Thursday, May 29

Dub-Con (i.e. Dubious Consent) in romance

Recently, Sue Brown shared an article to her Facebook page, and it's caused a tad of a stir (at least on the thread), a stir I must admit, I contributed to. (Who, me, weigh in on something with a strong opinion? Nah..... *giggle-snort*).

The article, penned by Ashlyn Forge, entitled, "Raping gay men is okay...if it's for the titillation of straight women" isn't nearly as inflammatory as as the title suggests. Forge is simply commenting on the rise in popularity of non-con and dub-con (non-consensual and dubiously-consensual) sex in gay romance. (Anyone who's ever read a "bodice ripper" knows that the idea of dub-con is a) nothing new, and b) hardly confined to m/m and has long held a special place in romance.)  The question of the popularity of the tropes have become so popular is a good one, one for which I have no solid answer.

But first, I must confess that I enjoy dubious consent--when it's on the page. Just as in real-life, I would never condone someone running off with a guy they'd just met (as in Heidi Cullinan's Special Delivery, one of my favorite books, *ever*), in real life No means NO. Period. End stop. No room to negotiate. Smile, nod, and move on, and no, it doesn't matter how he or she is dressed, no woman (or man) needs someone else to "liberate them" (as per Robin Thicke's "epic" tune, "Blurred lines"--epic if for no other reason than the sheer number of parodies it inspired in so short a time).

But in fantasy (which is what romance is), dubious consent is romantic. Really. It is. And it's nothing new (may I turn your attention back to the classic story Beauty and the Beast? Beauty was in no way enamored of the Beast until she got to know him, and she certainly was not a guest in his house by choice.)  How many (particularly those old bodice rippers) start with a beautiful heroine being kidnapped by pirates or brigands, only to find herself falling madly in love with the captain or leader of the band of highwaymen? Women, while in real life would never want to be kidnapped, often find the idea of being whisked away by a strong, handsome--and remarkably kind, despite his "profession"--man intoxicating. And why not? We read romance to escape our dull, often hectic lives.

So yeah, I'm a total fan of dub-con.

Non-con is a different matter. I totally understand that it's appealing to some people, for pretty much the same reason dub-con is, but personally, I know my limits and what I can and can't read. There's a reason I won't touch the Flesh Cartel series--and the fact that it takes place in the here and now and deals with a real issue--modern slave trafficking--doesn't help my ability to stomach it. (That's not a judgement on the series, that's just me being honest my personal limits). I don't like the idea of men (or women) being "broken" (although I did happen to see a blurb for the final installment of The Flesh Cartel and I'm pretty sure I like where it ultimately seemed to go).

So, here's he question (and the point that became debated on Sue's FB post). Is dub-con (as a trope in romance) rape? When the master in some alternate universe (or some alternate arrangement of this one) seduces his/her slave, is it rape? (Because even if the slave consents, there's little about that kind of Master/slave "relationship" that's consensual--it's a whole different kettle of fish than contemporary consensual slavery in the BDSM culture). Is it rape when the Alpha Wolf claims his/her mate, an otherwise unsuspecting human or subordinate shifter? Or when the pirate kidnaps the governor's son/daughter?

I think we can all agree that rape is bad. But is dub-con bad? Does it encourage "rape culture"--or is it simply a healthy outlet for both the author and the reader's darker sexual fantasies? 


Sara said...

Let me preface this by writing - I've written dub-con. I've even written non-con (granted, the latter was a long, long time ago).

You said, "the idea of dub-con is a) nothing new, and b) hardly confined to m/m and has long held a special place in romance." I definitely agree with this.

"Is dub-con (as a trope in romance) rape?" - It depends on the specific situation, how it's written. I've read dub-con that sounds like rape and dub-con that sounds like one partner is just a little nervous. I can't make a sweeping generalization without reading specific examples. Even the examples you give of master and slave, alpha and mate, pirate and governor's son/daughter, I'd have to read the specific sex scene to say whether it was rape. If someone's brought into a situation against their consent, like in the above, but is willing to have sex, I would say no, it's not rape. If they're unwilling, I would say it's rape.

One good example of dubious consent done well in a way I don't consider rape is in Tali Spencer's "Dangerous Beauty" (the first M/F novel I've read in a LONG time). I really enjoyed it. Though the protagonist is captured, in the sex scene, there's more of a seduction than forcing, and though the protagonist prays for protection... she doesn't exactly tell her captor she is not interested, and after the fact, she does not consider it rape, and falls in love with him. A big part of that is *she does not consider it having been nonconsensual*. During the scene, I felt her consent was dubious, but how she felt afterward was very telling.

"But is dub-con bad? Does it encourage "rape culture"--or is it simply a healthy outlet for both the author and the reader's darker sexual fantasies?" It really, really depends on how it's written. I wouldn't generalize to call it "bad". Does it encourage "rape culture"? Sometimes. It certainly doesn't encourage "consent culture", at least not a culture of enthusiastic consent (a "yes, please, let's have sex" rather than a grudging "well, I guess maybe ok".

But. But. I am a firm believer that it *is* a healthy outlet for the author and readers's darker sexual fantasies, as you say. The people who will go out and rape someone and blame it on a book? I think they would have raped someone anyway, they have issues already. Most people have enough sense to be able to separate fiction from real life. Those who can't do it already have problems and already pose a danger.

Anonymous said...

This is a tough one for me. I'd have to say that at least part of me feels that the trope is leftover from a time period during which it wasn't considered appropriate for female characters to want or have sexual relations--and in order to get the sex into the story, there had to be a good bit of dubious consent/protestation on the part of the heroine--or else she would be viewed as a slut.

So on some level, I wonder if it is a trope that should be gradually retired.

Tropes exist for a reason, however. Be it the grooming of a reading public to accept something as the norm, or, as you said, a healthy outlet for some darker fantasy, that's a hard call. I happen to be fond of the hurt/comfort trope. Does that make me sadomasochistic? Probably not. But I'm often willing to hurt my characters a great deal for the fun of 'kissing it and making it better.'

I suspect I'd feel differently about dub-con if I hadn't almost wound up as a dating statistic myself. I have to agree with the comment left by Sara here in that it really lies in how it is handled within the story. Just because it's not my thing doesn't mean I should condemn those who love it. ;-)

H.B. Pattskyn said...

Sara (not SaraH :) )

"A big part of that is *she does not consider it having been nonconsensual*"

I think you may have hit the nail on the head. Jill Knowles Concubine is one of the books that immediately springs to mind when discussing dub-con. Prince Kael is given by his father to the warlord of another country to be a sex slave. Kael isn't exactly willing, but it's a matter of personal honor that he submits--and he finds that he enjoys it (although there's a wonderful back and forth about how much he's willing to submit to). In the end, he not only falls in love with his Master, but gives into some of his Master's kinkier urges--and discovers a few kinks about himself he never knew existed.

Totally *not* rape IMO and largely because of the way Kael feels about his situation.

Sara said...

In response to your response:

That sounds like a really entertaining book, thanks for bringing it up!

It's just funny reading some dub con now that I've been involved in groups so aware of and trying to propagate consent culture, rather than rape culture. So when I'm reading I have a bit of a different background than I used to, before I got involved in these groups. I find myself thinking "hey, he didn't ask for consent to do that... oh wait, most people usually don't, just people in our community"!