Rape, Realism and Reality


According to predominant aesthetic standards, the depiction of rape is associated with melodrama, with soap operas and other tasteless, marginal forms of pure entertainment. Melodrama is not only seen as trivial, it is also seen as unrealistic. Would that mean rape itself is seen as unrealistic? Perhaps from a strictly male perspective, the perspective that has had the most influence on aesthetic standards until now, it is.

The other genre in which rape figures as a staple element is so-called erotic literature, usually written by men for men. But what could possibly be erotic about sexual violence? This view too seems to be result of a male perspective. Oversimplifying, we could draw the conclusion that when men write about rape, it is seen as erotic, and when women write about rape, it is seen as unrealistic. Of course there are exceptions. Women write bodice-rippers in which their heroines enjoy being raped, and men write novels of social criticism in which their heroines don't.

But oversimplification has its uses at times. You can pick out general patterns which might not be visible otherwise. The pattern which becomes visible here is the tendency to see the female point of view regarding rape as unrealistic; or rather, when rape is seen as violation and not titillation it is unrealistic.

The reality of rape is not erotic, and it is not unrealistic. The reality of rape can be testified to by the fear many women have of being alone at night. The reality of rape can be everything from degradation to brutality to nightmare.

Like the incident I heard about recently. Not too long ago, in an unpretentious, medium-sized town, two young women, girls almost, were standing by the side of the road waiting for a ride that hadn't arrived. When a car pulled up and two guys offered them a lift, with a little hesitation they accepted. The men were casual acquaintances.

The next morning, both women were found naked and dead and dirty in the ditch of a temporarily abandoned construction site. The guys were found soon thereafter. The elder confessed that if the women hadn't taken it all so passively, they might not have gone through with it. The women had been calm, cool and collected to save their skins, and the next day, that's all they had left.

Is that erotic? I presume there are some who would think so. Is it unrealistic? Unfortunately, it's all too realistic. But perhaps if we take things into our own hands, turn the course of the world around, with time we can make it unrealistic. That is a tall order, I admit, and if we want to fill it, we have to discard the impulse to be nice all the time. Sometimes fighting back is more appropriate.

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