I'd like to take a break from our regularly scheduled programming to discuss an issue that keeps coming up in the books I'm reading.
I read and write books with female protagonists almost exclusively. As a woman, I like reading characters to whom I can relate. I like women that aren't pushovers. Women who fight to overcome their flaws. Women who take charge of their lives. These can be girly girls or awesome butches or anywhere in between, but I like women who dominate in whatever they're doing-- or at least try.
So I would say 90% of the books I've read this year have had female protagonists, and of those books, 90% of them have had the female characters under threat of rape at some point in the book. Apparently, where female characters are concerned, rape is the only threat that effectively shows the seriousness of a situation.
Even when there is no outright attempt or successful assault, there's lots of dubious consent-- women who are sexually accosted while they sleep and cannot consent, or women who are taken by some spirit and forced to have sex with someone (again, without consent). This is also rape. And you what? All of the books with these scenes would have been just as good -- or better! -- without scenes of rape or threatened rape.
Women can be in peril without threat of sexual assault.
I don't have an issue with sexual assault as part of the plot. Let's face it: rape is a serious problem in reality. People are victimized every day. Ignoring it will not make the problem better, and there are valid ways to address sexual assault in fiction.
That said, so many of these books had threat of rape as a casual aside, and I've come to recognize it as the lazy writing method of saying "oh no! this woman is in danger!" One book had a female protagonist almost-raped twice before she was finally actually raped about 20% of the way through, and I had to give up reading it.
This is worst in indie books. I can only think that most big New York editors catch it and gently suggest writers cut back a little before publishing. In any case, this has forced me to implement a new policy: I will not finish reading your book if female characters are casually and frequently under the threat of sexual assault. I am sensitive about the subject and my tolerance for it has vanished.
So here's my plea: Writers, create drama. Put your characters in horrible situations, and then escalate those horrible situations. But unless it's critical to the plot, give your female characters a break. She doesn't need to be almost-assaulted (or actually assaulted) for us to fear for her safety.