Sometimes, as a person who writes things and occasionally lets people read them, there is a deep desire to write about something in particular. That’s what we call “inspiration”.
Sometimes there is no inspiration, but one writes one anyway because it is expected. It is also possible to write one’s way into inspiration through diligence. At other times, a subject simply comes up on so many occasions in a short span of the time that one feels compelled to throw one’s quill in the ring.
The gratuitous rape of female characters in fiction is my number one literary pet peeve. I have abandoned one book outright because of it and soured on another that I had quite enjoyed right up until the end. A few weeks ago I was keeping my brother company during a street-sweeping shift and we were discussing the Kill Bill movies, the only Quentin Tarantino movies I somewhat enjoy. He had never made it past the opening scenes due to to the rape of the comatose “Bride”, Uma Thurman’s character. I had actually forgotten that that part even happened, because I usually fast forward or change the channel until it’s over. It’s unnecessary to the story. The Bride’s presumed loss of her child is enough motivation for vengeance, the rape of her insensible body seems like a grotesque bid at titillation.
This week, author Maggie Stiefvater expressed her disgust with the phenomenon of (generally male) authors using rape as a fallback method to damage female characters. As though being raped is the only interesting/significant/legitimate way to harm a female character or create tension. Some respondents to her Tweets/Facebook post/blog post asserted that this is because rape is “the worst thing that can happen to a woman”. Hmph. It is my feeling that traditional masculinity attaches far more importance to sex and sexual purity than the average woman does, and male writers often don’t realize that if given a choice between being raped and some other horrible thing happening, a woman might well choose to be raped. Furthermore, rape is a violent act that leaves a female character just as pretty/sexy/what-have-you as she was before, struggling internally. Ew, guys. Ew. In good books, girls get to be just as ugly as the boys. Whether that’s spiritually, emotionally, physically, or mentally. I imagine the “worst thing” would vary from woman-to-woman, just like it would vary from man-to-man.
That must be what has gone wrong here! These writers, their imaginations are broken! To help these limited authors, I have compiled a handy list of dramatic events that might lead to a better story than a female getting raped just because you can’t think of anything else to do to her:
100 Things That Can Happen to a Female Character Other Than Rape:
1. Loss of a child.
3. Entire family sold into slavery and separated.
4. Sold into slavery by her father/mother.
5. Accidental death of a beloved sibling at character’s own hand.
6. Loss or damage of a sense: sight for an artist, taste for a chef, hearing for a musician/linguist. Be creative!
7. Forced to choose which of their children/siblings/parents/loved ones survives in a life-or-death situation.
8. Being widowed.
9. Face burned by acid (perhaps this character is vain or makes a living on looks and possesses few other skills).
10. Spent a life achieving competency and striving for success in a career, only to discover just before reaching the pinnacle that her male co-workers still see her more as a collection of body parts and orifices than an accomplished professional (and she is prevented from further advancement by this fact).
11. Wanting children and being infertile at a time when fertility treatment/surrogacy/adoptions options are limited.
12. Coerced into having an abortion.
13. Chooses to have an abortion and regrets it.
14. Serious athlete becomes first cut from Olympic team in the last year she’s able to compete.
15. Being killed.
16. Contracts an incurable disease from a committed partner due to partner’s infidelity.
17. Get leprosy.
18. Finds her soulmate and falls deeply in love, only to be permanently separated after a short period of time (by distance, death, banishment…again, be creative!)
19. Gives up her family/homeland/true form to pursue a dream that turns out to be unattainable, and is unable to return.
20. Discovers inarguably that her mother never loved her, and doubts her worth and lovability ever after. Which of course might cause her to sabotage any new attachments.
21. Watching a beloved spouse fall in love with another person, gradually coming to hate her and eventually leaving her and their children.
22. Being slowly tortured to death. Bits of ears cut off, toenails pulled, be creative!
23. Being born with a deformity or condition that causes her to be judged on sight and outcast for life.
24. Being burnt alive, to the brink of death, and brought back to suffer with raw nerve endings and melted skin.
25. Haunted by the victim/memory of a crime she committed, which spoils even the smallest moments of happiness.
26. Kept as a zoo exhibit.
27. Dying and being brought back to life as an animated corpse, grotesque to all who encounter her and unable to lead a normal life, but unable to die again.
28. Discovering that the person she’s married and has children with is the parent who abandoned her at birth.
29. Being chained to a rock and having a vulture eat out her vital organs each day, only to have them grow back at night.
31. Being a soldier at the front lines of a brutal and bloody battle, watching friends and allies kill and be killed. Perhaps commanding, and being forced to make the command decisions that take lives. Yes, you sexist jackass, women can be soldiers and military commanders. Write it as sci-fi if you think it’s so hard to believe.
32. Being kept as a prisoner in a tower/space station/bubble under the sea/BE CREATIVE DAMMIT, able to see the world but not take part in its wonders.
33. Made a deal with God to be celibate for life in exchange for being healed of a fatal disease, meets super-sexy soulmate.
34. Almost rescued spouse from land of the dead, but lost them due to doubt at the last instant before reaching safety.
35. Assist the only person she’s ever loved in performing tasks that will save his/her life, only to discover that the last task she aided them in helped them get with their crush.
36. Be uninterested in housewifery/babymaking, and pretty badass with weapons, but not allowed to fight to defend her homeland because she’s got ladybits.
37. Married person of her dreams only to have her family kill them to “rescue” her after only a few days.
38. Develop condition that prevents her from ever touching another being again without permanently harming them.
39. Falsely accused of murder/molestation/witchcraft/be creative.
40. Child abducted and harmed before being returned to her.
41. Discover that she has somehow been impregnated without her knowledge, and not by her fiancé/partner/spouse.
42. Be abandoned on an uninhabited planet.
43. Be in an isolated location with a close knit-team of friends who are being murdered one by one.
44. Go away to a school for the gifted, only to have highly trained doctors crack open her skull and re-program her brain without her consent.
45. Be isolated from her loved ones over time by an abusive significant other. Believes that she “deserves it” or “it’s in her best interest”.
46. Be willingly abandoned by first her parents and then her siblings.
47. Watch a loved one die of an incurable, wasting disease.
48. Live in penthouse of a Tokyo high-rise when the zombie apocalypse begins. Be out of groceries.
50. See her father killed by her uncle, then sees her mom marry that same uncle before the body’s cold.
51. Be tricked into killing an entire planet of beings without her knowledge.
52. Be tricked into killing an entire planet of beings with her knowledge.
53. Discovers that her boyfriend sparkles in sunlight.
54. Discovers that she was born male, but her circumcision went awry and that’s why she’s always felt different from the other girls.
55. Have everything/everyone that she loves killed or destroyed systematically as punishment, but be left alive to suffer.
56. Dares a friend to do something, and watches as they accidentally die in doing it.
57. Travels with her simple-minded friend/charge and protects them in all cases, but is forced to kill them in an act of mercy before an enraged lynch mob gets their hands on said friend.
58. Watches a sibling become powerfully evil and is the only one who can put an end to their evil tyranny – by killing them.
59. Becomes a vigilante hero defending her city/country/world from death and destruction, only to see herself despised by the very people she protects.
60. Has her lover/partner/spouse participate in a plot against her (to rob her of her power/position/peace/life/be creative I said!)
61. Is limited to watching/listening to/reading solely forms of entertainment which involve Jennifer Aniston for the rest of her life.
62. Holds a position of power in a highly regimented society and undergoes a spiritual awakening that puts her at odds with everyone in her world. Is unable to share/express this for fear of death.
63. Develops an addiction that causes her to destroy all relationships and things of value in her life in pursuit of the thing/person she’s addicted to, but is unable to kick the habit. A prisoner in her own body.
64. Loss of a pet with whom she shared a deep and enduring bond.
65. Endures unremitting bad luck and hardship while her best friend enjoys limitless success and good fortune. Discovers that said friend bartered her failure for their success.
66. Has another take credit for her life’s work and receive wealth and accolades while she continues to toil in poverty/obscurity.
67. Her life’s work turns out to be something that severely hurts/kills people to the point of decimating the population (a component of a WMD, a vaccine/medication with terrible side effects, research organisms released by ignorant protesters, creative, creative, creative)
68. Be tattooed with profanity and crude phrases all over her body in bold, bright lettering.
69. Discovers her romantic partner’s horrifying secret that makes her afraid to leave for fear of retribution: serial killer, child molester, mob career, carnivorous alien observing our Earth ways, here’s where that creativity comes in again!
70. See her relationship with the love of her life bust up after a catastrophic event, only to watch from afar as they go on to lead a happy, fulfilling life with a new love while she continues to suffer alone.
71. Live a life of deprivation, desperate to survive but be powerless to change your circumstances. Be brutally smacked down by loss/destruction/violence whenever she attempts to make a change.
72. Watch an idiot elder/male/favored sibling inherit the family business/wealth/empire and foolishly squander it while she toils day in and day out to keep it afloat.
73. Give up a child for adoption, and never see/hear from them again. Discover later that their new family was much more horrible or much more wonderful than she ever could have been.
74. Be separated from a loved one by a great distance and then a catastrophic event, endure great hardship to reunite only to have them killed in front of her the moment before they are back in her arms.
75. Bring about the apocalypse by accident.
76. Lay your heart bare before the person you love more than anyone in the world, and be laughed at. Perhaps spit upon.
77. A lady’s parents are murdered as part of a plot to overthrow the government, and she must go on the lam and watch from afar as an evil despot takes over her country and makes her people suffer.
78. A loved one is possessed by a malevolent force that causes them to maim/kill, and in order to banish the force the character’s loved one must be killed as well.
79. Discovers cure for cancer in a rare organism and shares her findings with the world just before accidentally obliterating the last known sample in a lab accident.
80. Her partner wins 100% custody of her child and she must watch from afar as the child grows without making contact, on pain of incarceration.
81. She writes the Great American Novel, and it is a smashing success but for reasons completely opposite to her intent. Wildly misunderstood. She is praised endlessly for concepts that abhor/disgust her.
82. She was a prolific, but unappreciated, artist during her time. She died in poverty and must watch from the afterlife as her work gains a tremendous following, sells for millions of dollars at auction and is hung in the most prominent museums. Bonus points if its intent/message is misunderstood.
83. She designs a building/spaceship/bridge/(creative idea) here that collapses and kills everyone inside/on it due to a materials substitution by the contractors who assembled it (or lack of maintenance or some other factor beyond her control). She is blamed for designing it.
84. She goes on a quest to save something/one.
85. She kills a sacred animal/profanes a temple/messes up a divine plan and becomes cursed.
86. She is transfigured into an animal/object/intangible thing like an echo. Perhaps partially transfigured, given donkey ears or flippers.
87. Her spirit/soul/life force is somehow separated from her physical body.
88. She sells her soul to the devil.
89. She is a member of a chosen class close to a divinity who joins a rebellion against said divinity.
90. She fights alongside a divinity to defend against a rebellion.
91. She wins the unwinnable, solves the unsolvable, or beats the unbeatable.
92. She knowingly sacrifices her life for a cause.
93. She has consensual sex as part of a bargain to obtain her end. She can obtain the end or be double-crossed.
94. She hits it big and discovers the price of fame.
95. She throws a barbecue and accidentally gives everyone in attendance mad cow disease thanks to undercooked ground beef. They wisely avoid the chicken, which she eats and develops salmonella.
96. She loses her job as an obstetrician and the only job she can find is a position euthanizing animals at a shelter.
97. Develops a condition that causes her to become a veiny, supernaturally strong, violent monster when angered.
98. She follows someone/-thing into an alternate dimension and finds herself caught up in a conflict between the major powers of that land.
99. She is crowned Queen of the Pirates
100. She is not raped.