Wed
Dec 10 2008 9:26am
A need to deal wounds: Rape of men in Cherryh’s Union-Alliance novels

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.

28 comments
Josh Kidd
1. joshkidd
It's interesting to see this post, because I am reading The Fall of Hyperion right now and there is a scene in it where a female is said to be raping a male. I really had to stop and wonder what I think about that. I'm not sure that I have that completely worked out, but I do have a few thoughts. First, rape is never a pleasant topic to be reading about in any circumstances. I did have to ask myself if rape has to be an act of sexual violence committed by men, since that is what it means pretty much exclusively in our present context. Would sexual violence from a woman be something other? My last thought was wondering if it was the author's intention to really make me think about these types of issues. If it was, it worked.
Jo Walton
2. bluejo
Josh: We call rape of men by men rape, see "prison rape" for instance. So I don't think we need a new word for rape of men by women.

I'd rather live in a world where we don't need any such word, never mind more of them, but even on Anarres we're told they have a word for rape.
Josh Kidd
3. joshkidd
Prison rape is still an act of sexual violence committed by men. My point was not that we needed a new word, but rather that when I was reading the word it seemed inappropriate to the context because my feeling was that, in a present day context, the meaning was other. My feeling was that if there were ever a point where rape was committed on a significant level by women, it would mean something other than what it means to me now.

Does that make any sense?
Tracey C.
4. Tracey C.
If you (the generic, not the specific) see rape as an act of power, I do wonder if it holds that women who are in power, far enough in the future that this is normative, would use rape in the same ways to demonstrate that power that men seem to now? Culturally, male-on-female rape is not only a signal of physical superiority, but a reminder of the 'proper role' of women's bodies, that is to belong to any man with the power to take them (and to make babies for those men, ultimately). Male-on-male rape tends to be seen as a feminization tactic, a humiliation designed to punish someone for being of lower status or 'manliness'.

So in a future where being feminized isn't a humiliation, what is the purpose of rape? Power, still, physical power, and the psychological damage of taking control of one's person away - but I just wonder if female-on-male rape in this future would really serve the same purpose as male-on-female rape in *this* culture, and would therefore necessarily become ubiquitous just because women have come into power of their own. In other words, are the women of Cherryh's worlds just men with breasts, or is there a sound reason for this type of behavior?

(also, I do appreciate the secondhand warning of the prevalence of sexual violence - I'd been considering reading these books, and now I know that I probably should avoid them.)
mm Season
5. mmSeason
Emotionally, rape is the same in either direction.
Jo Walton
6. bluejo
Tracey: Cherryh's women are nothing like men with breasts as the term is usually used.
Russ Gray
7. nimdok
At its most basic level, at least as described by Cherryh in these books, rape is a violation of a person's physical and (sometimes) mental boundaries. Rape of a woman by a man, or a man by a man, or a man by a woman, is the perpetrator's assertion of his or her power and ability to violate the boundaries at will and with impunity. Notice that Ari abuses her azi and whichever teenage genius is within her reach, while Signy will use whomever is close to hand but won't touch anyone where it would have consequences later.

In each of the examples cited above, the rapist is a person with essentially unlimited power, and the victim is a person with almost no power and little physical or mental ability to resist. Ariane Emory even acknowledges that she has a boundary problem at various times in Cyteen, and Ariane Mark II notices she has the same problem.

In fact, what I find interesting is that Ariane II tries to help Justin, by essentially doing the same thing to him again. But while she does that, and Justin feels better afterwards, she also apparently finishes the programming that the first Ari started.

I think it's all power differentials and boundaries. The physical acts seem to be a manifestation of what's already going on at the psychic or emotional level. But as with all of Cherryh's better work, there are layers upon layers of motivations and desires, and it's really difficult to come to a definitive answer. (Which may be why I keep reading Cyteen every year or two.)
Peter Erwin
8. PeterErwin
This is an interesting issue; I'm only a bit uncertain about saying that Cherryh has "a tendency" to have female characters like this, or that they're "remarkably prevalent", when I think they're rather rare in her work. (I can't immediately think of any examples outside of this subset of Company Wars/Merchanter novels, either.)

You start off by saying, "From Signy Mallory to Ariane Emory", which kind of implies a large number of other powerful, sexually abusive women in addition to those two -- but aren't those two pretty much it? We don't actually see Bet Yeager doing anything of that nature during her story, do we? (And she's not really in a position of power, either.)
Jo Walton
9. bluejo
I went through the examples in the post -- Capella and Tom in Tripoint and Bet in her memories.

And four examples, plus everyone with azi, wouldn't amount to much if this wasn't such a phenomenally rare subject that I can only think of one non-Cherryh example, the Hyperion one mentioned upthread.

I don't think they're four examples that just happened to occur in these books, I think she's doing it deliberately, and doing it deliberately in this series, to comment on power.
Matthew Brown
10. morven
She explores a lot of powerless male characters in her fiction; I think that is the truly recurring theme. They don't all remain powerless, and they're powerless in different ways and for different reasons, and what happens to them differs, of course.

Rape is just one of the ways in which the powerful exploit the powerless, and there are certainly many instances of other abuse in different ways.

The abusers aren't always women, although I can't think of any cases of male/male rape in her books - not to say there aren't, just that I can't remember it.

Bet Yeager in Rimrunners is in fact one of the few female characters in that kind of situation; she's in a place Cherryh would normally put a male character, and it's part of what makes that book a standout. She's not precisely powerless in the same way as Cherryh's male characters are, though.

Cherryh seems to prefer to avoid traditional gender roles in her fiction, possibly because the reader is more likely to look with clear eyes at the situation and not fall into well-worn judgments about them.

Both Signy Mallory and Ariane Emory (I) are abusers and sadists (they seem to delight in the hurt they cause) but neither are completely unsympathetic characters, and I think that is a rare thing to find. It would probably be a lot harder to get people to read about male characters that behaved that way and were somewhat sympathetic, I think.

I commented before in another Cherryh thread how her characters are mental-health walking wounded a lot of the time, and that's just as true about the powerful characters as the weak ones. Mallory certainly falls in that category; the insanity and agony of war is what has made her what she is, and certainly there are countless real-world examples of soldiers and commanders in war committing atrocities and sadistic acts because of exactly that kind of stress. Abusing prisoners (as Talley is) as a displaced revenge, and enjoying it.

Ariane Emory (I) is harder, partly because we really spend so little time in her head; what empathy we gain for her is largely through her clone growing up in the shell of her dead predecessor's life, and her slow coming to understand the heavy presence of the dead.

AE (II) doesn't appear to have inherited the sadism of her progenitor, at least, though she does have some of the same inability to respect boundaries and refrain from putting her fingers inside someone's psyche and rearranging stuff.

Just like Signy Mallory, though, Ariane Emory and her world are the product of war, at a remove. They didn't see combat directly, but they were the ones providing the troops and supporting the war effort, and the very political and social construction of Union is one forged during life-or-death struggle, with many compromises made without really realizing it - because survival was at stake.

Cherryh, I think, shows us how close to us the abusers are as well as the abused, and how that, given the right circumstances and fairly normal personality, any of us could be that abuser.
- -
11. heresiarch
Tracey C. @ 4 "In other words, are the women of Cherryh's worlds just men with breasts, or is there a sound reason for this type of behavior?"

Perhaps men with breasts isn't the right phrase, but I get what you're saying: Cherryh's society behaves just like a male-dominated one, except with women. The people have changed, but the structures are the same. It seems a little implausible--the reason why rape is such a power trip in our society is because social status and sexual identity are so confused into each other. In a society where men and women can both play any role, and this isn't exceptional, then why would sexual dominance be so wrapped up in social dominance? If either gender can be powerful, then why would forcefully putting someone in the submissive position be so pschologically rewarding?

bluejo @ 9: "I can only think of one non-Cherryh example, the Hyperion one mentioned upthread."

There's also a man (the main male lead) raped by a woman (the main antagonist) in Melanie Rawn's Dragon Prince trilogy. It's true though, I can't think of any other examples.
Matthew Brown
12. morven
heresiarch @ 11:

I'm not sure I follow your assertion that rape is only a power trip because of sexism and our confusing sexual identity and social status. Sure, I'll buy that that can be one element of the power trip, but even without sexism, there's still the power play of the powerful being able to abuse the powerless.

And I suspect that socially dominant being tied to sexually dominant is NOT purely tied to gender. I think that's Cherryh's thesis here in general; that there is a link between the two that is deep-seated and that would still be there in a post-sexist society for some individuals, at least.

In the two primary examples we have in Cherryh's fiction, Signy Mallory is a military commander on the losing side when control and dicipline is breaking down. She abuses and torments, sexually and otherwise, an attractive prisoner of her favored gender. I can't see anything there that strikes me as implausible unless one believes that rape and abuse is a purely male thing to do, that the link between sex and violence is a thing only guys feel.

Ariane Emory (I), on the other hand, is an old, powerful, manipulative scientist and industrialist who enjoys the entrapment and abuse, psychological and sexual, of young male researchers in her employ (well, at least one of them, but the assumption is that this isn't the first time). Although she certainly enjoys the sexual abuse, it doesn't seem that this is the only motivation - she's also doing it for manipulation, to drive a wedge between the young man and his father (who she detests), as revenge, and out of wanting to begin molding that young man into what she wants him to be, one of her own.

Again, a power play I can certainly imagine a woman doing; it doesn't strike me as unbelievable.
Claudia Morgenstern
13. dunnettreader
heresiarch @ 4 who asks: In a society where men and women can both play any role, and this isn't exceptional, then why would sexual dominance be so wrapped up in social dominance? If either gender can be powerful, then why would forcefully putting someone in the submissive position be so pschologically rewarding?

First, just to clarify. In the societies Cherryh portrays in her SF works, there are lots of variations on gender roles and how gender intersects with power. But as long as a species isn't asexual -- that is that there are biologically distinctive roles in reproduction and nurturing -- gender is never completely neutral in Cherryh's stories.

In some social, political, and economic systems, gender roles are sharply defined, map closely to power structures, and members incur high costs (social or psychological) for transgressing norms. Other systems have much more fluid gender roles, or they are defined more situationally. The latter is the case with most human societies in the Union/Alliance universe. In those societies, power hierarchies more strongly reflect other values -- military, technological, managerial capabilities, etc -- so expectations about gender tend to be weak organizing factors. But gender isn't ever completely neutral in social structure or expectations of behavior for any of Cherryh's species, including the various human societies. And especially in non-human species, she sometimes turns our expected gender roles and power structures upside down and inside out.

In the Signy/Talley episode Jo cites, we're given a striking early demonstration of the extent and type of immense power Signy wields on the Norway, which helps us define her position within the Mazzinni Fleet and vis a vis the other power structures she confronts in the story. Like the other carrier captains, she has instantaneous life-and-death power over most people whose paths cross hers, and she would order someone vented without a second thought if she believed it necessary. For all Josh's beauty and their physical intimacy, Josh is just an interchangeable object for her at this point. The fact that he remains blank, vacant, just makes it easier to objectify him.

But in the episode with Talley, we're also shown the limits of Signy's power, or perhaps more accurately, her psychological limits to abusing her power. She is capable of taking pleasure from non-abusive sexual relations, and abusing power doesn't extend to people who matter to her, foremost of whom are her crew, in which her sense of identity is so intertwined. We're given a further glimpse into her personal psychology -- her sense of vulnerability which she "blots out" by inflicting "little terrors" on others. The self-protective benefits of "dealing wounds" undoubtedly runs through some of the other confrontations she has through the rest of the novel when she is most aggressively asserting her authority or physical power.

Cherryh has therefore accomplished several things with the Signy/Talley episode. First, as our introduction to one of the key societies which confront each other at Pell, we've learned that within the Fleet, power derives from hierarchy and demonstrated military skills and leadership, which are accepted as compatible with heterosexually active female roles. We later see Signy perfectly comfortable asserting her power in a number of settings without regard for possible gender role expectations of others, and seeing others, both within and outside the Fleet, respond to her power with the respect and/or fear it deserves. Second, we see that Signy is aware that power and vulnerability are all twisted together for her psychologically, though neither seems to be directly connected to gender.

As for why women might engage in sexually abusive behavior in a relatively gender-neutral social structure, I think morven makes an excellent point @12: I'm not sure I follow your assertion that rape is only a power trip because of sexism and our confusing sexual identity and social status. Sure, I'll buy that that can be one element of the power trip, but even without sexism, there's still the power play of the powerful being able to abuse the powerless.

As I see it, it's principally a commentary on power, and how power might be expressed in a psychologically compelling but corrupt(ing) fashion. A man might also feel the need to "deal little terrors to blot out the horror outside" by abusing a less powerful victim of either gender physically, sexually or otherwise. Sexual domination of either sex by either sex is just one way that abusive power could be expressed, regardless of whether social dominance had a strong or weak gender pattern in a given society.

Does the opportunity as a powerful female to sexually dominate a male add to the psychological benefits Signy obtains from abusing her power over Talley? Probably. Signy has risen to the top of what is still a male-dominated military order. Since as we see in the passage Jo quotes that power and vulnerability are twisted together for Signy, self-assertion by dominating a (more physically powerful) male might be an especially strong self-protection against "the horror outside."

It's noteworthy that as Talley becomes something other than a blank object, his and Signy's relationship undergoes a number of twists, even as her power over his life-or-death remains as complete and arbitrary as ever. But having the early Signy/Talley episode as a starting point gives us later insights into how each of them responds to events and allows us to track how each changes over the course of the novel.
Tracey C.
14. randwolf
Cherryh makes this explicit, but a covert version of it is actually very common in novels written by women for women. Think about how many psychologically disabled men you find in romances, for instance. And the abused man is a staple of the Mary Sue. And then are all the damsel-in-distress stories aimed at men. So I think broadening the question might lead to some insight. My first thought is that this is at base a power fantasy, and one that both sexes have. It just stands out more in Cherryh's work. Hunh. Maybe more thoughts, later.
Matthew Brown
15. morven
dunnettreader @ 14:

Yes, it's worth noting that even someone as jaded and twisted and hurting as Signy Mallory can only bring herself to abuse such as Talley, a captured enemy whose mind has been wiped (and seemingly damaged); a blank object, more puppet than man at that point to her.

It's also notable that while Mallory confines her sadism in that way, her fellow captains do not, to differing degrees. There's honor there, even if it's a twisted one in some ways. Mallory's fierce loyalty for and pride in her crew stands in marked contrast to the bitterness, violence and idle cruelty of ships like Africa. There's one point where I remember bitching from other captains about Mallory thinking her and her crew are better than the others; but the reader can see that they really are, for all Mallory's dark personal secrets.

In fact, Mallory's awareness of the darker sides of her nature, and her rigid channeling of them, enable that to a degree. If she finds a way to craft her future, it's because she's the more self-aware, less willing to run the rails of her ordained fate than the other captains. I do think it's part of Cherryh's point that the despicable parts of her characters' natures often allow for their greatness as well.
Peter Erwin
16. PeterErwin
bluejo @ 9:

I went through the examples in the post -- Capella and Tom in Tripoint and Bet in her memories.

Yes, I know -- my quibble was that it's only with Ariane and Signy (and, OK, in retrospect with Bet) that you seemed to have the combination of dominant female actually abusing men under her control. I confess that I remember almost nothing of Tripoint, where you seemed to imply that the main thing was Marie Hawkins fantasizing about doing it -- which is not the same thing as actually doing it.

And four examples, plus everyone with azi, wouldn't amount to much if this wasn't such a phenomenally rare subject that I can only think of one non-Cherryh example, the Hyperion one mentioned upthread.

Hmm... you may be right; it's possible that it didn't seem so phenomenally rare to me because I'd been re-reading Charles Stross' Iron Sunrise only last week, and that novel has a powerful female character who sexually abuses a man under her control. (Unlike the cases of Ariane and Signy, however, Stross' character is very clearly A Villain, and gets her well-deserved comeuppance in the end.)

I don't think they're four examples that just happened to occur in these books, I think she's doing it deliberately, and doing it deliberately in this series, to comment on power.

Do you think there's a reason she's mainly (or only) doing it in this particular series, and not any of her others?
- -
17. heresiarch
morven @ 12: "Sure, I'll buy that that can be one element of the power trip, but even without sexism, there's still the power play of the powerful being able to abuse the powerless."

I agree that sexual power trips have a logic of their own: sex is fun, and hurting people is a clear demonstration of power. As long as some people think hurting people is fun, then those people will find rape a great way to kill two birds with one stone. But there are countless ways for the powerful to abuse the powerless--why does this one seem to be such a great way of asserting control? I think a relatively large chunk of that appeal comes from sexism.

"And I suspect that socially dominant being tied to sexually dominant is NOT purely tied to gender."

Of course powerful, socially dominant people are going to use that power to get themselves the sex they want. But why is it assumed that the sex they want is sadistic, abusive sex? There are plenty of powerful men in our society who pay well for sexual partners to give the impression of overwhelming pleasure, not excruciating pain. There are plenty more who pay to be abused themselves. Why, in Cherryh's worlds, are her women so unabashedly abusive and controlling?

"I can't see anything there that strikes me as implausible unless one believes that rape and abuse is a purely male thing to do, that the link between sex and violence is a thing only guys feel."

A link between sex and violence is not something I think is male in nature,* but I most definitely think it's sexist in nature. Most people don't like to hurt other people for fun. When they do, and they target that pain specifically at their sexual partners, that's not simple sadism at work--that's sexism.

*That would be dumb--the BDSM community doesn't lack for women.

dunnettreader @ 13: "Cherryh has therefore accomplished several things with the Signy/Talley episode."

I never claimed that the rapes weren't a useful storytelling tool--just that it isn't a plausible depiction of a egalitarian culture.

"Sexual domination of either sex by either sex is just one way that abusive power could be expressed,"

Right. So why this one? Does Signy ever beat people? Does she harangue them? Does she give them arbitrary, impossible assignments? What makes sexual abuse so special and interesting?

***

The other answer here is that, rather than trying and failing to portray a perfectly sexually egalitarian culture, Cherryh is trying to portray a less sexist, but still far from perfect society, and working out what that would do psychologically to the women who are trying to cope with it.
Matthew Brown
18. morven
heresiarch @ 17:

"Most people don't like to hurt other people for fun. When they do, and they target that pain specifically at their sexual partners, that's not simple sadism at work--that's sexism."

I think that's the fundamental point at which we disagree, and I'm not sure we'll convince each other on it either.

Part of why, of course, is that all of us have been brought up in a sexist culture; there is no non-sexist culture to compare it with. We can imagine such a non-existent culture, but with very poor accuracy; there is clearly disagreement about what parts of the set "Human nature" as we currently experience it would be present in such a supposed non-sexist culture.

Perhaps we are incapable of knowing for sure what such a culture would be like.

Perhaps, indeed, a completely non-sexist culture is not possible with human biology as it is currently constituented.

"The other answer here is that, rather than trying and failing to portray a perfectly sexually egalitarian culture, Cherryh is trying to portray a less sexist, but still far from perfect society, and working out what that would do psychologically to the women who are trying to cope with it."

I think this is indeed what Cherryh is trying to do. Her cultures are far from perfect (and indeed each one is differently imperfect than the next) and I don't believe any one of them is non-sexist, although all of them appear to accept women in positions of power and responsibility and danger to a greater degree than our own.

Signy Mallory is a distinct minority as a female Captain of an Earth Company carrier. That's definitely not a non-sexist environment, even though she's quite accepted in the role. Her abuse of Talley is not just sexual, either, I suspect.

What and whether she would do otherwise - torment another prisoner non-sexually, for instance - isn't possible to say since he seems to be unique as someone she feels OK to torment without consequences.

Ariane Emory (I), meanwhile - it seems to me that the primary driver is manipulating people, screwing with their minds, and the sex is secondary to that - a tool, albeit one she enjoys.

It's also worth noting that certainly this urge doesn't feature in all powerful women in Cherryh's fiction; e.g. in her almost-fantasy Morgaine books, sex between Morgaine and her sidekick Vanye - a relationship in which the woman definitely is the dominant one - does occur, but not until the fourth book, and when it does, the sex is if anything very traditional and against the general flow of their relationship (which messes things up a bit between them, in fact). Morgaine is a dominant woman in all ways BUT sexually, it seems.
Tracey C.
19. bellatrys
I think the real question is, would anyone blink if Bet were Bob? Would a Robert Yaeger, futuristic human soldier down on his luck lately returned from the Low Countries over the Sea of Stars, in the midst of a brutal internecine war, raise any fannish eyebrows reflecting on his past rapes in the course of sacking some Utrecht or Cartagena-in-Space, even as a protagonist? Hardly, imo.

We *do* think of rape as a natural thing, and men as natural rapists, given the opportunity; girls are *still* taught daily that it's our fault if we're caught and raped, in America as in England: we shouldn't have been out late, out alone, out drinking, out short-skirted, in a bad neighborhood, or with an untrustworthy man. (Yet, of course, we are simultaneously castigated for failing to trust men at random.)

Shakespeare wrote cold female tyrants, who condemned women and men alike to death and torture, including sexual, and history's worse than fiction - nearly 500 years later we find it so difficult, despite libraries, to accept that "the fair sex" given princely power is not always kind, gentle, or the passive victim?

The fact that how many years after Cyteen, it's still staggeringly rare to find raped male charas - by women or by men, by male or by female authors - while still immeasurably common to find female charas either with Rape As Motivator or as disposable scenery, raped to provide a bit of "grit" and "plausibility" in our future or fantastic war zone/technobarb dystopia says a number of things about SF failing to stretch conceptual boundaries *and* mainstream society as it remains. (A.C. Crispin has a protagonist who is *nearly* raped by a bunch of (male) pirates, and improbably spared, but several female targets of successful, repeated rape in the same story, which is one of the nearer I've seen to any sort of egalitarian presentation of male victims in recent fic.)

The number of male charas in Cherryh who *aren't* raped, after all, and who *do* accomplish things, as well as the number of female charas who don't rape and aren't particularly active, vastly outweigh this opposed set, which weigh so heavily in imagination.
Jo Walton
20. bluejo
Bellatrys: I don't disagree. I just find this whole thing very weird. There's all this (...all this...) in Cherryh and apart from that it's an almost untouched subject. Rape of men by men has become more common.

And general point -- I think the discussion here on this nuanced and potentially worrisome subject has been stellar.
Ryan V
21. JesterJoker
Hmm. I'll have to read these books eventually... they do sound quite disturbing.

This isn't a topic I often think about... and Bellatrys's comments are getting me to wondering quite why.

For instance, it's not /books/, but Crichton in Farscape gets mind raped all the time (they don't show any physical on the screen, if it does occur at all). Such instances are a potent part of the reason he gets genuinely insane. :)

The Evil Shakespeare women /really/ makes me wonder, too. Evil Women - particularly Lady Macbeth - are usually quite ... darkly seductive. And yeah, they're sometimes sexualized.

Would it be squicky as hell if they actually DID rape? I think so. Brr.

Anyway, I'm not sure how much I should be saying here! Very much a touchy subject. And yeah, if a man, and definitely a protagonist, reflected on his rapes, I would be watching him warily.
Tracey C.
22. Luna_the_cat
heresiarch @ 17:

"So why this one? Does Signy ever beat people? Does she harangue them? Does she give them arbitrary, impossible assignments? What makes sexual abuse so special and interesting?"


(Warning, this answer may be triggering for survivors.)

Because sexual abuse is intimate.

Most people have some level of awareness that there is injustice and abuse in the world, and that if someone decides to hit them, or if someone in a position of power decides that they have to complete an impossible task, there is nothing they can necessarily do to prevent or redress -- and this carries with it anger, resentment, etc. But there is still a difference when it comes to being hit, pushed, kicked, etc., and the level of bodily violation one feels when genitals get involved. Yes, severe beatings violate one's bodily integrity and leave bad psychological damage. It is possible to reach that level of violation and psychological damage without leaving nearly so many marks or demanding the same level of "fix-it" medical care, by going for the genitals.

It's a message that "there is NOTHING about you that I cannot take or hurt" because it aims at something which is very close to core identity for many, and for physiological reasons which I have a hard time putting into words, having someone get access to those parts of your body when you don't want them to makes you feel helpless and filthy in a way that pretty much nothing else does. --And given the consistency of this reaction amongst many cultures (from reports of rape survivors) I think that may have more to do with instinct and psychology than just culture.

So basically, there are very real aspects to rape and sexual abuse as a method of demonstrating power which don't really exist in non-sexual abuses. It doesn't have to be noisy or involve a lot of blood, but it strikes right to the core of one's mental as well as physical integrity, all in one go. It is intimate.
Tracey C.
23. Spearmint
Sorry for the necromancy on this thread five months after its death, but I thought someone should point out for the historical record that Jo only cited the male rapes by women in Alliance/Union, and it's actually more prevalent than that.

Hallan Meras was raped by his old crew in "Chanur's Legacy," and while the Pride of Chanur crew is probably holding out for Tully's consent, he can barely speak the language and he's utterly dependent on them- they're taking advantage of someone who's in no position to refuse. Of course, that society is largely gender-reversed from ours.

Aiela Lyailleue is left at the end of "Hunter of Worlds" as a slave being fought over by the female overlord and her male subordinate, with the strong implication that the winner of the argument gets to rape him- the only reason we don't actually see it is that the book ends before we get there. "And Hunter of Worlds" was Cherryh's third book, so this is a theme she's been mulling over a long time.

I haven't read any of her fantasy, but I'd be shocked if the scenario doesn't arise there too.
Tracey C.
24. sherrold
I never read past The Pride of Chanur, though this thread has made me curious.

There is another series, The Black Jewels, that rather startled me with the amount of male rape by women. The idea of the universe seems to be, when everything is working right, then men and women with different skills and powers work together for good of all (hmm, that sounds familiar). But some men took advantage of young unready girls before they fully had their power. This allowed other older woman to take advantage of weaker men. Basically, an alliance of the old and evil working together to get to rape the young and yummy.

They're strange books, but until this thread, I hadn't thought about how odd the sexual politics were, and how "male" the older women are in their uses of power.
Debbie Solomon
25. dsolo
Spearmint@23 already made the point about Hallan Meras in "Chanur's Legacy", but the theme of female domination permeates the entire series. In a bit of reverse sexism, men are considered too emotional to go into space and must be coddled and protected by there wives and sisters. Some of Chanur's crew actually reflect on their habit of taking advantage of young men looking for a permanent mate, while on shore leave. The interesting thing that she does in this series is have the main character begin to question her culture, after exposure to a human male. The argument that restricted societies use is that men cannot control themselves if women do not cover up and behave with decorum. The question Chanur asks is "Why not?" If you are a being of advanced intelligence, you should be able to control your impulses and you shouldn't need to damage others to affirm your power. As an odd non SF example, look at the Dog Whisperer, Cesar Milan. He doesn't cow dogs by beating them. He projects that he is Alpha, and the dogs recognize it and defer to him. Only those insecure in their power would need to resort to hurting others to "prove" it.
Nancy Lebovitz
26. NancyLebovitz
Damned if I can find the links right now, but I've read accounts of rape of men by women in the real world. I doubt it's as common as rape of women by men, but it's even less likely to be mentioned by the victim. There's also sexual abuse of boys by women.

I think sexism is a way of finding excuses for men raping women, but rape in general is just a sort of aggression, and it doesn't need an ideology.
Nancy Lebovitz
27. NancyLebovitz
John Barnes has written a lot of extravagently abusive women, including at least one rapist, at least in the sense that Thomas Covenant is a rapist. Barnes' character was in a story where the timelines got mixed, she was physically stronger than her partner, and they had consensual (?) rough sex-- so when a similar man from a time line where he didn't want any such thing showed up, the results were very bad for him.
Tracey C.
28. Kayri
Sorry for the zombie thread, but in the book 'Zelda M'tana' by FM Busby (IIRC) there is a female on male rape near the beginning of the book, with the female forcing an erection on her prisoner by squicky methods using a string of some sort...that's actually a fairly old book, and I believe FM Busby was a man, but I could be mistaken.

Subscribe to this thread

Receive notification by email when a new comment is added. You must be a registered user to subscribe to threads.
Post a comment