Don’t Excuse Sexual Harassers – in Real Life OR in Fiction

EXHIBIT A

I really enjoyed the first two books in an urban fantasy series, though unfortunately it was downhill from there. The author self-published a novella in the series (narrated by another character), and it was on NetGalley, so of course I requested, read, and reviewed it.

And then the author subTweeted about me. (When people Tweet about a situation and deliberately don’t name names, this is “subTweeting”. All very passive-aggressive, and I totally do it.) I think in the P.S. of my review, I mentioned I didn’t like how the narrator kept sexually harassing another character. The author subTweeted a hypothetical question that made it clear it was about my review and that she didn’t agree with it. Since it was on her own Twitter, and the readers were smart enough to figure out that the question was based on a review of her own book, it’s not surprising that most people who answered the hypothetical agreed with her, and may have called me an “idiot” or “foron”. (“Idiot”, okay. “Foron”? Because one of my favourite authors uses/used this word in her Tweets and even novels, and because one of my favourite authors may have called me this, this hurts. And yet I still read her books.)

The narrator of the novella is female. The person she sexually harasses (in my opinion, but others seem to consider it courtship) is male. He keeps telling her to leave him alone. She persists. The author’s (or her Followers’) defence was that he pushed her away “for her own good”, because he “didn’t want to hurt her”, even though “he loved her”. It’s because of that last one that they decided it was totally okay for her to persist, and they did end up hooking up and living happily ever after.

These comments/excuses didn’t sit right with me. Not because they opposed my opinion (or considered me an “idiot” or “foron”), but because…what if this wasn’t a romance novel? What if the genders were reversed, so it was the man who kept bothering the woman? “She only rejected me because she didn’t want to hurt me.” “She actually loved me.” These are things that rapists say. These are things that people who commit sexual assault, and sexual harassment, say.

And readers seemed to be excusing the sexual harasser (others might call her a “protag”/”heroine”, but there’s nothing good about sexual harassment), because it was actually “love”. Because the author gave them a HEA together. The author created these characters, and their storylines, and their endings, therefore she’s right.

No safewords had been discussed, and therefore a simple “no” or “leave me alone” should have been respected. But it wasn’t.

Which brings me to…

EXHIBIT B

In Rupert Thomson’s The Book of Revelation, a male ballet dancer is taken off the street, held captive for days by anonymous women who repeatedly rape him. He’s then freed. He goes to the police. The police refuse to believe that what happened was a crime. Yeah, they believe it happened, but “women can’t rape men” or “that’s every man’s fantasy, not a crime”. I forget the rest of the novel, but I doubt justice was served.

“So what?” you might say. “Women are always victim-blamed and not believed.” True. But NO ONE should be victim-blamed and not believed. Female OR male.

EXHIBIT C

An extremely popular erotic romance novel, the third in a series. Both the male and female had been raped in the past (not by each other). On their honeymoon (I think), the man says “no”/”don’t” multiple times, but the woman persists and sodomises him. She claims it’s for the right reasons, to help him “reclaim your body”, or whatever. They had not discussed safewords, so a “no” should’ve sufficed. All the times he said “no”, she should’ve respected that – and if she had, only the one “no” would have been required, so she wouldn’t have continued.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

“NO” MEANS “NO”. Unless a safeword has been decided. But if it hasn’t been decided, the safeword is automatically “no”. When a character tells another character to “leave me alone”, they should respect that. REGARDLESS OF GENDER. REGARDLESS OF WHETHER THEY SECRETLY LOVE EACH OTHER OR NOT.

It’s bad enough that abusive men are excused in romance novels. But abusive women shouldn’t be excused, either. And don’t give me that “they’re in love” crap. “NO” MEANS “NO”. “LEAVE ME ALONE” MEANS “LEAVE ME ALONE”. And if the characters can’t respect that, then I can’t respect them. Or the readers who excuse them.

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