as one of 5 must reads.

    The above sentiment is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Women in much of the urban fantasy and paranormal romance as well as regular romance seem to all come from abused backgrounds: bad foster care, abusive parents, raped, spousal abuse. It’s like if you grow up without being abused you can’t be a strong women or make a difference in this world. The non-abused are portrayed as airheads who only think about sex, clothing, shopping, and the such. I cringe when I think about what girls and women are picking up from this.

    It’s not reality. It’s lazy writing. The authors can’t figure out how to create a strong woman out of someone who wasn’t abused. Why would such a person become a heroine? Why would she take on a quest or fight evil? No reason because all was well in her world so unless the evil abuses her obviously she would just sit back and do nothing to stop it from destroying her world. The fact that evil is destroying the world around her and people she cares for is not a reason for her to do anything she has to be personally abused herself. And yet I’ll bet all of us know people who fight for justice who were not personally harmed but just saw injustice and knew it was wrong.

    Fantastic post. I’m glad I found my way here.

  80. Marko Fancovic
    Posted June 6, 2013 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    just as a footnote, I think Peter O’Donell’s Modesty Blaise, as the most badass female character in fiction, deserves to be mentioned in this discussion (so does Lawrence of Arabia with the first “Turkish prison” scene in a movie, downplayed to confirm with the mores of the before-the-sexual-revolution sixties). In one of the books, O’Donnell mentions that Modesty was frigid while running her early criminal network, the result of a childhood rape. Her method of coping with that was to use a professional – she went on a riviera vacation with one of her best operatives, a professional seducer who could extract a secret from any woman, a s his last job before getting a generous severance package, he teaches her to love again. With Modesty’s backstory as a little girl in postwar Europe refugee camps, it is doubtful that she would evade rape. This much for the footnote – now as to this discussion, I was of the opinion that rape is never much about sex but always about power – which is more visible in Shawshank Redemption than in Pulp Fiction. If quasi-medieval world is depicted as one where men are as much in power as they are in the mostly superficial and shallow idea of how our own history’s Middle Ages looked in that aspect (which was more misogynistically retrofitted that you would think at first), than rape is an expression of that male domination over women and children is also about power, not about sex; but than, even today in our own world sex is so much about power and not enough about sex itself that it’s obvious we have a long way to go as a species to get ourselves rid of some historical bagagge.

  81. Posted June 6, 2013 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    I see from the comments that this post has caused some heckles to rise. Personally I think it is right on point. ‘Rape as wallpaper,’ what a great way to say it. I’ve been in a bit of a PNR phase of late. I am appalled at the offhand way women are treated in them, especially background characters, and these books are largely written by and for women. I point this out because it shows how heavily and largely thoughtlessly female rape has permeated literature. I imagine most women would answer, ‘no, I don’t enjoy reading about rape.’ if asked explicitly, but even literature aimed at them is littered with it–far beyond what would be considered realistic. However, despite the genre often being centred around cruel, power hungry, dominant male creatures who live extended lives and breech every other imaginable cultural more, they almost never (I can think of two example, both from J.R. Ward, Zsadist and John Mathews) sexually victimise or are victimised by other males.

    IMO the argument isn’t really about realism. Women are SEVERAL times more likely to be raped in media depictions than real life. That isn’t a realist depiction. It’s an exaggerated one. Realism is the misnomer, a simplified (and I would suggest misdirected) way of trying to reflect the social hierarchy and holders of power. Men have it, women submit to it. Rape is one of a million ways this could be depicted and it would be an equally effective way to show the power/authority differential between two males. However, the secondary purpose of many such scenes is to emphasise the female’s place in the pecking order and subjecting a male character to equal treatment would disrupt the hierarchy.

    On a secondary note, AlexB’s comment about Bond having sex as part of his job makes me wonder why he is never accused of being a whore and therefore considered further victimizable, as would be the case of a female character. Of course it’s a rhetorical question, the answer is the same as why he isn’t raped.

  82. Fayley
    Posted June 11, 2013 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    I have been troubled by the increasing use of rape in fantasy fiction and you have clarified my thoughts for me, and made some fine arguments. So much of fantasy / scifi rape scenes give me a creepy feeling that it is tape porn for the writer & reader.

  83. Don Hilliard
    Posted June 17, 2013 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

    Coming very late to this, obviously…but I do have to note that both of CJ Cherryh’s Hugo-winning novels (Downbelow Station and Cyteen) have male rape as a plot point.

    In Downbelow Station, it’s made clear -though not shown in detail – that Joel Talley has been raped, beaten and otherwise abused multiple times by Captain Signy Mallory and her crew, and that the combination of that and his war experiences are enough for him to ask that his mind be wiped. (Which makes it seriously uncomfortable for me as a reader that in at least one later appearance, he’s become Mallory’s aide and executive officer – with full knowledge of what she and the crew did to him before, since [SPOILER] the mindwipe couldn’t ultimately ‘take’ due to his programming. I don’t argue in the least with the original thesis of the post, but I suspect this would be a BIG problem were the gender roles of Talley and Mallory reversed.) And Mallory is one of the heroes of the book, though she’s pretty much the definition of anti-hero. Again, probably wouldn’t play very well were the genders switched.

    Cyteen, at least, has a lot more consequences and deals with them realistically and intelligently. Justin Warrick, raped by the older woman Ariane Emory (and possibly by one or both of her aides/bodyguards, one of whom is male), suffers for years from flashbacks to the event, is under suspicion for killing her, and finds it incredibly difficult (big surprise) to deal with her young clone. (It also tips him over from bisexuality – matching the ‘father’ he himself was cloned from – to complete homosexuality, with his partner an experimental clone he grew up with as almost a brother. This could be weird, but it’s actually rather sweet.)

    You’ve made clear that you’re not compiling a database of male rapes – but I think both of these merit notice.

  84. Don Hilliard
    Posted June 17, 2013 at 11:50 pm | Permalink

    And following on to a much earlier post: I thought of Mercedes Lackey’s Vanyel at the start…but I have to admit, Myste in her early years had a regrettable tendency to have her heroes – female or male – raped in the third act (or the third volume of the trilogy.) (If not before – she admitted freely and accurately that her first submissions in the Valdemar universe, to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword and Sorceress collections, were “rape and revenge” plots.)

  85. Chris
    Posted June 25, 2013 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    Great post, very interesting views.

    But one thing about Batman: the prison is Bane’s prison in the time Bruce spends there. The evil people that killed the mother and tore people’s faces off were killed by the League of Shadows. The people Bane has sent there are his enemies, who are probably mostly decent folks (like Bruce), thus minimizing his risk of being raped.

    The prison was still a hell hole only because it provided semingly false hope of easy escape.

31 Trackbacks

  1. […] Re: Joe Abercrombie defends gritty fantasy Sorry to rezz this thread, but here's a thoughtful post on what I was frothing about:…of-james-bond/ […]

  2. […] McDougall writes about “sexual assault and ‘Realism’ in popular culture.” (via @Pornokitsch) […]

  3. […] In her brilliant essay titled “The Rape of James Bond” Sophia McDougall asks writers: “Would I ever write a story in which the male hero is raped as part of his origin story, or as the nadir he had to fight back from, or to inspire someone else to take revenge?” […]

  4. […] first of these is Sophia McDougall’s excellent article on The Rape of James Bond: On Sexual Assault and “Realism” in Popular Culture: I found I couldn’t cope with rape as […]

  5. […] Finally, I read an extremely compelling piece about the presence of rape scenes (and rape scenarios) in fiction from author Sophia McDougall where she examines what is authentic and what is realistic. It’s a very long piece, but if you have the time, I urge you to read it. She offers strong examples and relevant data (as well as finally showing one other person who will join me in not reading any more in the A Song of Ice and Fire [Game of Thrones] series). It is cross-posted here (NewStatesmen) and on her own blog. […]

  6. By The Rape of James Bond – What Is Abuse on March 16, 2013 at 11:26 pm

    […] mean the survivor is not profoundly angry about it). The story … … Continued here: The Rape of James Bond ← Orthodox Women's College Attacks Child Sex Abuse Victim for […]

  7. […] and well-thought-out, if not completely precise, entry in Sophia McDougall’s blog, "The Rape of James Bond." Among other things, she takes to task George R.R. Martin’s gritty, edgy, dark A Song […]

  8. […] on how the press is living up to its bad reputation as it campaigns against Leveson proposals The Rape of James Bond – Author Sophia McDougall on the use of rape in fiction and whether that use is realistic […]

  9. […] particularly as the one I posted yesterday took about a week to formulate in my head, but I read this post about rape in fantasy today, and it’s been a little eye-opening for me. Specifically about […]

  10. By True Grit | Everything Is Nice on March 17, 2013 at 6:08 pm

    […] ties in with a recent post from Sophia McDougall on sexual assault and “realism” in popular culture and why she stopped reading A Game Of Thrones: That sense of history seemed to be dwindling away a […]

  11. […] warning] The Rape of James Bond: “On Sexual Assault, and “Realism” in Popular […]

  12. By The Rape of James Bond | web-crap on March 19, 2013 at 11:11 pm

    […] Essay, der sich – im Angesicht des neuen „Realismus“ – mit der Frage beschäftigt, warum männliche Helden in Leinwand und Literatur eigentlich nie vergewaltigt werden, während bei weiblichen sowohl die Androhung/Andeutung als auch Tat Gang und Gebe ist. GD Star […]

  13. […] By Sophia McDougall. […]

  14. […] Sophia McDougall tackles another aspect of the “realistic” frequency of rape and sexual …. Liz Bourke responds and points out that men in war zones are almost as likely to be raped as women. […]

  15. […] McDougall. “The Rape of James Bond.” Sophia McDougall. 13 Mar. 2013. (via Geek […]

  16. By Where Goeth Epic Fantasy? | I Make Up Worlds on March 27, 2013 at 10:21 pm

    […] I’ve read a number of opinions and discussions that focus on such issues as gritty, grimdark, rape, sexual violence, consensual sex, realism, gender, history, invisibility of women and people of […]

  17. […] It’s no secret that rape is common in fiction. Sometimes it’s relevant to the plot, often motivating a revenge story (as in the merry gore-gy which Lavinia’s rape starts in Titus Andronicus). Quite often it’s just to tell us that we’re in a nasty place filled with dangerous people (as when in Game of Thrones Daenerys rides through the post-battle rape-fest). This is often called “realism in fiction” (and there’s a thoughtful blog post on it here). […]

  18. […] The Rape of James Bond. My go-to example for this used to be James Bond. “Is it realistic that James Bond has never been raped?” I would say. How many times has he found himself utterly at the mercy of men who want to hurt, degrade and humiliate him before killing him? I will accept, on any one such occasion,  the odds might be in his favour. I suppose it is plausible for many of his enemies – even most of them – not to think of raping him or having him raped by others, despite having captured him, tied him up and possibly removed some of his clothes. But all of them? […]

  19. […] Meadows Sophia McDougall Liz Bourke Marie Brennan Elizabeth […]

  20. […] Meadows Sophia McDougall Liz Bourke Marie Brennan Elizabeth Bear Share […]

  21. […] linked to them here are two excellent posts on rape as a plot device/women in refrigerator trope: The Rape of James Bond and Cut Superman’s Dick […]

  22. By Links from the Wider Internets on April 24, 2013 at 10:00 pm

    […] The Rape of James Bond: You know how when people complain about the prevalence of rape in grimdark fantasy, people argue back with, “But, REALISM!!!1″?  This article makes the INCREDIBLY good point that the logical extension of the “but, realism!” argument is that we need way more rape of men in media.  But . . . people don’t seem to be complaining about not having that in their books and movies at the level it happens in real life. […]

  23. By Friday Five | Jenny's Library on May 24, 2013 at 10:21 pm

    […] The Rape of James Bond by Sophia McDougall […]

  24. […] a study which FINALLY debunks an old theory. There’s a post by Sophia McDougall about the portrayal of rape in movies and fiction that prompted me to write a post examining my own stories. To lighten the mood after that harsh look […]

  25. […] Internet, wrote a follow-up to an article I had previously linked to (Sophia McDougall’s The Rape of James Bond) that I somehow missed.  She goes into even more depth about the statistics regarding male rape […]

  26. […] March 2013 post by Sophia McDougall made me sit up in astonishment. Not because it talks about rape in fiction–I’ve seen […]

  27. […] McDougall on rape as wallpaper in The Rape of James Bond (The google results while I was looking for that were […]

  28. […] the only thing I remember talking about at dinner was McDougall’s The Rape of James Bond – I mentioned that I admired her for writing it, and she said something about how surprised […]

  29. By Rape as wallpaper | Displaced on August 31, 2013 at 4:58 pm

    […] This post by Sophia McDougall on the treatment of rape in sci-fi / fantasy fiction and in popular movies is the most thoughtful and incisive I’ve read on the subject. She really manages to say all the things one has thought about on the subject. […]

  30. […] Brouke: Realism, (Male) Rape, and Epic Fantasy Sophia McDougall: The Rape of James Bond by Anna on maj 8, 2014  •  klottrigt  •  Kommentera Taggar: […]