Strong woman = rape victim. Is this a trope/cliché now?

So I came across this blog post, which talks about the movie 300 2: Rise of an Empire, and its tendency to [del]shamelessly make up total bullshit[/del] take certain creative liberties with the historical source material. In this case, specifically concerning the character of Artemisia. It brings up that the character is portrayed as a victim of rape (something which, BTW, is entirely missing from the biography of the historical Artemisia):

The blog links to a number of examples of said commentary on the issue.

Now, as you may know, I recently arrived on this planet from outer space, and I’ve spent my short time here living under a rock. As a result, I’m in no way in tune with the current trends in popular culture. I don’t know much about these strange TV shows that you humans seem to enjoy, and I have no real idea how much raping is currently going on in them. However, I did recently crawl out from under my rock to watch the movie Mad Max: Fury Road, which I enjoyed immensely.

So this got me thinking. If this is a trope now, that movie sure fits. The plot (spoiler alert) revolves around a group of sex slaves (so, basically rape victims), attempting to escape their unfortunate circumstances. This escape is facilitated by another female character, who may also have had something similar going on in her murky past.

As I said, I really enjoyed the movie, but now I’m a bit :dubious:. On the face of it, a story about sexually abused women escaping the patriarchy looks like it has a feminist premise. But is the case rather the opposite? Is this actually representative of a misogynist mindset? Is the idea here that the only motivation a strong woman can have, and the only explanation for why she is strong, is that she’s seeking revenge against a rapey masculine culture?

And, if so, is this lazy and/or morally questionable storytelling? 'Cause in real life, as far as I can tell, strong women tend to be strong because, well they’re strong people, period, and their sexual history isn’t really relevant. You’d think we could come up with other motivations for female characters, if such motivations are needed at all. Or, to quote one of the articles I linked to above:

So, is this a thing now? And if it is a thing, how misogynistic or otherwise is it? As this will have a direct impact on my opinion of Mad Max, your input will be much appreciated.

I didn’t really get the vibe from Fury Road. Maybe I’m just blind but I didn’t see anything about Furiosa that made me think she’d been raped at any point (I mean, I guess she could have been but it never came up that I recall). The women she was transporting had obviously been raped since they were essentially a breeding farm but they didn’t strike me as the Strong Women of the story. They did stuff because they had to but, left to their own devices, they wouldn’t have lasted six minutes out in the wastes. It’s not as though being raped gave them super resilience or anything. Furiosa was the resident bad ass and, while she was assisting a bunch of women victims, there’s a bajillion tales of a man helping a bunch of women victims as well.

Now I agree that the overall trope exists, it just wasn’t something I saw as a major component of Fury Road.

(As a side point, the Mad Max Wiki entry for Furiosa also does not mention that she was ever raped)

Maybe. Its just that movies these days don’t know how to make actual real female characters. They are all types. Sex kitten. Liberated. Feminist. Dyke. “Strong woman”, whatever the fuck that means. They are rarely fully realised human beings with specific strengths and frailties. Probably because if they did they would expose themselves to criticism.

As someone who has had to deal with too many rape and abuse victims I will say that the charcter and “strength” of these women tend to vary across the board.

I think there’s just a whole lot of rape in stories period now. Sure, rape is used to make a strong woman. It’s also used to create a broken woman. It’s used in story for drama.

And, in some areas, I guess that’s an improvement. I definitely don’t knock Jessica Jones for putting rape in a superhero universe. (And she was a strong woman well before she was raped, BTW–at least, she was in the comics. I’ve not seen the show.)

But, in others, it’s becoming overplayed and, yes, seeming like that’s the only story people think they can tell with women.

I thought Jessica Jones handled female characters really well. They are actual human beings (with superpowers ;)). Jessica makes mistakes, treats people badly, drinks too much, while still remaining a superhero and generally a good person. Trish wants to help, is loyal and loving, but her help usually hinders people. She is also rather smart.

It showed Trish say (of her fighting lessons),“I will not be a victim anymore” and still get her ass kicked by an obviously much stronger and bigger man. After years of seeing petite women like Agent May, Black Widow and Skye/Daisy beat up legions of hulking men in body armour, it was refreshing to see reality ensue. Hogarth was a skeevy lawyer, adulteress, but one who really wantd the best for her clients.In short, the female characters are how a actual women might behave in the circumstances, not some cardboard cutout.

I was really impressed at how they handled the whole rape issue as well. They made it clear that it was in fact rape, while acknowledging that it was complicated; but in the circumstances; rape.

It really is a trope in comics–Red Sonja, two of the three characters named Ms. Marvel, many of the female characters in American Flagg, Sue Storm, Sue Dibney, Mina Murray, Mockingbird, Sally Jupiter, probably a bunch more I’m forgetting.

I’m drawing a blank on any male characters this can describe.

Jamie Fraser from Outlander (which is a novel, not a comic) is probably the big one. Except when a man is raped, no one questions that being the “OMG” central crisis of the story.

I agree that rape is far more in the storytelling consciousness than it used to be. Part of that, though, is because in many stories in the past the rape was assumed without being spelled out. If it’s being spelled out now, then I guess that’s an improvement. Or something.

But I think it’s far too often used as a cheap way to create a female “character” (actually a caricature), and that bad writers everywhere are writing bad stories about one-dimensional “strong” women and their one-dimensional rapists. And that does no one any good.

Actually it was the pregnant girl that convinced all of them they were not things and they should escape.

In facile storytelling/writing, rape risks becoming to female characters as “was in 'Nam” became to male characters in the last quarter of last century, the default Great Traumatic Event that explains away both a hardened super asskicker and a shattered shell of a person but we don’t really go into how and why, or else the big test of how others will react so they can be reminded they were not there and did not go through it. To the point that, as mentioned earlier in this thread, we may even presume that it must be whatever happened in the woman’s past, even if it’s never actually stated.

My dislike of the Strong Woman Rape Victim trope is that it comes across as a social threat; if a woman is a strong willed, opinionated, or even independently capable, she better be strong enough to handle being raped, because that’s what all those evil men will want to do to her, put her in her place.

But as long as she survives and draw enough blood herself, I can accept it.

I would have thought the opposite, that having been raped supposedly ruins a woman. I’d much prefer that rape was treated like any other crime and didn’t define a person. Rape doesn’t make you strong or destroy you. It’s not special because it involves your genitals.

It’s not as though she did any particular heavy lifting (metaphorically). Furiosa is the one who offered to take them out, lead them to the Green Place, gave up her position and risked her life to try and rescue the others by stealing the War Rig. The rest are basically just along for the ride of being rescued.

Here’s another example: Khandi Alexander’s character in Treme

Jessica Jones is interesting in this context for two reasons. One, the TV show actually seems to have gotten it right. A lot of feminist reviewers (even those familiar with the overuse of the this trope in comics in the last decade or so) have been praising it for the way it handled the topic of sexual assault. But in the original comics, in an effort to avoid this cliche, writer Brian Bendis went out of his way to make it clear that Kilgrave never had sex with Jessica, using his powers instead to psychically torture her in other ways.

The problem I have with this cliche isn’t, as j666 said, that it’s a threat to strong women, so much as it undercuts them. It seems like writers feel like they need a reason for a woman to be tough and independent. Like, it’s some sort of superpower that needs explanation. Why can Spider-Man stick to walls? Bitten by a radioactive spider. Why doesn’t Captain Marvel take any shit off anyone else? Somebody raped her once.

(Actually, Captain Marvel - the Carol Danvers version - is another interesting example, because when they retconned her into being a rape victim, it actually made the story significantly less gross. The original version… I’m not even going to try to recap it, because it’s too fucked up, but you can read about it here. Basically, rape through mind-control, except worse, and the comic tries to present this as okay. Chris Claremont later brought her back, and retconned her “happy ending” into an explicit recognition that she was sexually assaulted, and wrote a hugely cathartic scene where she basically tells her ex-teammates to go fuck themselves for ever thinking what was happening to her was okay.)

Strong woman = rape victim. Is this a trope/cliché now?

Must be, since I’m really sick of it.

I think most people in this thread have this the wrong way around. Everybody realizes that rape is a very traumatic event, so if a woman can survive being raped without PTSD or other major permanent affects, there is a pronounced tendency to assume that she MUST be a strong woman.

Furiosa was not strong because of rape, she showed she was strong because of rape. That’s an important distinction. A bank robbery doesn’t give Spider-Man his superpowers, but he can’t fight crime if he doesn’t have crime to fight.

OP checking in. You know, I agree. I didn’t actually get the rape victim vibe from Furiosa either, per se. I mentioned it in the OP because I’ve seen other people around the internet basically assume it to be the case, and the internet can’t be wrong. :wink:

I guess we can only speculate about her backstory (unless the tie-in comics and stuff out here flesh it out, I haven’t looked at any of that). My take, BTW, is that when she was kidnapped as a child, it wasn’t originally by Joe / the Citadel. It just doesn’t strike me as the kind of environment where you grow up to become someone like Furiosa (if you’re a girl, I mean). I think she got her skills and attitude elsewhere, and only joined up with Joe recently. But again, speculation, and not really very important.

I guess the thing with Furiosa in the context of this discussion is rather that she’s a rape victim by proxy, or association. Her motivation is to help the wives. So rape is still the catalyst for her story, even if she’s not technically a rape victim herself. If that makes sense.

Dick Grayson was raped (though the author apparently “never used the word ‘rape’, I just said it was nonconsensual”), and, technically, I guess Tom Strong was.

This thread reminds me of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, where Dagny Taggart is essentially raped by Howard Roark, with Rand’s weird twist that Dagny needed to be taken that way to respect her man. Glurg.

It definitely feels like the “device” of rape in current stories is happening more and being “explored and / or used” more broadly. As our culture changes and the Female POV is being depicted and explored a lot more (yay!), you see varying degrees of hack-work, decent craft and actual Art that uses it.

Flyer’s point upthread resonates with me: sometimes we see someone cheaply and simply using “Rape Survivor = Strong” where it clanks. That’s true of any “origin trauma” that feels bolted on and inauthentic. It seems we see rape being attempted to be used that way due to how our pop culture is broadening.