Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Rape culture: The case of Marata Eros

I recently came across a discussion on Goodreads about a book by a relatively new author, Marata Eros. The book is Reapers and it's getting quite a bit of discussion.

Why? Well, as you'd expect by now, there's a bit of an issue involving the author posting the following:

*REAPERS is a 21,000 word/72 page mixed genre paranormal novella (1-2 hours reading time) in the following categories: Erotica/horror with an undertone of romance. 

**WARNING- possible objectionable material: This book is intended for an adult audience and contains marginal consentRAPE, multiple partners, forced breeding, vampire sex, and oral play.

** **A note from the author: the above cautionary qualifier is in place (as it has been from the beginning), so that readers may make an educated choice prior to the download of this erotic story. After receiving twelve, one-star reviews in which the reader chose a story that did not suit their taste, I elected to bold the key wording above. Further: TDB novella series is an erotic-driven romance. This means that the sexual context of the story is primary and the romance is secondary. In subsequent installments, romance is flavored a little more strongly but does not overtake the erotic element. This is the first installment and is not a "stand-alone" as such. Thank you.

 Update: Reviewers who post a one-star rating for content they've been warned about, have only one review (for this work) and whom are not verified purchasers of said work are suspect.

Needless to say, if the term "badly behaving author" isn't being bandied about now, it's only a matter of time. All I'm going to say about this is that it's entirely possible for someone to leave a review without a "verified purchase" point. It's optional and not everyone likes using it. It's also available on Barnes & Nobles, and there are some that like posting reviews on multiple sites or specifically on Amazon because it's more visible. Specifically saying that a review is suspect for this is sort of bad business because while it is slightly suspicious, you could say the same for the reviewers that gave positive reviews to this book and other books by indie authors. Especially since not all of the positive reviews have the "verified" label on them either. That label is no guarantee of the review being genuine. There's also some drama over someone going into various reviews and commenting.

Now here's where it gets interesting. Does a book deserve a lower rating for having content the reader finds controversial? Yes and no. In the end it boils down to whether or not the reader likes the story and when you write erotica with predominant rape themes, you're going to get criticism. ESPECIALLY if you publish in any format where it's accessible by the general public. After posting some content warnings, readers should expect to see rape portrayed in an overly glamorized and romanticized manner. However that doesn't mean that they can't comment on the way the story is written, whether or not it's believable for the main part, yadda yadda. If they went into it expecting to dislike it due to the rape themes, they need to be honest about that in the review and use it as a disclaimer at the top. There's no shame in getting a book due to hype, whether negative or positive. It's how I discovered Fifty Shades of Grey, the book everyone loves to hate or hates to love. You just need to be honest about what your mindset was going into it because that very much plays a part in how you perceive the book.

Rape erotica does exist, obviously, but I do need to stipulate that while it endorses it within the bounds of the story, most authors and readers do not endorse it in real life. It's akin to how you can have people that enjoy watching things like "Faces of Death" or play violent video games, yet wouldn't harm a fly. This isn't always the case, but I need to stress that these are are not the norm.

So other than the idea of a blossoming potential author drama, this brings up a more interesting question and something that really should be more of a topic for discussion than whether the author should or shouldn't have commented at all on the negative reviews. Why is it that people like reading rape literature or indulging in rape fantasies in general?

One answer is obviously that it is a form of escapist literature. An article for Psychology Today states that many women feel that it allows them to go into fantasies and actions that they wouldn't otherwise have liked. It also plays into the idea that the woman in the fiction or the woman in the roleplaying is such a hottie that the guy can't help them self. There are other reasons, but ultimately they fall along similar themes to where the women feel like they're entertaining ideas that they wouldn't otherwise have.

But this brings up the idea of whether or not it's healthy. There are different levels of fantasies involving rape or force. Some involve a token amount of protest before pretenses are completely thrown to the wayside in favor of completely consensual sex. Others continue the roleplaying until it's completely over.

I honestly don't know what to think about the idea of rape as erotica. On one hand I find it disgusting because I don't understand how anyone can romanticize rape. It's disturbing to me and I can understand why so many people are having such a strong reaction against the book and against the idea of anyone conceivably enjoying any rape erotica or rape play. Then again, another part of me keeps reminding me that liking such things does not mean that they actually condone the actual act of rape. After all, the fictionalized portrayals of rape are usually so overly glamorized to where they rarely resemble the actual act. While I've not set out to read rape erotica, anyone that reads online erotica as a whole will inevitably come across it in some format. Most of what I've read, which admittedly isn't much, is about as accurate a portrayal of traditional rape as "Debbie Does Dallas" is an accurate portrayal of the cheerleading profession. I want to stress traditional rape, as rape isn't limited to the traditional perception of such an encounter. Rape can happen in so many different formats, such as one person using something to get a consent they otherwise wouldn't have gotten (usually drug or alcohol related). For some rape lit might bring up shades of rape that they or someone they have known has gone through. Rape isn't just "pin her down and take her while she's screaming no", after all.

In the end this is a rather grey area that isn't easily solved by saying "don't read" or "you should expect this". Anyone writing in the rape erotica genre and publishing it in any mainstream format should expect a backlash. You might write something that is perceived as being well written (as in the case of the Marquis de Sade). You might write something that has a huge following. But as soon as it's out there in the mainstream, you're going to get flak for it. Look at the reaction to FSOG, where the sex is entirely consensual. If people are going to talk about a little slap and tickle in their erotica, they're going to talk about it when you're portraying outright rape. It's the responsibility of the author to understand that there will always be people complaining about this sort of literature based upon its content. Then again, as readers we need to try to approach the situation and any reviews about this genre with extreme caution and diplomacy. After all, this is a situation that isn't easy to paint in black and white. It's really hard for me to type out anything that provides an argument in defense of rape lit, as I find it morally disgusting, but I feel that outright condemning it without at least trying to discuss it in some depth isn't really explaining either side.

The only thing I can say without hesitation in this scenario is that Eros should have clearly marked the book with a disclaimer from the start. It would have circumvented a lot of the controversy over this book, which pretty much all started from people picking up the book without knowing it was rape erotica. After that point? It becomes a little harder to pick sides as to whether rape erotica is right or wrong since it ultimately boils down to individual cases.


I do want to state that this disclaimer has not always been labeled as such on the books. The series was initially entitled The Druid Breeders and the content was originally labeled as such: (taken via Barnes and Nobles)


A paranormal erotic vampire romance novella.

Novellas 2 & 3, BLED & HARVEST, available now!

The vampires are a dying race, their females sterile. When it's discovered that human females of Druid ancestry can be viable breeders...the harvest begins.

The thing is, this doesn't openly identify it as rape erotica or erotica that plays with rape or forced consent. I again must stress that when you release controversial erotica into the mainstream public, you have to be extra careful to specify that this features the concept of rape as a form of erotica. The author isn't legally obligated to specify this, but when you figure that the general public has freaked out over books that feature BDSM between two willing and fully consenting adults, they're probably not going to react well to "Surprise! Rapesex!" portrayed as something to be titillated or aroused by. The public reaction to the Japanese game RapeLay would also second this, and the "rape as entertainment/erotica/gameplay/etc" subculture is marginally more visible there. Even if everything was clearly labeled, at some point you're still going to get some guff over it because the idea of any subversive behavior being placed in a positive light is going to attract debate. That's ultimately it. At some point you can either embrace the dialogue and use it as an opportunity to open a conversation about the merits and/or downfalls of rape literature. I'd imagine that there's a good many that just saw "free book" and downloaded it, having never experienced rape erotica. This is a good chance to educate rather than lambast.

Of course us readers now have an obligation too. Since the theme is now very visible, it's not fair to negatively rate a book because you dislike the idea of rape as entertainment. The author does have the freedom to write as she pleases as long as it's obviously fictional. If it were to be about the stalking, abduction, and rape of a famous person like Snooki, then it'd go into the greyer area of whether or not it'd be acceptable. If you read the book and feel that the writing wasn't good enough, or because none of it really made for interesting reading for you, that's fine. But writing a review with the purpose of negging it because you personally don't approve of rape as erotica isn't really fair because that's not really you reviewing the book itself. It's you reviewing the concept of rape as erotica and while everyone is free to have an opinion, such debates are best kept to non-review formats unless you are going to work it into a valid review for the book.

*Why do women have erotic rape fantasies? Psychology Today
*Women's Rape Fantasies: An Evaluation of Theory and Research
*Reapers on Amazon
*Reapers on B&N


  1. Kudos to you for tackling such a topic. I wouldn't have touched anything beyond the potential ABB with a ten meter cattle prod, but then again, I tend to play controversy close to the vest.

    I feel like I'm bumping into this with Mind the Thorns and there isn't much you can do. I signed up MtT for a give away on Goodreads and clearly labeled it as "the first three chapters of a novel available for free online", yet I still got multiple low reviews because "I was expecting a full book, not this little mini teaser".

    This, I think, is where it's up to the websites (Amazon, BnN, GR) to use some discression. If the descriptions are clear, and the reviewers are reviewing a product that they knew they'd be unhappy with, then just pull the review and move on.

    I mean, if I hate mushrooms, does my review of the local Italian's lasagna have any meaning if it's a mushroom based lasagna?

    On the other hand, a lot of reviewing circles are still fairly Wild West so I don't really blame an author for putting some boards over his windows after that.

  2. I dunno... I think that they should still be able to review something they've tried/read, but they should make it very, very apparent to the reader from the start that they're not the target audience and that they went into it with a handicap. That way if someone is going into it with a genuine interest in the genre as opposed to wanting to read it out of curiosity over any perceived controversy, they'll know to take the review with a grain of salt.

    I'm leery of removing reviews simply because the person went into it expecting that they wouldn't like something. It sets a bad precedent because while it is a handicap and sometimes unfair, it's still an opinion that they should have the freedom to voice. It's when you have people that go in there simply to make a statement about rape erotica and not about the actual book that I'd say that the reviews shouldn't be posted. It's a review, not a political statement and as such, should actually be about the book at some point rather than them just saying that they find the concept of the genre disgusting.

  3. I just want to add my two cents, as I do write and read rape erotica.

    I consider myself a feminist - I am against rape culture, I think that rape is a terrible thing, that victims are treated abhorrently, and that our society needs to change.

    I am also terribly, terribly aroused when reading rape erotica. I love it. I can't get enough of it, and part of me gets sick at the thought. It's something I've struggled with since I was a teenager.

    I realize that as a woman, I have an easier time admitting to these fantasies than a male would, but that's all it is to me - a fantasy. Something that turns me on when reading about that makes me sick in reality. Something I would never want to happen to me or anyone else.

    I think part of my fantasy and arousal comes from that fact, that it's something I feel so strongly against, and something that causes me such intense feelings.

    I admit I'm still trying to balance this all, and I don't think there are any right answers. I'm not going to stop being aroused by it just because other people tell me it's wrong to feel this way. Arousal just doesn't work like that.

  4. Good point and pretty much what I somewhat clumsily stated above: people who read and write rape erotica are almost always against real life rape. I say almost always because I know that there's that 1-2% of readers who are the exception- but then I would bet that you'd find that same percentage of people in regular vanilla erotica as well, if not more.