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Saturday, February 04, 2006

On Rape 3: Exploring the Metaphors

Telepathic invasion, mind control, technovirii, cloning, forced transformations...

These are all staples of comic book plots. And from a certain point of view (largely depending on the writer/artist/tone of the story), these can be considered comic book genre allegories of rape.

I'm not trying to trivialize the real, horrible act of sexual assault in real life by making this comparison, please don't get me wrong. However, if you examine the traditional manners of rape-stories in literature, the fictional comparison becomes a little more apparent.

It all depends on how you define "rape" of course. If you define rape as completely synonymous as sexual assault, then no, these acts can't and will never qualify as rape. However, if you look at it as an incredible violation of something that should remain sacrosanct, in a way that lacks the victim's consent, robbing him or her of their self-autonomy and will...

Well, then the comparison starts to be more valid, I think.

I mean, lets look at a very recent example: Max Lord mind-controlling Superman. It's not a sexual assault. It is an incredible violation. Clark can no longer control his own body, he's being made to fight and hurt a very close friend, he has no way to fight this influence and is powerless against this assault.

Possession and mind control aren't usually written as direct allegories for rape, but the comparison is there.

How about a different example: Kyle Rayner is kidnapped by crazy Manhunter Robots who want to take control of the Green Lantern ring. He is overpowered, injured, bound to a metal table, where they inject him with an excrutiatingly painful technovirus that is slowly turning him to a machine, so that they can use that interface to "convince" the ring that their will is his.

It's a decidedly unpleasant scene. Not sexual of course, but there is again, the element of violation (this time even a physical violation), they're intending to override his own control over his will and use him and the ring for their own purposes. It's even written as rather traumatic...for a comic book, at least. We see some aftermath, with counseling from John and cheering-up attempt from Guy. And really, given comic books' usual record when it comes to recovery/recuperation scenes from even actual sexual assaults or torture, that's pretty impressive.

So are these rape? As I said, it depends on your definition. Me? I think it could, but it depends on the writer. If a writer wanted to seriously write a story that makes the direct comparison and treats it as much like a rape as it could be, I'd read it and believe it.

You know what's interesting about this though? If you think about these occurances, particularly those involving telepathic invasion, mind control or possession. The majority of the victims are male. There are a handful of instances with females: Donna Troy, Raven for example. But 9 times out of 10, at least to me, it seems like the victim's male. (The exact reverse, I feel, to the percentages of female rape victims in comics...there's your Jack Knight or Dick Grayson, but in general...)

So what do I get from this? I'm not sure, but it does seem a little funny that the men are getting "raped" figuratively while the women are raped literally. Why is this?

I have my theories. See, I fancy myself a writer, and sometimes I write stories that involve rape and aftermath. See, rape can be a tantalizing subject for a writer I think. It's visceral and raw and emotional, the intensity and resonance is remarkable. It's a brutal act that not only effects the victim him/herself but also everyone around him/her. It's not something that should be overdone, of course, (The main problem *I* have with comics), but for something to really shake things up and reveal sides and aspects to all of the characters that would normally never be unearthed, well, yeah, I've written it. And I probably will again.

The problem with comics, I think, is that a lot of people feel the same way. And their primary audience is male, and that makes the subject of rape trickier. A mismanaged rape story involving a male character (see Nightwing 93 for example) can cause the male audience to scorn the character instead of sympathize. Can "emasculate" the character in the eyes of a male audience. Even though 1 in 10 males in America are believed to be victims of assaults, men are not raised with that proportion and possibility drummed into their heads from childhood the way women are.

In contrast, a raped female character is much easier in that respect. Male fans are more easily able to sympathize with a female victim, to understand the frustration and helplessness of her friends and family. Women naturally tend to be raised with a more personal awareness of that sort of threat, I think, so female fans aren't the problem here. Also there's not as many of us.

So the writers have a much more limited pool to choose from. Thus it gets to the ridiculous point that nearly every female character in comics has experienced some form of sexual assault/abuse.

But sometimes, you really want to explore that raw emotionality, that anger, pain, helplessness, fear and other such emotions in terms of male characters. Possession/mind control/technovirii, et al, allow for an exploration of similar emotions in a way that is divorced from sex. Thus not emasculated. Also, in each case, the character might have been made helpless to someone else's will, they were also being made into a weapon as well. Even when figuratively raped, a man is still dangerous at least.

So what does this mean? I don't really know. What should we do about it? I don't know that either. I know that I like a good story, but I'm tired of sexual abuse. I don't mind subtext occasionally, if it's well done, but honestly, it'd be nice if they decided to write the women like they write the men. The nice thing about the figurative metaphor versus the reality is that there's a lot more variation in the scenarios. Overt, textual rape plots tend to be more than a little predictable. Whereas the mind control/possession/technovirii, et al, come with a lot more and different possibilities. It's a sci-fi/fantasy universe, with a lot more potential and possibilities than are available in real life, I'd like to see more of that instead, please.


  • At February 05, 2006 7:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I think that the mind-control/infection/whatever happens to male characters more often also because most of the marquee characters are still male.

  • At February 05, 2006 2:18 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    anon: There is that too... :-) But I do think it's notable that Diana is almost never under mind control. Versus how often Clark is brainwashed or Hal Jordan. :-)

  • At February 06, 2006 10:43 AM, Anonymous green means wheelpower said…

    Another example is Amilea and Professor X Hell realize how much he @$#% people mentaly and its scarey that he 's the good guys teacher/leader.
    Theres also a very good Star Trek TNG episode dealing in telepathic rape.
    IMHO rape can be any time one person removes anothers control consent and ability to resist the sex case is just the most blantant
    What does it say that the lasting damage of every kind of rape is psycological

  • At October 03, 2006 3:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    About the best depiction of telepathic rape I can recall occurs during the interrogation scene between Spock and Valeris (played by Kim Catrall) in the 6th Star Trek movie (The Undiscovered Country).

    The invasion of Valeris' mind is violent and obviously painful, and afterwards she seems to have been shamed as well as wounded.

    The scene is very disturbing on several levels and I remember finding it a little difficult to watch, actually.


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