Content Note: Rape
Claymore Recap: Teresa has decided to take young Clare under her protection, at least until they reach a human town where Clare can live and grow up as a human. But on their journey, they are being stalked by the bandit whose hand Teresa cut off.
Claymore, Episode 6: Teresa and Clare
Rape in Fiction
It's a rare piece of fiction that portrays rape sensitively and accurately. For the last two years, I've worked as an ABNA judge at Amazon, and I've also been in contact with quite a few indie authors, and I've seen too many works of fiction portray rape so wrongly that I've wanted to throw the book across the room. Lately I feel like the trend has gotten worse, possibly because Rape Is The New Dead Parents (Instant backstory! Just add rape!) and possibly because authors are anxious to recreate the million-dollar explosion that was Steig Larsson's Millennium Trilogy, and the thinking goes that if Larsson's books had rape in them, then rape must mean instant bestseller material. (Writing Pro-Tip: It doesn't.)
I'm not going to say that rape shouldn't be in fiction. We have no idea how many people currently alive have been raped in their lifetime, but it would not surprise me at all if the numbers were 20-25% of the population. I strongly believe that everyone on earth knows someone who has been raped. If you disagree and you're reading this blog entry, you're automatically wrong: if you know me, you know someone who has been raped. And now that we've established that rape victims don't walk around with neon signs on their heads (or on their blogs, as the case may be), it's worth remembering that neither do rapists, and it's very possible that everyone on earth also knows a rapist. These aren't fun realizations.
Given all that, it's easy to see why rape is in fiction: it's a horrible experience that touches almost everyone on earth in some shape or form. It's common in real life, so therefore it's common in fiction -- I get that. But at the same time, there are too many authors out there writing rapes into their fictional works without understanding what rape can be like and how to write it without losing an audience entirely.
Hence, here are Ana's Rules of Rape for fledgling authors:
1. Rapes should not be written from the rapist's point of view unless you know precisely what you are doing and why you are doing it. Wanting the reader to dislike the rapist is not a good enough reason; readers will dislike rapists fine on their own without having to see and hear everything through the filter of the rapist's point of view. By forcing the reader to experience a rape through the rapist's point of view, you are forcing the reader into a mindset that they do not want to be in, won't enjoy, and may dislike enough to put your book down and not read further. Do not abuse your reader in this manner.
2. Rapes can be written with an emphasis on what the victim is experiencing emotionally, as in "Still Missing", or they can be written from a more detached factual-description perspective, as in "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo". Both of these narrative techniques can be done well, but both can also be done very poorly. In the former case, you risk seriously triggering your readers; in the latter case, you risk alienating them if the narrative doesn't take the rape seriously. Whichever way you choose to narrate a rape, make absolutely certain that you are sensitive to both your character's and the reader's pain.
3. Rapes take many different forms. The "standard" fictional rape, characterized by brutality, sadism, and grievous bodily injury to the victim, is not the only kind of rape and is not even necessarily the most common form of rape. Understand that violent rape is not the only kind of rape, and make certain that your writing does not imply that a rape without a struggle is not a rape at all. Also understand that non-violent rape can be just as emotionally damaging to the victim -- if not more so because a lot of society will refuse to believe the victim was "actually" raped.
4. Rapes can stem from many different motives, but almost always a rape is motivated by a desire for power rather than a sexual attraction. In stranger-rapes and violent-rapes, the act of rape provides a feeling of power to the rapist that consensual sex would not. In date-rapes, it is possible that the act of rape may be seen by the rapist as an alternative to a rejected overture for consensual sex, but even in these cases the act of rape represents holding power over another human being. Therefore, when writing a rape in fiction, it is important to understand that the rapist is not motivated by the victim's attractiveness, rather the rapist is motivated by a desire to hurt, subdue, or have power over the victim.
5. Rape is never, ever the victim's fault in any way, shape, or form. Ever. Rapists rape because they are rapists, not because their victim was a certain level of attractiveness, or dressed a certain way, or in a certain situation, or drinking a certain substance, or anything else. Do not imply in your writing that the rape was somehow the fault of the victim or that the rape could have been avoided if the victim had only done X. This is called victim blaming and nothing good can come of it.
6. Rapes affect people, but do not necessarily change them. It is easy for an author to think they are being sensitive to the consequences of rape but then go overboard in their zeal. Rape can be a life-altering event, or it can be just another day in a victim's life. For most people, the effect of rape will fall somewhere between those two extremes, but it's important to remember that the effect of rape on victims is a sliding scale, not a one-size-fits-all response. Many rape victims are very sensitive to the idea that their rape is supposedly going to define them over the long-term or change their personality -- this assumption that rape must produce long-term affects on the victim can be seen as giving the rapist more power over the victim.
7. Rapes should not be included in a story without a good reason. Remember Kurt Vonnegut's 4th Rule of Fiction: every piece of your story should either advance the plot or establish a character. This applies doubly so for rapes -- if you are going to risk traumatizing your reader, there should be a reason beyond "well, Larsson did it, so I will too".
So having now said all this, how does this tie into this week's Claymore episode? Episode 5 saw Teresa and Clare attacked by a group of bandits. The bandits were initially frightened of Teresa, since she is powerful enough to easily kill the whole lot of them, but their leader reassures them that they don't need to be frightened: Claymores are forbidden to kill humans on pain of death.
The shift of mood in the group was immediate: once they realized that Teresa was effectively helpless to protect herself, the bandits began to leer at her and threaten her. Teresa reacted with amusement and told them that if sex was all they had in mind they should have said so: she'll travel with them for as long as they like until they've had their fill. She removes her clothing and the bandits are immediately repulsed -- the intense scarring on her body changes their minds and the bandits leave Teresa and Clare in peace.
Now, the first time I saw Episode 5, I felt that the writers had -- as usual -- missed the point when it comes to rape. Since rape is not about attractiveness, the fact that Teresa has a full-body scar shouldn't have suddenly changed everyone's minds. But wait and let's see if that's what the writers really meant.
In Episode 6, the wounded bandit catches up with Teresa at night. He pushes her to the ground and announces that he intends to rape her. Teresa calmly protests: he's seen her body, hasn't he? The bandit explains that he isn't interested in how pretty she is or isn't: he only cares about hurting her. Teresa closes her eyes and endures the assault, just as she has been taught to do in her Claymore training.
Here is where I changed my mind about Episode 5, and decided that maybe the authors really did understand after all. The bandits in the forest, I think, didn't let Teresa go because she wasn't "pretty enough" to rape -- I think they lost interest in raping her once they saw the marks of pain on her body that signified the extent of her training. I think they understood as Teresa understands and as this single bandit doesn't that raping Teresa is meaningless because they can't hurt her, not really. Nothing they can do to Teresa will compare to what she's already gone through as part of her training. As a result, she may submit to them, but they don't have any power over her.
This, to me, is one of the saddest things about the series: the Claymore training and day-to-day job duties are so painful and brutal that rape is a comparative walk in the park.
Rules and How They Work
Teresa is willing to submit to the bandit per the rules of the Organization, but when the bandit threatens to kill Clare, Teresa draws his sword. The bandit is confident that Teresa can't hurt him: after all, it's a Rule that Claymores can't kill humans... right?
In what is possibly my favorite moment in the series, Teresa explains to the bandit that he is confused. The rule, she says, is ultimately just that: a rule. Whether or not a Claymore chooses to follow the rule is entirely up to the individual. Teresa has a choice: she can choose to kill the man there on the spot, and accept the consequences of her action. And if he doesn't clear out immediately, she'll do exactly that.
This philosophy neatly encompasses all rules, but especially describes the life of a Claymore. These women have gone from helpless little girls, sold to the Organization as slaves and science experiments, to strong women who have a choice in how to live their life. The choice is incredibly limited, true -- obey the Organization or die -- but it is a choice. Teresa can choose to end her service with the Organization whenever she wants, and though the choice means death, it still provides her a modicum of control over her life. I imagine that small measure of control is worth quite a bit to the Claymores.
Teresa and Clare travel to the nearest town and Teresa leaves her young charge with a kind family in the village. Clare doesn't want to leave Teresa, but the woman urges her: Live among humans as a human being. This is the greatest gift I can give you. Once well away from town, however, Teresa realizes her mistake; she can give Clare a greater gift than a human life: she can give her protection.
The bandits close in on the town and Teresa arrives too late to warn the village: everyone is dead or dying. The doubts that Teresa felt during her rape -- "Is it for the sake of beings like this that we fight?" -- boil over into rage. Teresa vents her fury on the leader of the bandits and declares that they are worse scum than the yoma.
Once again, we come to the question of what defines a human and what makes a monster. The yoma are "monsters" because they are big and alien and they hunt and kill humans for food. They literally can't survive without feeding on human flesh, and so they wear the "monster" label pretty clearly. And yet these bandits kill just as much if not more than any single yoma. They kill not because they have to in order to survive, but for pleasure. Are they any less of a "monster" than a yoma just because they have human bodies?
And if Claymores are pledged to kill yoma but are forbidden to kill monstrous humans, how can we reconcile these conflicting orders? It seems clear that the Organization is less interested in protecting the innocent and more interested in... what? Protecting all humans, regardless of the consequences? Stamping out all yoma, with little regard for human safety overall? Simply running the Monster Protection Scheme in order to keep the money rolling in? Whatever the goals of the Organization, it is clear that Teresa no longer shares those goals.
After Teresa slaughters the bandits -- in a scene that seems specifically designed to make fun of Dragonball Z, and which made me laugh -- the anime cuts to Teresa's scheduled execution. She has chosen to turn herself in and suffer the consequence for her actions -- there are no exceptions, no matter who the Claymore or what the reason for her actions. As a last request, Teresa asks: what will become of Clare?
The contact from the Organization informs her that Clare is no longer Teresa's concern. Teresa rebels and refuses to submit to the execution. "I can't die yet," she thinks. "I've found a reason to live." Teresa has spent her entire life protecting humans for a living; now she's going to protect one who actually matters to her. For possibly the first time in her life, she's making a choice to live the way that seems right to her.