Retro Post: Forced Seduction or Rape?

Posted March 15, 2017 by Casee in Discussions | 22 Comments

A lot has changed in publishing since 2008, but forced seduction and rape haven’t gone away. If anything, I think we’ve seen even more of this in contemporary novels.

This was originally posted February 25, 2008.
Casee: The other night, Holly and I started talking about the ever controversial topic–rape in romance novels.

The topic came up when I mentioned that I was going to start reading Claiming the Courtesan by Anna Campbell. (I’ve since finished it and hope to have my review up in a few days.) Holly asked if CtC had the “forced seduction” in it, which yes, it does. There are several reviews on Amazon taking the author to task for daring to call her book a romance when the hero rapes the heroine. Whether it was rape is another story altogether. One reviewer told her that CtC was a throwback to the bodice-rippers of the 80’s.
Hello? Have these reviewers ever read Stormfire by Christine Monson? That is indisputably rape. That book is one that doesn’t neatly fit into the “romance” slot it’s supposed to. I’m sure that almost everything that has read Stormfire would agree that there is no question of forced seduction or rape. It was rape.

Then you have the books where it’s rather murky. It basically is left to the reader to decide for themselves b/c it’s far from cut and dried.

The few books that came to mind when Holly and I were talking were Once and Always and Whitney, My Love, both by Judith McNaught. Holly is insistent that Jason raped Tory in Once and Always. Me, not so much. As a matter of fact, I had to go back and read a few pages b/c I don’t remember ever thinking it was rape.

No means no. Right? It’s not so black and white when it comes to the written word (please remember that we’re talking about this topic in regard to reading). As far as Whitney, My Love goes, I think it was rape. Clayton raped Whitney. I don’t even have to think about it.

Then you have books like The Duke by Gaelen Foley. The rape of the heroine turned the plot. It changed who the heroine would have been if the rape wouldn’t have happened. Does that make it less a romance? No, that makes it life. It made the heroine change her life choices, sure, but it didn’t make it less of a romance. That doesn’t mean it’s any less tragic, it just showed the reader that something like that changes a person’s life.

Holly:

There’s definitely a fine line between what I consider “acceptable” forced seduction and just flat out rape. While I agree with Casee about Whitney, My Love, I disagree with her about Once and Always. In my opinion, Jason raped Tory, same as Clay raped Whitney, it was just written prettier in O&A.

You see, Tory said no. She said no at the beginning and continued to say no throughout. Even as her body responded, she told him no. No is no. I don’t care what your body says. If your mouth says no (and it’s clearly not what you want) that’s rape. Plain and simple.

Of course, there are a lot of gray areas there. Because if well written, a forced seduction can be a turning point in a novel. And if extremely well written, I – who considers the “forced seduction/rape” issue a major hot button – will love the hero anyway. That doesn’t happen often, but it has happened.

But back to Jason and Tory. The thing is, I liked Jason. A lot. He was a good hero, and to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure Tory deserved him. She wasn’t totally TSTL, but she did come close. Regardless of that, however, that one scene, the scene where he forces her to submit to him, wasn’t sexy, or hot, or something I’d ever want to experience. Maybe it’s because I’m fairly independent. Or because I’m a modern day woman. Or maybe it’s just I can’t imagine having all control taken away, but when Tory told Jason, “I’ll hate you if you do this” and he did it anyway..well, a part of me hated him, too.

I have to give Judith McNaught credit, however, because even though I hated that one scene in the book, I didn’t end up hating the book as a whole. Nor did I hate Jason or Tory. Honestly? I’m not even sure if I can explain exactly why that is. I imagine it has something to so with JM’s ability to make her characters 3 dimensional and real.

Of course, we’re still not talking about rape. We’re talking forced seduction. Rape, well, that’s something all together different. I don’t think there’s any coming back from rape.

What do you think? Do you think there’s a place for Forced Seduction in romance? What about Rape? I’m not talking about the heroine being raped by someone other than the hero, either. I’m talking about the hero forcing the heroine, against her will.

I think Forced Seduction has it’s place. There are times – though I’m loathe to admit it – when it really needs to happen for the story to progress, or the characters to develop. Rape? I don’t know. I have yet to read a novel labeled romance where the hero actually raped the heroine. There have been a couple close calls, but not an actual rape.

Casee:

I really believe that in the cases of the McNaught books or Claiming the Courtesan, it really is left up to reader interpretation. In books like Stormfire or Island Flame by Karen Robards (those come to mind first), it is clearly rape and those books are not for everyone. I agree with Holly that Forced Seduction does have it’s place.

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22 responses to “Retro Post: Forced Seduction or Rape?

  1. Oh, hard question. I love O&A — it’s one of my keepers and it’s falling apart. What’s interesting, though, is that when I first read the post and you mentioned Jason raping Tory . . . I thought at first of a totally different scene — their wedding night, the one in which he very brutally takes her virginity. I hate that scene and I always just skim over it . . .

    On the “forced seduction” scene where Tory tells him she’ll hate him, I always find myself more inclined to “forgive” him (the feminist in me is shuddering) because of McNaught’s treatment of him in the following scene — where he completely humbles himself. I don’t like the forced seduction scene, but I like the turning point in their relationship that follows, if that makes sense.

    I cannot see the same type of scene working in a contemporary romance. Perhaps as a reader, I’m more likely to suspend disbelief for a historical? Diana Palmer’s contemporary alpha heroes squick me out (although I keep reading, go figure), yet the same behavior in a historical doesn’t.

    Or maybe I’m an odd duck. 😉

  2. Chantal,
    I hated W,ML, but it had nothing to do with the rape scene, or lack thereof in the revised version. I just didn’t like Whitney. 🙂

    Linda,
    I understand what you mean about O&A. I was so angry at Jason in that scene, but I forgave him. Again, I have to give JM credit for making me love the hero after a scene like that.

    I don’t think it could work in a contemp, either. But then, who knows? If the right author tried it out, anything is possible.

  3. I completely agree about JM. It never fails to amaze me how much I love her books when her heroines drive me batty. LOL

    Yes, I did finally ban you. Mwuaahhaahhaaaa

    Ok, not really. Casee took her review down because blogger is being wonky on her and the codes were all messed up. She’s going to repost it later today. 🙂

  4. Oh, and Linda,
    Re: the ‘wedding night’ scene..

    That one didn’t bother me as much (well, I shouldn’t say it didn’t bother me, because it was VERY uncomfortable to read about) because I didn’t feel that Jason was forcing her. It was just a big misunderstanding. Yes, I wish it would have been handled differently, but I didn’t feel like Jason was hurting her on purpose, or anything like. I will admit that I haven’t re-read the scene since the first time, though, so I could be mistaken.

  5. Oh no, Chantal. I’m not sure if I even want to post my review of CtC now. LOL

    I really think that it’s all about reading tastes.

    It’s obviously been waaay too long since I’ve read O&A b/c I thought we were talking about the wedding night. lmao!

    I’ve never really given it much thought, but the only JM heroine I really like is Tory.

    Linda, I agree that it wouldn’t work in a contemp. I just think it’s b/c of how rape is perceived during the time the book takes place.

  6. I had to go back and read my thoughts on CTC because I wasn’t sure if I called it rape. For me Verity went on and on about how inevitable it was that the hero was going to force her to have sex.

    And I thought the hero had way too many screws rolling around in his head.

    So by the time it happened I didn’t really care because it was like Verity had given up. Cause it was inevitable.

    I haven’t read Whitney or Once and Always in years – I really need to re-read these!

    Cindys

  7. I liked CtC and in the context of the time and the relationship I agree with Cindy that I felt it was a more inevitable seduction. Not forced or rape. Inevitable. The heroine’s reasons for not wanting the relationship were not a reluctance to enjoy the physical relationship but to avoid making an emotional tie. To be free of a life he did not want to allow her to be free from. I don’t know. It worked for me. Also, it is troublesome to me when we try to apply modern day sensibilities and understanding to a historical time period.

    I remember my grandmother, who was in an arranged marriage and had known my grandfather for exactly one hour before marrying, saying that there was no saying no. No just wasn’t in the vernacular or even the thought process. Sex was at the prerogative of the man. End of story. She started out not liking my grandfather and had 5 children and almost 60 years of marriage. She always said it took about 10 years to be in love with him.

    What I’m taking a long a$$ time to say is that my grandmother definitely did not want to have sex with my grandfather on her wedding night. There was no seduction, and in her mind and words, no rape either. Just the inevitable and acceptance. Of course, we want more than that from a romance novel, but if a writer can capture that sensibility in the framework of the historical period, I can take that leap with the story.

  8. Chantal

    There is a diff. between forced seducation and rape. When it comes to Campbell’s CtC, its rape. It actually digusts me that any woman can look at those first 2 ‘love’ scenes and consider it to be forced seducation and not rape.

    Like I said in my own review, even erotica pubs say that the woman has to be into it by the time penetration happens. Not so with CtC though. She didn’t get wet, her mind didn’t want it, she tried to get away, she always said no and she friggin got up and washed her body afterwards!

    I have not bought an Avon book since I read CtC. I was that put off and pissed about it.

    I did read Whitney, My love. I loved the book, but forget what I thought about that famous love scene. I believe I have the newer edited version of it.

  9. Chantal

    Yeah, McNaught can write some really shitty Heroines.
    I notice though that she can write a Heroine that I hate hate hate- (Kingdom of dreams)yet still pull off writing a great story that doesn’t have the shithead Heroine messing up the whole book.

    P.s-I just tried to reply to the CtC review, but it wont let me. DId you finally make good on your promise to ban me? lmao

  10. Chantal

    I forgot to say that I have Once and always, have not read it yet though.

    I can still see the review. It looks good, I just can’t reply to it. Weird.

  11. Ana

    I just can’t accept rape or forced seduction – it just doesn’t agree with my stomach. I feel sick whenever I read scenes like these. This is why I hated Whitney, my love (that WAS rape) and why I can’t even give CtC a chance, I am afraid. Even if I can see that JM is a good writer. And Anna Campbell may be as well.

    Another book where the hero rapes the heroine even though she cries the whole time and says NO throughout? The Flame and the Flower. Which is considered a classic. The hero laughs at her, mocks her and even go as far as to rape her again!

    I can think of one other book where there is rape and it is the hero who suffers it by the hands of the vilain: Outlander. That completely destroyed that book for me and I won’t even pick up the other books.

    I feel really strongly about this.

  12. I have W,ML but have no intention of ever reading it… that book never really interested me.

    About the topic… I didn’t read CtC, but I did read O&A… and I didn’t think it was rape. Perhaps, forced seduction, but I’m not very sure… all I knew is that I accept that scene because of the time period. I think that both of you are looking at this issue with a bit too much of modernity. In those time, the “woman” was pretty much the property of the husband, sad to say,b ut it’s the reality. He didn’t need consent and there was “rape” between husband and wife. Today, we know bettere… but in those time? So I just thought that the scene fit the book and the time period. Is it something that I want to read? Not on a regular basis… is it still romance? I don’t define romance on only one scene, but by the whole book… and O&A was definitively a romance book.

    Strangely, I think that if the scene happened in a contemporary romance, then I’d just close the book and not finish it… What’s interesting though, I’ve never read a contemporary romance where the heroine was raped by the hero…

  13. Rosie,

    You said it way better than I ever could. You’re right that Verity’s reluctance stemmed from not wanting to get emotionally involved. I think that’s the main reason that I really don’t consider it rape.

    Nath, I don’t think a contemporary author would dare write in a rape scene. In historicals, it’s widely accepted as “forced seduction”, but in contemps? Like you, I can’t imagine wanting to read a contemp that has rape in it. It definitely is the time that the book takes place and what is considered accepted.

    I still think that the scene in W,ML was rape. I always have.

  14. What I’m taking a long a$$ time to say is that my grandmother definitely did not want to have sex with my grandfather on her wedding night. There was no seduction, and in her mind and words, no rape either. Just the inevitable and acceptance. Of course, we want more than that from a romance novel, but if a writer can capture that sensibility in the framework of the historical period, I can take that leap with the story.

    Rosie, I agree with this completely, and it’s one of the reason I think the forced seduction can work in a historical novel, but not in a contemporary.

    Take O&A for example. Casee and I were apparently at cross purposes – or at least thinking of different scenes in the book – but I didn’t consider their wedding night a case of forced seduction or rape. It was handled badly by both parties, but I never felt that she could have (or even should have) said no.

    The scene I’m referring to happens towards the end of the book. Jason forces Tory to submit to him, even when she tells him no. Even as her body begins to respond, she tells him, “Stop. Don’t do this. If you do, I’ll hate you for it” and still he continues. The thing is, part of his reason for forcing it was because he was punishing himself. Because he needed to drive her completely away from him.

    Part of me understood that, even as it was happening. And part of me understands it was a turning point in their relationship..just like part of me understands Jason leaving a diamond bracelet on the nightstand afterwards was a major turning point in the story as well.

    That doesn’t mean it was easy for me to accept, however. It wasn’t. It disgusted me and upset me and I was furious! Because she said no. Clearly and concisely. And no, after all, means no.

    And though Nath has a point that it was the wife’s duty to submit to her husband back then, I think that particular scene was over the line…I can’t say why exactly I feel like that, but perhaps it was because I feel their relationship had progressed past that?

    Re: Forced Seduction in contemporary..

    I have read a couple books in a contemp setting that included a forced seduction/rape scene, but they were paranormals. And I give some leeway in those as well.

  15. The thing with forced seductions is very tricky. I can’t stand how the heroine is screaming NO NO and trembling in fear but then all of a sudden her body responds to the hero, because well he is the hero!
    CTC walks an interesting line. I love Campbell’s writing but the romance was too cold and harsh, mainly because I couldn’t get passed the second “seduction” scene. He definitely rapes her in the scene, no doubt about it, but soon after she forgives and allows him to take her again, because this time her body is responding to him.
    Didn’t Coulter do something with the heroine being kidnapped by the so-called hero, he rapes her, she falls in love with him but then is gang raped by some evil baddies? With the gang rape that is rape but not with the hero, well again because he is the hero.

  16. I have to add one last observation on this subject. Oprah Winfrey years ago was discussing her sexual abuse by a family member and said part of her shame was because her body responded to what happened to her. She came to realize that just because her body responded in a biological way did not mean she wasn’t abused by her uncle and cousin for two reasons.

    The first reason was because she did not choose or want to have sex with either of those men. The sex was not wanted or desired. A woman can say no and have her body respond but that doesn’t mean she wants to have relations with that person. Secondly both of these males were in a position of power and authority over her where she didn’t feel she could say ‘no’.

    In our books if I know the heroine is really fighting herself and not her partner I can accept the forced seduction better. If female protag is really saying ‘No’ to the man and to the sex then I have a pretty hard time dealing with it.

    In CtC I don’t think she was saying ‘No’ to him. She was saying ‘No’ to herself by not allowing herself to have him. At least that’s the way I remember it.

    In Whitney My Love…that was rape. I was pretty uncomfortable with that. Intrigued and shocked (it was 20 years ago) as a writing device and wondering how JM was going to get the characters out of it, but still squeamish.

  17. Katiebabs,

    I think you make an excellent point. I’ve often wondered why it’s made acceptable with the hero. I think too often authors try to justify something that can’t be justified. Which is why this is a major hot button for me.

    Rosie makes an excellent point, as well, about whether the heroine is fighting herself or the hero, but I still think too many times a line is crossed.

    Perversely, a lot of times a scene like that doesn’t completely ruin the story for me. I think I have more issues than I originally thought. LOL

  18. lorraine

    I grew up on Rosemary Rogers, Kathleen Woodiwiss, and Johanna Lindsey. Their books were filled with forced seduction scenes. For the most part, I don’t have a problem with it. If these things happened in reality it would be awful, and I’d be all for locking the guy up, but I always have clarity that it’s a book, so I go with the flow. I haven’t read any of the books cited here, but one book I loved that had a forced scene was The Conqueror by Brenda Joyce. Didn’t bother me at all, (am I awful?).

  19. Jen

    By the time I was really heavy into romance, the rapey stories had mostly faded away, and frankly there are way too many non-rapey stories I haven’t read yet for me to ever spend time backtracking to the ones that are questionable. That’s not to say I’ve NEVER been able to like a hero who engaged in forced seduction, but to be honest the only semi-current example I can think of that didn’t immediately make me toss my kindle across the room is probably Rhys from The Iron Duke, and even he *seriously* pushed my willingness to forgive his actions, and I can totally understand why that one scene ruined the book for tons of readers. I just read an HP this week that was kind of rapey actually, though it was published in 2007 and I do think HPs today have less questionable sex than even 10 years ago. The book had a heroine saying “no, no, no” while the hero never even slowed down for a moment. Of course, eventually as her body starts to respond she realizes she’s into it she does show she wants to keep going by actively participating (even still, a single pause from the hero or spoken yes from the heroine sure would have gone a long way), but there was no indication that the hero was listening to her or would have stopped if she’d kept insisting. I find I have a pretty low tolerance for even weak consent nowadays–I want strong and vocal consent on all sides, and I sure do notice if that’s missing.

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