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Women & Sexual Assault in Writing
#1
Throughout the years, writing has developed into a way where anything goes, including things such as racism, domestic violence and even terrorism as themes, backstories, etc.

One of the common complaints in regarding women in stories is the abundance of falling back into sexual assault as an major driving point in their character arcs. What do you think about this? Do you think that sexual assault is used too much for women? How would one approach the topic in a respectable manner without falling into, well, tropes/cliches?
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#2
The problem is essentially the whole root of masculinity vs feminism in sexual topics. Simply put, masculine traits in sex involve domination, control, and practically dictating control over your partner in that regard. While feministic traits involve submission and a focus more on traits similar to servitude: you are supporting rather than leading basically.

So women, who naturally are defined as attractive through those feminine traits, are often the center gender for plots involving abuse since they have the generic standards of sexual attraction in feminine qualities over men. IE, hearing a guy being sexually abused by a woman is a rarer occurrence for a reason.

I personally don’t think there’s a good way to approach it because the trope is how the experience of rape/sexual assault impacted that character to where despite the horrible tragedy, they became stronger through the usual reasons/positives you would typically see in any inspirational story. A tragedy like rape defining a character’s history in becoming stronger/better than that depravity follows a similar construct to every “started in tragedy, became a better person against all odds” type of character development out there.

Which, as you know, is probably the most overused construct in literary work imo. So if you want to follow a different model, then having a plot mechanic like rape can’t really be handled like a tragedy being used in defining a character. Because if you do, then you can only use the mechanic for two reasons: to give a character a motivation to be better, or to damn them as a villain. Both of which, have been done to death.

So then, you’re down to two options: be cliche and do what has been done already over and over again? Or be different, and use rape/sexual assault in a manner that is lighter than what it typically is?

One of those guarantees boring and overused development, the other is the biggest risk in literary work you can probably imagine.
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#3
I find the concept tasteless at best, and horrifically offensive at worst; I've seen this be used for both genders, although I will get to that despite this being mainly about women.

Personally, the only times I find using this theme in fiction appropriate is strictly for writing books that bring awareness to it and it MUST not be used to drive a romantic plot. I find it most offensive when victims of any form of abuse, sexual or physical, have been mainly portrayed by media (and by society as a byproduct) as "broken" people that can only be fixed by a special person who can solve all their problems. Think "manic pixie dream girl" except probably worse and even more intolerable. It's just not realistic and all it does is minimize the gravity of a traumatic experience nobody would want to go through.

If you do decide to pursuit it as a driving plot, you had better be prepared to go through weeks of research about the trauma, aftermath, and recovery following it. While I don't want to police people and what they want to write, sexual assault to drive a plot or the character development of a person shouldn't be used in a setting that isn't grounded heavily in reality-- any fantastical aspects, just seems to come off as disingenuous and cheap no matter how good your intentions are. In other genres, you could acknowledge it, but I've only seen this once in all the books I've read and it was used in passing to drive home how depraved society became after it broke down (it was in a post-dystopia novel, but it was used in one line to describe a flashback a character had during a torture scene in which her captors started to cut her fingers off and she was increasingly afraid they would do what they did to her mother before killing her. It was a difficult passage to read through.)

It is risky business, because realistically, writing an entire novel about someone recovering from this would primarily be read by either a target audience for purposes of being a PSA type of story, or by people who had suffered through it and needed a way to cope with how they were feeling or find some way to not feel alone about their experience (such as the women and girls who wrote letters to the author of Speak, a young adult novel primarily centered around a girl who was dealing with recovering and getting her life back together after being assaulted at a party. I had to read it in high school, and my naivety made me miss so many subtle hints about why she was the way she was. Rereading it as an adult 8 years later, I didn't need to get to the middle of the book to see why she acted the way she did.).

Re: for men, I have seen this be used by young and ignorant beginner fiction authors, only they often force it to drive a romantic plot in BL fanfiction. Typically, it is the more feminine looking young man that endures it, and the end result is that their partner must essentially kiss their trauma away. In essence, the event is trivialized and is used to infantilize the victim. By infantilize, I mean the author will portray resulting PTSD or anxiety symptoms in a reductive way that is seen as "cute" because the significant other will 'comfort' the other person. There's also always a revenge element to it, but it does nothing but put me off from bothering with the rest of it. I partially attribute this to a dubious idea of what "Hurt & Comfort" can be for a theme of the fanfic. Almost always, FF.net has mostly assault/similar traumatic experiences under this category using BL pairings. I say young and ignorant, because this can be unlearned so long as they don't ask for critique from people their age who are just as ignorant about the topic. Typically, this isn't even necessary-- most people just wise up as time passes and they learn more about the world around them.

Another thing is that whoever does the assault, you CANNOT and MUST not portray them as anything but simply the antagonist. Why would you insult the victims reading your story, or really any woman, by making the one who did it sympathetic in any way? They were the one who may as well have murdered the victim; the only character we should sympathize with is the victim. Not the abuser.

There's also the fact that it does not happen solely to straight women, it can really happen to women regardless of their sexuality or even gender alignment. Sexual violence is a complex and sensitive matter that requires much more effort and tact to write than it may be worth if you don't intend on using it to spread awareness about it to others or start a conversation by giving others a voice with it. If you aren't willing to do that nor are you willing to dedicate a lot of time to researching the matter, exposing yourself to a lot of different experiences/perspectives from civilian points of view in addition to academic writings on the topic in sociological and psychological fields, you are better off writing something else. Really think about if you're doing anything good with using rape/assault as a plot device for a character in a fictional universe where it's almost purely fantasy in nature. If you just can't think of any other ways to make a woman in the story seem complex or show an ability to become a strong person without resorting to that, perhaps you need to reevaluate what makes you believe 'good writing' for women is.
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#4
Expanding LoopyPanda’s thoughts a bit here, it does comes as disingenuous that female characters are truly a target of sexual assault in comparison to any other criminal conduct. Furthermore, the subject of sexual assault gets brush aside in unrealistic timing, whereas the female central character finds the special one that makes all that pain go away (bonus points if said character is described as a “don’t need no man” type.

It is never, ever good to tackle this subject without any form of research under your belt. It should be handle with care, maturity and respectfully. In addition, women characters are now at a point that sexuality should not be the main thing that defines them nor should be the biggest subject around them. Too many novels consistently used sexuality for female characters in a depraved manner—oh, that woman just has to have the bad boys (i.e. 50 Shades, Twilight, Circle, Hunger Games I believe). 

There are novels, BEAUTIFUL novels that star female characters that struggled, without any mention of sexuality as a central or main core of the story—because they can be more than just that. Yet, some writers constantly slipped on it because they are racking their brains of how to force this female character to overcome an obstacle and the immediate thing is “well, gotta have her get assaulted!”

Writer should evolved past this.

Quote:So then, you’re down to two options: be cliche and do what has been done already over and over again? Or be different, and use rape/sexual assault in a manner that is lighter than what it typically is?

One of those guarantees boring and overused development, the other is the biggest risk in literary work you can probably imagine.

I think that's a bit of a dangerous thinking regarding those two options. I think I would chose option C: not writing it at all. 

If I don't know much about the topic and really have no justifiable reason to add it.... then I wouldn't use it.
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#5
(09-26-2018, 10:09 PM)LoopyPanda Wrote: Another thing is that whoever does the assault, you CANNOT and MUST not portray them as anything but simply the antagonist. Why would you insult the victims reading your story, or really any woman, by making the one who did it sympathetic in any way? They were the one who may as well have murdered the victim; the only character we should sympathize with is the victim. Not the abuser.

Part of me wonders if you said that because of how often portions of society will treat any accusation of harassment, assault, or even rape as something to be immediately doubted unless evidence can be produced otherwise, and even then it's a question of "did she really not want it?" During the time of the Kavanaugh investigation my father and grandmother constantly used "why did she wait so long" and "he really needs to be treated better" as some sort of mitigating circumstances to dismiss the accusations and make him both above guilt and beyond reproach of anything. Heck, my own Senator Rob Portman blamed the Democrats for bringing it up at the best possible time for fervor and outrage as also mitigating circumstances. I remember in the Nickelodeon scandal thread reading about fanboys defending a pedophile regardless of anything. Heck, my tabloid magazines at work claim that Bill Cosby needs to be pitied as "he's dying in prison" and outraged at the "traitor relatives" who turned their back on him.

You mentioned that the victim of assault would be "infantile" and "act cute" because of the horrors that happened to them. Part of me is convinced that, for whatever reason, when it comes to something this horrific, the victim ends up portrayed in a way that makes the ordeal less horrific to even think about, and the perpetrator has to be treated with the old "alas, poor villain, if only he hadn't done those horrible things, maybe he would be happy." For society's mental sake, both victim and perpetrator need to be pitied and only pitied, the details of anything other than pitying their respective problems that come from sexual assault must be shushed away and forgotten, or else someone in the society might feel bad that such a thing exists. These might be the roles considered socially acceptable by fiction standards. Or maybe I'm wrong and tabloid magazines don't reflect the society they're written for.

(10-03-2018, 09:29 PM)ShineCero Wrote: There are novels, BEAUTIFUL novels that star female characters that struggled, without any mention of sexuality as a central or main core of the story—because they can be more than just that. Yet, some writers constantly slipped on it because they are racking their brains of how to force this female character to overcome an obstacle and the immediate thing is “well, gotta have her get assaulted!”

In my opinion most people still default to the "generic white main guy" for their characters when it comes to juvenile fiction. I admit my opinion on that is shaky and I don't have the first hand knowledge to back that up, but it's my belief. I made a friend recently who continually suggested adding a third male as a main character to a series of mine when I was considering other character arch-types to balance out the two characters I had already designed. Perhaps I was reading too much into it, but that friend reinforces my belief some people add females to their stories purely because of their different sex, and to explore a theme or story relating to their sexuality. Hence why you would make a statement "well, gotta have her get assaulted" because writers fall back on that change of sex affecting the story far more than it should. Once again I don't have the first hand knowledge, I may be wrong about why they would add that.
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