Thursday, April 16, 2015

This Assault-y Thing Isn't Romantic

Story time! 
So Kelly, science student and (of late, far too occasional, blame exams) YA book blogger is eating delightful customized pasta in one of her university's fine cafeteria establishments. She thinks to herself gee, I'm glad my third exam is done... I'll read for five minutes before resuming studying for the next
This was, as it turns out, a mistake. Because that book was just at the point of "Let's get this totally pointless love triangle-y thing rolling, time for the kiss scene." Now. Kelly had not been loving this book up until now, but was trying to push through. But as she read the kiss scene in question, she realised that she likely wouldn't be able to because it was causing feelings of deep anger. 
--end scene--
Why, you may ask, was Kelly so furious? We know by this point that, while I don't like love triangles, I'm fairly well conditioned to ignore them and continue on if they aren't a big part of the story. That wasn't my primary problem with this scene. My problem was the kiss. My problem was that. It. Read. Like. An. Assault. Scene.

He kisses her after yelling at her. After slamming his hands on a wall beside her head. She pushes him away and tries to run, and he drags her back with his hand over her mouth. Yes, there were some slight extenuating circumstances, but no, I still don't think it was okay to kiss her in the first place, and then afterwards prevent her from leaving.

This was the straw that broke the camel's back, where the camel was my ability to deal with creepiness being passed off as romance. Here's my deal. 

These books are targeted toward teenagers, often young women. The last thing you want to be teaching them is that having any sort of intimacy forced on them against their will is what's done. That is is normal. That it is romantic.

It isn't romantic. It isn't sexy. Its just disturbing.

It isn't just a book. Readers know best of all how books shape us. They shape our perception of the world, of what is and isn't right. When you write something like kissing a girl even though she's pushing away, or saying "no," or, really, in anyway suggesting that she isn't interested in being touched, and pass it off as romantic, you're saying a) that it is romantic to force yourself on someone and b) that it is romantic when someone forces themselves on you. That it is something you should be grateful for. And that is worrying.

It isn't that it happened once. It is that it keeps happening. Destroy this idea that having a person violating your personal space is romantic. That having someone physically prevent you from leaving, or calling out, is romantic.

I've come up with a few simple questions to ask yourself:
1. Am I, in fact, planning on writing an assault scene?
 If you answered yes to this question, this list isn't for you Go find some resources on writing assault scenes. If you answered "Of course not, I'm writing a romantic and/or sexy scene," proceed to question two.
2. Is one character in a position of power (physically or otherwise) over the other?
I you answered yes, you have to be really, really careful (it can be done, but you have to do it right). If either character can't, for any reason, give consent, you have a problem. If you answered no, head on to question 3.
3. Do both of my characters want to be intimate with each other?
If you answered no, consider again why you're writing this scene. If you answered yes, proceed to question 4.
4. Take your written scene out of context. Does it still sound as romantic as you think it sounds in context? Why? Explain. (2 marks.)
These obviously aren't catch-all, but what I'm saying is think long and hard about your scene. If it seems like an assault scene that should be because it is designed to be one, not because it is supposed to seem romantic.

Now, go forth and write good kissing scenes!

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