Monday, March 24, 2014

Slut Shaming: Holding Our Heroines to a Higher Standard

by Megan S.


Heroines make the hard choices.  Heroines do the right thing.  Heroines are the better person.  So we'd never expect one of our very favorite Urban Fantasy heroines to blame the sexual assault victim she's supposed to save.  Patricia Brigg's Mercy Thompson does just that when she gleefully slut shames the victim in the newly released Night Broken and it's despicable.

(Mostly spoiler-free discussion below.)

In the latest Thompson novel, the Columbia Basin Pack must come together to save Mercy's nemesis, her husband Adam's first wife from a deadly stalker.  After a frantic phone call, ex-wife and completely human Christy moves back into her former home so the pack may better protect her.  Christy leverages her situation to wedge Mercy out of the house she and Adam share.  She systematically humiliates and belittles Mercy in front of the pack while our heroine refrains from responding in kind.  The friction finally culminates with Mercy dressing down Christy as the rest of the pack watches, telling her she wouldn't have drawn the attention of a stalker if she hadn't had sex with him so soon after meeting him and if she hadn't been the one to approach him in a flirtatious manner.  Mercy comments that she only stopped herself from calling Christy a slut out loud because her daughter was in the room.

We the readers are not supposed to sympathize with Christy's plight as the victim of a stalker, we're meant to hate her.  Briggs crafted the big blow up scene so we feel relief and satisfaction when she's berated and slut shamed in front of the group.

Old school slut shaming
Slut shaming, if you're unfamiliar with the term, is the act of attacking the character of a female for dressing provocatively, acting flirtatiously, and/or being sexually active with the goal of shaming and making the transgressor feel guilty.  Men are very rarely held to this same outdated, irrational standard. Think of it as an updated term for what happened to Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter. The divisive and unwarranted act of slut-shaming is based on an antiquated moral code meant to keep women in their place. 

Slut shaming victims of a sexual assault is disgusting.  Claiming any unwanted advances or worse are a woman's fault because her skirt was too short or some other nonsense is not acceptable from anyone.  It is downright reprehensible coming from a heroine.

We hold our heroines to a higher standard.  They, more than any other character in a story, represent what is good and right.  Yes, all well-written heroines have flaws, but these faults are presented as shortcomings, not something to be celebrated.  Mercy's self-righteous slut shaming is presented as a positive act.  She never learns that this is not OK.  While Mercy does mitigate her attack by stating that no one would care if Christy slept with a whole football team and that the stalker's murderous actions after the fact were not her fault, she later tells Adam she still blames Christy.

I was shocked when I read this scene.  I have always enjoyed the Mercy Thompson series for a number of reasons and I looked forward to reading Night Broken for months.  This anti-feminist slut shaming victims, however, has tarnished my opinion of Briggs's books.  I can only hope Mercy and Briggs learn this type of behavior is unacceptable in a future novel.
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7 comments:

  1. I haven't read any of this series yet, and I don't want to now.

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    1. There are lots of good things about the series (eg I love how she's woven in Welsh and Native American traditions into a UF world) so this was surprising.

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  2. I've only read the first 2 books in this series, but I know what happens to Mercy in book 3, which makes this action even worse in my mind.

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    1. I totally agree. It's pretty unthinkable with regard to previous events in the series.

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  3. I'm shocked. I haven't read the latest book, but it will now move to the top of my to read list. If this is really where the story goes, then I'm very disappointed, as I love this series. Patricia Briggs is one of the nicest authors I've ever met. Very down to earth, the type of person you want to go have lunch with so you can chat for hours about just anything. I would hope that this is not the message she wanted to broadcast to her readers.....

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    1. It's really where the story goes. The argument begins on page 165 on my eBook edition.
      Christy's the antagonist. She says shitty things and manipulates people. But it's unacceptable to use it as a platform for slut shaming.

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  4. Well shit. I've always like Patricia Briggs. :(

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