On women and violence in fiction
I love a love story. I love first kisses and lingering gazes. I love misunderstandings and shared laughter and a pulse quickening in passion. Or perhaps panic, as our hero holds onto our heroine’s arm just a little too tightly or loses his temper a little too often … wait. This is starting to sound like a different sort of story.
But it must be a love story, because I’ve certainly read this kind of thing in some romance books or as part of a romantic subplot in books of other genres. I’ve found these tales in novels for adults, and I’ve encountered them too in books published in the Young Adult field. These stories generally end well, with a satisfying ‘happily ever after’. But what if our couple walked off the page and into the real world? Where might the heroine be, one year after that final chapter?
The book contains the clues we need to work it out. The controlling behavior of the hero (although he only acts that way to keep his beloved safe, for it’s a dangerous world and she is poorly equipped to deal with it on her own). Perhaps he even struck her once (but was immediately and deeply sorry, and apologised with an extravagant gift). Besides, he might not have hit her at all. Perhaps there was only the threat of violence, an instinct which he nobly restrained (because that is how much he loves her). And if the weakness she feels in her knees as she gazes up into his brooding features is partly caused by fear – what of it? Drama is part of all great love stories. Besides, small behaviors and one-off incidents are nothing to worry about. Except that that behaviours escalate. And the things our heroine would have run from in the beginning aren’t enough to send her running later, not after she has lost herself a piece at a time.
So where is she, on the one year anniversary of that final scene? Smaller than she was – no. She is exactly the same size. But she hunches in on herself to take up less space in the world. She pulls down a sleeve to cover a bruise on her arm, then laughs about how clumsy she is when she sees you notice. Perhaps you laugh with her. Or perhaps you don’t. There might be something in her eyes that’s starting to worry you. But it’s hard to interpret her reactions when you haven’t seen her in such a long time. She lost contact with you, and all the other people she used to know. But that’s as it should be, because she doesn’t need anyone except her hero. He is the one who is there when she cries, or when she cries out. And he always knows what to do.
I don’t think I was reading a love story, after all.
Ambelin Kwaymullina is an Aboriginal writer, illustrator and academic who comes from the Palyku people of the Pilbara region of Western Australia. She works at the Law School at the University of Western Australia and is the author of a number of picture books as well as the YA speculative fiction series, The Tribe.