Saturday, March 11, 2006

Obviously, some hairy-legged feminist.

I always enjoy Ampersand's link threads, but when I see the word 'Buffy' I start making squeals of geeker joy (that's supposed to be a quote from Ted, but it may not be accurate). So I was really interested in Emma's Raping the Slayer, which analyses the portrayal of sexual violence on Buffy. The only thing more fun than watching Buffy is talking about your feminist analysis of Buffy (one day I might write a very long post about my theory on the portrayal of teenage girl's sexuality on Buffy, but you're spared that - for now). I disagreed with some of the smaller points she was making, for instance, I may being over-defensive on behalf of my secret-TV-Boyfriend, but I just don't think this is true:

Joss has always been clear that he resents some feminist analyses of it, and what he sees as an imposition of subtext.

But generally I really liked her analysis, particularly when it came to Spike's attempted rape of Buffy in Seeing Red, and the complete lack of follow-up in season 7. There were two things that most disturbed me about that plot-line, the first was that it was All About Spike. They wrote a rape plot that was all about the rapist and his quest for redemption, to the extent that the attempted rape had almost no affect on Buffy, and certainly none that was important to the plot.

The other was that getting a soul is a plot there is no real world equivalent for. This meant they could weasel out of the real world implications of what they were saying. While they were basically telling the story of a rapist who went away and came back a better person who could earn trust.

I like to believe that people can change, I'm not going to reject the possibility that once you've tried to rape someone there's no chance of you becoming a person who values women's autonomy. I wouldn't necessarily reject a fictional story that tried to talk about that possibility. But no-one who ever tried to rape a friend of mine could be anything but a rapist to me. If Spike had wandered off somewhere else entirely and played out his story of redemption there (preferably somewhere that wasn't on my TV screen), then maybe I could have stomached it. But the idea that you can achieve redemption and forgiveness from the person you tried to rape, is not a story I have any interest in.

That isn't actually what I wanted to talk about. On the comments of Emma's post someone brought up a planned Firefly episode, that I'd wanted to talk about for a while. The original source is here:
[Tim Minear, asked about eps of Firefly they didn’t get to make] hemmed and hawed and said, “Should I tell you this?… Oh well, what’s he going to do, fire me?” The original show was darker and this story was more in keeping with that tone.

It opens with Mal and Inara fighting (as they do). Mal tells her she pretends to be a lady and wants everyone to bow before her and kiss her hand but she’s just a whore. Then the Reavers attack and take Inara. While trying to get her back they learn that she had something that would make anyone who had sex with her die.

When they finally track down and board the ship they find all of the Reavers dead and Inara shaking and traumatized. They take her back to the ship and Zoe guards her room. Mal tries to get in to see her and Zoe tells him he’s the last person Inara needs to see. He pushes past her, kneels before Inara and kisses her hand.
I'd never heard of a plot like that before, so I didn't have a feminist analysis at first, just a general feeling of disgust.

My most immediate feeling of repulsion was definately at the execution of the idea. I have written about the Mal/Inara relationship before, and I'm not a fan, this just underscored all the reasons why. The most basic reason was that he did not respect the work that she did, and that seemed to me a really shitty basis for a relationship. This plotline seems to be about her earning his respect for what she does by using it to do something that he does respect (fighting). That she has to be violated and traumatised to earn his respect is so gross and repulsive, that I imagine I would never be able to watch the show again after seeing that episode. The fact that he ignores her wishes, underscores how little he actually cares about her.

But what I do find interesting is the wider question. What do other feminist think of a piece of flabotinum that means women can kill their rapists through having sex? It's not something I'd ever come accross before (although for all I know it could be a common idea in some genre I'm unfamiliar with). One of the things it reminded me of was the rape condom - but as a fictional device I think it needs to be analysed completely differently. I was particularly uncomfortable that this idea came from two men. When men write about rape, I always wonder why. What are they getting from it? What are they trying to say? But I'm not convinced that a woman could write a feminist story about it either. Because ultimately it's about suffering oppression in order to get revenge.

Also posted on Alas


  1. Anonymous12:04 am

    All I can do is agree, and show you this weapon with a similar function:

    The films on this is really interesting too.

  2. That product exists - it's the rape condom that I linked to.

    I'm just not convinced that makes a narrative about it a feminist one.

  3. Anonymous6:24 am

    The most basic reason was that he did not respect the work that she did, and that seemed to me a really shitty basis for a relationship. This plotline seems to be about her earning his respect for what she does by using it to do something that he does respect (fighting).

    FWIW, I don't agree that he doesn't respect "the work that she does." I don't see any evidence that he has a problem with prostitution. It bugs him that she tries to dress it up as something other than prostitution: because she's had "training" and serves an elite clientele and has the Alliance stamp of approval, she's a high-class "companion" who is seen as a totally different kind of person from a regular hooker. His issues with her, I think, are really a manifestation of his resentment of what he sees as the cultural pretensions of the core planets. And it's all made worse because, as much as he may resent those pretensions, including the idea that "companions" are specially trained to be the most alluring women in the universe, he's totally enamored of Inara. If it's all bullshit, then why is he falling for it?

    But I agree with you that the planned plot is icky, and it's especially icky because it seems like they were setting it up from the first episode. (Isn't it in the unaired pilot when they're about to be attacked by Reavers and Inara fetches a mysterious container of clear liquid? I've heard a fair amount of speculation about what that was, and it sounds like Minnear answered that question.) I actually think there's a lot to say about sexual violence in Firefly, and none of it is particularly good. For instance, there's a weird racial thing going on in the scene where the bounty hunter menaces Kaylee with the threat of rape. I know that race is supposed to be invisible in the Firefly universe, but it's not invisible to viewers, and that scene seemed to totally play on racist fears of black rapists. I also think there's something sort of sketchy about the way that Reavers are associated with rape. Reavers aren't explicitly racialized (and in fact are explicitly not racialized), but in this "space Western" they stand in for American Indians, and the fact that they really are cannibals and rapists strikes me as a little problematic.

    Erm, no, I don't have an unhealthy obsession with Firefly. Why do you ask?

  4. > But the idea that you can achieve redemption and forgiveness from the person you tried to rape, is not a story I have any interest in.

    I think that if you never forgive you amplify the effect of the crime within yourself. You thus make his crime greater and the same with your suffering.

    Having said that, rightious indignation is one of the pleasues of the world.

  5. I seem to recall that in the Chronicles of the Many Coloured Land by Julian May the female of the less elvish more goblinesque species have vaginal teeth of some sort. I think Julian May is a woman.

    The other fictional depiction of that sort of idea I've seen was in Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson where one of the main characters, YT, accidentally forgets to take her device out and knocks out a lover during consensual sex (he is in fact a bad guy so it all works out for the best). I liked most of Snow Crash but that part with YT was disturbing and distasteful partly because she was really young- 15-ish at best- and I just didn't like Stephenson's sexualising of her at all.

    And I don't have any indepth feminist analysis to offer but, I agree, there is something very icky about male writers who seem to be a bit too fond of rape as a theme.

  6. Shades of the death of Maui here. He was killed by the Maori goddess of the underworld, Hine Nui Te Po, when he tried to climb up her vagina (she was a giant) in order to steal her heart. She devoured him alive with the aforementioned denata.

    I should really watch more 'Buffy'. Yesterday I read a pop-culture book in the library by another feminist scholar, who claimed Buffy raped Spike or something like that. Now I'm really confused.