Damsels and dragons: representations of gender and sexual violence in contemporary epic fantasy

2017-02-09T02:05:12Z (GMT) by Prater, Lenise
Despite 40 years of feminist campaigns about sexual violence, rape myths are still widely believed. Patriarchal stories are told about rape in popular culture as well as in courtrooms. The trauma experienced by victims is still rendered invisible through commonly held understandings about the body, gender and heterosexual romance. Feminists have analysed the representation of violence in many genres, including films, romance novels, media genres and legal discourse, and recognise that myths about rape are always narrated (affirmed and denied) within a genre. As yet, however, there has been no sustained interrogation of the genre of fantasy literature and the processes whereby it justifies or undermines the primacy of patriarchal narratives of sexual assault. This thesis takes a two-pronged approach to sexual violence within the fantasy genre, examining feminist and patriarchal texts in order to pinpoint how fantasists negotiate the genre with a view to challenge (or reiterate) rape myths. I use close reading to analyse the representation of gender and rape in relation to fantasy conventions in the work of four fantasists: Fiona McIntosh, Glenda Larke, Robert Jordan and Robin Hobb. Examining how fantasy conventions, such as magic, good and evil and world-building, interact with rape narratives in non-feminist fantasy texts helps elucidate the insidious techniques fantasists can access to depoliticise representations of sexual violence. Conversely, analysing feminist fantasy in relation to the patriarchal texts they subvert provides a clearer picture of how the genre functions ideologically and which generic conventions best lend themselves to a feminist re-visioning of the world. Those who experience rape are rendered victims in Jean-François Lyotard’s sense of the term; their testimony is rendered incomprehensible. The process whereby the trauma of rape will be rendered comprehensible requires that feminists rewrite commonsense understandings of the body, the self, gender and heterosexual relationships. All of these are implicated in the patriarchal construction of women’s bodies as especially vulnerable to rape, and men’s bodies as invulnerable to rape: these constructions render the trauma of both men’s and women’s victimisation unintelligible. Genres provide frameworks for meaning-making within which these revisions must occur; they provide genre-specific impediments and solutions to the problem of representing sexual violence. While, in this thesis, I illuminate how constructions of gender in fantasy texts can often reinforce the silencing of victims, ultimately I argue that the fantasy genre can provide metaphors for sexual violence which facilitate a more nuanced understanding of sexual violence and the resulting trauma.