Sunday, September 7, 2014

Romance and Rohypnol

I don’t normally rant here, but in a manuscript offered for critique, I came across a scene which made me see red.

The tough, kickass heroine has two men in her life: the hero and her best friend. Both are, of course, overprotective of her, but because of some problems she hasn’t been sleeping well recently. So the best friend gives her a nice hot drink to help her relax, and she keels over a minute later. “I crushed some pills into it,” he explains to the hero.

“Seriously, dude?” says the hero (okay, that’s paraphrased), and as the friend shuffles his feet in embarrassment at this small gaffe he’s made, the hero carries the heroine to a bed so he can lay her down, tuck her in, smooth her hair and think how gorgeous she is. So basically, that’s the whole point of her being knocked out. Yes, she might be tough and kickass when she’s conscious, but now she’s just vulnerable and beautiful.

The manuscript was already getting so much criticism that I decided not to pile in, but I wondered what made me react so strongly to this. It’s not personally triggering. And I’ve read a lot worse. There are romance novels where the hero pays someone to sexually assault the heroine and where the hero sets the heroine up to be gang-raped.

Compared to that, slipping her a drug isn’t even something I’ve never read before. In one novel, the hero gives the heroine laudanum after she’s told him she’s pregnant with his child, to calm her down enough that she won’t struggle when he has sex with her. There’s another where the hero drugs the heroine twice, the second time after he knows he’s in love with her (the first time, he just undresses and ogles her).

I’ve also heard of this being done at least once in reverse—the heroine drugging the hero’s drink so that he’ll stay out of some battle. Notice that in this case, there’s no sexual component to it. But drugging someone’s drink never comes off as protective to me. Yes, in real life it’s the prelude to date rape, but even in the context of fiction it doesn’t work.

For one thing, if the person you love settles problems between the two of you by knocking you out, how do you know this won’t happen again in the future? If one drink was spiked, and if this wasn’t treated as the betrayal of trust and violation of bodily autonomy that it is, why shouldn’t the other person do it again some time?

We won’t even get into how creepy it is for someone to take advantage of you while you’re unconscious, whether it’s to remove your clothes or just to gaze lovingly lecherously at you. The men I want to read about are the men who wouldn’t do anything to a sleeping/incapacitated woman that they wouldn’t do a woman wide awake.

The other thing is that while the rape of a heroine is sometimes—maybe even often—addressed as something the hero needs to make up for, drugging the heroine rarely if ever is. Sometimes, this isn’t even something she’ll be told about. It’s that unimportant.

And yet it’s dangerous to just dump sedatives in someone’s drink, something none of these romances address. What if it’s too much or the person has an adverse reaction to that particular drug? Yes, in fiction, the person just goes to sleep and wakes up later with no ill effects—nowhere near as bad as what happened to Tammy Homolka—but that doesn’t change the fact that a life was put at risk without that person’s consent or knowledge.

And if I’m then asked to like whoever was responsible, that’s too much.

Here ends the rant.


Jennifer R. Donohue said...

I haven't read much in the way of romance, so perhaps it's just kind of "cute" that I'm surprised by this being a Thing. In what world is it all right to drug somebody because you think it's best for them, and because of course they'll love you all the more for it? I'm incensed as well.

But I can definitely understand not piling on in the AW thread; people can get pretty thorny under repeated criticism, no matter how well-justified.

Marian Perera said...

Thankfully it's not a frequent trope. At least, I hope it's not, because I've only read it in two novels and this manuscript so far.

But it bothered me intensely, because the implications and consequences were never addressed. There was just... no reaction from the victims.

Even with rape, the victim knows what has happened to them. But if you're drugged, you don't know. I find that more disturbing and frightening.

Thanks for commenting!

Maria Zannini said...

Disturbing is the key word.

I can understand rape, particularly within a historical context, but a 'hero' drugging the heroine is just plain creepy.

Marian Perera said...

In one of the novels I read, it was clearly the author pushing the envelope (and this was a contemporary).

Sadly, in the manuscript, I got the impression that the writer really didn't realize there was anything wrong. It was more of a cute oh-geez thing the heroine's friend did to her, with the additional d'aww of the hero tenderly gazing upon her as she lay unconscious.