An Unpleasant Surprise

Hm.  Not sure how to talk about this one.  The problem with a gender-neutral blog is that I think it’s incredibly difficult to talk about certain gender-related issues without discussing your own gender.  Like it or not, our perceived gender influences our experiences.

(I put perceived there, because I imagine that for someone who is biologically one sex but lives as another that their experience is based much more on the sex people (and they) think they are rather than their biological sex.)

Not only does our gender influence our experiences, I think it influences how we are allowed to talk about issues and how those opinions are then interpreted.  So, I’m going to try to write this post as gender-neutral and hope that it doesn’t come off as too impersonal as a result.

So, last night I went to a small film festival to support a friend of mine who had a film in the festival.  I knew what my friend’s film was about, but had no clue what any of the other films were going to be about.

Things started off well.  There was a non-fiction piece about the death penalty.  A fiction piece about a girl who isn’t what her mother wants her to be.

And then we got to the third piece.  Now, let me say that it was a well-made film before I discuss it.  Because it was.  And, in the right context, I think people would’ve been prepared to watch it and been fine.

But no one was forewarned in any way that there would be a fairly involved, fairly in your face rape scene.  You knew bad things were going to happen a little earlier in the film (or at least I did), but no one was prepared for the scene we got.

I happened to be sitting next to two women and in front of two more and I felt every single one of them tense up when the scene started.  For good cause.  Who wants to see that shit?  Yeah, it was central to the plot and sure, she kills the guy, and that was all necessary for the story to end the way it did.

But I went to this film festival expecting to see films like my friend’s which was suitable for all audiences.  So a violent rape scene came out of left field.  And I have no doubt was not just an unpleasant but a traumatic experience for at least one of the people in that audience.

Because, if you’ve been through something like that, seeing or reading about it, can trigger memories of that experience.  And enough women have been, that there had to be at least one rape survivor in the audience.

There’s been a lengthy discussion going on in the SFF forum of AW the last week or so on rape as used in fiction, especially SFF.  You can find it here.  I think for anyone who isn’t already familiar with the issues (and I certainly wasn’t before I decided to write fiction) reading through this thread will help with understanding how a story that involves rape or sexual violence can be triggering to victims of rape or sexual violence.

(Fortunately, the first post has been deleted because it was too much IMO.  Although, unfortunately, I think it would’ve been good for it to stay there so people who don’t know where that line is drawn would at least have an example.  Warning to anyone who is a survivor that there are personal discussions of rape or sexual violence in there that could be triggering.)

I don’t know that I agree with some of the posts in that thread that seem to imply that you should never write about those types of themes.  Sure, it’s SFF and you get the right to create a world, so why put those types of things into your writing?  I see that argument.

But for me, everything I write is a reflection back on the real world.  I write SFF because it allows me to bend the rules in order to explore something in this world in the way I want to explore it.

I’m always, at some level, writing about THIS world and THIS time.  Even if it’s by showing how things aren’t for us right now.  And an unfortunate part of this world are rape and sexual violence.

I’d say my own writing focuses more on power and control issues, but that does sometimes include sexual violence or the threat of sexual violence.  And having read threads like the one on AW and seen reactions like the one last night, I hope that I can find a way to write about those issues in a way that’s as respectful of the issues as possible.

It’s a tough road to walk.  As a writer I think we each need to make our own choices about who we think our audience is and how they might react to the stories we tell.  It’s always better to do so consciously.

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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3 Responses to An Unpleasant Surprise

  1. Dave Higgins says:

    I believe that censoring your work can also stifle the story, so I write my first draft as brutal and unpleasant – or as safe and nurturing – as it comes out, with no regard for the audience. I have even challenged myself to write things I find abhorrent to practice giving characters who are supposed to be the bad guy a realistic motivation.

    However, when working up a second draft I start looking at both the audience and the mode pleasantness of the work; scenes that are very extreme (in either direction) are usually trimmed back into intimations instead of descriptions, or even replaced with an larger emotional reaction in the next scene to show something has happened.

    • mhleewriter says:

      That’s interesting. I think I may be one of the few under-writers out there. I always seems to skip the emotionally intense scenes in the first draft and have to go add them back in in the second draft.

  2. Pingback: Zen and the Art of Ultra Violence | Davetopia

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