Marvel Fail: rape culture apologism from writer, where the hell were the editors?

Full story at io9 – beware some rape-culture apologism in the comments, too: Spider-Man’s Villains: Not Rapists, Says Creator.

Storyline summary: villain named Chameleon takes Peter Parker’s shape and has sex with his roommate Michelle Gonzalez, who thinks he is Parker. Subsequent events show that the incident is being played for laughs with the oh so hilarious misunderstandings afterwards between Parker and roommate as she morphs immediately into a super-possessive clingy and bossy girlfriend from Nightmareland.

Fan response: unsurprisingly, many people argued that this deception constituted rape, as Gonzalez would presumably not have consented to the sexual interaction if she realised that it was not actually Parker.

Writer response to fan challenges:

My understanding of the definition of rape is that it requires force or the threat of force, so no. Using deception to trick someone into granting consent isn’t quite the same thing.

Which is not to say it isn’t a horrible, evil, reprehensible thing that Chameleon did. He is a bad man.

He insults parapelegics[sic] and dips people in acid too.

*   *   *   *

Readers here, I’m sure, do know that in many jurisdictions using deception to obtain consent when consent otherwise would have been withheld is indeed considered criminal sexual assault (e.g. fraudulent representations of I’m your husband, not his twin brother or I’m wearing a condom are actual prosecuted deceptions on record). These laws provide a distinction between fraud in the inducement (I’m rich and famous, I’ll respect you in the morning) and fraud in the factum (I’m this specific individual you know and trust, I have done this particular thing that I promised to you), so it’s not like someone can be arrested for saying that they are a millionaire to induce sexual consent when they are in fact unemployed – but more specific deceptions as to actual identity rather than characteristics fall under fraud in the factum.

There’s lots to unpack in the writer’s response (especially in regard to the hahaha stereotyped narrative consequences of Chameleon’s “horrible, evil, reprehensible” act), and many folks on io9 are doing a good job, but there’s one aspect I particularly would like to address, and it’s one that I’ve discussed before: the way that some people are so hung up on traditional folk definitions of rape rather than engaging with how modern legal statutes define degrees of sexual assault as a spectrum of non-consensual sexual contact. Getting hung up on whether an incident was “really rape” becomes just another way to perpetuate rape culture – “it has to be forcible” being the major culprit in this particular incident.

I generally prefer to use the term “sexual assault” purely in order to avoid people getting hung up on their emotional response to the word “rape”. But the word “rape” does have a rhetorical power that using “sexual assault” lacks precisely due to how the associated cultural baggage evokes a strong emotional response. Sometimes the rhetorical power of the word “rape” seems to be worth the emotional cloud that it produces, but often it just obscures the logical thrust of one’s arguments. Thoughts?

Categories: arts & entertainment, ethics & philosophy, gender & feminism, language, law & order

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6 replies

  1. And the writer, Fred Van Lente, now says that actually, despite all the implications, they didn’t actually have sex so it’s not even rape so what’s the problem? As the commenters say, that looks like a rewrite – so maybe that’s where the editors were!
    Yeah. I’ve been a comics reader and collector since 1987. This year I cut 90% of my pull list, including my once-beloved X-Men titles, and I haven’t regretted it. The writers want to be “edgy” and yet back away from dealing with any possible consequences. A story where someone is raped by a shapeshifter in the form of a loved one could be a good story – but “not really rape” and also “didn’t really happen” and also “ha ha those clingy women” is far more Marvel’s style these days.
    Something vaguely similar happened to Phoenix back in the 80s – illusionist Mastermind convinced her telepathically that they were reincarnated lovers and soul-bonded. Once she worked out what was happening (when Mastermind attacked her actual boyfriend in this fantasy) she was justifiably furious and punished Mastermind. His brainwashing was shown as scary and evil, not funny or “didn’t happen”. That’s a sexual assault storyline that isn’t played as a joke for the boys.

  2. “He insults parapelegics[sic] and dips people in acid too.”
    Can someone give me context for this?

    • @Anna,
      I just gathered that it was in reference to other evil things that the Chameleon character does, as if what people were objecting to was that a bad guy did something bad, instead of how the surrounding narrative contextualised and minimalised the “bad thing” ie rape by deception, as something cheesily amusing because OMG now she thinks she’s Parker’s girlfriend.

  3. What’s really getting me here the fact that people are saying “He’s a bad guy, so what if he raped her?”. Bad guys do bad things, yes. But last I checked the murder of Uncle Ben wasn’t being played for laughs!

  4. I am confused about the context of “insults parapelegics” (I’d say people who have
    paraplegic disability), besides spelling the word incorrectly.
    I have the 3 Spiderman movies and the Xmen movies that are on little discs for a
    game player (manufacturer who I will not mention). Due to my disabled illnesses,
    watching movies on a small game player is the way I’ve finally found access to them in more than a decade and a half. I won’t be looking for the Spiderman with rape or whatever euphemism or argument over whether or not it’s “really rape”, if it’s made into a movie.
    As a rape survivor of 40plus years (I was in my mid20s; stranger rape.), I have
    often been bewildered by the use of the new term, “sexual assault”. It seems like
    euphemism, but may cover different areas, also. It’s not a discussion I would go further with, since rape has echoes that linger ….
    I wish to briefly comment on the use of rape (actual, attempted, etc) in media, literature, movies, books, stories, etc. It needs to be mentioned, often, that
    rape is violence, not sex. It is so pervasive in American culture outlets. If accidentally am watching a movie with rape, or attempted rape, I fast forward or stop watching. (I usually check out the plot on wiki before I’ve gotten the movie.)
    Same for books, which I read on audiocassette due to allergic asthma from print, since the early 1980s. I observed how much more difficult it has become to find
    books without violence.
    The American culture still has a long way to go in discussing rape (and all the
    varieties of words connected with it) as adults, without sensationalizing it, or blaming the woman. I note that the little movies on discs are primarily made for
    boys who are 18 years old, or thereabouts, so my choices are limited. Action movies are OK, but the violence… Luckily, the first movie I got (about 2 years ago) was “The DaVinci Code” or I might not have continued with them.
    Due to CFS/ME, I’ll end with that. Except to say (CFS/ME is the P.S. disease),
    that I had a very close friend, another artist, who had incomplete quadriplegia, which is: he could move one arm slightly, using a wrist splint so he could draw in his pointilism style, pen and ink; gorgeous work. We were friends about 20 years
    (he was injured in a car accident about 7 years before we met via the pen-network of artists, professionals who are disabled that I began and still run, in April, 1985.
    It is very small, US “post”/mail only, not online. ) I have a pen-pal in a NYS prison, who has paraplegia (since being shot in the back by the police; no gun ever found), and acquaintances – all of whom are activists for disability and human rights. (See for ADAPT, a group of activists in the US.) Run-ons are CFS/ME too….

  5. Aargh. Fred Van Lente, formerly of Action Philosophers? *sigh*

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