Quick hit: Marvel writer defends rape in Spiderman comic

Via Hoyden who link to IO9′s post on the subject.

When is rape not rape? When it’s a supervillain pretending to be Peter Parker and having sex with Parker’s roommate, who thinks she’s having sex with Parker himself, according to one of Marvel’s Amazing Spider-Man writers.

The writer, Fred Van Lente, responds:

My understanding of the definition of rape is that it requires force or the threat of force, so no. Using deception to trick someone into granting consent isn’t quite the same thing.

Which is not to say it isn’t a horrible, evil, reprehensible thing that Chameleon did. He is a bad man.

He insults parapelegics[sic] and dips people in acid too.

‘ware rape apologism in the IO9 comments :-/

34 thoughts on “Quick hit: Marvel writer defends rape in Spiderman comic

  1. koipond

    Christ on a Cracker.

    My favourite bits have been the, “Well, if done right it can be black humour.”

    Rape isn’t funny, period.

    1. Rick

      So. Fucking. Tired. of rape as a plot device. Seriously.

      And the fact that a “was it rape” discussion is happening at all just floors me. Hellooooo – !

  2. boxofdelights

    This also explains how spiking someone’s drink and assaulting their unconscious body is also totally not rape. Thanks for clearing that up for us, Fred!

  3. Paul Prescod

    What an unfair characterization in your title.

    The writer asserted that there is a difference between forced sex and deceptively attained sex and that we should use different words for them.

    The argument was about labels, not right and wrong.

    He asserted that obtaining sex is “horrible, evil, reprehensible” and presumably he feels the same way about rape.

    And yet somehow you’ve spun all of that into a “defense” of rape.

    I find that really disingenuous and it makes me think twice about sending people to a site that has a lot of other good stuff on it. :(

    Geek Feminism has been portrayed as a site where men are “vilified” (as opposed to issues documented). This is the first example of vilification that I’ve stumbled onto.

    I think that this Spiderman thing is more complex than just the labeling of the act, and it is unfortunate that you are mesmerized by that one aspect, to the point of asserting that a disagreement on labels is tantamount to a disagreement on ethics.

    It is simply NOT FACTUALLY TRUE that Fred Van Lente “defends rape.”

    1. Mary

      (Detailed enough to be triggering.)

      So there’s a couple of things here.

      The first is in some jurisdictions (British more than US ones is the one people bring up) obtaining sex by certain types of deceit is actually regarded as sexual assault or rape (the legal term varies). Tigtog has something on that in the linked Hoyden post. So in this sense he is in some way defending something that many women genuinely do experience as or know as rape, because he’s saying it isn’t rape. A bad thing, sure, a bad thing without a name and without criminal sanctions.

      It may be that Tigtog has a better title on her article: “rape culture apologism”, I think that’s what people are picking up on. Many situations of rape, in the legal sense, do not involve explicit or even obvious threats of force “if you don’t do X I will use force Y.” They involve inferred threats of force, or non-forceful sex acts upon women unable to consent (intoxicated, unconscious, mentally incapacitated, or too young among others). The term “rape culture” refers to this environment where sexual assault in reality and in law involves non-consent, but in the popular judgement requires violence and where a woman victim must have been an innocent non-sexual creature or else she needs to ‘take some responsibility’.

      I can’t tell exactly what Skud meant by her title, but my reading was that (a) it was rape and (b) he’s saying it wasn’t, and in that sense defending it. In a legal sense (a) may depend on jurisdiction, I’m not sure, but in feminist understandings of consent that I know, he certainly didn’t have it. And sex without consent is rape. Thus, rape in the comic, certainly morally and quite possibly legally.

      It’s certainly true that saying “action X can’t be referred to with term Y” wouldn’t always be defence in a meaningful way (I wouldn’t call, say, “it wasn’t rape, it was genocide” a defence of any action except in a court of law), but the trouble in the broader rape culture discussion is that there’s a fair amount of discourse denying rape that is kindly phrased and sometimes kindly intended. “Oh it was terrible but…” “Oh, I’ll agree he made a mistake but…” “Out of respect to the women who have really been raped I don’t think we should call this rape…”

      Now I am not a mind-reader, and I cannot tell what Van Lente or what you understand by “force or threat of force” (he may have meant this broadly enough to cover lack of consent by reason of age, for all I know), or by “using deception to trick someone into granting consent isn’t quite the same thing”. It may be that these were intended as morally neutral statements about terminology as it is actually used (although Van Lente in that case would be in factual error) or should in his opinion be used. But it reads like rape culture apologism to me.

      It really sucks that this is so, I have to say. A world in which this was an abstract problem that could be debated in a theoretical kind of way would be better than this one to me. But the problem is that the bulk of people who really do think most actual rapes “aren’t that bad” because she wasn’t a virgin, she didn’t need surgery after, she was in love with him, she said yes due to a crucial mistaken understanding as to his identity etc use the rhetorical techniques Van Lente is using.

      And in an ideal world, we would probably be able to say “well, a large proportion of people using your argument are disingenuous jerks, but I will not taint you by association and let’s take this argument from the top.” For the actual world that we are stuck in, see The Terrible Bargain We Have Regretfully Struck.

    2. Skud Post author

      @Paul: I agree with what Mary said, but also, re: the title of my post… the title is “Marvel writer defends rape in Spiderman comic”. Now, there are two ways that could be interpreted, I guess:

      (Writer defends rape) in Spiderman comic

      Writer defends (rape in Spiderman comic)

      Since the defence didn’t happen in the comic, but the rape did, what I was obviously getting at is that the writer defended the rape that occurred in the comic. Which he totally did. Sure, he said it was “reprehensible” but went on to say that that’s just what happens in comics: villains do nasty stuff. If you’re reading comics, you should expect nasty stuff — like rape, being boiled in acid, or dismembered and shoved in a refrigerator — to happen. That is his defence. (Well, that and “it wasn’t really rape”, which Mary’s covered.)

      Thing is, women get raped all the damn time in comics. To an uncanny degree. And usually it’s either brushed off (as in this plotline) or else it happens just to progress a (more important) male character’s plotline. This is the context here.

      People refer to this pattern as “Women in Refrigerators” after an archetypal incident in Green Lantern #54. For more information, read:

      http://www.unheardtaunts.com/wir/
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_in_Refrigerators
      http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/WomenInRefrigerators

      So yeah. Van Lente is defending the rape that (apparently) occurred in the comic, and doing so in the context of a comic book trope where female characters are repeatedly treated that way, and a broader rape culture where people (and some legal systems) believe that a wide variety of non-consensual sex is “not really rape”.

      That’s why we’re calling it out.

    3. Rick

      The writer asserted that there is a difference between forced sex and deceptively attained sex and that we should use different words for them.

      Well, he defines what happened as “not rape”. The problems with this include

      the fact that it most certainly was rape, by legal and common definition, and

      the fact that calling some instances of rape “not rape” is a standard tactic used to downplay and trivialize them, and to make women feel as though they cannot legitimately complain about what happened (after all, it was Not Rape).

      Geek Feminism has been portrayed as a site where men are “vilified” (as opposed to issues documented). This is the first example of vilification that I’ve stumbled onto.

      Just out of curiosity, where is Geek Feminism being so portrayed? I can assure you that I don’t spend all my time around here being pilloried and burnt in effigy.

  4. Liz

    Oh fine. I’ll write my long serious earnest explanation tomorrow. Like I haven’t already done it enough in life.

  5. Paul Prescod

    Mary: thank you very much for your detailed and thoughtful post.

    I’ve read “The Terrible Bargain” before…probably following a link from one of your blog posts. I don’t recall in real-life ever having had one of “those conversations” where I treat rape or some other “woman’s issue” as a purely abstract and interesting intellectual artifact. People reading this may have been raped and probably will not be interested in my links to wikipedia or Websters. I’d rather not continue arguing.

    But on the other hand, the writer is a human being and he has been accused of something which is not factually true. He may very well be guilty of trivializing rape or “something that is just as offensive as rape”. That’s a discussion worth having

    But he simply did not say anything “defending” rape. If I say that “mass murder” is not “genocide” it is not “defending genocide”. It’s defining terms.

    Even men have a right to have their words presented accurately.

    1. Skud Post author

      He *was* presented accurately. The post said that he defended defended the rape that occurred in the Spiderman comic. And that’s what he did.

    2. anotherman

      “People reading this may have been raped and probably will not be interested in my links to wikipedia or Websters. I’d rather not continue arguing.”

      It’s more than that. They’re (constantly) looking for a safe place somewhere on the Internet to talk about this without somebody engaging in semantic quibbling about something which literally makes them flash back to the worse experiences of their life.

      Skud has already explained an ambiguity where you have chosen to read her title as unfairly villifying someone, and Skud and Mary have both explained that the language of “rape” is actually more ambiguous than you thought in many contexts.

      But what is currently much more important to you is how the man feels about this, and how that this title a villification of men.

      It’s not. It’s a description using terms of which you and the person, and the community here disagree, and placed in the context of a long-standing discussion of the use of rape (or if you’d prefer, forceful sex and deceit) as a throwaway plot device in the comics business.

      “Even men have a right to have their words presented accurately.”

      As a man, I’m actively horrified that you’d end your post like this. Everyone here has explained their actions, and why they think their words are an accurate reflection of the state of affairs.

      From my perspective, you’ve come into this community, talked about how some unnamed people say its about villifying men and used one ambiguous center to give an example of that, ignored the counter-arguments, derailed this thread into a discussion of the poor position of this guy, announced how you don’t care to continue the conversation, and then left with this implication that the default stance here is “anti-man”.

      I can’t think of a better definition of “bad faith argument”, frankly.

    3. boxofdelights

      I don’t recall in real-life ever having had one of “those conversations” where I treat rape or some other “woman’s issue” as a purely abstract and interesting intellectual artifact.

      So, this conversation here, is this not in real life?

      1. Paul Prescod

        I said: I don’t recall in real-life ever having had one of “those conversations” where I treat rape or some other “woman’s issue” as a purely abstract and interesting intellectual artifact.

        Boxofdelights said: “So, this conversation here, is this not in real life?”

        The phrase “IRL” is a standard idiom meaning “not in an online forum”.

        What I meant to say, but did not say clearly is: “I do not remember having those conversations with anyone in a face-to-face conversation, but I am in danger of having one of those conversations online if I continue down the path of trying to express and justify my opinion.”

        The first half of that sentence was probably not of interest to anyone except me, and is, in retrospect not entirely true (since rape is not the only issue that one must be very careful about discussing with an appropriate tone).

  6. Paul Prescod

    Skud: sorry I hit “Submit” on my previous comment which had been open in a window for a while and didn’t realize that the conversation had moved on.

    Thanks for your detailed explanation. I do appreciate it greatly.

    You’re right, I’m not aware of the broader context: I haven’t read many comic books in years and years, although there was a rape in Watchmen, which is the last one I (re-)read.

    You’re also right that I interpreted the words differently than you intended, but I think that you didn’t quite put your finger on the difference between your intent and my interpretation. I thought that you were saying that he defended *the act* whereas you are saying that he defended *the presentation of the act*. With more context, perhaps it would have been clear.

    Also: sorry for the snarky last line of my last post which was really directed at Liz and not Mary.

    Liz: it is up to you whether you want to write a longer post or not, but I did not appreciate your implication that men do not deserve to have the truth told about them, as if they deserve collective punishment for past deeds. Once we start down the path of collective punishment, we will not end up in a good place.

    1. Liz

      I’m still completely missing why you feel compelled to defend this comic book writer’s story line and his own defense of his intentions, as well as, apparently, his definition of what rape is. Maybe because you don’t want men as a class accused of fostering rape culture when in your view, it’s just this one guy’s story and an isolated incident; or because you read the comic book and liked it; or you are friends with the author; or you think that critiquing the way stories use women for plot devices that get raped all the time as “censorship”; or maybe because you don’t think men have an adequate way of defending themselves against actual accusations of rape? How can I know? Whatever it is, the way it comes off to me here is completely enraging and I find it disrespectful and condescending.

      Looks to me in fact like you like to think of yourself as a feminist ally, and you want your cookie. And underneath it you’re looking for someone to be your straw feminist man hater, so you can be all gravely disappointed.

      I’m pissed off at what you said and how you say it. Do you seriously think I’m going to tone down my feminism and what I say and how I say it, because I’m worried some random internet guys think it’s “villifying” men? Do you think there is a POLITE ENOUGH WAY TO BRING UP SEXISM, to where that won’t happen? Well we’ve all tried that and continue to try it about 99% of the time, and there isn’t, so take your terrible disappointment that we’re not pretty princess angels here to make you all comfy, and don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out.

      Like I don’t get to be angry?

      Like I need you? Ha. Please.

    2. Skud Post author

      You may also not be aware that “Quick hit” posts are often ones where we briefly link to external discussion of something, without having to write a whole essay about it ourselves. Unless, of course, we end up writing the essay in the comments days later :-/

      A lot of our frustration here (and trust me, we’re extremely frustrated) is that you came in, misread a post, didn’t know the context (which is available on the GF wiki), and came across very defensive, accusing us of being “unfair” and of “vilification”. Plus you’re performing to a pattern that we’ve seen over and over again in feminist blogging: a man coming into a discussion about women being violated and abused, and asking us to think about the poor men.

      I hope you can see why that’s a problem.

      Some more background reading, not 100% on the mark but closely related: http://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com/2007/10/18/phmt-argument/

    3. anotherman

      Liz: it is up to you whether you want to write a longer post or not, but I did not appreciate your implication that men do not deserve to have the truth told about them, as if they deserve collective punishment for past deeds. Once we start down the path of collective punishment, we will not end up in a good place.

      Liz’s implication wasn’t that. It was that your incorrect attempt to portray this site as anti-man, like the anonymous people that you came here citing, isn’t going to scare anyone here from saying what they feel about these topics. It’s the most common way to discredit feminist discussion, and it’s not going to work here.

      I think, as a man, that you were wrong about the title being about vilification of men (as Skud and Mary explained in detail); you were wrong about the thinking behind Liz’s comment being about the vilification of men (as she just explained), and you were wrong about this site being about the vilification of men (because, hey, that’s all your evidence gone).

      Go, on, admit that publicly. Say that you’re wrong if you think you are. Because that “portrayal” of man-hating is the oldest trick in the book to try and discredit what feminists are trying to do. And the anonymous people who you began by citing who say that are (unconsciously or not) taking part in that process. And they want you to take part in that too.

      You need to challenge your sneaking suspicion that they’re right, because otherwise you’re going to misunderstand every other subtle conversation about difficult topics as another “ball-buster”, miss the whole point of this site, and end up being more of a dick than you think you are about this whole feminism thing.

      1. Paul Prescod

        I think, as a man, that you were wrong about the title being about vilification of men (as Skud and Mary explained in detail); you were wrong about the thinking behind Liz’s comment being about the vilification of men (as she just explained), and you were wrong about this site being about the vilification of men (because, hey, that’s all your evidence gone).

        At no point did I say that the site is about the vilification of men. In particular, I said it had a lot of good stuff on it. I can’t think of any sites dedicated to vilification that I would describe that way.

        Rather than ascribe evil intentions to you, I’ll just presume that you misread what I wrote and ask for the same indulgence in return.

    4. Rick

      Even men have a right to have their words presented accurately.

      Men have a long and cherished history of caterwauling about vilification and male stereotyping when their words or deeds are accurately criticized as sexist.

  7. Paul Prescod

    Skud has already explained an ambiguity where you have chosen to read her title as unfairly villifying someone,

    The word “chose” is not accurate. I read the title, and a subsystem of my brain interpreted it according to the literal meaning of the words. Since I did not know that it was controversial to depict rape in comic books, I did not know that the depiction was the thing being defended. Two ways to unpack the title:

    “Marvel writer defends depiction of rape in comic”

    “Marvel writer defends rape which was depicted in comic”

    Also, I hadn’t seen Skud’s explanation by the time I wrote. I was tempted to put in a place-holder comment while I explained that, but I didn’t think it would be of long-term value to the blog for there to be a comment like that. “Hold on before you respond to my last post: I’ve got an update coming now.”

    and Skud and Mary have both explained that the language of “rape” is actually more ambiguous than you thought in many contexts.

    I never denied that the word’s precise meaning is disputed.

    But what is currently much more important to you is how the man feels about this, and how that this title a villification of men.

    Yes, I am concerned with the feelings of all human beings. No, I did not claim that the title is a vilification of men in general.

    It’s not. It’s a description using terms of which you and the person, and the community here disagree, and placed in the context of a long-standing discussion of the use of rape (or if you’d prefer, forceful sex and deceit) as a throwaway plot device in the comics business.

    I understand the meaning of the title now.

    As a man, I’m actively horrified that you’d end your post like this. Everyone here has explained their actions, and why they think their words are an accurate reflection of the state of affairs.

    I apologized for that already, perhaps while you were writing your post.

    From my perspective, you’ve come into this community, talked about how some unnamed people say its about villifying men and used one ambiguous center to give an example of that, ignored the counter-arguments, derailed this thread into a discussion of the poor position of this guy, announced how you don’t care to continue the conversation, and then left with this implication that the default stance here is “anti-man”.

    There are so many misrepresentations there. I’ll start with the fact that Mary’s message (which I had read at the time) also treated the thing being defended as rape, not the depiction of rape.

    With respect to the question of who is talking poorly about the geekfeminism site: it’s a long story. There is a private members list for the Python Software Foundation, and one or two people cited this site as an example of the vindictive horrors that might might befall the Python world if our diversity statement were written too stridently.

    I would quote the exact words but just today the diversity list had a big thread about how disrespectful it would be to repost private text to a public fora. I mounted a vigorous defense of geekfeminism, to the point that I was advised to tone it down by people who agreed to me. My exact quote (now spell-corrected) was:

    …would we really
    advocate that offended minorities keep their mouths shut to protect
    the Great Man from embarrassment?

    That is cronyism and corruption. Geekfeminism is on the side of the angels.

    If you do not want your actions to be broadcast and critiqued, then
    do not perform them on stage.

    This was in reference to suggestions that the Python community might have been able to handle the RMS or CouchDB situations “more tactfully” (which I interpret to mean “quietly”). Aside: Please do not think that either my opinions nor that of the person I was debating are representative of the Python community…we are just two people….geek feminism was cited positively more often than it was cited negatively.

    The next thing you are incorrect about: I did not say that I did not want to discuss this further. I chose not to further “defend” the author’s definition of the word. Whether he is factually correct or not is actually irrelevant to the question of whether he was defending the act or even the depiction.

    Finally, you must twist my words to the opposite of their plain meaning to say that I left with the implication that the default stance of the site is “anti-men”. I was quite clear about the fact that most of what I read was not anti-men.

    I can’t think of a better definition of “bad faith argument”, frankly.

    I’m sorry you feel that way.

      1. Paul Prescod

        Rick:

        Paul, AFAIK all parties involved in this thread are on the Python diversity list.

        Okay, the anti-gf post(s?) were on the private PSF list but you can at least look to my posts on python-diversity as evidence that I am not just making it up to “threaten” you to toe the line or be shunned.

        I put some reputation on the line, backing the site and I just don’t want someone posting a link tomorrow saying: “See: I told you so. It isn’t about documenting facts. It’s about twisting men’s words to make it seem like they defend rape.”

        Despite the harsh words, I do think that the thread clarifies the post, though I cringe to think that my name will be attached to all of these accusations and counter-accusations in perpetuity.

        A more productive approach would have been to contact you privately. I am sorry I didn’t do it that way.

  8. Paul Prescod

    I’m still completely missing why you feel compelled to defend this comic book writer’s story line and his own defense of his intentions, as well as, apparently, his definition of what rape is.

    Liz:

    Much of what you read into my post, I did not intend to say. Your proposals for my motivations and mental state are mostly also off-base, in my opinion.

    It is probably true that I read things into “cry me a river” that were not intended as well. (I say “probably” because I cannot read your mind,)

    I understand why you are angry. I’m sorry I handled it this way. We’ll have to start again some other place in some other way.

  9. Paul Prescod

    It isn’t clear to me how (technologically) I would have contacted Skud privately to humbly suggest a slightly different wording for the title of the blog post.

    I’m not sure whether it is by design that it is difficult to post private messages — perhaps to deter bullies. Or perhaps just a side effect of the software. Anyway, if it were available, and I were wise enough to use it, and careful enough to choose my language properly … then it would have been a useful feature.

      1. Paul Prescod

        Email would have worked. You have her address.

        Aha. I had no idea that Skud was someone I already knew by another name until you pointed it out.

  10. Jonquil

    “It’s about twisting men’s words to make it seem like they defend rape.””

    For the Nth time, Van Lente said:
    “My understanding of the definition of rape is that it requires force or the threat of force, so no. Using deception to trick someone into granting consent isn’t quite the same thing.”

    In other words, he said that something that legally is rape isn’t rape. That’s defending rape. That is narrowing the concept of rape so that, for instance, slipping a roofie into a woman’s drink and then having sex with her is not rape. He is defending one particular class of rape by claiming that it isn’t rape.

    You are saying that any discussion of this discredits the entire class of women in software. If we talk about issues that are relevant to us as geeks, it discredits you.

    It isn’t about you. It’s about us.

    1. kalinara

      technically, he isn’t narrowing the definition. He’s using the traditional common law, legal definition.

      And the thing is, he’s not wrong. Sex with an unconscious person is considered to contain the element of force, as does a woman pressured into having sex to keep her job.

      Mistaken identity is trickier, because the woman is consenting to sex with someone. And unfortunately, the court has found in the past that consent transfers, essentially. I’m not sure of the current state of the law, (I think it depends largely on statute) but it’s not really fair to demonize him for expressing an unpleasant legal reality.

      At least he does admit it’s a deplorable act. But he’s right that it might not be prosecutable.

      1. Rick

        I’d argue that consent doesn’t work like a wildcard; you don’t consent to “just everything”.

        To use a metaphor: say I’m a doctor and I tell somebody that they need surgery to remove a growth from their liver. During the surgery, I decide to remove one of their kidneys so I can sell it on the black market. Did they consent? No, because they consented to the liver surgery, not to having a kidney removed, nor to a handwavy “surgery in general”.

  11. Paul Prescod

    Jonquil: I’ve been informed that if I continue to make an argument then I will cause harm to people (and certainly frustrate a larger group of people).

    I also don’t have the option of changing my mind in order to conform to the group consensus. (which is different than saying my mind is closed..there are many things I wish I could believe in that I cannot without further evidence or introspection)

    Precisely because it’s not about me, I’d like to let it drop and avoid further derailment.

    It’s been said that if I say that I “don’t care to continue the conversation” that this is further evidence of my “bad faith”. But given the above, it seems to me that taking the conversation elsewhere is the least-bad option.

    In the unlikely event that anyone wants to hear further from me on the topic, you can contact me at paul at prescod dot net. You can also contact me if you want to educate me or express your own opinion but would rather not hear a response back. I am still interested in communication on this topic, but just not here (and probably not in any public forum).

  12. al_zorra

    Yeah and many a slave owner doesn’t tie down his slaves and beat them over the head before using them for sexual fun and games either.

    Coercion of any kind makes it rape, whether overly physically violent, with drugs, with deception, or merely the threat of of violence, which, of course is always there in the condition of slavery. That is what slavery IS! Without the implied violence, sanctioned by law and community, you don’t have slavery.

    This is why we now can speak of spousal rape in courts. Such rape is no longer legal within our laws. However, not long ago it was.

Comments are closed.