Why responses to rape culture belong in fiction
I remember some teachers throwing away fiction, in it’s various types as a waste of time, as nothing more than entertainment. I’m sure you know what conversations I refer to. Fiction however, be it novels, TV shows or movies often engages with toxic discourses, and as an academic I am fascinated by the social stories we tell through fiction. Sure fiction can be fun and entertaining, but we need to think of the impact of the stories we tell.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about rape culture. I mean, it’s hard not to when as a society we are saturated in victim blaming narratives, where the impacts of sexual assault are downplayed, survivors are blamed, and sexual violence is normalized or framed as a joke. I go online and am appalled to see stories of a local bar celebrating, and joking about sexual assault. I could write an entire article about this, yet one thing that struck me was what kind of city is Toronto, and world do we live in, where a bar thinks rape jokes would ever be a good marketing campaign? And yet one brief look at the comment section and I saw guys saying to chill, it’s just a joke and hey, it’s funny. But wait- what messages, on the subway, in work places, music, books, TV were these guys exposed to to think that this type of thinking is okay, let alone sexy or will ever get them laid?
What does this have to do with fiction? Fiction works to normalize rape culture, but it doesn’t have to. For instance, think of popular texts that romanticize sexual violence, that make-light of consent or portray women as passive victims. I think this further gets complicated in fiction that introduces and misrepresents BDSM.
Challenging misogyny and rape culture belongs in as many spaces as possible. That’s why it’s essential to create texts that engage with these ideas. If rape culture is glorified in fiction, fiction is one of the places that can challenge rape culture.
In Dancing with Ghosts, I portray an abusive relationship, but I’m careful to not romanticize this abuse, the narrator repeats “this is no love story.” I also worked to show Patricia, the main character, critically reflecting on what is taking place. She isn’t passive.
Fiction that incorporates BDSM practices sometimes misleads folks about what BDSM is, and uses BDSM as a framework for violating consent. That’s why I worked to show that just because a character agreed to something once, doesn’t equal blanket consent. I look forward to reading more books that challenge rape culture, that display health relationships, enthusiastic consent, and have playful and consensual representations of BDSM.
For now I’m going to keep protesting, keep writing, and use my imagination to challenge toxic discourses.
*In the comments please feel free to mention your favorite books on these topics and why?
If you’d like to learn more about the novel “Dancing with Ghosts” https://www.amazon.com/Dancing-Ghosts-Emily-Gillespie/dp/1988170060