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Sexist Beatdown: Love Means Never Having To Say "I’m Sorry I Impregnated You While You Were Drugged And I Thought You Were A Prostitute" Edition

Well, friends, it is (for me, anyway) a fine summer afternoon. I assume many of you are eating sandwiches, thinking about your weekends, planning your strategies for getting out of work early, and what have you. That means it is time for a little light entertainment. Such as A CHAT ABOUT RAPE FANTASIES.

Yes, RAPE FANTASIES. As Amanda Hess of The Sexist pointed out in a really excellent post this week, they can be found in romance novels for ladies! A lot! This is a disturbing statement about patriarchal sexual mores. 

…Or is it? Perhaps, my friends, it is just an indication of the fact that people’s sexual fantasies are inevitably pretty disturbing! And people like them that way! Because we are all FREAKS! In this tastefully erotic edition of Sexist Beatdown, Amanda Hess and I venture into the wilds of human sexuality.

“The wilds of human sexuality,” by the way, contains at least one person with a fetish related specifically to the back rooms of Chinese restaurants. Also, someone who likes to simulate phone sex with Chandler Bing. 

ILLUSTRATION: Could I BE any more aroused?

SADY: hi there! i’m glad we’re taking on something tasteful and uncontroversial this week. such as RAPE FANTASIES!

AMANDA: Yes, and furthermore, I believe that in order to fully haze Sotomayor this week, I think it’s time we create the New Litmus Test. The New Litmus Test is: Rape fantasies? Eh?

SADY: Well, I have to tell you that I really loved your take on the whole matter.

  And this is tied to a personal anecdote about the first romance novel I ever owned. May I tell you my personal anecdote?

AMANDA: please.

SADY: All right. So I had these two cousins, who were in their teens when I was about eleven. And they felt I needed to get a boyfriend, and gave me many romance novels in order to further my boyfriend-related education.

AMANDA: cool.

SADY: One of the romance novels they gave me had the following plot: a young woman is betrothed to a wealthy family friend, whom she has never met. She wanders around the city to process this, with a high fever, and stumbles into a BORDELLO, where she is given LAUDANUM. in this drugged state, a doctor comes, looking for a prostitute! he is sent into the drugged young lady’s room, due to an entirely understandable error, and they end up fucking like two wildcats, or, more accurately, one wildcat and one seriously drugged and basically unconscious young woman. then in the morning she wakes up, remembers none of it, and goes home to meet her fiance. can you guess who he is?

AMANDA: the doctor?


AMANDA: but … she’s been sullied!

SADY: and she is like, “i don’t know who you are, Dr. Rapington, but for some reason I feel totally uncomfortable having sex with you.” but eventually she learns to love him and his prostitute-raping ways and also she gets pregnant and has his baby.

AMANDA: i see. and so, did you finally land a boyfriend?

SADY: um, i was never able to land enough laudanum, as a middle-schooler, to really make the scenario work. i had to try other methods, such as consensual makeouts.

AMANDA: do you remember, did a lady write that book?

SADY: well, yes, the name on the cover was a lady name.

AMANDA: sounds progressive then. So: i have a rape fantasy lit story as well!

SADY: hurrah!

AMANDA: in college, i worked for this “women’s fiction / erotica” literary agent. my job was to read the unsolicited manuscripts, which were not just any unsolicited manuscripts, but unsolicited manuscripts for erotic romance novels targeted at women.

SADY: oh, lord. you had the best job in the world, it appears!

AMANDA: i grew up fast that summer.

SADY: hahaha

AMANDA: anyway, a lot of the people who liked to target their erotic romance novels at women were dudes. i remember one dude’s fantasy, err, novel, in particular: aman and a woman meet at a Chinese restaurant. they’re acquainted in some way maybe they work together. anyway, they eat some lo mein or whatever and one thing leads to another, and all of a sudden some old mystical Chinese woman is beckoning them into the back room, of course.

SADY: right, as you do

AMANDA: where they eat this magical Chinese herb, okay, and then the woman falls into some sexy trance.

SADY: this sounds totally realistic. i’m compelled to learn more!

AMANDA: so—paraphrasing here—he ends up with his penis inside her, and then his penis magically expands, until it’s this really long magical penis that goes through her vagina, up past her entire body and then pokes out of her mouth. thus raping her in two orifices, at once! and i thought, i wonder if this guy thought i would actually pass this on to a literary agent to consider it for publication? or did he just want the intern to read his bizarre one-dude double penetration rape fantasy? and i realized: it was probably both.

SADY: Yowza. I mean: leaving aside this dude’s one (RESTAURANT-SPECIFIC) rape fantasy, I get that people’s fantasies, in general, are weird. I knew a girl who worked at a phone sex operation and one guy would call her up, constantly, to discuss his fantasies about the cast of “Friends.” She would play Rachel, and sometimes maybe Phoebe; he would be Chandler.

AMANDA: wow. this guy fantasized about being chandler! chandler would make some hilarious ironic comment about this, were he here.

SADY: but, in your article about romance-novel rapings, you do touch on the fact that some women have rape fantasies. and they totally do! because people’s fantasies are weird! but what worries me is when the raping just (a) isn’t addressed as such, or (b) is in EVERY SINGLE ROMANCE NOVEL, which – it was a major part of the romance novels I read as a pre-teen, I’ll tell you that.

AMANDA: yeah, i think the world of the romance novel is an interesting space for discussion of the rape fantasy, because it’s a space that is a) largely written by and for women, and b) embracing (probably too much) of what is a very taboo fantasy for women to have. But at the same time, these novels are also c) EXTREMELY derivative and conformist, and one wonders what exactly they are conforming to.

SADY: right. like, at one point, i just did a study of romance novels, because they’re one of the only “acceptable” outlets (or were, for a while) of porn for ladies. and they follow a very recognizable script. like, the heroine is never “classically beautiful,” and she’s often though not always working-class, and they always have to hate each other at first, and etc. and when the rape thing crops up so often (along with all of the stuff about “taking” and “possessing” and etc.) it just seems like part of the script is that women aren’t sexual and men are and men have to “break them in,” as it were, so that they can enjoy sex. which is remarkably similar to many rationales of actual real-live rapists! what with the “she wanted it” and “she said no but didn’t mean it” business we all know and fear.

AMANDA: and yet … people, like, read these books. and supposedly identify with them. women-people.

SADY: yeah… that’s totally true. and i think we can talk about rape as a real-live thing that is unconscionably evil, and also own up to the fact that a rape FANTASY (which is pretty much within your control, seeing as it exists only in your head) is not the same thing.again: dude porn is almost always based on some kind of sense of transgression. so lady porn might be the same way, for similar reasons. maybe ladies enjoy this stuff because it’s one of the most extreme taboos in existence, if you are a lady-person.

AMANDA: yeah. ive always thought that “rape fantasy” was a bit of a misnomer, though i guess calling it “actively desiring someone to have sex with you while pretending as if you don’t actively desire it fantasy” takes some of the punch out of it

SADY: yeah, exactly. i mean, “rape fantasy” is such a contradiction in terms. but i think a lot of people’s sex fantasies are about (a) feeling that what you’re doing is “dirty” and (b) pushing past the feelings of “dirtiness.” and having a fantasy that is about losing control is a really easy way of just not feeling “dirty” or “guilty” in a way that inhibits your enjoyment.

AMANDA: and if the guilt extends all the way from your vagina, through your organs, and out your mouth: bonus.

SADY: well, you know: i suspect that dude is not someone you’d want to be trapped in an elevator with. i do give him credit, however, for not including matthew perry.


  1. Sarah wrote:

    Are you not following Smart Bitches, Trashy Novels? For all your smart snarky feminist/romance-novel-reading needs?

    Rape fantasies in romance novels are becoming somewhat passe, although they were and are hugely popular when it comes to "historical fiction", where women imagine themselves being all pure and chaste until they get raped by their future husband…

    The second real romance novel I read featured a scene where one of the secondary characters discovered that her husband had been visiting a brothel with a friend of his, instead of shtupping her at home. She's incredibly horny and besides that wants to bear him an heir, so she pays the brothel to let her wear a mask and go in the place of their usual woman. It turns out that her husband is totally in to sloppy seconds, so she's gotta sleep with his friend first. Good times! Then I think the mask gets ripped off and the husband is like, "Dear god! What have I done! Slept with my own wife???"

    Yeah, needless to say I had some pretty screwed up views about marriage after reading that book at the ripe old age of 13…

    Friday, July 17, 2009 at 10:07 am | Permalink
  2. belmanoir wrote:

    I think the type of scene you're talking about in romance novels was much more common in the 80s and 90s than it is now.

    It's a weird gray area for me because I actually love erotica and porn about rape, but it bothers me a LOT in romance. I think because for me, I read romance not so much for the sexual fantasy as for the RELATIONSHIP fantasy. But I also feel like it would be totally hypocritical of me to say that those scenes are anti-feminist when I'm happily reading rape-y fanfiction in the other window, even though it's sometimes really tempting.

    Also, Sarah, do you remember the name of that book? It sounds AMAZING.

    Friday, July 17, 2009 at 1:13 pm | Permalink
  3. Ashley wrote:

    I've heard some pretty dangerous things said about rape fantasies (you do NOT want to read what old school psychoanalysts have to say about it), so I think it's really important to have a feminist counterpoint to that. The danger is in the idea that actually, women just love to be raped.

    Personally, I think it's pretty obvious that what's going on is that female sexuality in our culture is constructed as passive, and we are socialized to put our sexual energy toward being attractive to the male gaze. So the biggest sexual charge for a woman who is well socialized will be being considered sexually attractive by a man. At the same time, we're socialized to deny our own sexual urges. So as a fantasy (NOT as a reality), rape represents being irresistably attractive, and it also allows a woman to imagine having sex without being a bad bad slutty lady.

    Seems pretty simple to me, actually. The rape fantasy functions as a way for women to make their sexual urges socially acceptable. Which says a lot about what is socially acceptable in our culture.

    Not to say that women who have rape fantasies are any more indoctrinated into patriarchy than women who don't… To some extent, rape fantasies can also be a way of taking control of a terrible and uncontrolable situation (living with the constant threat of rape, as all women do). I think everyone deals with the pressures we face in different ways, and whatever gets you through is cool.

    The main thing that has to be clear, I think, is that it is impossible to want to be raped. If you want sex, it's not rape. That's kind of how the whole "rape" thing works.

    Friday, July 17, 2009 at 1:31 pm | Permalink
  4. Eli Reed wrote:

    One of the first very sexy sex scenes I read in a romance novel featured the two main characters getting it own in the woods and the word loam was used. I'd get embarressed and flashback to the book whenever I saw dirt.

    This is how fetishes are born, people. I'm surprised I don't need my sex partners to throw soil at me in order to get off. (Although afterwards, he could stand up and say, "You just got soiled!" and oh how we would laugh.)

    A trope of the rape-y novels that really disturbed me as a teen was the ones where the brother does some stupid shit, such as stealing from the rich businessman.

    But instead of him going to jail, which, naturally, couldn't be allowed to happen to the boy, it is somehow negotiated that his protective older sister will become the wife (sex slave).

    Sis always ends up wanting to sleep with the man in spite of herself. And though they have a rough start they always end up madly in love, and he turns out to be a "good guy" and no one is like, "Dude, good guys don't force girls to pay off their brother's debt in vagina dollars."

    Friday, July 17, 2009 at 1:42 pm | Permalink
  5. X. Trapnel wrote:

    @Ashley "If you want sex, it's not rape. That's kind of whole the whole 'rape' thing works."

    I'm a bit ambivalent about this way of putting it, because 'want' expresses a (partially opaque) mental state. Versus, say, "choose," which for all its very real problems, (in my view) refers to a [speech] act, a performance–which may or may not correspond to wanting.

    Isn't a focus on (misogynist judgments of) 'wanting' part of what goes wrong when rapists defend themselves with "but she wanted it" or "but she's a [someone presumed to always want sex]"? Yes, part of it is that this isn't true or even sincere, but part of it is that it's irrelevent–*wanting* alone isn't consent; you have to *choose*.

    The flipside, though, is that framing things like this–with choice rather than desire as central to not-rape–makes it harder to say that, e.g., wanting rape is logically impossible (though *choosing* it is). People can want things without choosing them, even things like self-destruction. But wanting isn't consent.

    This is sort of rambling, but I think that distinction may be central to the rape fantasy idea–it's about wanting, and having that want satisfied, without having to choose (and I think it's female sexual *agency* that's particularly stigmatized, moreso than desire as such), and of course without any bad consequences (hence the fantasy).

    Friday, July 17, 2009 at 3:04 pm | Permalink
  6. sylviasproblem wrote:

    I see that someone immediately pointed you toward Smart Bitches, Trashy Books for further reading in this vein, but I would like to second that recommendation. (And perhaps also Tan and Wendell's book, Beyond Heaving Bosoms, which is a very funny guide to the history, literary tropes, gender politics and ridiculous cover illustrations of the genre.)

    Friday, July 17, 2009 at 5:27 pm | Permalink
  7. Megan wrote:

    OMG VAGINA DOLLARS! Eli, I love you.

    Also, to Ashley's "The rape fantasy functions as a way for women to make their sexual urges socially acceptable. Which says a lot about what is socially acceptable in our culture."

    I wanted to second that. (And it was brilliantly phrased.)

    I have a pretty hard time thinking of any piece of popular culture where women's sexuality is not passive. Even if it's not rape-rape – movies, books, tv shows, romantic songs, etc, etc. The woman doesn't WANT to, because good women don't. But she is swept away in spite of herself. She consents by being unable to resist. And so we all think that that is what consent is.

    Aside: I had a boyfriend once who happened to be my boyfriend right after the rapist boyfriend. So after an afternoon of being just absolutely badgered and harassed by the second boyfriend to have sex, and repeatedly explaining that I was in a fearful state and did not want to, I said in exasperation, "Why don't you just shut up and when I want to, I'll let you know." And he looked at me, aghast, and said, "But… then we NEVER will."

    And I looked at him aghast. And broke up with him within weeks.

    As well as illustrating how I have picked a lot of jerks to date, I think it does illustrate a not-uncommon attitude about women and consent. Just look at rape debates when dudes jump in to freak out about how if we had a better conviction rate then every woman with morning-after-regret would start throwing around rape accusations.

    Friday, July 17, 2009 at 8:41 pm | Permalink
  8. ChelseaWantsOut wrote:

    Just wanted to pop in and say that Ashley is very smart and Eli Reed is very funny.

    Also, I became aroused by something very, very embarrassing the other day that I am not going to talk about in detail because my dad apparently reads all my Tiger Beatdown comments since I linked him to my guest post. Hi, Dad.

    Friday, July 17, 2009 at 10:17 pm | Permalink
  9. MariaS wrote:

    @X. Trapnel "Isn't a focus on (misogynist judgments of) 'wanting' part of what goes wrong when rapists defend themselves with "but she wanted it" or "but she's a [someone presumed to always want sex]"? Yes, part of it is that this isn't true or even sincere, but part of it is that it's irrelevent–*wanting* alone isn't consent; you have to *choose*."

    Your examples don't fit well with discussing women's choice and agency. These rapist defences centre on the rapist in effect speaking for the woman, voicing HIS interpretation of what she "wanted" – the "signs" of her "wanting it" he grasps at to avoid being held accountable for rape (or that some men generally interpret as a woman inviting sexual attention, even if those men do not actually assault anyone) are always nebulous things like her smiling at him, talking to him, inviting him in, what she's wearing, her being a sex worker, and so on – never a woman actually voicing enthusiastic consent or taking sexual initiative. Only the person themselves can state what they themselves wanted – if they didn't want to be sexual with that person at that time, in that place, in that way, it was rape.

    Imagining or acting a fantasy is something you choose & want. The impossibility of choosing/wanting rape remains. Wanting & choosing IS at the core of consent. I think that Ashley's comment above is spot on in its interpretation of this fantasy of being forced or taken as regards the sexual passivity socialised in women.

    I rarely see women characters in film/tv drama actively express sexual choice. For example, I have no idea whether, in Lost, Kate is more attracted to Jack or to Sawyer. She is involved with both at different times, but never articulates her feelings about either. Another example is of course the "romantic" stalker plot – man pursues woman, in the end she realises (inexplicably) that she is in love with him.

    Saturday, July 18, 2009 at 1:55 pm | Permalink
  10. X. Trapnel wrote:

    @Maria, darnit, my reply got eaten. Short version: maybe my examples and exposition was bad, but I really think it's important and helpful to separate wanting, as a mental/emotional state, from choosing, as something one might do to fulfill that want. (And it's particularly a problem that female sexual *choice* is even more invisible in our culture than female sexual *desire*, precisely because it invites the dangerous belief that choice is important *only because* it is evidence of desire.) It's just not true that only the person in question knows what they want, whether with regards to sex or anything else. But even if it were *true* that a person wanted sex, that doesn't make it any less rape without *choosing* it.

    Sunday, July 19, 2009 at 3:41 pm | Permalink
  11. berryblade wrote:

    "AMANDA: yeah. ive always thought that "rape fantasy" was a bit of a misnomer, though i guess calling it "actively desiring someone to have sex with you while pretending as if you don't actively desire it fantasy" takes some of the punch out of it"

    That actually made me "lol"

    Monday, July 20, 2009 at 7:13 pm | Permalink
  12. Rachael wrote:

    belmanoir, I'm like that too! I often read erotica with rape scenes, but they have to call it what it is, and he can't win the woman over in the end. I don't like it when it's portrayed as just a "mistake" he made, or proof of the "passion" he has for her, or something she "needed." That's why I probably couldn't stand one of those kinds of romance novels, unless it was for the lulz factor.

    As for the issue of desire vs. choice, I want to mention something. Even if a woman "desires" to be "raped," if a man rapes her without her express permission, then he is a rapist. Her choice doesn't matter to him. If he cared, he would discuss her desires and boundaries with her first.

    Saturday, July 25, 2009 at 8:45 pm | Permalink