Thursday, June 28, 2012

Bonus Post: A Note About Chapter Seven

Right. First off. If you are reading Choices and haven't read chapter seven yet, stop now. Go back and read that and then you can come revisit this post. Spoilers.

I can't say that more adamantly, but I will try.


(Also, expression of feminist ideas, potential foul language, and OPINIONS.)

Today's chapter represents a pivotal point in Choices. What happens here is one of the few things that I had intended when I set out to write this story. It was an image, a frightful horrid image, that I had last year while reading something else, and the questions that followed that image: How does a woman come back from this? Why does she come back from this? Where does her life go from that point on? That image and those questions are what led me to write this story.

I have debated with myself quite a bit about whether or not to add a commentary in regards to Laren's rape and subsequent miscarriage. Part of me bristles at the mere suggestion that I should have to justify why I wrote what I did. I think that the work as a whole should be able to stand for itself.

For the record: I am damn proud of this story. Of all of it. I hated writing every second of this chapter, but it was necessary for me to tell the story that I wanted to tell. It wasn't intended to be either gratuitous or exploitative but rather a very important moment in the development of this character's life and the course of it thereafter. I certainly hope it doesn't come across as either of the former. But I know people will read into things what they want to read into things. So most of me believes that there shouldn't be any need for me to defend this part of my story.



In my corner of the world there has been a LOT of controversy right now about the portrayal of women in the media, largely in video games, and the use of rape as an exploitative story-telling cheat. I am seeing this largely in relation to the new Tomb Raider reboot that is on the gaming radar. If you're curious about that issue, this very well-written article over at Tor is a good place to start. So, as I said, I've been seeing a lot of discussion about this game, and about the ways in which rape gets used as a cheap trick to make a woman a more sympathetic character without actually developing said character beyond her external circumstances.

For the most part, these are actually assertions I agree with, and with that all on my radar it got me thinking about my own use of rape in my writing. As I said, I stand by this part of my story, but I also feel like maybe at this point I should explain a little bit of my headspace on why it was included.

There are men people out there who claim that we do not live in a rape culture. To those people I say this: Bullshit.

I have never actually been in real danger (that I am aware) of or threatened with rape. But every time I cross a parking lot alone (or with my child) at night, every time I see a strange man walking just a little too closely to me, I know that twinge of fear. There was this quote circulating around Tumblr (originally appearing in an article on The Root) that pretty much sums up how many women share this fear. Why? Because rape is a very real and ever-present threat. I don't know if it is just the darker side of human nature, one we are unable to evolve away from, but it has always been there and will always continue to be there. We have as a society largely (thankfully) moved on from what I would consider institutionalized or sanctioned rape in that for the most part men and women are now free to choose their own bed partners and there are numerous laws regarding consent and regulating against using positions of power to force someone into a sexual situation.

But it is still that scary monster that lurks in the shadows of every dark corner. It happens all of the time (to men and to women, regardless of age, orientation, color, station, or creed). Laws attempting to prevent it and to punish it are evolving, but they are nowhere near as effective as they need to be. Part of this, I am sure, is because in the majority of cases it is such a hard damn thing to prove. Also because there are so many different levels of rape, and they are not always obvious to those who weren't present when it occurred. Rape turns into a he said-she said crime, and our society is hardwired to blame the woman/victim in most of the cases. There are idiots willfully blind well meaning but clearly missing the point people who will try to claim this isn't true but it is. It is an ugly truth about our culture, but a truth nonetheless. It is pathetic and disheartening and I want to cry just thinking about it.

Add to that the way that rape is glorified (and torture in general) these days in the media and it is understandable why people are starting to push back against its inclusion as part of any given story. It is over used, used poorly, and often used to excite all of the wrong emotions. To me, the idea of being raped is probably the single most frightening thing that I could ever imagine happening to me personally, and I am sure I am not alone in this. So I understand how there is a perception among storytellers that adding in rape or even the threat of rape will dramatically up the trauma and get the audience to either go into protective mode or to want to root for the threatened party to fight back and find a way out. I understand that. I just think it's a crap reason for something to happen in a story. But just because it is so often misused doesn't mean that such an event is not a valid story-telling tool.


Why was my character raped?

At this point in the story Laren has spent her entire life letting others make her big choices for her. She may have told herself she was fighting back and asserting her own independence by doing things like avoiding social functions and husband hunting. But the reality of the world she lives in is that when she refused to try to find someone for herself she gave up the chance to decide who she would marry. She has always known that her parents would arrange a match for her without her actively providing input. She might have hoped they'd just let her be, but given her position within the family, she knew that it was a vain hope.

She thinks she knows exactly who she is, that she's come to terms with where her life has led her. She has already started to see some indications that maybe she doesn't know herself as well as she thought, however. Primarily, we see this in her reactions to Liam thus far. She has ample evidence that she is only a part of his official life, but she continues to hold out hope that he might grow to actually love her despite his disinterest. With the introduction of Kara, she finally learns that will never happen, and she is yet again surprised by how hurt she is by this new knowledge.

She again surprises herself when she questions Nathaniel and Sebastian about their quarrel with Liam. Laren is a creature of logic (at least, she is meant to be, and I hope that comes across as I have written her) and she knows that, in the long run, knowing what is between the three men will not change how she should react to the situation. She is still Liam's wife, still the future lady of the Stag, and despite her hurt at realizing his love for Kara, she is not a petty person. Still, reacting out of emotion and unquestionably accepting their version of events, it is not what she would have expected of herself.

So when she is taken she is already questioning what she knows of herself, and realizing that she has allowed herself to be put in these circumstances by her own inaction. If she had not been taken, she likely would have gone home that evening, made love to Liam (wondering the whole time if he was imagining she was Kara), and later found herself with child. She would have given Liam the heir he desired and be left to live out the rest of her life in comfortable misery, wondering what she could have done differently but still accepting of the life she had been given.

I did not write this rape to make Laren sympathetic or to make you root for her. She is hardly an underdog. Nor was this included to drive home just how villainous Jonah and his cohort are. They are merely pawns (although I suppose this does illustrate how amoral and powerful their employer is that they feel not just entitled to such an action but also secure in the lack of any sort of repercussions).

This was simply the last straw for Laren. Not to break her or to make her come back kicking ass and vowing revenge (this isn't that kind of story). This is the point where she realizes just how completely she has given up control of her own life. To realize just how much she has given up merely through her own passiveness. Like Jonah and his cohort, she is a pawn. Not just in whatever scheme led to her abduction but in her own life, which she now knows wasn't actually hers. Liam's chant of "mine" finally makes sense to her now and she knows it is true, but not how she assumed (or maybe even hoped) it was meant, but for how it truly explains her current role.

She has been violated in what, for most women (certainly to me), is one of the worst ways imaginable. It almost breaks her. She spends all that time afterward just wallowing, on the verge of giving up completely on ever trying to make her life her own. Then, she is violated again, by someone she knows and actually trusts. But it is this violation that pulls Laren back into her life. Once she realizes what Roslyn has done, how utterly at the whim of other people she has become, she knows she doesn't want to spend the rest of her life like that.

So, the question becomes, what does she do about it? She is still married to Liam, and he is still in love with Kara. The welfare of her own family means keeping good relations with Roslyn and maintaining a respectable public image. She will not be allowed to withdraw from society as she did when she was younger and trying to assert her independence. So, given the circumstances she finds herself in, and the nature of her character, how does she find her own path back to a worthwhile life? To happiness, even?

That is what I try to answer in the rest of the story. This isn't about the rape so much as about what happens afterward. It's about how a woman accepts that this horrible thing happened and then tries to just get on with her damn life. It comes in the middle of the story because to understand how she would fare in the aftermath I, as the writer, had to get to know her a little bit before this happened to her.

I was able to satisfactorily answer those questions for myself, and I hope that my few dear readers will find those answers satisfactory for themselves as well.

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