Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A Hidden Tragedy - Rape in Fiction

It seems the most recent episode of Game of Thrones has sparked a controversy. The episode "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken", which aired on May 17, 2015, featured a small change from the book. Well, to some it may not be too small because it was a change in character in the scene, but from my understanding of how the original scene in the book played out, in general events, the episode was less disturbing. Basically, Sansa Stark got married and subsequently raped by her husband. Very shocking to sensitive modern eyes, but not all that shocking for the period being portrayed or the character perpetrating the crime.

What seems to have people riled up is that they put Sansa Stark in this position. In the book the man in question does get married and rape his wife, but he married someone else. Did people really expect them to not include this scene after last season's very violent and incestuous scene? I doubt it, but they didn't expect Sansa to be the bride.

But here is the thing that really irks me about the reaction - we have a serious rape problem in our world. It needs to be addressed. And yet the reaction to this scene is that it is offensive to show it happening. How does this make any sense. I've seen various statistics, but the one that sticks in my mind is that 1 in 4 women, at some point in their lives, are raped. That is 25%. One quarter. That is huge. That is horrible. Yet in fiction it is rarely mentioned. Sure, you have crime shows that feature victims of rape, but rarely do we see the act or experience the fear and terror. Rarely are we put into the shoes of the victim and given a lesson on just how devastating such an event is.

Of course such scenes need to be done with care, and they always are, to avoid being too titillating to arouse those disturbed individuals out there. So is it really a surprise that a series like Game of Thrones, which gave us the Red and Purple Weddings, would turn this wedding into another sort of tragedy? No, it isn't and we should not be offended. Quite the opposite, we should applaud them for such a brave move and hope that subsequent episodes show how such things would have to be handled in a society based on 15th Century England. I have no doubt the perpetrator will see justice by the end, but in the mean time, Sansa has to live with the bastard.

This really calls into question a complaint from some corners. With the statistic of 25% of women who have been victims of this crime (and in some periods in history that is likely to be much higher), why would we not want to explore this crime when we writer female characters in fiction? I hear loud complaints when a female character has a rape in her back story. Why? Are we supposed to ignore this and pretend it doesn't happen? Think of it another way, 1 in 4 female writers has been raped. That is horrible to think about, but still true. So why do we not see more very brutally honest tellings of the survivor's tale (or better yet that they have moved on and recovered). Well, our society shames victims of rape. The old way of handling it was to not talk about it, not admit it, not deal with it. So, how has that worked for us? Not at all.

So rather than complain when an iconic series like Game of Thrones dares to include such an event, we should hope they handle it realistically and responsibly. Rather than sweep in under the rug, even in fiction, we should be dealing with it head on, trying to stamp it out. It isn't enough to talk about the cases that we hear on the news. What we can do is portray characters who have survived such an event. We need to talk about this issue and deal with it openly and publicly. We need to end this shaming of the victim and make it a discussion of surviving and living.

It was that statistic that took me from reading the article on The Mary Sue's website to writing this. Rape is a big problem and rather than see it handled in a way that might help survivors or deter rapists, we just sweep it under the rug and condemn the depiction of the event. How exactly does that help? I may not feel competent to ever include such a scene or a character with that in their background in my own writing, but we can't just all ignore it. If the producers of Game of Thrones feel up to the task, we should applaud them for dealing with it instead of condemning it. I remember the disgust I felt as I watched that scene. The sympathy for Sansa. The certainty that in that world someone will kill the bastard sooner or later.

Rape is not a topic to hide or shirk from. If we are to tackle the problem, we have to talk about it. One way to talk about it is by including it in our entertainment. Done right, that can reach a lot of people. Let's hope in this case they get it right.