From Signy Mallory to Ariane Emory, Cherryh has a tendency to write female characters who are not just powerful but actually abusive and male characters who are not just helpless but actually raped. What’s with that?
Rape of men by women is remarkably rare in literature generally and yet remarkably prevalent in these books.
This is Signy and Talley, early in Downbelow Station:
“You’re getting off here,” she told him, staring at him who lay beside her. The name did not matter. It confused itself in her memory with others, and sometimes she called him by the wrong one, late, when she was half asleep. He showed no emotion at that statement, only blinked indication that he had absorbed the fact. The face intrigued her: innocence, perhaps. Contrasts intrigued her. Beauty did. “You’re lucky,” she said. He reacted to that the same way as he reacted to most things. He simply stared, vacant and beautiful. They had played with his mind on Russell’s. There was a sordidness in her sometimes, a need to deal wounds... limited murder to blot out the greater ones. To deal little terrors to blot out the horror outside. She had sometimes nights with Graff, with Di, with whoever took her fancy. She never showed this face to those she valued, to friends, to crew.
Now what that says is that she knows he has been damaged and she has been systematically abusing him all voyage, “dealing little terrors.” Ick.
In Cyteen Ariane Emory even more directly rapes Justin, with the help of drugs, and rapes his mind, too, in complete violation. The text does see this as a terrible thing to do, and we sympathise with Justin and hate Ari for it. It’s also entirely plot necessary, and far and away the worst thing in the book. Ari also confesses to having hurt Florian. And there’s also the whole issue of azi. Any relationship with an azi is non-consensual, no matter how enthusiastic the azi in question has been programmed to be. They’re not capable of giving free consent. They get tape to make them like it, the same as for anything. This is fundamental to what azi are. This is all entirely necessary to the story.
In Rimrunners Bet Yaeger kills two potential (male) rapists in the first few chapters. But when she thinks about what happens to newbies on the decks on Africa and what she has herself done, it’s also rape. This is what Bet’s like, and it isn’t graphic or even onstage, but it also isn’t particularly necessary.
In Tripoint, Marie Hawkins, who is very unstable, has been raped, and she has fantasies of raping her rapist in return, specifically of violating him without consent. Also her son Tom, the product of the rape, has sex forced on him during Jump when he isn’t in a condition to give consent. It’s rape even if he enjoys it—he doesn’t understand what’s going on or who is with him. Again, I wouldn’t say this was necessary to the plot or the themes of the novel.
So what is going on? Clearly, Cherryh’s seeing rape here as part of a power balance thing. Historically, it has usually been men who have had more power. In a non-sexist future, some women will also have power. Men with power in this universe are fairly hard to find, but when you do find them they quite often tend to be rapists, too: the male Mazianni captains, Austin Bowe, Geoffrey Carnath vs. non-rapists Angelo and Damon Konstantin, the captains of Finity’s End and Dublin Again, Denys and Giraud Nye. So it does seem as if she’s working on an axiom that some human beings will rape other human beings if they can get away with it, which has been historically true of men, and it would be sexist to think it would not be just as true of some women if women also had power.
I do find this more than a little disturbing, but it’s completely logical unless women are inherently nicer than men, which I do not believe. It’s a pretty unpleasant thought though, when you drag it out and examine it.