The above review has me thinking of times whether I had found a rape fantasy acceptable.
First, maybe we should define "rape" in this instance. In fiction - romance and some erotica - rape isn't depicted the way it is in real life. In this case, more often than not, the seduction leading to the sex act is more of a "forced seduction" thing, which is always depicted as A-OK because (a) the heroine has an orgasm and (b) she's secretly gagging for it and (c) he falls in love with her in the end.
It will be easy to list down why this fantasy is not acceptable by some folks. After all, it promotes the misconception that if you experience orgasm in a sexual encounter that you didn't willingly participate in, the thing wasn't rape because you secretly wanted it. It allows the author to use a short cut that can be offensive, ie even if you say no, if your body has a biological response to the other person's sexual frisking, you are actually gagging for it. Oh, and let's not forget the obvious: it's only rape if he's fat and ugly. Hot guys don't rape, they only give it to women who are secretly gagging for it even if they scream no a million times.
But the rape fantasy is popular in fiction because it allows the heroine to have sex and experience pleasure without having to take any accountability for it. Just like how alpha males nowadays thrill readers with their metaphorical clubbing of the heroine in the head, the whole fantasy allows the reader to lose herself in an erotic tableau where she doesn't have to be in control of a situation and yet getting to tame the beast in the end. It's not about political correctness - rape fantasies, like alpha male appeal, are all about control. By managing to tame the beast, the heroine is triumphant. Therefore, I personally feel that a rape fantasy can work only if the author shows me that the heroine is really triumphant in the end.
Rosemary Rogers's Sweet Savage Love didn't work because right up to the end, Steve Morgan is a complete piece of dung who should be smothered to death at birth.
Kathleen Woodiwiss's The Flame And The Flower however worked pretty well for me because I felt that Brandon had some redeeming features that made him worth all the nonsense Heather went through. It's the same with Brenda Joyce's The Conqueror - the man was a raping bastard, but he's behaving just like a man of his time (a medieval warlord in a time of violence), and besides, he's completely broken by the last page, needing the heroine more than she needed him. Now that is what I call a triumphant example of a woman ending up being on top of the hero.
When it comes to rape fantasies, it's a touchy subject, especially when it shows up in a genre written by mostly women and aimed at female readers. But you have to admit, it says a lot about... er, the psychology of us romance readers that while we object to sexual women in general, we devour books featuring alpha males whose actions are watered down versions of those sweet, savage rapists that used to terrorize romance heroines back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I'm not saying this is wrong, I'm just saying any shrink who wants to psychoanalyze us romance readers will have a field day with the fun.
I believe that rape fantasies do have their place in fiction. There are women out there who enjoy rape fantasies, if Nancy Friday is to be believed, and really, at the end of the day, fiction is fiction. A reader enjoying a story with rape fantasies is not asking to be raped in real life. For me, the problem arises when authors attempt to combine rape with romance. I personally find it hard to reconcile these two concepts. I have come across and even found sexy some scenes of forced seduction in erotica, but I suspect that is because love is never a factor in these stories - they were all about power play, control, and, of course, sex. If you add in romance, then you are asking me to buy a story where a heroine falls in love with her rapist. I... don't buy that so easily.
Therefore, while I do not prefer to read about rape or forced seductions too often, mostly because the results tend to be more horrific than entertaining, I think the whole thing can work for me if the following is met:
- The hero's rape of the heroine is a result of him being a man of his time or, in paranormal romances, his beastly nature. A medieval warlord on a rampage across the land, as in Brenda Joyce's The Conqueror, for example. In contemporary romances, well, that's a tough one. I can't think of how an author can make a rape or forced seduction work in a romance novel with a contemporary setting. Maybe if we have the hero a werewolf, I guess, since werewolves are the new alpha males who can get away with all kinds of nonsense due to their shifter nature.
- The hero has some redeeming values or traits that make him acceptable as someone worth staying with. A common mistake for an author is to have the heroine completely at the mercy of the rapist hero as a plot device to ensure that she's stuck with the rapist long enough to get Stockholm Syndrome - when it comes to romances with disagreeable or even awful heroes, the agenda is the redemption of the asshole, not forcing the heroine to fall for him. See Sweet Savage Love for a good example of this mistake.
- When the author makes it clear that the romance is not your conventional one, and instead, she's exploring the darker and taboo aspects of a relationship between two people. In this case, then yes, rape could be present and I won't blink an eye here, because I am expecting a relationship that pushes the envelope after all. Some erotica I've read that feature rape are of this nature, and as a result, I may wince or find them unpleasant, but I won't object to the presence of such scenes.
- Either as an extension of the above or a separate factor of its own: both characters, especially the heroine, are not typical characters. Maybe the heroine enjoys pain and loves being taken against her will as a result of some kind of childhood damage. At any rate, like the above reason, the key to making this work is the author accepting and embracing the fact that her story and her characters are not your average romance novel types.
- Have the hero show remorse only because the heroine was a virgin when he raped her. There are better ways to promote virginity than to tell romance readers that if you get raped and you are a virgin, the rapist will then stalk you and fall in love with you, I'm sure. If I were a young lady considering celibacy until my wedding day, hearing such a message will drive me into the arms of a hot jock in no time.
- Give out this creepy message that the rape is acceptable because the heroine experienced orgasm during the act. Falling in love is an emotional reaction, experiencing pleasure during sex is a biological reaction. We really shouldn't assume that these two are one and the same. I mean, you can experience sexual pleasure if you use your showerhead right - are you going to marry the showerhead?
- Give out this creepy message that the heroine is already attracted to the hero, and therefore, if she wasn't a frigid hag afraid of sexual intimacy, the hero wouldn't have to force her to accept that she wanted to be shagged by him. For me, there has to be some accountability for the hero's actions, and in this instance, the author is copping out by using the "She secretly wanted it!" excuse.
- Have the heroine also get raped by all kinds of fat and ugly men (some authors even throw in an evil lesbian or two), therefore forcing the heroine to accept the hero because he's the most comely of her rapists. This is a popular trope of romance novels back in the dark ages of 1970s and 1980s.