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01 March 2007 @ 08:06 pm
She-Hulk, Sexual Assault, and Why I Think Dan Slott Did a Good Job  


Ragnell recently did a post on why she the latest issues of She-Hulk played into the idea that many rape accusations are false. I have a lot of respect for Ragnell, and agree with most of her observations, but in this case I couldn't disagree more.

Here's the not-so-long summary. Starfox is a superhero character, (can fly, kick ass, fights evil, etc) with 'love powers.' He can make anyone love, and be happy. This comes in handy when villains need convincing, but most of you readers can see where this is going.

One day, a woman accuses Starfox of using his powers to rape her. There's a trial, and during the trial Jen hears the victim give testimony that sounds a little to much like what happened to Jen herself one night when she and Starfox slept together.

There's a long, convoluted break in the middle of this, but when the final answer comes out, it turns out that Starfox's brother once kidnapped him and implanted a memory within him. This caused Starfox irreparable brain damage that caused him to partially lose control of his love powers. This is the part that Ragnell disagrees with. She writes that this amounts to the victim and She-Hulk falsely accusing Starfox of an imagined rape.

Honestly, it never read like that to me. To me, it was very clear that the victim was raped. She wasn't 'making something up.' Starfox did use his powers on her. That did remove her ability to reason, and thus did not allow her to consent. She was raped.

The argument isn't that Starfox is innocent. If anything the only defense is diminished capacity to reason. He didn't know that he was using his powers, just thought that the woman was willing to have sex with him. In fact, at the end of the story, Starfox willingly gives up his powers, horrified by his own brush with mind control. He's then told that before his sin is fully expiated he has to seek forgiveness from all his 'victims.' The word they use is 'victims.' It's clear that what he did was rape, even if he didn't know it.

Not only that, but I like several other aspects of the story.

First, we get the story from all sides, including the victim's. You get several of the Avengers discussing various aspects of Starfox's personality. Some are more suspicious than others. Starfox glibly maintains that he is innocent. Jen wavers back and forth. But the story makes time for the victim's point of view, too. The story starts by introducing Starfox, and then cuts to the bedroom where the victim wakes up, and wonders why Starfox is in her bedroom. After getting the story, she waits for him to leave, and then bursts into tears, indicating that at least she believes she's been raped.

But she's not perfect. We are not subjected to a Sunday School Teacher virgin dragged into a dark alley. At trial we learn that she was obsessed with superheroes, that she was flirtatious with him in the bar and she initiated contact. I like that. Nobody has the perfect victim's story. Everyone has aspects of their life or their personality that don't look good in a courtroom. It shouldn't be cut and dried.

Starfox, throughout the story, maintains that he is innocent, but it's clear he's not entirely ethical either. He flees trial. He uses his powers to patch up a fight between Jen and her boyfriend. He sets up two of Jen's colleagues, again using his powers.

And those two colleagues, Mallory and an android who absorbs powers, Awesome Andy (DC readers think Amazo, but clunky looking and silver), provide another story. Andy absorbed (unknowingly) Starfox's powers, and kept the love-mojo going. Andy is genuinely in love with Mallory, but as soon as he realizes what the situation is, he gives up all his powers and confesses to her what happened. He provides the moral standard for the story. As soon as he realizes she can't consent to the relationship, he backs out, no matter what it costs him. He sees no alternative.

I also like that the story isn't dropped. In later books Mallory deals with the consequences of the mind control, and feeling sexually violated. And I think her storyline is done well. After she leaves Andy she immediately starts dating the guy she was in love with before she and Andy were together. She gets on with work. When she sees things that remind her of the relationship, she freaks out, but she isn't the perpetually traumatized victim.

And always I got back to that one woman who knew she was raped, and went to court with it, despite the public humiliation, the danger to her marriage, the crowds of Starfox fans outside the courtroom, the way the trial never seemed to go her way. It was her action that finally uncovered the situation, and prevented a brain-damaged superpowered hero charging around the universe and more sexual assaults. That's what I took away from the story.

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( 23 comments — Leave a comment )
rubynye: Stars (cincodemaygirl)rubynye on March 2nd, 2007 01:38 pm (UTC)
At trial we learn that she was obsessed with superheroes, that she was flirtatious with him in the bar and she initiated contact. I like that. Nobody has the perfect victim's story. Everyone has aspects of their life or their personality that don't look good in a courtroom. It shouldn't be cut and dried.

Hmm.

*opens mouth*

*reconsiders*

*closes mouth*
mildredmilton: ultimate fightmildredmilton on March 2nd, 2007 04:27 pm (UTC)
No, feel free to open mouth.
rubynye: Kick Your ASS (amberlynne)rubynye on March 2nd, 2007 05:07 pm (UTC)
I guess I felt I should define my opinion before I tried to relate it. I mean, that detail could be there to say, "a person can be something other than a perfect virgin and still it's wrong to sexually assault her" or it could be there to say, "look, she's not a perfect virgin, and therefore not credible as a victim of sexual assault". You read it as the former, and I do trust your reviews, so.

But still. I'm left thinking... there's the world of the story, and in that world this character did these wrong things unknowingly. But there's also the outer world, upon which stories are commentary, and having read both your post and the one you referred to, I'm still thinking about what commentary on the wider world to take from this story.
mildredmilton: ultimate fightmildredmilton on March 2nd, 2007 05:41 pm (UTC)
there's the world of the story, and in that world this character did these wrong things unknowingly. But there's also the outer world, upon which stories are commentary, and having read both your post and the one you referred to, I'm still thinking about what commentary on the wider world to take from this story.

Yes, that could be true. There was a lot of tap-dancing to make the guy not an intentional rapist.
miltonquen on August 11th, 2008 05:58 pm (UTC)
Glass' mouth gaped open for a minute, then closed again. His face turned grim. "Somebody's playing a practical joke on us, and I don't think it's very funny.
Bettybrown_betty on March 2nd, 2007 05:37 pm (UTC)
Hm, yeah, I haven't read the story, but even from Ragnell's description I took it more as you describe it.
mildredmilton: ultimate fightmildredmilton on March 3rd, 2007 04:35 am (UTC)
I guess it's an illustration of how stories can be viewed many ways.
russblackburn on August 6th, 2008 04:48 am (UTC)
In some ways it can be problematic to take an illustration out of its context, as it can suddenly appear to be something that it isn't.
chibi_squirt: Nice =/= Weakchibi_squirt on March 2nd, 2007 08:12 pm (UTC)
At trial we learn that she was obsessed with superheroes, that she was flirtatious with him in the bar and she initiated contact. I like that. Nobody has the perfect victim's story. Everyone has aspects of their life or their personality that don't look good in a courtroom. It shouldn't be cut and dried.

I actually know a girl with a perfect victim's story who was sexually assaulted, so there are some people like that.

Which does not make it right to assault all the other people.
mildredmilton: ultimate fightmildredmilton on March 3rd, 2007 04:56 am (UTC)
Clearly that was a poorly thought out paragraph. Let's say it this way.
The comic makes it clear that Starfox is behaving unethically with his powers and is terrifyingly unconcerned with the rape charges. If the victim had a story that was basically 'she stopped in to a bar for some ice tea for the local seniors home, and utterly rebuffed his initial advances, and never heard of a superhero in her life, preferring to write love poetry to her husband,' it would have been a little one-sided.
Most people do not behave in a completely chaste and blameless way, all their life, and when they bring these kinds of charges against someone their life goes under a microscope. There are exceptions to this, as in the case of your friend, but that doesn't mean that the assault of one person is somehow worse than another. I like that the comic doesn't completely play it safe with that.

I'm very sorry to hear about your friend. I hope he or she is alright.
chibi_squirt: dc_feministchibi_squirt on March 4th, 2007 04:35 am (UTC)
There are exceptions to this, as in the case of your friend, but that doesn't mean that the assault of one person is somehow worse than another.

*nods* That's what I was trying to say with the second half of my post. I completely agree with you on pretty much all of this. (Except possibly the actual interpretation parts, which I will never know, as I do not read the comic involved. *fights off the ebil addictions with a stick*)

I'm very sorry to hear about your friend. I hope he or she is alright.

She is one of the most amazing people I know. She's very strong, as far as I know she was never under the misconception that it was her fault, and she had the comfort of knowing that she handled it exactly the right way: she got the hell out of there and reported it to the police. So, for certain simplistic purposes, yes, she is alright. An amazing woman.

I still don't know if she's walked alone down that street since, though.
biancaparis on August 11th, 2008 08:07 am (UTC)
She'd arrived under the misconception that they would and had ended up standing around staring at the information board in an attempt to stop the world from spinning.
claytokar on August 11th, 2008 07:47 pm (UTC)
She would have liked to write more, but she had a plane to board. Six months later The guards assigned to supervise Mutant Conscript were not at all thrilled with this latest mission.
nicholaswootan on August 6th, 2008 06:08 am (UTC)
We must respect all people’s freedom and not berate people who do not conform to gender roles. What do you think.
(Anonymous) on March 2nd, 2007 09:40 pm (UTC)
A question.
Has it ever been established in the comics that Starfox has ever used his pleasure powers to make women want to have sex with him? Cause, the times I remember him using his power it was on other guys. There seems to be an assumption that Starfox used his powers in that way, but without an explicit statement to the contrary, isn't possible that he would only use his power AFTER he got a babe in the sack? In other words, he got the woman to consent of her own free will and then used his powers to "boost" his performance.

Unless it was previously established that Starfox DID use his power to get women to have sex with him, this seems like another example of a creator who needs to stop worrying about crap that happened 20 years ago when comics were written for and sold to an audience made up largely of kids. I mean in the infamous Ms. Marvel incident there was a specific line of dialog about Immortus' machines influencing Carol Danvers thinking. Is there even anything like that when it comes to Starfox?

Mike
mildredmilton: ultimate fightmildredmilton on March 3rd, 2007 05:06 am (UTC)
Re: A question.
I really don't know anything about Starfox's history. I do agree with you that old comics reflect a different age and it is not always good to judge them by modern day standards.

In this comic, it's made clear that the woman was raped. It's also made clear that Starfox was not in control of his powers and did not intend to use them on the woman. It's NOT clear how long this had been going on. It could be the damage happened only a month ago, so I don't think Dan Slott meant to re-write all of Starfox's history. What Slott does do is show that Starfox knows that using his powers this way would be wrong, and that he is horrified when he realizes what he did. So, no. I don't think he's trying to comment on events that happened 20 years ago.
(Anonymous) on March 4th, 2007 06:48 pm (UTC)
Re: A question.
Okay, I haven't read the story in question and maybe that would answer this question...but what was the point of the story? If the story implies that Starfox never used his powers to make women have sex with him, what was the point of turning him into a unknowing serial date-rapist? As you describe it, the story isn't an analogy to the guy who drugs a woman to have sex with her, or gets her drunk to have sex with her, or even when a drunk guy has sex with a drunk woman and the issue of consent is up in the air. The story as you describe it seems to be "this one guy made women have sex with this other guy, when the other guy didn't know consent was being freely given". What sort of moral or ethical issue was being addressed, because it had better be a pretty important one if you're going to put this kind of stink on even a minor character like Starfox.

Mike
mildredmilton: ultimate fightmildredmilton on March 5th, 2007 02:58 am (UTC)
Re: A question.
I think the point of the story is that it addresses the issue of consent, and it looks at the proceedings of a rape trial and the way certain facts can shift an observer's opinion.

What sort of moral or ethical issue was being addressed, because it had better be a pretty important one if you're going to put this kind of stink on even a minor character like Starfox.
I think the issue being addressed is the insidiousness of mind control, and the ethical issues of having just that sort of power. In the issue they make it out so the power possibly ruined a villain's life by warping his mind permanently. We saw some plot devices over the years where characters are made to fall in love, and these issues looked at some of the funny and some of the serious consequences that come from that.
arromdee on April 5th, 2007 08:35 pm (UTC)
Re: A question.
From the description, Starfox had sex with someone who wasn't consenting, but where he had no reasonable way to know that. He certainly didn't intentionally command a woman to have sex with him. You might claim that he should have known his powers could have that effect, but if he normally controls his powers and this incident is caused by special circumstances (injury making him lose control when he normally wouldn't), you can't even blame him for that.

If you're driving a car, someone shoots you, and you survive but the injury makes you lose control and run over someone, have you committed vehicular homicide? I hope not, even though it was your car and you were the one at the steering wheel when the man died.

And we should be wary of applying real-life comparisons where they don't work. In real life if you have sex with someone nonconsenting, either you know it or you're being recklessly careless, and that makes you a rapist. In the Marvel Universe, that is no longer the case.
mildredmilton: ultimate fightmildredmilton on April 6th, 2007 04:49 am (UTC)
Re: A question.
If you're driving a car, someone shoots you, and you survive but the injury makes you lose control and run over someone, have you committed vehicular homicide? I hope not, even though it was your car and you were the one at the steering wheel when the man died.
I agree, and I think the comic makes that point. I still think it's important to mention that something terrible happened to the victim. I may not mean to say, bump into someone in the street, but I still say sorry when I do.

In real life if you have sex with someone nonconsenting, either you know it or you're being recklessly careless, and that makes you a rapist. In the Marvel Universe, that is no longer the case.
True. But I think they approached it from another angle - the one of this character having very dangerous powers and how that reflects on real life.
arromdee on April 6th, 2007 03:17 pm (UTC)
Re: A question.
That still works with the automobile comparison.

A car is a pretty dangerous thing too. You can easily kill someone with it. We deal with this danger by requiring a minimum level of driving skill to get a license, and by punishing people who drive recklessly, drive drunk, etc.

But these are about preventing danger from someone's incompetence or carelessness. Starfox wasn't incompetent or careless. The danger of drivers (through no fault of their own) losing control and running over someone is a danger we *don't* really deal with. It's a tragedy if you're the person who gets run over, but it's really not anyone's fault (except maybe the guy who shot you), and there's nothing we can do about it other than ban cars. These things just happen.

In the Marvel Universe, rapes can just happen, too. This is contrary to how we think about rape in real life, but then, real life isn't the Marvel Universe.
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