This post has been sort of swirling at the back of my head for a while. This is just a general discussion post, because I think it bears discussing - and my regular commenters I'm sure would love to say what they want in a Sookie-positive environment. :D Plus, this journal is for relieving my head of swirling thoughts, and then opening up the floor to discussion. So I'm going to set out what I think about the discussion subject first, and let you all go to town.
I also want to preface what I'm going to write by saying that first, I'm a criminologist and I've never found anything I've ever actually found so repugnant that I won't read it - including the fantasies and deeds of sadistic paedophiles. On top of that, my older sister has been a swinger since I was four years old, and very, very open about that fact and her activities since I was very young. As a rider to that, I also spent the two years before I entered this fandom in a completely unmoderated forum, where you could say as you please - and people did often - up to and including death threats. There is positively nothing that throws me off completely. By that same token, if you behave badly in the comments of this post, I will not go soft on you, and I will let the comment stand in all of its shameful glory. I was on that unmoderated forum by my own choice. So read and comment at your own risk.
As yet another piece that should precede this discussion, I don't really want to have to tell anyone in the comments, so I'll tell you now. Free speech and the right to say what you please does not belong to rape story writers and readers alone. Everyone else has the exact same right - and I'm exercising that here. Don't bother to tell me that I'm trying to shut someone down...by requesting that this discussion should be shut down because it's too much for the rape story writers to take. It's not in a review, or even on Fanfic.net (where such discussions do get shut down). I didn't bring it to anyone else, and the title is pretty clear what this is going to be about. Don't ask me to judge what everyone else does as worthy - either by approving or disapproving it. I don't report rape fic (which means I live with it tolerantly) so that's all I need to do under the requirements of cultural relativism. I expect others to tolerate this post as well, and will clearly tell you to go fuck yourself in the comments if you suggest that rape-as-romance is allowable under the right to do as you please and say what you like, and this post is not.
Firstly, since there is so much confusion - I've seen it - about what rape is, I'm going to define it, and set it out for those who can't seem to figure out what I'm talking about. I've chosen Australian legislation because I'm familiar with it, and I know what it encompasses - and it is pretty uniform that this is the very least definition of what rape is (some European countries have expanded definitions):
Rape is defined as penetration without consent - and that consent must be freely
and voluntarily be given by a person with capacity to consent to penetration.
Penetration includes oral, digital and penile penetration.
(Informed by The Criminal Code, Queensland, 1899 Source)
That means that when someone says no, and that's rape.
That means that if someone is drunk, drugged or asleep, they don't have the capacity to consent, and that's rape.
That means that if someone is threatened with physical violence or fears for their life, they don't have the capacity to consent voluntarily or freely to penetration, and that's rape.
That means that when someone else consents on your behalf, and you do not, that's rape.
BDSM or S&M are consensual in most 'conventional' BDSM/S&M encounters, and thus, are not rape, even if they roleplay rape - they are formed under logical negotiation and safety procedures and such - and thus informed consent, which is freely and voluntarily given. However, surprise!BDSM or forced BDSM is rape just the same as above, there's no exemption because one participant likes forcing without getting permission first.
Consent is given BEFORE penetration, and thus, rape cannot be negated with an orgasm post-penetration.
I'm going to give an example I've actually seen debated - that of Tara and Franklin Mott on True Blood. Tara could not consent to sex, because it was not freely and voluntarily giving consent - she was kidnapped by Franklin and threatened with violence. That makes it rape. Ultimately, Tara herself says she was raped - and she's the one who gives consent to sex with Franklin, so she'd know. Tara can make out like she had no problem with it if she wants to live (and it's clear Franklin would have had a possibly deadly tantrum if she didn't) but that doesn't make it magically consensual. Any time someone is abducted and they are forced to have sex because it's have sex or get violently attacked and have sex anyway, both acts are rape - by usual definition and by legal definition. They don't really have a choice, and a choice means choosing not to have sex at all.
Furthermore, an orgasm does not nullify rape. It is a myth that rape is never pleasurable. Some offenders use arousal or orgasm to humiliate the victim (showing her she liked it even though she said no) and some use it to make out as if their actions are okay (but I made her cum, so it's fine, right?) and sometimes stimulation is stimulation - wanted or not - and the body reacts. Victims are often shamed on the stand at trial because they were aroused or seen to be lying about the advent of rape if they had an orgasm, and conviction rates are low because of this myth. Orgasm or arousal does not signify consent to sex. Nor can consent be given after the act has taken place.
Now, I have to say, that I have no problems with rape fantasies. I know that there are all kinds of theories as to why rape fantasies happen, and sometimes they can even be part of the proclivities of a rape victim - a way to cope with things (note as always there is no hint of universality in that statement). That's their way of processing it, and that's fine. It is what it is. But rape fantasies are not what I want to discuss here - a piece of rape/ravishment/forced seduction PWP is wholly different from rape-as-romance, and that one is a little more sinister as far as I'm concerned. That's not about sexual desire - a pure piece of porn - that's about relationships.
Rape-as-Romance has far wider implications - it implies that women can find love with their rapists, that forced sexual behaviour is somehow loving, and that women need to be forced into abusive relationships, which if they play their cards right, will turn into loving relationships. That is the root of my problem with this theme.
The implication in the rape-as-romance is that one should always look to being as submissive and sweet as possible, that being loved by a man is the overall purpose of our lives, and the driving factor in our day to day. That it is the woman's job to make a man acceptable to the rest of the population. He cleans up real well after she's taken all the battering he decided to dish out. There's a theme of inherent ownership in it as well - that whichever man decides to get it into his head that a woman's body belongs to him, and he therefore has more right to own it than the woman does.
I think that it provides a fatal flaw in any romantic hero - in that, he's definitely no hero, and he's certainly not romantic. He's pretty out of control and selfish, and I don't think any long term relationship can be built on remembering that first time, when he forced her and refused to listen to her. It's not something to reminisce about - "Remember when we met, and you beat me black and blue and then forced me to fuck you? Good times!". No one tells stories like that, or looks back on that with fondness. No one waxes lyrical about the time that they were forced to do something, or in fear of their lives, or driven into a corner like an animal, and made to comply.
Of course, that's what makes the rape-as-romance more acceptable. There is an idea that the ending is already pre-destined. At the start of the story, the reader is aware that they will end up together, and so it is seen that all is fair in love and war, even rape. In that way, rape-as-romance slips under the radar, and readers don't really want to admit it's rape because what sort of woman would fall in love with her rapist? So instead it's seen as "acceptable forcing" because the guy really wants her, and really wants to fuck her now. The inception of the relationship between the characters is where the guy decided that his needs were more important than the woman's, and started to disregard her from that day forth - until she becomes used to it.
That happens in real life as well - better known as Battered Person Syndrome. Basically the person believes that they're at fault for the violence (whoo, they definitely shouldn't listen to some readers on the hard bite in Dead Reckoning eh) and learns helplessness - so they find it pretty impossible to leave. They do whatever they need to do to get by - making their abuser happy by cutting themselves off from everybody, rather than upsetting the abuser by doing all that needless socialising. Making sure that they're always mindful just in case stuff goes pear shaped, and the abuser ends up hurting and raping them again because the victim won't comply. It even haunts the victim while the abuser is gone/asleep, because there is a belief that the abuser is omnipotent - always watching, always able to tell if they're behaving.
There's a difference between Battered Person Syndrome and Stockholm Syndrome - in the case of the advent of Stockholm Syndrome, the abductor doesn't lay a hand on the victim (or isn't substantially abusive), and whence the sympathy comes from. The idea is that they're thankful to their captors for not harming them - as they anticipated. In the case of rape-as-romance, it's all about the Battered Person Syndrome, because the abuser has laid hands on the victim/partner. The trauma is worse with Battered Person Syndrome - because there are long term knock-on effects of having your psyche completely broken down - including self esteem in the toilet and hypervigilance. Kinda not romantic or loving, and definitely not something fixed by the abuser "falling in love" with you.
In essence, the abuser is always the abuser. Even if they rape and hurt the victim until they comply, they're not in love with them - they're just happy that they've got a compliant slave right now. They can't even make it better by being 'nice' - this is part of the cycle of violence:
Being nice is part of what being an abuser is - it keeps the victim hooked because they think they can resurrect the relationship, despite knowing at the back of their heads that the abuser might hurt them again, when they think they've done enough relationship maintenance. That also encourages victims of battering to presume that they were at fault for what happened to them - and now they've found the "right" formula that stops them getting abused, just as they always hoped. As long as the victim is with the abuser, there is no recovery - the victim will never get better, and the abuser will never change. Rarely, if ever do abusers change over their lifetime - and certainly it's not easy and takes years - but it's almost impossible in the same relationship they were abusing in. In all of the case studies I've read, I've never read of an abuser who stopped, while in the original relationship. It's nigh on impossible to read about abusers who have changed, anyway - most of them stay that way.
While I can understand the need for rape/ravishment scenarios in just plain porn, and why people might read and enjoy them, I can't really decide what is at the root of liking this as a form of romance. Because it's not even vaguely romantic, and is the unhappiest HEA I could conceive of. It's basically taking Sookie away from Bill to put her with a guy a thousand times worse, and making sure she can't get away. All the control, the raping - that's back, but tenfold, and cognisant and willing on Eric's behalf. It turns the behaviour I didn't like Bill for into the behaviour of "Dark Eric" who is really Bill - raping and forcing, but magnified.
I know personally, now that I don't feel forced to continue to review (as I've discussed before, I went through a process of thinking about reviews, who I gave them to and took a while to decide what I wanted to contribute to the whole reviewing process) I'm out of a story as soon as violence and lust get mixed together. As soon as Eric yanks Sookie around, and she thinks how hot he is while he's hurting her, that's end game for me - I don't even consider reviewing to support this pervasive BPS theme. I don't find it romantic when Eric 'jokes' about killing or hurting Sookie - and I don't understand why that's seen as a valid part of romance, to include violence and abuse towards a woman as if it's par for the course, and something acceptable in a relationship with any man - vampire or not.
In the sorts of rape-as-romance stories there tends to be in fanfic, they're based on the idea that free will and consent is gone - the woman (usually Sookie) is often abducted, and forced into a sexual relationship with a vampire (usually Eric), filled with rape. I've asserted in the past that the reason why these stories are attractive to writers and readers is because it's the easiest story in the world to write and read. There's no reason for the heroine to be with the hero, other than she has no choice. No need to build up that pesky desire, or the reasons why she wants to be with him - she wants to be with him because she can't get away. It's a simplistic story to write, and it ends up having boning (or the long-winded build up to boning - while the abuser robs her of her self-worth) relatively quickly. Some shippers love them, because the characters are together from start to finish, and the victim/girlfriend won't be able to get away or have a choice - which is why rape is the way to romance in these fics.
It's making a romance out of the realities of Colleen Stan or Elizabeth Smart, neither of whose lives sound particularly romantic to me. Both of them eventually stopped resisting their rapist, and accepted that they were never going to go home - and were only rescued by outsiders. They didn't learn to love the guy who raped them - they just learned what they should do to make their lives less painful. Both of those cases show how learned helplessness means that women think they can't get away, and how sure they are that their abuser is always watching them - losing faith in family members and the police alike. But neither of their stories are lauded as tales of modern romance - they're seen for what they are - rape, battering and abuse, wherein the offender masquerades to himself that it's about the love she now bears for him.
Rape-as-romance though, usually caters entirely to the rapist, and finally lets the victim reap the "benefits". It's about making sure that the abuser has it all his own way, and when he's finally changed his victim to accept her treatment, she's "rewarded" with more relationship with him. For me, it's kinda awful to read, because I know that it does work oh-so-well. I just don't like to read about my favourite character in the books losing herself to an abusive Eric, and abusive, omnipresent rapist Eric is pretty much opposite to Book Eric, who's been known to be completely absent from Sookie's life for two months.
Often it's justified because even though Eric rapes Sookie, at least he's a better alternative to being raped by someone else. That being raped by Eric is somehow a favour, because at least it's not Bill or Andre. I would posit that a rapist is ugly no matter he looks like, and to be stuck with a rapist has no "upside" that "at least" he's really proficient at raping, humiliating and abusing the victim. Eric is seemingly deemed attractive not because of his good qualities, but because in a world of rather shitty choices, he's the least shitty. Even if that were titillating, it's a pretty poor excuse for romance - "He's the best of a bad bunch" - meaning he's spectacularly shitty anyway, since all the rest of the choices are rapists too, but they're seen as worse rapists.
What strikes me as bizarrely unusual is that women reading these stories seem to want Sookie to continue in such a relationship. To just comply with the abuser so that she can please him. They want to have a "happily ever after" wherein Sookie is beaten into submission and changed, based on rape and getting abused. I mean, the bias is so much towards Eric that he can openly be a rapist, and still gets the girl, with a whole heaping of being cheered on. Rarely if ever does it become a story that the majority of readers will want Sookie to become powerful enough to escape, or be rescued by someone else - they want her to live it, breathe it, learn to love the abuse.
I'm divided on why this is though. I'm aware that there are women in abusive relationships who go on the net - they're just like anyone else - and do use the internet. They don't see flaws in the rape-as-romance because that's the way that their own relationship goes - always comply, always grovel, always eat dirt. They parrot that in reviews - telling Sookie to just accept it. In fact, you can find abused women advocating that that's the way to "cure" abusive husbands - to eat their pain, and accept it, telling them that you love them anyway. It's a popular Christian-based treatment system for abuse victims, to love those who abuse us, turn the other cheek and do your wifely duties. I've never heard of it working from any reliable source, but it's something to pass the time while the abuser beats the living shit out of you, and find a way to cope with it by having a gameplan - which is pretty much Battered Persons Syndrome all the way down the line.
Certainly, it's not something that's seen as acceptable when a man is on the receiving end of such treatment. Not many think that Eric's abuse by Appius is hot, nor is there similar relish with the abuse by Lorena towards Bill. Inherent in that idea is that the rape feminises the men - and thus is not hot. It is only hot when a woman is raped and forced to do things, but not so lovely when Eric or Bill is reduced to the status of a mere woman - with how lacklustre they all are. Indeed, there are fics wherein Bill gets raped by a man as a way to reduce him to lesser status of a woman. That's when you really know what the author thinks of Bill...and women....and rape victims. There is sadistic relish in the reviews of stories wherein Bill gets raped (because rape is apparently seen as a just punishment for the non-compliant, and thus deserved), but it doesn't tend to elicit "That's hot" reviews.
But in the case of Sookie, or even OC's receiving such treatment, this is seen as romantically possessive and lustful, rather than scarily abusive. But then, in the world of fanfic, Sookie is usually to blame for all problems anyway, and the majority of doormat Sookie fics (I totted it up out of curiosity - and it's roughly 70% of fic in the past month where Sookie apologises for just being herself and sees herself as a burden to Eric as a theme) she might not get hit, but she still sees herself as author to all of Eric's pains. So that theme is pervasive even without abuse - it's just when abuse is added in, the song is no different.
That makes me believe that the theme is so pervasive perhaps because women like seeing Sookie submit, and rape-as-romance is just an extreme form of that submission. It's what appeals - that a woman should lay down and accept her treatment, even verging onto the extremely painful and totally terrorising. So Eric is portrayed as hating what was done to him, and hating Appius (even though it isn't that simple and Eric in the books articulates that it's not that simple) Sookie instead of hating how Eric has brought her low, learns to love it because it comes with orgasms or something. I know that the double standard is there - but not really why it's there.
It can't be that so many women are in rape-as-romance relationships, just because I don't think the statistics are that high, even if they were concentrated in this particular fandom. It could be the older demographic that doesn't really understand, and hasn't made the break from the old system, whereby women just "laid back and thought of England" - and who enjoyed lots of rapey romance books in their heyday. But it could also be that it's just because it's a fictional woman, who must be shown the error of her ways - through the quickest means possible, and that's by allowing her to get beatings and raped, in order to remove any independent thought and fire to satisfy the shipper's heart and HEA the couple as soon as possible.
I've noticed too that the theme takes a rise in response to the original works. I noticed that there was an upswing in such stories straight after Dead and Gone - more themes of Sookie being terrorised and abused, sometimes by Eric himself, and sometimes including Eric using Neave and Lochlan as his quasi-enforcers. There were lots of passages about how while Sookie didn't like being manhandled by Eric, she should have "learnt her lesson" by being tortured. That if she'd listened, she wouldn't have been tortured, and since rape and beatings are so much better than torture (apparently) they're the price you pay for "safety"....except from Eric. He gets carte blanche to do as he pleases, and Sookie's grateful for it. It still shows up occasionally too.
So too at the end of True Blood Season Four, there is an upswing in justification of Eric abusing and hurting Sookie to show the stupid bitch she shouldn't dare to reject him. It bleeds into SVM too, because people forget that True Blood is not the books, and the want to see bad stuff happen to Show Sookie is projected onto poor Book Sookie. It just happens to be more severe in the True Blood section, because there you can really go to town and relish Show Sookie's pain. I dunno - she may be deeply stupid, but deeply stupid people don't "deserve" that sort of treatment any more than other people do. My personal thought is that if Eric is a rapist abuser who only holds back as long as Sookie complies, Sookie was completely and utterly right to reject him first time round. He's just proven to me that as stupid as Show Sookie is, she was right all along, and I'd be the first to hand her a stake.
It can be seen as well after the violent bite in Dead Reckoning - it's not enough for Sookie to just either confront Eric and force the bastard to say he's sorry; or hell, even just ignore it. I haven't read either of those, but I have read Sookie apologising to Eric for making it necessary, and taking full responsibility for the bite. Like it was her fault that she made him do that, and all Eric needs to do is hurt her some more so she'll do as she's told, and she grovels like a good abused wife to show she's learned that he's mercurial and will hurt her at a moment's notice if he doesn't like her independent thought. It's lead to an upswing of forcing in fanfic, more "dominant" Eric - who is really Eric who doesn't take "No" as an answer - ie. see above what that's defined as.
Of course, usually, reviewers will contort themselves all kinds of ways to avoid saying anything bad about Eric, while feeling free to hate on Sookie as much as possible - making all of Eric's problems hers. It's possible that it's an extension of the Sookie hate that I've discussed before. That these reviewers love Eric to the point of obscenity, and even if he acts worse than Bill in the trunk (because his abuse isn't preceded by a week of torture and starvation but rather with deliberate malice and forethought) they will accept any version of him - even the rapist and abuser version; while relishing in the punishment that Sookie's character is undergoing. The common review for this sort of fic is all about how Sookie deserves her punishment, and Eric is "Poor Eric" - almost like that's his name.
It can't just be explained away as solely something that exists in SVM, or True Blood, because it doesn't just exist there. It's a pervasive theme in romance stories, and as it becomes less acceptable in mainstream romance, it gets pushed to the fringes - the independent internet publishers who sell ebooks, the "erotica", the fanfic. But like a bad penny, it turns up, and gets fervent followers - although it's not called "rape" because rape-as-romance does not market well - it's called ravishment/reluctance/forced sexual response/non-consent. Anything but the "R" word. I think that part of that is not knowing what rape is (joy for all the victims who will be wrongly judged by their peers when their rape trial is going on) and part of it is the refusal to allow it to be rape, because rape is not seen as romantic when it's called rape.
In general, I do think it has the potential to play out more often in supernatural stories. One of the most memorable scenes for me was in Dead Until Dark, which was included in the show as well - in the graveyard scene. It was a scene that for me crosses over the line into rape, as soon as Sookie says this:
Directing that energy in another way might save me.
Dead Until Dark, p. 181
That's not consent, freely and voluntarily given. However, this scene, while it speaks to Bill's complete unsuitability to be considered heroic, romantic, or a good suitor, it isn't a theme throughout the story - it isn't the sole means of sexual submission to Bill. I also think that while real life can be reflected - where things are dodgy and lines are crossed, that's all together different for rape-as-romance to become the mode with which the Sookie learns to always submit to her rapist all the time, and never gets a chance to make any choices because her rapist won't let her leave his lair.
It's my personal feeling that Bill was way too abusive to be a good boyfriend - using the line "I am vampire" as many abusers use the line "I am man" to explain their out-of-control behaviour. But there are plenty of men out there that use such lines - and I like the value of the reflection of similar situations in real life. Sookie in the graveyard scene takes the treatment - but so do many women in real life, particularly those with little or no relationship experience. Sookie is a most excellent reflection of those who don't understand what rape is - not understanding that consent needs to be given before the fact. Sookie herself doesn't say no during that scene, but she doesn't have much of a choice if she wants to live. It's one of the many reasons why I'm not for Bill as HEA - because if you're so out of control that you need to be redirected from killing your girlfriend, there's a severe problem.
But it's not full of similar themes - and tries to stay on the right side of the rape spectrum. We can see that vampire blood makes the human think more kindly of the vampire, and heightens the libido, but it doesn't really have such a direct connection to that particular vampire. Libido is not tied to one particular vampire, and there are no dreams and such. There are no prophecies, and there are no external reasons why consent is not needed. CH walks a very fine, but delineated line between sexual attraction vs. friendly attraction. Seeing Eric and Bill as more human does not mean that Sookie will have sex with them - it merely means that they have an advantage to being trusted by her, as a human would naturally have.
In opposition, blowing vampire blood effects out of proportion on True Blood makes the whole thing just that little more rapey. Because after all, Sookie doesn't have her libido heightened generally - she has it heightened towards a specific vampire, and has dreams and mental encounters with said vampire long before the act is consummated - without her conscious will. The dreams are tied to a specific vampire - Jason dreams about Jessica, Sam about Bill, and Sookie about both Bill and Eric. Before the dreams, there is absolutely no relationship - Sookie herself professes to hate Eric at the time that she takes his blood. There's no more relationship with any of the other characters who have had V - suggesting that vampires, are, by and large altogether more rapist than not. I would say that a part of the squeamishness that some viewers felt at the amount of vampire blood poured down Show Sookie's neck is due to that creepy little feeling that it's all a bit too far on the rape spectrum, and free will and consent is kinda gone.
In the name of skipping all that pesky relationship business, all the sexual relationships go from zero to sixty, with no build up, no significant glances, no clear attraction. One minute Sookie's slapping Eric (fuck so stupid) and saying she'd rather have cancer, and the minute she has his blood, it's all naked Eric dreams. Finally until she's broken down, and can't tell reality from dream (as in the episode where she thought she was dreaming) it's time that vampire blood trumped her free will and consent, and it's having sex with a guy who basically roofied you, and waited a couple of weeks for it to work. Ugh.
The books draw that line - they don't have vampire blood tied to one specific vampire, in a sexual way. While the initial effect is arousal, Sookie herself is made aware of the excitement before it ever goes there. The first time she gets blood from Bill, she's so injured that it's not sexually arousing, but then after, when she takes Bill's blood again, she knows that it has the effect of making her libido go through the roof. Sookie knows the effects of taking blood from Eric in Mississippi:
I couldn't have sex with a vampire, especially Eric, just because I found him
attractive - not when there would be such dire consequences. I was just too
strung out to enumerate those consequences to myself. I was an adult, I told
myself sternly; true adults don't have sex just because the other person is skilled and pretty.
Club Dead, p. 190
Sookie isn't attracted to Eric because of his blood - she's attracted to him because he's skilled and pretty, and finding it difficult to resist because she's strung out on vampire blood, which has heightened her libido. While Sookie and Eric have a sexual relationship after that, it's not as if they never thought of each other that way before, or that there aren't supporting circumstances, with or without vampire blood put into the mix. Sookie has the power to resist, and knows the difference between reality and fantasy - and doesn't have sex with Eric until she decides she wants to - as opposed to vampire blood in the show that builds the relationship and sexual connection almost instantly.
So maybe ultimately, the problem is that not that readers and writers like this particular rape-as-romance as a route to HEA, but rather, like Alan Ball, they're rather too blind to see the difference, and the fine line that the story has crossed; or that they don't care in the name of boning (just like AB). The books are careful to stay on the right side of that line merely because CH likes Sookie; whereas in fanfic, the author sometimes hates Sookie's guts, as made clear by their subtext - she's seen as "deserving" of her rape by Eric for failing to comply with his demands that he be allowed to use her body as he wishes. Combined with the fact that I have to define what rape is, and some women aren't too clear about what constitutes rape is perhaps at the root of that lack of understanding. Ultimately, all is made better in the rape-as-romance, because her rapist intends to be monogamous, and force Sookie, his victim/girlfriend to be monogamous as well.
I think it's easy to have little or no thought about rape-as-romance - but I think it's one of the things that we should really think about. It's not something that should just be mindlessly be consumed, as if it's a valid route to love. It's a valid route to a lifetime of abuse, and far too many women do that already.