The “Rape for Empowerment” Trope

It’s an old truth of fiction: if you want to make a female character suffer, rape her. If you want to make a male character suffer, rape a female character he cares about. And rape is pretty much the default threat in most genre or “gritty” fiction. I read mostly young adult fantasy, and almost every single one I read features at least a small throwaway scene where the protagonist is threatened in this way.

This is almost invariably treated as a terrible threat, as it should, and rape victims in the majority of stories I read are treated with great sympathy. But in the quest for Strong Female Characters, for a way to give protagonists “empowerment” plot lines, some writers have been using the rape trope in a different way, using it as the impetus for that transition from “weakness” to “strength.”

Let me be clear: there is nothing wrong, theoretically, with the story of a rape survivor finding strength. Rape is a too-common reality in our world, and no one should take those sorts of stories away from readers who might be comforted and inspired by them. But there are certain trends in these stories that are unsettling, suggesting that this story of strength from trauma is less about the character themselves, and more about the difficulty writers have balancing the one-dimensional conceptions of the damsel and the Strong Female Character.

Basically, it’s the inability to consider female characters complexly. Strength is not seen as a property of characters like Sansa Stark, who embody stereotypically female traits — who are pretty, who aren’t tomboys, who like romance and dresses and might be more than a little naive. Character who don’t wield swords, will never wear armor, who are generally earnest and kind-hearted. Female characters can have strength if they’re the tomboy, fighting sorts, or if they’re sexually manipulative, but innocence can’t develop into strength, because these softer traits aren’t seen as strong, and female characters certainly can’t have a mix of characteristics.

But feminine characters, we’ve been told, are bad. This “weakness” is bad. They must be “strong,” a strength that many writers imagine with a similar lack of complexity. And they must be changed, fundamentally changed, in order to fit that idea. It wouldn’t be enough for her to simply become more determined and independent, and it wouldn’t be believable for her to switch from kindness and innocence to that violent conception of strength. The writers need an impetus.

And what better symbolic impetus of that change from innocence and weakness to coldness and violence than rape? What better than something that is seen to literally destroy innocence, that shatters them emotionally and changes their entire view of the world, so that they can become, in part, the violence that they have suffered?

There is no proof yet that this is where Sansa Stark’s plotline will go. But the discussions of this being the season of her empowerment definitely hint at such a story.

And through it all, there is the strong implication that “strong” and “feminine” don’t go together, and that such a female character cannot empower herself. She must first be deconstructed by trauma, her innocence ripped away, so that she can be rebuilt as someone “strong” — someone not just with resilience, but a different woman than before.


57 comments on “The “Rape for Empowerment” Trope

  • Linda , Direct link to comment

    I would rather call rape “the ultimate violence” and rape threat “the ultimate threat” towards a female character. That how it´s often portrayed, similar to male torture. That´s why it´s important it´s not shown in the wrong way, or used just as plot device or for drama, if you don´t want to lose viewers.

    “Rape stories” can be important, but the trope has to be handled gently. Rape threats can be there, but not all the time.

    I still remember the criticism when a character in Downton Abbey was raped. It wasn´t very graphic, but violent enough. And it came totally out of the blue, in a TV show that is not known to be violent at all, at least not like that.

  • Linda , Direct link to comment

    Then there is a thin line between “not showing it at all”, or “let´s not talk about sexual violence”, and showing it too much or in the wrong way.

    Game of Thrones is WAY over the top when it comes to sexual abuse and sexual violence by now. (Like Outlander is over the top when it comes to rape attempts.)

  • Joan , Direct link to comment

    Rape, in any way, shape and form, is (together with other violence) the reason why I only rarely read fantasy novels for adults. With YA, the rape at least isn’t described in detail.

    I liked the way “A Brother’s Price” handled the backstory-rape of one character. While one couldn’t know how the character was before the rape, she was kind and earnest afterwards, and it was not implied that she had ever been different. She was wary of strange men, which I think is a rather realistic consequence.

    The line between “let’s not talk about sexual violence” and doing it horribly wrong is not that thin. I cannot judge how realistic the depictions I have read are, but there are some decent ones. The aforementioned one, for example. In the Hurog-Series, rape is an ever-present threat, but it didn’t feel overdone. Maybe it was because it was made very clear that the main cast would never, for any reason, rape someone.
    (In GoT, every male is a potential rapist. Or so I gather from what I read about it. I quit the book series somewhen after Daenerys’ rape.)

    I want to feel safe while reading. And maybe I dislike rape scenes written by male authors because there’s often that threatening vibe. The “Every women can be raped, at any time, and I like writing about that …” Sometimes it’s even written in a titillating way. Ugh.

    With female authors, you know exactly why they write about rape (it IS an ever-present threat in the real world, and you write what you know), and even if it is used as cheap drama, it doesn’t feel as threatening and callous. (And if it is written as titillating, it still is from the point of view of the woman … but that’s rather rare in fantasy and more a problem in romance.)

    In some way, reading is like the author telling you a story. And I want to know that the author is on my side.

    • Joan , Direct link to comment

      Sorry, I forgot to watch my language. That should be: “I quit somewhen after Drogo raped Daenerys” … naming the perpetrator is important, after all.

    • Ivana , Direct link to comment

      Most of the male characters in A Song of Ice and Fire are definitely not potential rapists. Some are rapists, but the majority are not.

  • Courtney , Direct link to comment

    I guess it’s true what they say: choose a husband in haste, pay for it in leisure. Sansa’s whole existence after season 1/book 1 has just been one big punishment for being so naive about Joffrey. At least that’s how I see it.

    • Ivana , Direct link to comment

      Also, by the same token one could say that Arya’s story is about her being punished for… escaping the Red Keep? I’m not sure what, but Arya hasn’t had any better time in the books than Sansa has had. Bran, also – was he punished for not listening to his mother and continuing the climb the walls of Winterfell.

      Most characters suffer in ASOAIF, but I don’t think that we’re supposed to see all of them as being punished for some act or other.

  • Lars Sjöström , Direct link to comment

    I find it interesting that men can’t be raped. In AFFC, Samwell Tarly is forced to have sex with Gilly by the summer islanders, who doesn’t respect either his culture’s views on sexuality and oaths, or Samwell’s own will in the matter. But Samwell falls in love with Gilly and it is never described as something horrible like when Drogo raped Daenerys. The same story when Jon had sex with Ygritte under threat of death, but the only pain on Jon’s part are his moral conflict, the possibility of a man feeling pain because he was forced isn’t explored.

    But it is rape when ironmen in ADWD rape a maester given to Victarion by Euron crow’s eye. A man cannot be raped when he is forced to have sex with a woman, only a person forced to sex with a man is raped. Female rapists are very uncommon(to my knowledge), but women raping men do happen.

    • Ellesar , Direct link to comment

      I think that the rape of men is an emasculation (whether by a man or a woman) that the narrative generally cannot bear.

    • Ivana , Direct link to comment

      The Summer Islanders never forced Sam to have sex with Gilly. It was not a situation that even remotely could be considered rape.

  • Linda , Direct link to comment

    Of course a man can be raped or abused if he is forced or put under a lot of pressure. Like women who are not neccesary attacked, but expected to sleep with their (new) husband whether they like it or not. Abuse or violence towards men is often forgotten. Nevertheless, sexual violence towards female characters are often of a different kind. Men are victims sometimes, women potentially all the time. And the way it’s portrayed is often different and problematic.

  • Kara , Direct link to comment

    In all honesty, I’d rather read about a female character who becomes ‘strong’ after her family has been killed off, than one who has been raped and had to overcome that sort of trauma.
    Funny enough, there’s a video game I posses which I never finished (involves a game-breaking bug) where at the beginning of the game the female main character’s fiancé gets violently killed. She then goes out for revenge. In case you’re wondering, that game is ‘Venetia’. As I said, I never finished it so I can’t say anything much about the further progress of the story. In any way, it’s for me personally a better empowerment story than any rape plot line ever.

    • Michel , Direct link to comment

      In all honesty, I’d rather read about a female character who becomes ‘strong’ after her family has been killed off, than one who has been raped and had to overcome that sort of trauma.

      Why is that? Is it just a matter of personal taste? Or do you believe that a rape experience is worse than having most of your family murdered? Do you believe triggering rape victims in the audience is worse than triggering others who may have suffered different traumatic events, such as having their relatives murdered, being maimed or surviving a war?

      • Rachel , Direct link to comment

        Depends on the person, but I would say that rape is a bigger concern because any given audience member of a TV show in the U.S. or Europe is MUCH more likely to have experienced a rape or know someone (or six, in my case) who has been than to have their family murdered.
        But once again, there’s the issue of premise. In a dark medieval fantasy like Game of Thrones, sword fighting and people dying in bloody ways are generally assumed to happen, so someone who will be disturbed enough that they can’t watch the show will get a good idea to stay away from it. And even in a show where such things happen, there’s often the wonderful Discretion Shot.

        Sexposition, sex and nudity as window dressing, and the various depictions of rape were never part of the premise of the show. HBO inserted them because they could, and many of us who watch the show have to tolerate it or watch “around” it to get to the parts of the show that we actually like, or that contribute meaningfully to the story. And as one of the articles I linked to pointed out, it IS triggering, VERY triggering, to have a rape of a main character thrown onscreen like that.

      • Roxanne , Direct link to comment

        Personally I don’t think both traumas are comparable.

        Rape is, apart from more common than family murder, much more personal and complicated to deal with. I’m not saying that the murder of a relative isn’t difficult to overcome, it is, just not in the same way.

        Rape is a very personal invasion of the body that, apart from trauma, can leave serious physical injuries even If one does not fight back (something fictional rape rarely seems to leave behind). If your relatives are murdered you’ll experience trauma as well, but it will not be the same as that of a rape victim, mainly because even if your parent’s deaths leaves you traumatized, they were the ultimate victims, not you. With rape you’re always the victim.

        Also, murder does not resemble nor does it stem from something ordinary like sex. That is also another reason of why rape is so difficult to understand for some people. Because sex is something we all are expected to have and generally have a desire to do (unless you’re asexual or celibate), some people have trouble believing than something like this could be traumatic. An exception of the rule seems to be stranger rape, but I think that people can get behind that trauma because it plays into a more traditional idea of violence. But when it’s, say, something like rape by an acquaintance, excuses are made to justify the act and sweep it under the rug. Nobody wants to face an ugly truth, and saying things like “well, s/he practically asked for it!” or “It was just rough sex” is easier than to accept that someone we loved was a complete asshole to someone else. Heck, a lot of people pull off that same excuses when some fictional rapes are discussed.

        Rape is also much more dehumanizing and humiliating than murder. The perpetrator is basically using a person’s body like an object to satisfy their needs, whether the victim likes it or not, and unlike torture, it is using something that in normal, consenting circumstances has the potential to be beautiful and fulfilling. It is a very intimate attack that doubles as a betrayal if the perpetrator was someone the victim knew, and it affects greatly the ability of someone to trust in other people (in fact, a lot of the time victims ask themselves if it was their fault for trusting people at all). Murder of relatives has its own set of complications, but they’re not so personal as those of rape, nor shake one’s very own core and self-perception so radically.

        That would be the difference in a nutshell, IMO, but there’s a lot of blogs out there and books talking about the experience in much more depth. I would recommend some, but the ones I have read are in Spanish and idk If they’re available in the U.S or England.

        • Gretchen , Direct link to comment

          That is a perfect way of explaining the difference. Another thing is that when someone’s family is killed, the survivor is usually seen as blameless and is pitied, but when someone is raped, they are constantly told by society and even many of their family and friends that it is their own fault.

        • saelwen , Direct link to comment

          I’m in the unique position that I’ve experienced both these things and let me tell you, I consider the rape to be a mere blip compared to the pain of losing your family. There is this assumption that rape is the ultimate traumatising thing but for me it was just an insignificant moment compared with the loss of my family, aka losing love, security, support. Pretty sure Sansa for example would consider losing her family more awful than her rape. Provided you have good mental health and help you can overcome rape very quickly, but not having a family has far longer lasting repercussions.

          • Roxanne , Direct link to comment

            “Provided you have good mental health and help you can overcome rape very quickly”

            Having known people that had both of this and still struggled with the trauma of rape for years, I find this debatable. I won’t discuss the ‘losing your family’ part because I just know a distant case, but there’s people with good mental health and help that find rape very difficult to overcome, and If you experienced it differently good for you, but that doesn’t overrule other responses to trauma that aren’t necessarily fueled by poor mental health or lack of help.

          • Ivana , Direct link to comment

            Well, if we’re going to talk about personal feelings on the matter: I have experienced only one of these things. Fortunately, I have never been raped. But I have lost my family, as much as I had of it in the first place. My mother, who was my only real close family for most of my life, died of cancer 10 years ago. My father, who I barely knew and hadn’t seen since I was 4, died 6 months ago of cancer. I never had any siblings other than the brother who died aged 7, 3 years before I was even born. And if someone came to me now and told me if I agree to choose a fate where I’m raped but my mother comes alive and lives to be 100, my father does the same and we actually are close in this reality, my dead brother also magically comes alive all grown up, and even my grandparents that died over 20 years ago get to be alive… I’d choose for all of them to remain dead, and that I remain unraped. I would not sacrifice my personal freedom, sexual agency and bodily autonomy for anyone or anything. And if that makes me selfish – sorry but I’m not sorry.

            But anyway – what does any of this have to do with Sansa’s story? What did her being raped accomplish narratively? If it was a “mere blip” for her that doesn’t even faze her (which I really don’t believe, and they aren’t even trying to portray it that way, thank the gods), why did it need to happen? Did they think that she wasn’t sufficiently motivated by the murders of her mother and brother? What did marrying Ramsay Bolton accomplish for her, or what did she think it would accomplish? Her family was not going to magically come to life if she agreed to “lie back and think of Winterfell”. She wasn’t going to get any “revenge” either, as far as we can see, in spite of Littlefinger’s weird abstract talk about “revenge”, without any plan. So, what was that all about?

    • Ivana , Direct link to comment

      “In all honesty, I’d rather read about a female character who becomes ‘strong’ after her family has been killed off, ”

      Well, one could say that this is basically the storyline of Sansa and Arya in A Song of Ice and Fire – and their brother Bran as well (probably Rickon, too, but he is not a POV character), but it’s more pronounced in the girls’ cases because they are really on their own and without constant companions, unlike their brothers. It’s not about becoming strong due to trauma, though – it’s about losing your parents and having to survive on your own in a cruel world at a very young age, surrounded by enemies.

  • Ellesar , Direct link to comment

    In some ways this makes me think of the rape ‘joke’ in comedy – lazy cheap shots that aren’t funny but have shock value. They cannot be bothered or lack the ability to actually be creative or clever.

    It is like the writer/s have so little imagination when it comes to girls and women being presented with challenges, but also that it is *important* for us (girls and women) to be shown that we WILL be put in our place if we dare to challenge male authority/ the status quo.

    I think that it IS a form of torture, and the other torture scenes have also been incredibly hard to watch. How much of this do we really NEED to see, one wonders.

    Keep writing about this – I think that it is really important that people, and especially women, do.

  • rosehustle1 , Direct link to comment

    I am trying to think of shows or movies that had a rape but did not use it as a plot device. They all seem to do this, but I know I’ve seen some who haven’t.

  • Michel , Direct link to comment

    “Mary Sue’s wretched freak-out over this epitomizes this argument, saying bluntly, “rape is not a necessary plot device.” Well, no. Nothing is a necessary plot device. In fact, you don’t have to tell stories at all. Or only tell stories about some things and not others.

    And that’s fine, if that’s your taste. There are lots and lots of fantasy stories that don’t have rape. I recommend Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, which are both interesting and narratively complex and totally rape-free. Rape is not necessary to the stories they are telling, which are more traditional fantasy stories where the good guys always win, evil is always defeated, and the existing social systems are more or less just and correct.

    That isn’t, however, the story that Game of Thrones is telling. Game of Thrones is telling a different story, one that explores the way that patriarchal systems that are often romanticized in fantasy would play out if they were more realistic. It’s one that is critical of the social systems in its world, holding them out as unjust and violent. And, like murder and war and poverty, rape is one of the consequences of that world.”

    • Rachel , Direct link to comment

      Except for they didn’t need Sansa’s rape to tell us this. Do you really think we’ve gotten through four and half seasons of this show and yet failed to pick up on how common rape is in this world?

      The best links I’ve found on the subject so far, including one from a real rape victim who used to enjoy the show…×06-unbowed-unbent-unbroken/

      Yeah, we all get it’s a crapsack world. But a lot of us watched the show for the politics in navigating a crapsack world, the return of fantasy elements that had long thought to be lost in that world, the rich characters, etc. That doesn’t mean rape can’t be depicted at all, but If this show is, in fact, about sexual assault then someone needs to change the friggin’ show premise, because most of us signed up for the former.
      And while it seems “critical” of rape on the surface, there are only so many times it can happen before one questions why the show developers feel the need to put it front and center (along with all the other gratuitous sex and nudity).

      • Michel , Direct link to comment

        Except for they didn’t need Sansa’s rape to tell us this.

        Do you think so? After all the negative reactions, I think it is indeed a message that didn’t come through for a great number of people.

        I’ll quote again from that same article:

        “It doesn’t tell us anything new. So? It did answer a question that was legitimately vexing a lot of people—including the critics, as you will soon see—which was whether or not Ramsay was going to be able to hold back once he got Sansa alone. Answer: no. So yes, that is new information.

        In addition, plot points have value other than revealing new things about characters. For instance, the relationship between Theon and Sansa, which was ice cold for understandable reasons, just got completely altered. They have been through some shit together now. The one person in the world who actually knows and gives a shit about her is someone she hates. If you don’t think that’s going to matter, you might not be very good at reading narrative texts. Which is all the more reason to keep watching and see how this plays out.

        (…) The fact that we’re surprised every single time—every time a Ned Stark or Oberyn Martell dies—shows how much we are trained into certain rhythms of storytelling, including the daring last minute rescue.”

        • Rachel , Direct link to comment

          Um, no, all the negative reactions are because we already got the picture and we didn’t need this scene to beat us over the head with it.
          “So? It did answer a question that was legitimately vexing a lot of people—including the critics, as you will soon see—which was whether or not Ramsay was going to be able to hold back once he got Sansa alone. Answer: no. So yes, that is new information.”
          -Bullshit. To partially quote the rapist himself, if you thought he would hold back once he got Sansa alone “you haven’t been paying attention”.
          We KNEW he would torture Sansa once he got her alone, we were just hoping something would intervene. If you’d read the comments section on Rhiannon’s GOT reviews back for the first episode of season 5, we’d seen from the leaks what direction the show was going, and we were just as horrified.
          As for Sansa and Theon’s relationship….woo? It’s a relationship that, like this plotline, is completely constructed by the show creators, and I’d have rather they created a different one that treated Sansa’s character better.

      • Michel , Direct link to comment

        And I’ll invite to re-read that first article you linked, the one from the Unaffiliated Critic, which argues you’re opposite point (“rape shouldn’t be depicted at all”), while granting that that plot development was in keeping with the narrative, the show’s premises and the characters.

        “With the best of intentions, with the most solid of narrative justifications, with the greatest respect for the characters and actors involved, there is simply no way to execute a rape scene well.” – The UC

        I already replied to that argument on his website:

        “I think it’s more respectful to depict rape as the horrific experience it is, no matter how triggering it may be, than to have “background rape” happen to minor characters and not explore the tragedy they go through. However, the online outrage over Sansa’s bedding eclipses all other reactions to all other instances of rape. Is it more disrespectful to depict it or to skip it? I would say the latter. We should be confronted with the realities of horrific personal events. That’s part of the value of Game of Thrones.”

        • Rachel , Direct link to comment

          …you think it’s respectful to rape victims to trigger them and make them relive their experiences all over again??? Do you have any idea how sick that sounds??

          You want to be confronted with the horrific realities of that sort of thing, then you need to accept and respect the fact that THIS IS HURTFUL TO RAPE VICTIMS. And that the show, if it bothered to care, could handle rape situations that both convey the horror of what’s happening to her without shoving rape survivors (as well as the rest of us) face-first into those horrors to such an extent that it snaps us out of the world of the show.

    • Roxanne , Direct link to comment

      I’m having a Déja vu? Or it is your defense of Sansa’s rape exactly the same as the one you posted in the “Unbowed, unbent, unbroken” recap? Look, different oppinions are always appreciated, but you seem to be set on proving that your opinion is “the good one” and that Rihannon is in “the wrong”. In short, you seem to be interested in shoving your oppinions down everyone’s throats. Btw, the author already discussed LOTR and HP on this blog, if I recall correctly, which you would know if you ever bothered to read her blog more than to lambast her for her criticism of Sansa’s rape.

      The debate about Sansa was interesting, but we had it already. You just can’t keep posting the same things over and over until everyone agrees with you, especially just because you think you’re “right” and the author of the blog is “wrong”. It makes for poor discussion, since your arguments have already been talked about and because it seems like you’re not interested in having an honest discussion, but in posting your oppinions until everyone is so tired of them that stops discussing. It’s also typical troll behavior.

      If you want to think that Sansa’s rape was necessary, go ahead, I disagree for reasons that I already explained in answer to one of your posts in UUU, one of them being that the showrunners aren’t telling a rape victim’s story at all, just throwing rape around without giving it a lot of depth, and even without thinking If some attitudes of the characters make sense after it happens, but hey, diversity of oppinions for the win. Your opinion is not the only one out there, and you should respect that.

      • Michel , Direct link to comment

        I’m having a Déja vu? Or it is your defense of Sansa’s rape exactly the same as the one you posted in the “Unbowed, unbent, unbroken” recap?

        Rhiannon’s arguments remain the same (except for the ones already proven to be not true, like the show not depicting the emotional fallout, ot using Sansa’s rape as a way of ‘waking Theon up’)…. so why should my counter-arguments change?

        Look, different oppinions are always appreciated, but you seem to be set on proving that your opinion is “the good one” and that Rihannon is in “the wrong”.

        Of course, because that is what I believe (it’s quite more nuanced than that, but I’ll humor you). How is that any different from Rhiannon or every other poster? Everybody does that.

        In short, you seem to be interested in shoving your oppinions down everyone’s throats.

        Not at all. Feel free to skip the post when you see my name on it. My comments are only for those interested enough to read them.

        you would know if you ever bothered to read her blog more than to lambast her for her criticism of Sansa’s rape.

        I do know that. I’ve been following here for quite some time and I mostly agree with everything she says, even when it’s related to Tyrion. I’m a big fan of her take of the problematic murder of Shae. But I do think she’s completely in the wrong here, I’m don’t like the total lack of dissent on the comment section, and I try to offer my views for contrast. I’m a feminist, and I think feminists should avoid reactionary, knee-jerk reactions and bad arguments like the plague, because it makes it easier for anti-feminists to paint us as overly emotional, thoughtless and censorious. I’d rather dissent that let that seem unanimous. IMO, disliking or getting upset by something (which is meant to elicit just that) should not be a reason to be against it.

        • Roxanne , Direct link to comment

          “Of course, because that is what I believe (it’s quite more nuanced than that, but I’ll humor you). How is that any different from Rhiannon or every other poster? Everybody does that.”

          Yeah, but to an extent. If you don’t agree with a blogger in a certain topic you can bring it up, but there’s a fine line between doing it respectfully and in a way that contributes to the topic and beating a dead horse, IMO. Also, sometimes it’s complicated to explain why you still have a certain opinion, especially on the internet, because usually they’re also rooted in personal experience, and nobody has the obligation to start explaining theirs. Besides, rape and its representation in fiction is an issue that elicits very strong and defensive reactions and is difficult to talk about it peacefully, precisely bc personal experience is very entailed to how we see it.

          Ah, from your recommendations I assumed that you didn’t know that she had read those series, and thus hadn’t read any of her other posts, I’m sorry.

          I do think that you have good intentions regarding this topic, but you’re expressing them in a way that comes across as rude, even If that isn’t your intention.

  • Michel , Direct link to comment

    “but innocence can’t develop into strength, because these softer traits aren’t seen as strong, and female characters certainly can’t have a mix of characteristics”

    I think you are, again, missing the point, and you’re once more resorting to cherrypicking to make your case.

    There are plenty of examples in the TV show that prove you wrong. Catelyn, Talisa, Gilly, Missandei, (and Daenerys, to some degree) are all soft, compassionate, feminine AND strong female characters. None of them are tomboys, warriors or sexually manipulative. And that is extraordinary, considering what the world of GoT demands of women for their survival. In a world where softness is a dangerous liability for both women and men, Game of Thrones has found space for female characters not burdened by those conflicts.

    I would also be careful of the term ‘innocence’. Sansa is still innocent and will continue to be so, even if she resorts to sexual manipulation. I think she is still profoundly innocent. What she is not anymore is *naive*. Naivete may be the biggest sin in the GoT Bible. All main characters are driven (or killed) by events that ‘opened their eyes’ about the world. They had ideals and expectations about fairness, just like book readers and the TV audience entered this story with expectations about genre tropes. And those expectations are there to be shattered, over and over.

    Sansa was always the character who most believed in fairy tales. She doesn’t anymore. But it’s not raped what unveiled her eyes. She agreed to be part of Littlefinger’s plan knowing a lot of what that entailed. She knew she would have to bed someone she despised. And now she’s alone to fend for herself. No one to save her, not even Theon and not even Sansa. That is the source of the empowerment… facing extreme pain and rising up to overcome it or succumbt be forever transformed by it. Theon chose the latter, but Sansa chooses to fight the horror she is facing and not let it change who she is. She may be horribly traumatized (more than she was already), but she is not broken.

    So, despite all the naysayers last week, “The Gift” showed this is not about Sansa being “saved” by Theon, because Sansa is setting about to save herself. And even if she does succeed in turning Theon to her side, it will be a result of her strength and intelligence. He will not be saving her: she will be saving both of them.

    • Rachel , Direct link to comment

      They. Didn’t. Need. The Rape. For her. To Save. Herself.
      Stop glorifying it as some beautifully poignant way for her to overcome adversity.

      • Michel , Direct link to comment

        They. Didn’t. Need. The Rape. For her. To Save. Herself.
        Stop glorifying it as some beautifully poignant way for her to overcome adversity.

        That’s not what I’ saying. It’s not meant to be beautiful at all, but it is a depiction of horrors that are rarely confronted on fiction. It’s like calling Schindler’s List or 12 Years A Slave ‘beautiful’. They’re not meant to be that, but they still have great value.
        And I’ve already addressed how irrelevant is the ‘not necessary’ argument. Necessity is not a requirement for creative choices. And within the confines of Game of Thrones (even A Song Of Ice And Fire), yes, it is necessary to maintain a minimum of realism.

        • Rachel , Direct link to comment

          So you want to go with the “it was a purely creative choice even though it wasn’t necessary” route.
          Okay, even better. because FUCK their “creative choices”
          They’ve gone on record saying Sansa is one of their “favorite” characters. So their creative choice, independent of whether or not it was necessary, their fantasy, was to take a beautiful innocent girl and have her go through an “empowerment” arc by raping her.
          Nice to know that, given total creative freedom, that’s the best thing the show creators can come up with.

        • Ivana , Direct link to comment

          Their creative choice, as the rest of their creative choices to write nonsensical and pointless plots this season, is best summed up by this quote by David Benioff, explaining why they wrote (the super underwhelming scenes of) Tyrion meeting Dany this season, way before they are supposed to meet in books:

          “Creatively, it made sense to us, because we wanted it to happen”.

    • rosehustle1 , Direct link to comment

      God, stop trolling this site Michel. It’s pretty obvious that’s what you are doing.

    • Vohalika , Direct link to comment

      Talisa was very explicitly established as being made of sterner stuff than “other girls”. In fact, her entire appeal and only defining characteristic was that she refused to be a boring, feminine lady of high standing and instead went to saw off men’s feet on the battlefield. She, by the way, exists entirely to replace a character that was much more feminine and a daughter of a noble house and pretty and soft-spoken and a good wife and may or may not have seduced Robb on her mother’s orders in the books, because apparently there’s no way Robb could fall for a girl whose main appeal was being feminine instead of rejecting her traditional role, so your comparison kind of falls flat.

      (Though, admittedly, being better than other girls didn’t save her from meeting a horrifying end featuring incredibly gendered brutality. Yikes.)

      And while I might agree with the other characters, Gilly and Missandei are hardly key players and mostly exist to further other people’s stories. And ironically, that’s what the show also did with Catelyn’s character, especially in season three – shoved her in the background to be a nagging mother to Robb and bemoan her failing to be a mother to Jon Snow.

      And people who believe Sansa had a choice in any of this just baffle me. At best, she was coerced into going along with Littlefinger’s plan. It’s not like she had any other options, in ANYTHING that has happened to her this season. Well, her other option would be being brought to King’s Landing to face an obviously very fair trial for regicide, and no matter how convinced anyone seems to be that Margaery likes her too much to have her tried unfairly, Cersei would never let her come out of that alive. And Sansa knows this. It’s disgusting how the showrunners try to sell anything she has to do now to save herself as empowerment and how people seem to be buying it.

      • rosehustle1 , Direct link to comment

        I agree. Littlefinger told her about the betrothal when they were already very close to getting to Winterfell.He made sure to spring this on her when they were nearly there so that she felt like she had no where to go. He gave her that ridiculous speech to make her feel that she has a choice, but I wonder what would have happened if she hadn’t bought that spiel and had still refused. Littlefinger would most definitely have let his facade slip, and he would have probably threatened her the way he did to Ros in season 3. The Vale knights were following his orders, not hers, and if she didn’t want to go, he would have had them force her. Also a young noble woman wouldn’t be safe traveling alone, if she did decide to make a run for it.

        So, it really baffles me when people were making the claim that she had a choice. In addition, he also made it clear in that inn with Brienne that as Sansa’s uncle by marriage he has right to her affairs. Again, she is seen as his property because he is her only male relative to make marital decisions for her.To me it seemed like a choice-less choice where no good would will really come to her either way from this situation. She was safest at the Vale and had more agency there.

        • Vohalika , Direct link to comment

          It’s also significant that in comparison to the books, where her situation is similar – marry someone she doesn’t like to further Littlefinger’s plan – she has significantly more agency simply by much of the operation depending on HER. People are quick to point out that her book storyline seems to be headed to rape due to an unwanted arranged marriage as well, but she has a lot of power in the situation. Harry the Heir has to be convinced by her, charmed by her. She can choose to botch that up on her own, he’s hard-headed enough to reject her, too. And she has a lot more freedom to act in general due to the role she’s playing, a role that has also contributed a lot to her character development in smaller ways.

          And that makes all the difference. The show had her delivered as a signed and sealed little package to Winterfell, while the grown men made all the plans for her, her cooperation isn’t needed, she’s little more than a prop in her own storyline – again. It makes me wonder that if the show hadn’t been so consequent in erasing all her agency before, as in having Dontos drop in on her all of a sudden instead of actively seeking him out for a long time, having her kneel meekly at her first wedding (what happened to being married already, anyways? Yes, consummation didn’t happen, but come on, a vow before the gods is a vow before the gods. Can one be married to two different men in front of two different gods? Is that a loophole that leads to polygamy in Westeros even when you’re not a Targaryen?) — maybe keeping those things up to her as they were in the books, giving her agency and empowering her in different ways than by having her raped wouldn’t have been that hard even for the horrible, horrible writers of this shitshow.

          • Rachel , Direct link to comment

            In response to the marriage question, I believe Westeros is one of those cultures where the wedding isn’t considered finalized until the consummation (hence Margaery and Olenna’s discussion about whether she was technically queen or not after Joffrey’s death, since he died before the wedding night), as was often the case historically. As in, the wedding vows are more of a “you-guys-now-have-holy-permission-to-have-sex” kind of thing.

            • Vohalika , Direct link to comment

              Regarding the marriage part: Lack of consummation, as I understood it, is grounds for annulment, if performed by a high septon. I believe Littlefinger said as much at the end of ASOS. Margaery is also in a bit of a state of limbo in the books, where she and Tommen haven’t consummated, yet she is still considered queen and his wife.

              In regards to Sansa’s situation, I’m just going to use her own words, well, Alayne Stone’s words, in a chapter that GRRM has published shortly before the season started airing, in a move that by now is glorious in its passive-aggressiveness:

              ” No man can wed me so long as my dwarf husband still lives somewhere in this world. ”

            • Ivana , Direct link to comment

              Only in the show world. Which must make for some problematic and hilarious situations in their version of Westeros. Imagine how many people there must be who are going all over Westeros and serially marrying: “Yes, I married that girl back in Oldtown, but I never bedded her, I swear! You have my word! So, let’s get married now?”

              In other words, Benioff and Weiss are terrible writers who write illogical plots and suck at world building just as much as they suck in characterization and narrative.

          • Ivana , Direct link to comment

            “People are quick to point out that her book storyline seems to be headed to rape due to an unwanted arranged marriage as well,”

            People who use that argument are making me facepalm all the time. The “Sansa will definitely get raped!” and “all noble women in Westeros are always going to be raped because there are arranged marriages! Rape happens all the time, it’s normal for them!” arguments are some of the most irritating and pathetic ones in this fandom.

            The fact that Martin decided to release the Alayne (Sansa) TWOW chapter before this season, read the same chapter at the ConQuest con after giving speech about the changes and divergences on the show that have become huge, and the fact that – in a recent EW article – the chose Jeyne Poole as one of the 5 characters whose absence in the show has hurt it the most, show very obviously that he is determined to point out that the show Sansa/Ramsay storyline is nothing like Sansa’s book storyline. The idea that he is simply setting up a Joffrey 2.0 rape/abuse fest for her in the books is clearly not true.

  • Roxanne , Direct link to comment

    The Rape for empowerment is one of the most used and abused tropes in grimdark fantasy. Partly because, when done right, it is horrifying and has its influence on character development. But most authors don’t care about getting it right, as long as they just can throw it to give the feeling of “omg my story is so dark!!!1”, so most of the time it ends up being a mess that gets forgotten right after the plot has milked all the “darkness” of the tragedy for all it’s worth.

    The thing is, it isn’t that hard to get informed on how to write about it. There are resources, psychologists, tons of books written about the issue. The problem is that a lot of authors don’t do their research, and just care about teh drama and about using it as a plot device for things to “happen” and shit to break loose without actually talking about it or about its most unpleasant consecuences (PTSD, etc.)

    And those consecuences should be important, too. Especially in adult fiction, in which one would think that important issues can get discussed and not just used as window dressing for a “dark/terrible/crappy/insert-here-gritty-adjective world”.

    The same applies to characters involved in a war or other disasters. That’s why I love THG and how Suzanne Collins wrote about Katniss and her experience having PTSD after the games and the war.

    • rosehustle1 , Direct link to comment

      I think this is what I’d like to see more of, the impact on the victim and how they struggle with themselves and their place in the world. I have known women who were raped and molested. These women have struggled with identity, how they see themselves in romantic relationships, and what they want for themselves. In addition, they each have often gotten involved with men who often don’t see them, but rather, used them for their own needs. I have seen them struggle with shame and guilt and ongoing depression. Of course, every person experiences the impact of such events in different ways, but I think would respect writers of novels, shows, and movies more if they actually focused on this impact instead of the shock of the rape scene itself.

    • voodooqueen126 , Direct link to comment

      in the process of transforming my fanfiction into semi original fiction* I came across the problem where the Sansa expy ends up trapped with the Tyrion expy for a year and a half instead of a month. He does end up raping her (I think book Tyrion would’ve broken his word eventually), and it is annoying for me as a writer: I started off wanting to write fun SanSan erotica, but ended up with a character who hates sex, her body, and most men.
      and if you put rape in your story, that’s the consequence you should face: it shouldn’t make the character badass or empowered, it should be traumatic and awful.
      I know a woman who was raped at 14 and now she is in her 50’s. Even after all this time, she still hates penetrative sex.

      *That’s what I call stuff like Fifty Shades of Grey and Mortal Instruments.

  • rosehustle1 , Direct link to comment

    I found this blog by author John Scalzi where he talks about his advice from mentor Pamela Wallace (screenwriter of the film Witness) when he was thinking about including a rape in one of his early novels. This is what he learned from her and why he has never included it in any story since.

    Here’s another great blog about including rape in writing by author, Robert Jackson Bennett:

    • Rachel , Direct link to comment

      This was why I am….not sure if “okay” is the right word, because it could also potentially be seen as problematic, but I can tolerate the rape in Downton Abbey, since most of the focus is on how she tries to cope with it afterwords, and struggles with the culture’s perspective that her worth might be taken away from her just because she had sex with someone not her husband, even though that sex was involuntary and after he beat her bloody. I also think it was good (well, “good”) how they showcased that rape can come completely out of the blue, from someone who you trusted to be a normal, decent member of society, and how that veneer of “normal and decent” then protects them from you seeking retribution.
      The main thing I DON’T like about it was that it seemed to be there for no other reason than “oh we need something to torment the Bates’ with this season”, but at least they took time to explore the impact that sort of thing can really have on the victim.

    • Michel , Direct link to comment

      What a silly concept. Are you all ‘womansplaining’, including Rhiannon? Reply with arguments or don’t reply at all, but this bitter back and forth is pointless.

      • Rachel , Direct link to comment

        Assuming you are, in fact, not a troll, I repeat:

        Most of us are here to vent our dismay/disapproval/disgust about what happened to Sansa in Game of Thrones. And just because our arguments aren’t flawless/perfectly articulated doesn’t mean we don’t have the right to feel upset.
        Politely disagreeing is one thing, but at this point you have gone beyond civilly dissenting. I don’t know how you mean to present yourself, but for the record, you are coming off as a pretentious jerk who keeps popping in here to tell us ladies how our illogical women emotions are wrong, and how we should just accept the rape as part of the show because our actual feelings on the matter are irrelevant. Even if your arguments were flawless (which they aren’t) you seem mostly interested in browbeating us with your opinions by insisting we accept something that makes us intensely uncomfortable for no reason other than you say so.
        You are not going to win any sort of debate here, because none of us are convinced you are debating in good faith. Hence the accusations of trolling and mansplaining.

        • Rhiannon , Direct link to comment

          OK guys, I don’t think this is going to go anywhere useful for anyone from here. Everyone’s had their say, so let’s end this discussion here.

  • voodooqueen126 , Direct link to comment

    it’s a ridiculous trope: I am yet to meet a rape victim who went on a killing spree against her rapists, but I have met rape and abuse victims who:
    1.can’t say no (parental incest) to men when they sexually proposition them, even when they find the dude repulsive. I would consider this being broken.
    2.had a nervous breakdown as a result of working in all male environment, which reminded her of her rape as a teenager.
    3.still hates penetrative sex… 46 years later…
    4. just as naive… actually gets defrauded by a man later in life but definitely sexually dysfunctional as a result of statutory rape.
    5. Won’t read Lolita because it’s triggering (the least traumatised woman on this list)
    So that’s some of the rape victims that I know of in my social sphere.
    There are some strong women on that list (1-3-as they have been successful in competitive fields) but they are strong inspite of their rape experiences, not because of them.
    The least dysfunctional person on that list belongs to the trigger warning crowd (aka the people that conservatives like to make fun of).
    Not a Quentin Tarantino Bride amongst them.

What do you think?

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