Discussion in 'Character Development' started by TessaT, Nov 12, 2013.
Very wise and well put.
I would suggest that using sexual abuse as a reason for a woman's strength is often a case of lazy writing and a short cut to avoid fully developing the character.
The story I am writing now is about a woman who changes from a shy girl and slowly gains confidence in herself. Even after she is married she remains dependent on her husband until he is murdered. Then she is forced into a position of having to fend for herself (with a little help from friends) and each success empowers her further until she finally emerges from her cocoon.
Sorry, Gawler, you're still banging on about "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger". Unless you're writing it that the catalyst for change is the support from her friends, and not the death of her husband? I'm guessing that her shyness arose from over-protective parents, so that her husband was, in a way, a father-figure for her?
I have three daughters, each of whom is a strong woman, but NOT because she was abused, rather because she had a stable and supportive upbringing. Sadly, that's not such a good story as one where a character triumphs against the odds. Even more sadly, there's not enough of it about.
Abuse doesn't help my character grow, it destroys her. She grows through education, kindness, spirituality and love, yet the abuse keeps pulling her back down until she can no longer get up.
I must echo what others have said. In real life, sexual abuse breaks a person much more than it 'makes' them. Sure, it is an experience that deeply shapes them and after many years they could become stronger, but that's in relation to the broken person they were after the assault, not in relation to who they were before they were brutalised.
I seldom come across fictional representation of rape that is actually realistic (not just the act but especially the aftermath). Much more often, it's dealt with either flippantly, creepily or unrealistically, where it portrayed as a catalyst for a female character to become a superhero of sorts, like what witnessing the death of his parents did to Batman. But rape is specific in as much that victim's bodily integrity is usurped by a sadist. It has nothing to do with physical or mental strength, male rape victims react in the same way as female ones, with post-traumatic symptoms which are paralysing, not under voluntary control and therefore tend to cause feelings of weakness not strength.
This is what gets to the victim on a fundamental level, and even if enraged and vengeful, she (or he) feels compromised, physically, and this is not a position of strength, unlike with Batman (although his motivation is not entirely realistic either, but one could argue it on the basis of underlying personality and socioeconomic standing)..
I feel ambivalent towards the heroic representation of rape. On one hand it's wonderfully empowering for the victims, giving them an example, albeit fictional, of a good outcome of their situation. On the other, it reinforces society's unrealistic expectations of how a rape victim 'should' react to rape, and reinforces victim guilt and blaming (if you were strong enough, you'd mess up your rapist just like Lisbeth Salander did in 'Millenium', or similar).
Not at all, she is from a small country town and is in a foreign country when he is murdered. She is not under threat but develops by having to now take care of things that were previously done by her husband. It is more a case from going from a position where she has been well provided for to one where she has to provide for herself.
Being a SURVIVOR of rape, I have no issue with such an unfortunate event used to show a female characters strength. It is an utter destruction of not only your body, but mind and soul as well. It is an extremely emotional ordeal that cannot be described to others who have not suffered through it. (I hope that most never have to) It is an event which can destroy an individual or make them grow or change. For myself personally, it did in fact push me forward and to be more determined in life. Therefore it is a very realistic concept to use it in writing to 'progress' a female (or male) character in a story. While some may see this as degrading or ill advised, many who have suffered rape and it's affects do not see it as such. It is a very real issue and we all react differently to situations. Most of us prefer to be referred to as survivors, as we have not allowed it to ruin and control our lives. Instead we acknowledged it unfortunately happened to us, we will never forget, but we will use it to the best of our means. I know that will be hard for many to understand, but again one must experience it to. We have discussed this very notion several times in my support groups, we find it much more demeaning to show the character becoming a meek, fragile individual from it without then progressing into a strong willed person. Hope this gives you some real life insight. I do not hide behind my abuses, always willing to help others better understand so we are not ignorant of such things.
A massive problem I have with this, and some related concepts is, what about male victims of sexual abuse? Yes, there are stories that acknowledge it, but its not as common, nor used as often as a plot device than it is with women. I'm not saying, per say, we should increase the number of stories featuring male victims of sexual abuse, however it shouldn't be treated as something that, "happens to women," and needs to be very carefully considered when writing a story.
This idea comes originally from listening to a review of a comic involving rape that was badly handled, the reviewer pointed out it can become something that, "happens to women," in regards to being a plot device, despite it impacting all genders, cultures, ect. in reality.
The reason I bring all this is up is that sexual abuse shouldn't be leaped to as a plot device without extremely careful consideration, and examination of why it is being used in the story.
As for whether it helps a character grow... that's extremely variable, and is a gross misunderstanding of not just sexual abuse, but how people respond to trauma in general. To give a non-sexual example, say someone is blinded when they're five years old. They certainly could adapt to their blindness, and go on to live a happy life, but their life isn't improved from becoming blind. They can overcome it, yes, and that process could make an excellent story, but that doesn't make them, "stronger," per say, as it implies its an improvement over if they hadn't suffered the loss, or in this case, abuse.
I myself have toyed with writing a story involving sexual abuse but... have decided not to. Partially because I don't feel I have the skill right now to pull off such a task, and also because I don't want to write that type of tale.
Interesting. My female protag in my work in revision suffers an attempted rape in her early adulthood (she's able to find a weapon and fight him off), but it doesn't exactly make her stronger; rather it negatively influences her subsequent choice of men and/or how she relates to them.
It also makes it all the worse for her when she's held hostage in an incident connected with my thriller plot and this time she has no weapon within reach.
What I'm seeing from this thread is that the ongoing effects of these experiences have to be part of her development arc all the way to the end of the book. I can't just use them to get her to a certain point in the story and then have it be like, "Oh, well, that was the past, everything's wonderful for her now!"
There's at least one (I think several) story about male rape in a collection of short stories by Christopher Priest.
Well, as I said, they do exist, but they are rarer, to say the least, as mentioned.
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