eumelia: (bollocks)
[personal profile] eumelia
Hint: It isn’t a debate.

Trigger Warning: This post is about the narratives of dubious consent, non consent, rape, sexual assault, body autonomy (or lack thereof) in fanfiction and fandom, and what being triggered actually means.


Before I begin to dig into this issue, let me put one thing on the table; the only moral issue about sex between two or more adults is consent. Everything else is a matter of what floats your boat. My kink is not your kink and that’s okay – in fact, it’s great, because in fandom we share and learn and discuss these things to a greater degree of openness and detail that in the “real world”.

So, I read a fic. It is a good fic. It’s not perfect, but very few stories are. Much like life, I must say1.

It is a really good story, which, right off the bat, places the characters in a scenario known in fanfic as dub-con, a short hand of “dubious consent”.

Let me put something else on the table here. In real life, there is no such thing as “dubious consent”. Dub-con is a narrative device, it is a construct of point of view, we see and read the conflict of the person (say, Hermione of “Harry Potter”) whose autonomy has been breached and we know, along with Hermione, that she actually wants this happen, only she’s not sure about why, or how, or some other thing – she just knows, kind of, that she wants this other person (say Snape) to do what he is doing.

Alternately, we have Snape’s pov, he who breaches the aforementioned autonomy and magically (no pun intended) knows that this fine, that Hermione actually wants it. That this is sexy, even if Hermione says “stop” or “no” or says nothing at all.

I use this example from “Harry Potter”, because this type of narrative is so typical in this pairing it is practically a trope. But it is a narrative found in all genres and happenstances of fic, be it het or slash, hurt/comfort or fluff – it is there and frankly, I despair at having to actually talk about this.

In real life dubious consent can’t happen. It cannot. Not because we don’t often feel conflicted about doing something with another person in bed, or because there wasn’t enough communication and the sex ended up being more enjoyable for one of the partners over the other (or others).
It cannot happen in real life, because the narrative in our heads can’t be shared. We can’t know if our partner is conflicted, or not comfortable, unless they tell us. The opposite, of course, is the same.

Dubious consent alleges that Ianto (for instance) can and would fight against Jack’s advances and actions if he really wanted to, this is the context of Ianto being subordinate to Jack in the hierarchy of the “Torchwood” team and their age (putting it lightly). With that in mind, it is likely that this scenario wouldn’t actually be construed by fic authors as an issue of consent because it is happening between two men, in the case of slash.

Consent isn’t about Steve’s (for instance) physical ability to stop Danny from performing fellatio on him. Consent is about the fact that Danny doesn’t care to ask or wait for Steve to actually say what he feels about the idea of it happening at all.

That is the point. The disregard to one’s choice, one’s comfort and one’s own wants (and needs) when it comes to sex is endemic, because the idea that the onus is on the person whose will and autonomy is being violated is simply not true. In the fic I read, there was a clear description of someone wanting to say “No”, but didn’t get a chance to do so, due to the narrative dictating that the “No” or the “Wait a minute” didn’t count because the sex was just that good. Dubious consent hadn’t even been an option here, because this scenario was constructed in order for the inner conflict of “do I or don’t I want this” to be taken as a token resistance as opposed to assertion of free will.

This particular fic isn’t even the only time in “Hawaii Five-0” fandom that this sort of thing has happened. In the name of sexy, how many times have we read Steve or Danny say “wait” or “stop” and have the other guy say “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of you” or “I know what you want/need” and continue to do what they were doing despite the “No”.

And yes, “wait”, “stop” or even non-responsiveness when action is taking place in sex is a big “NO”.

You cannot know why a person says “stop” or “wait” during sex unless you actually stop or wait. Possibly, this person has a cramp, or you’re digging your knee or elbow somewhere uncomfortable or maybe, you are doing something that is making your partner feel distressed and things need to change.

When you assume that Steve or Hermione can physically/magically prevent Danny or Snape from violating them, you are perpetuating rape culture2.

When you assume that knowing what a character is feeling or thinking when their free will is being disregarded by their sexual partner makes this disregard okay, and when you then normalize this behaviour in your fic, you are perpetuating rape culture.

And in the case in which there is clear non-consent going on when you assume that by removing the word “rape” from the fic magically fixes the disparity in power dynamics and that the violence perpetrated now isn’t sexual or gendered, you are perpetuating rape culture.

This is doubly so, when you don’t warn that these things actually exist in the fic!

It doesn’t make a difference what your intent was, I doubt authors are actively malicious, but when you have a character (major or minor) that is assaulted, whether “live”, or in a flashback or memory, or discussed, that is still a textual description of sexual and/or gendered violence. The assault, whether explicit violence, psychological coercion or disregard to another’s free will, choice and autonomy, is still written down and as such must be warned for, because the words you use are the same.

The thing is I don’t mind that dub-con exists in fic, as it is a fantasy narrative device and everyone has fantasies they wouldn’t want to actually happen in real life. This is why we have role playing and BDSM and actually talking to your partner(s) when it comes to making fantasies come true. In the name of full disclosure, I read fics that have dub-con, non-con and rape scenarios in them, because I like hurt/comfort and angst – I need to be warned for this, not because I have triggers, but because I need to know that these scenarios are going to be handled with the due respect and sensitivity that they deserve.

The respect and sensitivity should be awarded to the readers who do have triggers.

It is no secret that transformative art fandom (fanfic, fanvid, fanart and more) is made of a majority of women and/or female identified people and a significant amount of gender variant people, LGBT men and women, non-white people, disabled people and other social minorities who are all vulnerable to sexual violence, because our humanity and body autonomy is considered inconsequential.

The notion that a not insignificant part of your readership will have been through a traumatic experience concerning sexual consent, and sexually based and gendered violence, is not out there!

It is not only a courtesy to warn for this in your header, it will save someone from stumbling into a scenario that will make him or her feel less safe in their own lives, because their hobby and their creative community triggered their trauma.

But in the end, what I find distressing is that people do not recognise what they write for what it is, and in slash fiction it is particularly endemic, due to the fact that this happening between two men. Because rape culture dictates that between men consent isn’t an issue. Because rape culture dictates that men never say “no”. Because rape culture dictates that men can stop the coercion by virtue of being “strong” and physically powerful.

Dear readers, this is bullshit.

As a community of vulnerable people who often place characters we love in painful and violent scenarios that happen in real life to real people in a society that considers our trauma to be exaggerated at best and made up at worst, we have to consider the consequences of our actions and take care of each other.

One of the ways we do this is to know what it is we are writing and to warn accordingly.

Footnotes:
1) This post was triggered (no pun intended) by a particular fic and a discussion that followed, but it is not specifically about any one fic. This post is about a trend and a trope that is all too common in H50 fandom and in fandom as a whole, and I am using this fic as a way to exemplify and make clear my points.
Back to text.

2(For a clear and concise definition of what rape culture is I would refer you to Melissa McEwan’s post at Shakesville where she writes:
[…]Rape culture is encouraging male sexual aggression. Rape culture is regarding violence as sexy and sexuality as violent. Rape culture is treating rape as a compliment, as the unbridled passion stirred in a healthy man by a beautiful woman, making irresistible the urge to rip open her bodice or slam her against a wall, or a wrought-iron fence, or a car hood, or pull her by her hair, or shove her onto a bed, or any one of a million other images of fight-fucking in movies and television shows and on the covers of romance novels that convey violent urges are inextricably linked with (straight) sexuality.[…]

Back to text.

Date: 2011-11-18 04:38 pm (UTC)
darth_stitch: (Default)
From: [personal profile] darth_stitch
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you ever so much.

There is a reason why I steer firmly away from ANYTHING that brings in the question of "consent." I am over-saturated with too many news reports of women and children (regardless of gender) suffering sexual violence, of being told that the women "asked for it," of being told that "if they didn't do xyz, then they would not be raped." I do not want it in my fic nor I do not want it in the fics I read.

That being said, I respect the kinks of everyone else and the notion of engaging in a flame war with someone over their personal fantasies is just a waste of time to me, when I can simply click on the back button of my browser and go elsewhere.

And that being said, since I respect other people's kinks, I would hope that my squicks are respected too. :)

Date: 2011-11-18 04:56 pm (UTC)
verasteine: Mary is an ordinary girl (H50 Mary "ordinary girl")
From: [personal profile] verasteine
Sorry to butt in like this, but

That being said, I respect the kinks of everyone else and the notion of engaging in a flame war with someone over their personal fantasies is just a waste of time to me, when I can simply click on the back button of my browser and go elsewhere.

You do realise that the point of this post was that it's not so easy for people who have triggers? That they can't just shrug and back button out of a fic? Because you may not have intended it to read that way, but you seem to be pretty casual about it.

Date: 2011-11-18 05:16 pm (UTC)
darth_stitch: (WTF Bunneh)
From: [personal profile] darth_stitch
I understand that. I actually have triggers. I still get triggers even when I SEE the warnings. And I've stumbled into fic where the author forgot the warnings and re-edited them AFTER I already read the scene.

And I'm left feeling sick and nauseous instead of enjoying my fandom.

So I ask you, what am I supposed to do at that point? Should I engage the fic author in an argument about consent? When I see tags such as BDSM, dub-con, rape, character a turns into a prostitute etc. etc. etc. - do I actually want to lash out at a section of fandom that so obviously enjoys what squicks me out? Do I want to get into a long and involved fanwank about XYZ topic in my fandom? Because as I've said, the warning labels ALONE squick me out.

But I decide that I don't want to and I turn away and I click on my back button or scroll up and get back to something else I could be doing instead - like write my own fic. But I appreciate the author above for pointing out these issues and recognizing people like me with those squicks.

Believe me, there is nothing casual about it. I've just tried to deal with it in my own fashion.

Date: 2011-11-18 06:16 pm (UTC)
verasteine: Steve (Default)
From: [personal profile] verasteine
Maybe we're having a midunderstanding, but I'm surprised by the way you use the words 'trigger' and 'squick' interchangeably. Because they are not the same thing. There are things that can squick you that aren't triggers. Triggers are of a much more serious nature. I understand what you are saying about the warnings themselves, and of course, you do engage an author who warns. I had read in your earlier sentence that you seemed to suggest that all you had to do to avoid content that wasn't warned for was to click the back button, which I considered odd in light of the tone of the post.

Date: 2011-11-18 06:34 pm (UTC)
verasteine: Steve (Default)
From: [personal profile] verasteine
Sorry, I meant, "do not engage an author who warns".

Date: 2011-11-18 06:58 pm (UTC)
darth_stitch: (MPD Penguins)
From: [personal profile] darth_stitch
Indeed we do seem to be having a misunderstanding. :) I have squicks and they are also triggers for me. Anything that seems to glorify rape culture is a personal hot button for me. I am regularly in a situation where that can possibly become a reality - I have to live with that fear and deal with it and fandom for me is a welcome escape. I am aware, however, of that section of fandom, just as I am aware of the risks I am taking in my personal life.

But as I've said, I have simply tried to deal with this in my own fashion.

However, the beauty of fandom is that I do find writers who deal with consent issues in a thoughtful, provocative, well-written manner. The essence for me ultimately is, "Are they telling a GOOD story?" If the answer is yes (and of course, this is only my own humble opinion), then I can and will read and comment on it. Because it helps me overcome my own fears. Because art in all its forms can be transformative. :)

Date: 2011-11-18 07:03 pm (UTC)
verasteine: Steve (Default)
From: [personal profile] verasteine
I think, really, that squicks aren't really relevant to the topic of this post, which is why it must have confused me. Triggers and trigger warnings are serious things, and I understand using fandom as an escape. Unfortunately, like demonstrated above, fandom is very capable of perpetrating rape culture.

I agree, too, that some authors can handle it very well, and insightfully, and that's art done well, definitely. (It might be transformative, but this being fandom, it all is transformative. I'd agree if you'd said transgressive.)

Date: 2011-11-18 06:26 pm (UTC)
kindkit: A late-Victorian futuristic zeppelin. (Airship)
From: [personal profile] kindkit
BDSM, dub-con, rape, character a turns into a prostitute etc. etc. etc.

Consensual BDSM is a squick for a lot of people. It sometimes is for me. But it's quite different from what I understand [personal profile] eumelia's post to be about, which is stories where the sex is not fully or at all consensual. And I think it's important not to conflate consensual BDSM with rape.

Date: 2011-11-18 06:50 pm (UTC)
darth_stitch: (ARGH Stitch)
From: [personal profile] darth_stitch
No I am not equating BDSM (consensual) with rape but I do have issues with it so I just included it in my list of squicks that also has triggers for me. And I've seen far too much in the Harry Potter fandom, which is disturbing for me when the characters engaged in it are teenagers (and yes, there are authors out there who've written the characters as underage or on the other hand, engage in age-play).

Again, I am not slamming consensual BDSM. It is simply not my thing. And I only included it as an example but this is not in any way meant to convey that I equate it w/ rape.

Date: 2011-11-18 04:40 pm (UTC)
darth_stitch: (ARGH Stitch)
From: [personal profile] darth_stitch
Postscript: I forgot to mention that yes, men too, CAN be victims of sexual violence. And we know all too well that too many men are silent about the matter because of various socio-cultural factors.

Date: 2011-12-09 07:14 am (UTC)
krait: a sea snake (krait) swimming (Default)
From: [personal profile] krait
This is a really interesting, and really salient, post -- thank you!

I am coming to realise, though, that the definition of dubcon I have/use in my head is something a bit different from the one fandom at large seems to have... This post reminded me of that, and also clarified it a bit.

When I think of a story (something I'm reading, or something I'm writing) as containing "dubious consent", it's generally something where both parties are compromised in some way, i.e. the infamous shag-or-die or sex-pollen scenarios; it's dubious- rather than non-consent because both (or all) parties are consenting, but that consent is born of some kind of external pressure or broader constraint. (I notice that this matches up very well to your "dubcon is not something we have in the real world" point; there's a reason both the examples I chose there are sci-fi/fantasy type tropes!)

I'm a little horrified to find that "Stop!"--"Don't worry!" is apparently what most of the rest of fandom thinks constitutes dubcon, because to me that definitely crosses the consent line. o.O After all, if your request has been ignored once, why would you bother to repeat it and suffer rejection again? So you're now in a position where you can either submit, or escalate to physical resistance against someone you are probably still emotionally attached to: a pretty tough call, especially if you're not the physically stronger one and therefore might lose AND be more violently forced as a result...

Again, thank you for this post. Any voice of reason regarding story warnings is one I am very happy to hear! :D

Date: 2011-12-10 04:19 am (UTC)
krait: a sea snake (krait) swimming (Default)
From: [personal profile] krait
I think a more accurate definition for situations like that is "dubious agency", I wonder if it'll catch on

One could hope -- it might make finding (and more importantly for me, warning when reccing) fics a bit easier, anyway, if I could distinguish easily between the two varieties. Over the time I've been pondering this, I've started thinking of it as "constrained consent"; I may start using it as a term, just to see if it dredges up any other thoughts or reactions from others who run across it...

Date: 2011-12-10 10:03 pm (UTC)
ilthit: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ilthit
Great post! Though I need to point out that "women and female-identified people" are the same thing (unless you meant to say women and girls).

Date: 2012-01-02 12:25 am (UTC)
oaktree: a woman blows soap bubbles (Default)
From: [personal profile] oaktree
This was excellent.

Profile

eumelia: (Default)
Eumelia

June 2015

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V and Justice

V: Ah, I was forgetting that we are not properly introduced. I do not have a name. You can call me V. Madam Justice...this is V. V... this is Madam Justice. hello, Madam Justice.

Justice: Good evening, V.

V: There. Now we know each other. Actually, I've been a fan of yours for quite some time. Oh, I know what you're thinking...

Justice: The poor boy has a crush on me...an adolescent fatuation.

V: I beg your pardon, Madam. It isn't like that at all. I've long admired you...albeit only from a distance. I used to stare at you from the streets below when I was a child. I'd say to my father, "Who is that lady?" And he'd say "That's Madam Justice." And I'd say "Isn't she pretty."

V: Please don't think it was merely physical. I know you're not that sort of girl. No, I loved you as a person. As an ideal.

Justice: What? V! For shame! You have betrayed me for some harlot, some vain and pouting hussy with painted lips and a knowing smile!

V: I, Madam? I beg to differ! It was your infidelity that drove me to her arms!

V: Ah-ha! That surprised you, didn't it? You thought I didn't know about your little fling. But I do. I know everything! Frankly, I wasn't surprised when I found out. You always did have an eye for a man in uniform.

Justice: Uniform? Why I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about. It was always you, V. You were the only one...

V: Liar! Slut! Whore! Deny that you let him have his way with you, him with his armbands and jackboots!

V: Well? Cat got your tongue? I though as much.

V: Very well. So you stand revealed at last. you are no longer my justice. You are his justice now. You have bedded another.

Justice: Sob! Choke! Wh-who is she, V? What is her name?

V: Her name is Anarchy. And she has taught me more as a mistress than you ever did! She has taught me that justice is meaningless without freedom. She is honest. She makes no promises and breaks none. Unlike you, Jezebel. I used to wonder why you could never look me in the eye. Now I know. So good bye, dear lady. I would be saddened by our parting even now, save that you are no longer the woman I once loved.

*KABOOM!*

-"V for Vendetta"

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