Today, as I was working on my WIP, a futuristic romance story in which the battle of the sexes has become a literal battle with guns and everything, I realized something disturbing.
I write about rape a lot.
Well, I don't write specifically about people who have been raped, but there are lots of near misses with sexual violence and muddy incidents of consent. And I keep putting this in young adult fiction. What the eff is wrong with me?
Understand, I feel that rape is horrible, that it's real, and that its victims are often too confused and too ashamed to know how to deal with it or to even ask for the help they need to deal with it. I have never, in any way, wanted to trivialize such a serious issue by using it as a mechanism to move my plot forward. And I've never thought, while planning out a book, "Oooh, where will I put the sexual violence in this one?"
Let's look at the evidence stacked against me. In Breathless, Azazel is nearly raped by Toby, who needs to have sex with her in order to bind her into the Satanic circle. Jason, after killing the Sons in Aunt Stephanie's house, is an emotional wreck. He begins violently kissing Azazel and rips at her clothes. (Then he stops, of course.) In Trembling, Sutherland is a serial rapist-killer (although, in my defense, I was reading The Lovely Bones while I was writing that book and let's just say I am not the only person who writes about sexual violence in entertainment, okay? I won't even bring up the needlessly sensational rape of the therapist in The Sopranos). In Tortured, Azazel has a disturbing dream about Jason and afterwards, he nearly forces himself on her until she makes him stop.
In Death Girl, the supremely disturbed Jared manipulates both his English teacher Ms. Trask and Maureen into bed. Ms. Trask is so freaked out by it that she kills herself. Trevor, the main guy, is pretty disturbed himself. He gets sexually excited when he has dreams about mutilated women.
And finally, in my current work in progress, the supremely disturbed Korin is convinced that the only way to reverse the current matriarchal society is to show women that men are boss by using brute strength and by tying them to men by impregnating them.
All right, so, why am I doing this? Am I insane?
One of my ex-boyfriends and I were once talking about rape in entertainment. He wasn't a fan. He said that rape was cheapened and sensationalized in the media and that it was appalling. For this reason, he wouldn't watch I Spit on Your Grave with me, which was a bummer, I argued, because I said the movie was undeniably powerful for what is billed as a crappy horror flick, and unsettling to the extreme. (If you're unfamiliar with I Spit on Your Grave, it's a 70s horror flick, originally titled Day of the Woman. It features the longest rape scene in movie history, clocking in somewhere around 45 minutes. It also features a kick-ass chick hunting down each of her rapists and killing them in really gory ways. Someday, I may write at length about that movie, but today is not that day.) I maintained that he was uncomfortable with rape in entertainment and in the movie because he was frightened that he'd find it titillating and that would make him feel ooky. I said that there was no way that anyone could find I Spit on Your Grave titillating. It was simply too horrible for that.
And here's where I think I can explain why I keep writing about rape. For me, it's the absolute most terrifying thing I can think of. I've imagined what it would be like. I think it would be something like being tickled. Okay, no wait, hear me out. You know how when you're a little kid and someone bigger than you holds you down and tickles you? You know how horrible that is? Like, at first you struggle and try to say, "Stop!" You fight and fight and fight. And then there's a moment where your spirit breaks. You realize you have no control. You can't stop what's happening to you. And something in you just goes out...like a candle being snuffed out. You lie there resigned to your fate and the tickling just continues and continues. But you don't care anymore, because you're broken.
That's what I think it would be like. Except the person doing it to you wouldn't be someone who mistakenly thought tickling was pleasurable because it produced laughter, who was playing a mean-spirited joke for which they'd apologize for later (maybe). Instead, it would be someone who didn't care about you at all. Someone who just wanted to use you. Maybe someone who wanted to break you.
That, for me, is scarier than dying.
I've been very influenced by the horror genre. I wouldn't say that I'd categorize my books as horror necessarily, but I do routinely feel the need to put my characters in the worst possible situation I possibly can. Why? Because that's what makes a story good for me. When I watch a character go to the deepest, darkest place possible and nearly be swallowed by it, but somehow manage to vanquish the monster and come back stronger, then I feel like I've experienced something somewhat transcendent. That is what story is to me.
But if I keep using rape as that deep, dark thing, it's going to stop having its power.