Trigger warning for discussion of rape.
Okay, full disclosure, I read The Dresden Files. I know it’s got representation problems up to wazoo. I mean, it takes place in Chicago for goodness sake, and I think there are like three (minor) Black characters in the entire series (among a cast of thousands). And the male gaze is SO male gazey, and also racist (don’t get me started on Ancient Mai and Injun Joe—who by the way are the ONLY Asian person and the ONLY Native person in the entire series as far as I can recall, who also are minor characters in a cast of thousands, and have depictions just as bad as their names).
Anyway, I just read the newest book, Cold Days. Our narrator Harry Dresden is trying to resist the EVIL EVIL EVIL of his new role as the Winter Knight, which is supposed to give him an inner demon of EVIL and EVIL THOUGHTS that he has to fight against all the time.
What form does this inner demon take? Fantasizing about raping pretty much every woman he comes in contact with.
He thinks about raping, in graphic detail, almost every female character, from his main adversary to his former apprentice to his friends to his would-be love interest to his would-be allies. And then he pushes those thoughts away as “NO EVIL BAD! That’s the WINTER KNIGHT talking!” and Virtuous Harry triumphs by . . . not raping every woman in his life.
I mean, really? The series already had terrible male gaze problems, and now the only way Harry can express how EVIL his thoughts are becoming is by thinking about raping everybody? Can’t he be EVIL in other ways, like thinking about non-sexual violence or lying or being greedy or manipulating people or letting the Big Bad win the day? (He does do these things, a little, but not nearly as frequently as the “I’M GOING TO THINK IN GREAT DETAIL ABOUT RAPING THIS INNOCENT WOMAN” thing.)
I just . . . man. I really wanted it to stop. It did not even work the way it was intended to on a literary level; it just made me feel like Harry Dresden was extremely uncreative about being evil and also a VERY CREEPY MAN if that’s the direction EVIL would push him to start thinking about. I mean, wouldn’t most characters we’d want to root for have a shit-ton of temptations on the “if I were evil” list before rape??? And also, I don’t want to read about depiction after depiction of thought-rape in my brain candy; I really don’t.
I finished the book anyway, because there were things I liked about it (and I’m invested in the characters after 14 books), but if this was the first book I’d read, I’m betting it would have put me off like whoa.
(Oh, and also, we’re going to have a very odd conversation in the middle of the book about how Harry is SO OKAY with gay people . . . in the context of anonymous hookups in the park and isn’t-it-sad-sex-isn’t-about-love-anymore (WTF? Why did that have to be coupled with a gay PSA? WRONG MESSAGE), even if the book series has, to my recollection, no gay or lesbian characters (again in a cast of thousands), and the only bisexuals are women where it’s played for titillation so they can be SUPER HOT SEDUCTRESSES. I mentioned this series is problematic, right?)