I’m starting to wonder if the problem here is that I’m way, waaay too old for this shit. I mean, rationally, of course I’m too old for it, since this is a Young Adult book, and I’m about two decades past young-adulthood. But maybe it’s deeper than just the cynicism of age: maybe the modern age operates to an entirely new set of morals and social codes, and all the stuff I tend to assume is part of the shared human experience doesn’t really matter any more.
Like Chapter Seven of this book, for example.
If you’ve been paying the kind of attention I know I can expect from my wonderful, discerning readers, you’ll remember that C6 saw Elena flouncing out of Prom on the arm of charmless meathead Tyler Smallwood (incidentally, I really, really want his name to be a pun). So naturally, C7 opens with Bonnie, Meredith and Matt deciding what they ought to do about this. How this goes down exposes all kinds of uncomfortable truths about the universe these guys inhabit:
“She went with Tyler Smallwood,” said Meredith. “Matt, are you sure you didn’t hear where they were going?”
Matt shook his head. “I’d say she deserves whatever happens – but it’s my fault too, in a way,” he said bleakly. “I guess we ought to go after her.”
“Leave the dance?” Bonnie said.
Now, let’s be clear. This being a YA Vampire book, I’m in absolutely no doubt that Elena is about to be nearly raped by Tyler [note from the future: sometimes, I’d actually quite like it if my faith wasn’t justified], because thanks to Edward and his Volvo, this is what always happens in YA Vampire books. This entire particular convention is, in and of itself, disturbing beyond words.
But this little exchange is possibly even worse.
Firstly, Meredith clearly knows Tyler Smallwood has form for sexual aggression. No-one asks her to clarify what she’s just suggested, so let’s assume this means this is common knowledge. So why the actual FUCK is he still walking around in the world? Of course, we all know why, and I’ve written about it more seriously here. But if the support of the legal system is too much to hope for (and clearly, it is) is it too much to ask that the people who commit these acts experience some form of social approbium? Specifically, does he have to be welcomed to the Prom?
And then, Matt steps up to the plate. “I’d say she deserves whatever happens.”
I’d say she deserves whatever happens.
Matt’s supposed to be a nice guy; Mr Average who doesn’t get the girl, but can be counted on in a crisis. I’d say, says Mr Nice Guy, that this girl I’m supposed to be in love with deserves sexual molestation, administered by the Kangaroo Court of Mr Tyler Smallwood, for the crime of liking a boy who isn’t me, and flirting with some other boys who are also not me. Is this really how young nice guys think these days? “I suppose we’d better go after her,” he grudgingly adds. Yes, Matt, I too suppose that you’d better make some sort of effort to save Elena from the known sexual predator in your midst, because that might allow you to make some small recompense to women everywhere for allowing the thought of “She deserves it” to cross your mind. Why don’t you get right on with that, then?
Oh, right; because Bonnie doesn’t want to leave the dance.
Let’s leave this sorry group of individuals and head over to the cemetery, where Elena’s ignoring every instinct in her which is telling her to run away. Tyler proves his meathead credentials by attempting to throw a rock at the moon (srsly), then invites her to “flick my Bic” before desecrating a grave or two. This all combines to make Elena “uneasy”. As Gavin de Becker brilliantly explains in his justly famous book The Gift Of Fear, ignoring genuine fear signals is one of the most dangerous things we can do. Sadly, this is a mistake hundreds of us make every hour, so it’s not fair to tear into Elena for doing the same. Also, what happens to her next is not her fault; it’s Tyler’s fault, and although society says he’ll probably get away with it, he absolutely shouldn’t.
So, after everyone’s fooled around in the cemetery and drawn on the tombstones a bit, Tyler charmlessly detaches his victim from everyone else and takes her off into the bushes to tear the clothes off her. Elena fights back a bit, Tyler’s winning, Stefan does a bit of angsting about how the last time he went to the cemetery he accidentally ate a passing tramp, and then he finally goes charging in to the rescue.
Incidentally, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is much better than “The Vampire Diaries” in every possible way.
Now let’s look at what Stefan says to Tyler while he takes him apart:
“When I first met you, I knew you hadn’t learned any manners,” said Stefan… “But I had no idea that your character was quite so under-developed…a gentleman doesn’t force his company on anyone…he doesn’t insult a woman…and above all, he does not hurt her.”
So on the plus side, Stefan is at least approximating some variety of righteous anger at Tyler’s criminal behaviour. On the very big minus side – the opposite of “gentleman” is not “rapist”.
According to Wikipedia, the definition of “gentleman” is as follows:
“The term gentleman (from Latin gentilis, belonging to a race or gens, and man, cognate with the French word gentilhomme, the Spanish gentilhombre, the Italian gentil uomo or gentiluomo and the Portuguese gentil-homem), in its original and strict signification, denoted a well-educated man of good family and distinction, analogous to the Latin generosus (its invariable translation in English-Latin documents).”
So basically, “gentleman” means you had rich parents, went to school, had some good conversation and knew which fork to use for the fish course. These are mostly good things, or at least things which are not automatically bad. However, when putting together the typical profile of a rapist, “is unable to correctly identify a soup spoon” does not traditionally appear.
This is because rape is not an act of bad manners. Rape is a crime.
Why this matters is because learning how to correctly judge which men are likely to harm us is something of huge importance to all women, everywhere. As we all know, it’s already difficult enough. During our lifetimes, one in five of us will make the wrong call, and be temporarily fooled by one of these wolves in sheep’s clothing. Suggesting that nice, good-looking men with impeccable table manners can’t possibly have malign intentions towards women is stupid and dangerous.
Tyler is a mannerless pig, who thinks that offering a cigarette lighter to Elena and inviting her to “flick my Bic” is a masterpiece of witty sexual badinage. Tyler is also, as subsequent events prove, a rapist. But Fact A does not cause, equate to or in any other way enable us to spot Fact B. It’s perfectly possible to scratch your belly in a restaurant and still understand in the very heart of your being that rape is wrong. It’s perfectly possible to be able to correctly interpret a wine-list and still be a rapist.
I’m glad that Stefan rescues Elena. I’d have preferred a story where Elena gets herself out of trouble by her own efforts, or even a story where Elena listens to what her own best and wisest self is telling her, and runs like hell out of that cemetery before Tyler gets anywhere near her; but I’ll settle for Stefan saving her, in the approved Vampire manner. But if I do nothing else with what was meant to be a light-hearted deconstruction of an entertainingly bad piece of fiction, I’d like to point this out these few simple facts. In this chapter, we see a man tell two women that their friend deserves to be raped, and they don’t challenge him on it. In this chapter, we see a woman who would rather stay at a dance than help protect her best friend from rape, and she never seems to be ashamed. And in this chapter, we see a man seriously suggest that Not Committing Rape is the sole preserve of the gentleman, who was trained from birth in the ways of civilised behaviour.
Here are some alternative things you could do with the £4.66 it would cost you to buy The Vampire Diaries from Amazon:
1. Buy two copies of The Gift Of Fear, by Gavin de Becker – one for you, and one for a good friend.
2. Buy a copy of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, which is a much better read all round.
3. Make a donation to your local Women’s Aid organisation.