So buckle in, it's time for a literary rant.
You know the trope I'm talking about. Our heroine finds herself cornered down a dark alley by the dregs of society who have absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the plot, and the hero swoops in to rescue her in the nick of time.
If you've been around me long, you know my feelings about sexual equality and the responsibility of art to lead social progress, so you're probably thinking I'm going to complain that scenes like this make the heroines appear weak and helpless, and in particularly poorly handled instances, that's true, but it doesn't have to be, and it doesn't come close to covering the whole problem here.
A scene in which the heroine is rescued by the hero isn’t inherently wrong. Rescues are great for stories, and while I believe firmly in equality, true equality still allows for the hero to rescue the heroine, as opposed to the other way around, half the time. Everyone needs help now and then.
If you're going to write a villain of a sexually predatory nature,
I could go on at length about how much of this very dark theme there is that deserves to be dug into and all the different fictional contexts where digging in is perfectly appropriate, but I think those two pictures above are quite enough for one day, so I'm going to skip back to the point, one fictional context where I'm sick to death of rape being used.
Quick, we need to establish that the male lead is a decent guy! Easy, we'll just frog march the heroine down rape gang alley so he can intervene! There, done! Who's for margaritas?
Sick of it. Sick.
Apart from being lazy, clichéd, and often insulting to women, it's even more insulting to men.
Think about what this trope says. First of all, it says that all alleys are crawling with rape gangs. Okay, we know there are bad areas and bad people and that bad things do happen, but rape gangs in every single alley a heroine (especially a YA heroine) walks down? Can't she ever get to her car safely? Or run into a desperate junkie who just wants her wallet? Ever?
Oh no, all men except this exceptional hero, even the ones who aren't fully realized, noteworthy villains, have to be complete monsters who are out to get her.
Then there are the criteria this sets for an acceptable male love interest.
1: Don't be one of the rapists.
2: To get a girl's attention, you must stand up to a roving rape gang on her behalf like it's nothing.
This is not beginner level, qualifying round stuff! It's not something your average teenage or twenty-something good guy can do and walk away from in one piece, or (hopefully) that most will ever have occasion to attempt! How did this become the standard opening move?
I'm not saying it's not a noble and impressive thing to do or that a guy should run away scared in this situation if we’re supposed to like and admire him, but for the love of god, can he at least be scared like a sane person who doesn't do this every day?!
What's that? That's a little darker than this bonding moment between our romantic leads should be? It would leave them with more physical and psychological scars than this story has room for?
Well golly gee, maybe this isn't such a great time to mess around with a topic like sexual assault after all. Any woman who's been faced with threatening sexual advances can tell you that they can mess with your head for a considerable length of time afterward, even when unsuccessful, especially if you're a teenage virgin still trying to get comfortable with the idea of sex under the most nonthreatening circumstances.
Is this really the most romantic idea you've got for a scene?
More to the point, is this really all we believe a man has to offer? A level of human decency and respect that should go without saying, and his services as the biggest, toughest, preferably superhuman-est bodyguard available against less worthy men?
Can't he charm the heroine with his wit and intellect?
I'm calling for deeper male characters and deeper romances in our female protagonist-driven stories.
Who's with me?
Agree? Disagree? Comments are always welcome! Or keep up with my fictional musings by joining me on Facebook, on Twitter, or by signing up for email updates in the panel on the right!