Rape Culture in Fantasy Settings

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[TRIGGER WARNING: discussion of rape and sexual assault]

It’s a Thing. It really is. We’d like to think that the worlds we think up are oh-so-evolved, but the truth is that many of the worlds we think up have a rape culture in some shape or form.

Possibly because it’s nearly impossible for us to imagine humanity could be better.

Or maybe — and this I find more likely — maybe we really believe, deep down, that rape is something that just happens and it’s something we just have to deal with.

I don’t believe that’s completely true.

I do believe that humanity could be better. I believe we could build a sex-positive society. I also believe that within this sex-positive society, rape could probably still happen. The difference lies within our reactions.

Current rape culture

Person gets raped. Zie comes forth. Immediately blamed for walking alone at night, wearing ‘slutty’ clothing, having a uterus. What were you thinking deciding to have reproductive organs that would brand you as ‘female’? That was silly.

[my completely idealized] sex-positive culture

Person gets raped. Zie comes forth. Receives proper care and attention; is immediately believed and never ever blamed. Rapist goes through restorative justice, because we realize zie is still human and needs our help.

Generalizations, of course, but you get my point.

Sad thing is, there are very few rape culture-free fantasy books out there. In fact, I can’t think of one. Not even my own.

However, the rape culture I’ve created is a bit tamer than ours. Rape certainly isn’t as prevalent in Athering society, and the victims are never blamed. It’s still acknowledged as something that sometimes happens, and it’s dealt with: the rapist is turned over to the priestesses of the Temple*, where zie must go through penance to Desirelle, the goddess of sexual liaisons and consent — for it’s Her sacred laws that have been breached. That’s if the victim comes forward. Which they may not, for whatever reason, though that is not common.

I digress. My point is, even those of us who write sex-positive stories cannot eliminate the specter of rape from our worlds.

And I guess what I’m getting at here is what does that say about us?  I know there are writers out there who write rape because they see it as a fact of life…one that happens to women who “don’t follow the rules”. Or as a common part of conquering another country: pillage, burn, rape.

And yet, in all these scenarios, people never write about rape as something that just happens to men.

Which I suppose is proof enough that we cannot get rid of all our patriarchal programming, no matter how hard we try.

That’s the one difference I made sure of in my book. I couldn’t seem to eliminate rape, but I did turn the tables: no one is exempt. It can involve anyone, regardless of gender.

That’s a fact we seem to forget. When we write rape culture, it’s women who get it. Yet when feminists bring up rape culture as a relentless assault on women, we get shouted down because “Men get raped too!”

Um, ok. Never said they didn’t.

But a lot of writers have.

*The priestesses also have the ability to ascertain the truth of any situation, fyi. So the justice system is largely religious.