Throughout my years as a reader, I’ve noticed that for every few romance novels I read, a rape pops up. And then it’s casually dismissed and forgiven – like it’s all ok, he just couldn’t control his desire for her. Although real life rape is generally more about power and control than sexual desire, there are romance novels which include rape which is all about the man controlling his partner/wife, and using sex to do so.
My first experience of this was in the Calder series, by Janet Dailey. In book number one, This Calder Range the protagonist, Benteen has some serious mother and abandonment issues. As newlyweds, they set off on a somewhat harrowing journey from Texas to Montana, during which, she threatens to leave him. Now, I get that Benteen has Mommy issues, and doesn’t trust women not to abandon him. I even understand his anguish at his wife wanting to leave. What I do not understand is that he rapes her, and the consequences are that she is wary of him for a little while, until she discovers he might be visiting prostitutes while she’s denying him, and so she rushes back to his bed. The fact that we are supposed to forgive Benteen, see his reasoning behind the rape, and accept that he raped her because he loved her so much is just ridiculous to me. He used his strength and brutality as a man and did the worst thing possible to a woman, all to exert his authority and punish her for wanting to leave him. This was entirely about power and control. It is an extremely unhealthy attitude that haunted marriages until marital rape was recognised, and is still an excuse often used for abuse today. Rape is unforgivable, and a lot of women would be pleased the man who attacked them was slaking his lust elsewhere – they would not be jealous of it. This medieval attitude ruined a book I would have otherwise really enjoyed – the men in the rest of the series are really so much better.
An interesting take on rape occurs in Prisoner of My Desire by Johanna Lindsey. In this instance, there is a bit of gender bending going on, in that the heroine, Rowena, rapes a man, Warrick de Chaville, after her step brother has kidnapped him (she needs to get pregnant to secure her step brother’s lands and armies – her husband dies on their wedding day so they kidnap a man with the same hair and eye colour. She is unwilling, but the step brother threatens to kill her mother). As revenge, Warrick then kidnaps Rowena and gives her the same treatment, for he is a men hell bent on vengeance to anybody who crosses him. However, obviously, for a woman to rape a man, he must be aroused. Warrick climaxes every time Rowena rapes him, and so during his revenge, which is to be ‘like for like’ he arouses her, and ensures she orgasms. She acknowledges and is ashamed that she enjoys their coupling – which provokes an interesting discussion of ‘mental rape.’ Their bodies are willing, but their minds are not. They enjoy it, but they don’t want to. They want each other, but they wish they didn’t. What exactly does that make this? Another Johanna Lindsey novel explores this – in Secret Fire main character Dmitri slips Katherine and aphrodisiac. She begs him to take her, and he happily does. After this, he kidnaps her, and when she keeps denying to sleep with him again, he wants again gives her the aphrodisiac, knowing she won’t be able to say no. This is quite literally drug rape – but she falls in love with him, and seems to understand that he just desired her too much. This is such a bad, weird and plain wrong attitude to have about being drugged for sex. It’s just wrong. Seriously.
Whether, as in the above case, the author tries to blur the lines of rape slightly, or even romanticise it, it is, in my opinion, not best suited in romance novels. Although the success of Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty series shows that clearly there are people who enjoy reading about rape, I do not believe it should be covered in a Romantic genre between the protagonists – as no matter what the circumstances, there is nothing romantic about rape. There are books out there for people who enjoy reading about that sort of thing – I do not appreciate it invading my light and fluffy entertainment.