Category Archives: personal essay

where have all the heroines gone?

Rant time.  What’s up with pseudo-feminist “rape as a path to personal empowerment”?  Two books I’ve read recently arbitrarily tossed in a rape to get the plot going.  Both girls were previously innocent, virginal, and timid. For one the rape served as a life-affirming experience, making her regain the hope she’d lost and (when she naturally became pregnant) giving her a reason to live.  For the second protagonist the rape was the trigger that turned her into a devouring serial man-killer.

I object to rape as a plot device.  It offends me on an visceral level.  I understand the need for dramatic tension and character arcs, and I understand how personal trauma can be a catalyst for change.  But do we really need to see more literature where weak-willed girls become ass-kicking superwomen only after being as stripped of as much dignity as possible?  Can inviolability really only come as a result of the ultimate violation?  Is destruction of self-identity now the only way to gain self-sufficiency?

More disturbing to me is the fact that both authors were women .  Maybe they think it’s brave.  Maybe they think it addresses this widespread social problem head-on rather than hiding.  I can’t speak to their motivations.  But I don’t think rape should be used as a plot prop or easy character motivation.  That simplifies rape to the point of cheapness.  It’s a complex problem with complex repercussions.  I do think it needs to be addressed, not ignored.  And as with any other topic, fiction can be more powerful than any other medium.  But I think there should be more caution or at least more thoughtful treatment when an author chooses to include an act that has such strong social connotations and such devastating personal ramifications.

Strangely there was a third book in which the rape was done well- if there is such a thing. In that case the rape was used as a metaphor for how a totalitarian government makes individuals powerless. The author “earned” the moment, built up to it emotionally, dealt with the emotional aftermath in a way the two previous books ignored, and used it in a way where it informed the character’s arc. What does it say that both the character and the author were men?  Is that important or even relevant? I don’t have the answers.