Much of the discussion around sexual assault and romance focuses on two things: 1) women’s desire to be controlled or dominated during sexual situations in ways that mirror or even attempt to recreate sexual violence; and 2) how rape scenarios between two protagonists can serve to free the woman into exploring sex in ways that society deems troublesome without ever having to *choose* to do so. A lot of great pieces have been written around these topics.
But then there are times where rape culture, like that mythical stranger in the bushes waiting to attack, jumps out from nowhere and smacks you in the face while you are reading a novel you otherwise think is okay.
This was my experience a couple of days ago as I was plugging along through Brenda Novak’s Coulda Been A Cowboy. The basic plot is that a famous NFL wide receiver, after a public scandal in which he pays off the mother of his child to hand over the child to him, escapes to a small Idaho town. The nanny he hires to watch his son, whom the NFL player cannot manage, eventually steals the father’s heart.
The wide receiver has a terrible and toxic relationship with his son’s mother, though. And she is painted only as a manipulative and greedy liar. Her worst offense of the many is that she falsely accuses the NFL player with sexual assault.
This is what he says to the nanny when they are discussing the mother’s accusations:
Of course she’s lying. That’s all she ever does. But once a woman makes that kind of claim, a guy has no way to defend himself. How can I prove I didn’t do anything wrong? It’s more sensational to think I’m some sort of predator, so once the press gets hold of it, my reputation will be completely destroyed. I can’t even point to all the things she did before she met me without coming off like I’m claiming she deserved it.
Experts believe that somewhere between 2 to 8% of rape claims may be false. This plot line feeds the false idea that women lie often about being raped in order to manipulate a man. And we view this only from the point of view of character we are conditioned to empathize with. Of course, we also know that the woman is lying.
It’s also ridiculous this idea that “my reputation will be completely destroyed.” What about Mike Tyson? Kobe Bryant? Ben Roethlisberger?
This part of the book ruined this for me. I thought of the many women who will read this, survivors of sexual violence, and see yet again how society paints them.