January 18, 2013

On Bad Things and Things That Are Bad

WARNING: This post is not a pretty one.

Once upon a time (about twenty minutes ago), Maggie Stiefvater, author of SHIVER and THE RAVEN BOYS, posted a piece of literary rape. The full post is HERE. First, let it be known that her posts is not a post about disliking rape in books. Rather (and here I'm jumping ahead with my own thoughts because I cannot assume what a writer's piece is about), it was a post about this:

Maggie Stiefvater: "What I want is for there to be less gratuitous literary rape.

That, I think, is a conversation we all need to have. I agree with Stiefvater when she says "I'm not talking about books like Speak." Speak is an emotional journey, and when I taught it students were always moved by its raw nature and its ability to tell the truth without hiding much. The students appreciated the fact that it was an honest portrayal of what it means to be raped. And while Speak certainly is not the case for everyone, nor is it an accurate portrayal for everyone, it certainly provides some comfort or guidance or understanding to many who have been raped. The important thing here is to note that Speak is a book about rape, not a book in which rape occurs. There is a difference. A big difference.

A book loses something when it's written to be something that it's not.

It seems to be more commonplace for rape scenes to exist in books where the book is not actually about rape - when it just happens without being a key part of the story. The girl goes through something terrible to gain empowerment or to be rescued. The girl finds herself after being harmed. The girl meets the "nice guy" after being hurt and gets her happily ever after. I'm not sure if this is a response to 50 Shades (the idea that a girl needs a man stronger than her, a rescuer, someone to complete her), or if it's something else entirely. But the thing is, it's not always about the girl. It's not always about being a girl in distress. It's not always about rape. It's not even about the boy. Love, because that's what most of these current books are about, is not about being saved. And people, specifically women, don't need to be harmed in order to be strong.

Girls can be strong without be harmed.

Stiefvater says this: "I wasn't really looking for equal opportunity violation" and I agree. It's important to note, though, that a girl does not have to be harmed in order for her to be a strong character. And while yes, it is more interesting to a reader to see a character grow, growth does not have to come from something so traumatic unless the book is specifically about something traumatic. And really, it's not about boys versus girls or girls versus boys or any of that - it's about the fact that any individual does not have to be harmed to be strong. We don't need to be harmed to find a happy ending - and really the idea of love and happy endings are what a lot of these books are about.

In the end, I suppose I'm just trying to say this: We live in this world where, like it or not, boys and girls and men and women are still trying to be equal. Unfortunately, all of us do things that continue this battle for equality, and not in a good way. Books about girls tend to be the same, because that's what people buy. Books about boys tend to be the same, because that's what people  buy. Different sometimes doesn't sell because we don't always buy different. But we should. We must. And although rape is a terrible way to have this conversation, it seems to be one that's needed. Boys can be emotional too. In fact, this is one thing I wanted to showcase in Light of the Moon - how boys and girls can be BOTH strong and emotional without being stereotyped. Boys want happy endings just as much as girls. Girls don't have to be saved to be strong. Boys don't need to be violent. Girls don't need to be weak.

Happy endings are not just for girls. Strong characters are not just for boys. 

 Of course, everything is about personal experience, isn't it? Mine are different than yours, just as are my opinions. The key is to respect them all. Have a conversation about them. And in the end this post, this conversation, isn't even completely about rape. It's about equalityI appreciate that Maggie started this conversation for so many people, and I hope that it's one we continue to have in attempts to finally gain the equality so many of us strive for.


  1. I am SO glad you wrote this! Wow. Keep up the phenomenal work.

  2. Nice, you really spoke the truth! And I love different :D Keep up the good work, your an awesome writer!

  3. Great post, David. My WIP has a 16 year old girl MC, who is strong and not easily intimidated. No rape of any kind occurs in the story, but I surely agree with what you are saying about girls/women's issues, and particularly the issue of rape. I read 'Speak" twice and was impressed both times. I know publishers want strong boy MCs, I hope they feel the same way about strong girl MCs.

  4. Well said, David. That's one of the things I appreciate about your writing.

  5. One of your bests posts ever. Very well-written and a conversation we all need to have.