I've been thinking about this for a while, and there are a couple of things that struck me as possible. One is that sexual assault is a way to hurt a character without killing them or sending them to a hospital. It establishes damage, without the loss of hit points.
The other one is sort of related. Having a sexual assault in a story means that it's a serious story. I think there's a certain pressure to do this in fantasy and science fiction, because the premises are often silly; I am not sure how many rapes it takes to make people not laugh at future where power production is based on springs, but I think that might partially explain the rapeyness.
As far as the hooker thing goes, though, I really dunno. I guess it's a thing--that there are people who think something along the lines of "well, this sex is pretty good, but you know what would make it great? If I had to pay for it." In which case, you can't really make sense of it; it's like trying to unravel the mystery of why people like stuffed cabbage.
I want to be clear that when I say I find either of those two theories monumentally offensive if true, it's not that I'm offended at you for proposing them, it's that I'm offended at people who use them that way. I have watched the fallout for people I love for years and in some cases decades from assaults of this type, and to have that reduced to, "Well, it's not like it breaks her leg," or, "What can I do to make people think I am a Vry Srs Rthr?" makes my blood boil.
I like stuffed cabbage, and I still can't explain the Happy Hooker trope to you. Only good stuffed cabbage, though. It can easily become vile.
Well, I suppose that I'll take comfort in the fact that if they were less plausible, they'd be less offensive.
I should probably note that I don't think that these are intentional patterns; I think that for most writers, this sort of thing takes place on a subconscious level, and that it tends to echo the story shapes in which they're immersed.
I agree with you that if these are the case, they're almost certainly subconscious. Still, that pattern needs interrupting, in my opinion.
You mean "without killing her or sending her to the hospital." Authors could just as easily beat the women up, the way they do the men, but instead we get sexualized violence with all its real-world "you're not really a person" vibes.
I hope I don't sound like I'm angry at you.
Sorry for not responding sooner; things have been a little busy.
You're right that it's mainly female characters who get raped. If the reasons I gave were the whole of the logic, you'd expect to see it happening to characters regardless of gender, so I am, if not proven wrong, proven incomplete.
I think, though I haven't done any actual tallying, that women get the sort of beatings without consequences that men get, at least in the section of the genre where women are filling the role of people who run around and do things. However, I think that those beatings, both for men and women, lack weight; given that getting hit on the head a lot doesn't seem to affect noir detectives as a rule, a beating of that sort doesn't upset readers very much. Rape, on the other hand, is upsetting, even if the story doesn't show us much in the way of long-term damage.
This would be equally true if it was a male detective getting raped. Perhaps there's another thing going on here. Specifically, the cultural assumption that women get raped. So, when you have a female protagonist, that's something that's in the default story-space, in a way that it isn't with a male protagonist.
I realize that I'm coming close to pontificating about something in which I lack expertise, so I think I'll leave it at that.
Your point about beatings is making me think about this further, Alter, and one of the things I've noticed is that we in the speculative genres tend to treat violent beatings as emotionally neutral or nearly so. We treat them as though they are the same thing as sparring in a well-managed martial arts class where you know you can quit at any time and the other person is not hitting and kicking at you out of personal animosity or desire to do you lasting damage--and yet I have heard from some friends who study martial arts that even that carefully delineated experience can cause emotional reactions they have to learn to overcome. I think it doesn't upset readers in part because writers are not showing it as upsetting. Writers want to be able to have action scenes that are action scenes, not emotional trauma scenes. And...I totally get why (swashbuckling! derring-do!), but I'm not sure I want things to go on in this vein without some more counterexamples coming up in the genre, the sooner the better.
One of the things I noticed in reading the Nebula ballot this year was that a large proportion of the stories featured sex. I don't recall any sexual violence, but at this point I may have story amnesia. But there was enough sex that was not particularly relevant to the plot to make me think that it might be hard to get on the ballot without some sex scenes. I'm kind of at a loss to explain it as well.
I have trouble dealing with positive attitudes toward prostitution because I have read so much about sex slavery in the U.S. and in the world. Even if you postulate that somewhere a prostitute is living a healthy, fulfilling life that she has freely chosen, I can't ignore the fact that the vast majority of transactions involve coercion by their nature, and it disgusts me deeply. There are other very disturbing facts that argue against prostitution as a viable lifestyle choice. For example, prostitutes pretty much universally have been victims of sexual violence. If being raped and molested is necessary preparation for a "career," how happy can one possibly be?
To be perfectly clear to people who know me less well than cathshaffer
does: I do believe that there are probably some sex workers who find their profession to be one they can practice by choice rather than by physical or economic coercion, and there are probably some sex workers who feel that it's a pretty good job. Further, there are probably some for whom it's a better job than the other alternatives. I am not going to argue with any woman (or man or non-binary-gendered person, but the women are statistically far more common) who says that she is happy as a sex worker.
BUT. You are absolutely right that a great many sex work transactions that are inherently coercive, that this is a major problem worldwide, and the Happy Hooker thing is simplistic, patronizing, and generally not a net positive, I feel, especially as it's not a new idea, nor was it handled in a new way here.
I do know somebody who went to work, voluntarily, as a prostitute in Nevada. I don't know her well enough to say for certain that the experience was wholly positive, nor that she doesn't have some trauma in her past that shaped the decision, and certainly she only did it for a short while, because she was curious and basically wanted to explore it as a kink. But the voluntary sex worker is not completely a myth.
Unfortunately, people who want to tell stories about same usually do it without thinking through all the underpinning questions of how the usual evils are prevented. The only fictional example I can think of where there was anything like a in-depth justification of the sex industry being non-coercive and horrible is Terre d'Ange, but even then it's on the rosy side. (What does prostitution look like below the level of the Night Court, which is far beyond the economic reach of your average d'Angeline?)
The Kage Baker did considerably worse than not considering the other side of the coin. It portrayed street sex workers as dumber, lower class, common, jealous, violent, and generally deserving of their fate compared to the genteel, classy, good-humored sisterhood of Our Heroines.
Right, because women with money are never jealous or violent or any other such negative things.
See, if some of the women with money didn't used to have money, it's All Better.
Another option is that there is something going on in society at large for which rape is an emotional allegory, and this is how people are processing it?
There has been an ongoing series of panels at Wiscon, moderated by a rape crisis counselor, around this topic. Starting with "Take back our Sci Fi" which was an attempt to address the rape-as-shorthand-for-dark/realistic/etc issue.
This year's topic is basically 'if you're going to write it, here are things you need to consider'.