Rape in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Ravens of Avalon and the Modern American Military
by Nicolette Westfall
In Ravens of Avalon, a fictionalized account of historical first century Celtic Queen Boudica, rape is displayed and handled in several different ways. First, there is the marriage bed. Boudica, is raped by her warrior husband, Prasutagos, after he sniffs out the scent of another man (Pollio). Boudica’s confidant, priestess Lhiannon, glosses over the fact of rape by attempting to figure out whether he has been violent or is simply guilty of mishandling Boudica (165, 168). Of course, Boudica and Prasutagos make up in a Beltane ceremony (192) and enjoy years of peace until he dies of illness.
Men were legally able to rape their wives in pre-industrial times and so we have slight acknowledgement to it in Ravens. In the current era, it is not legal. It was not until 1993 that marital rape became a crime in all 50 states of America. The U.S. is certainly not alone in previously upholding the view that wives consented to their husbands sexual advances at all times simply through the act of becoming men’s property in marriage; Countries such as England and Wales did not make marital rape a crime until 1991. Married women have not gained much ground at all since Boudica’s period in history.
The problem of protecting women from their own husbands highlights the seriousness and prevalence of sexual assault against women. It is no wonder that women face the same danger in their military lives. From recruitment to military colleges and Iraq, sexual misconduct is something that the American DOD simply hasn’t methodically confronted yet. While the military gradually makes progress in dealing with it, cases continue to make headlines. Army specialist Suzanne Swift went AWOL in early 2006 after what she reported as sexual harassment at the hands of her immediate military supervisors. One of the more recent stories involves Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach, who was visibly pregnant at the time of her disappearance in December 2007. Her body was found in January and the fellow Marine she claimed had raped her has been charged by authorities with murder.
Lance Cpl. Sally Griffiths reported rape (by a fellow Marine) in 1993 and accidentally found out that the soldier admitted to the crime. The Marine responsible never received any consequences. More recently, Sgt. Robert Shackelford was acquitted of raping a female soldier and convicted of indecent assault, because forensics could only prove sexual assault, not actual rape; besides, the male witnesses provided a solid fraternity front with inconsistent testimony.
In most situations, the cultural norm of blaming the victim, coupled with the “he did serve his country” mentality, makes it almost impossible for victims to even consider pursuing charges.
Unlike the U.S. military, there are no instances of fellow soldiers raping their female counterparts (not wives) in Ravens. There are plenty of images of enemy soldiers (Romans and traitors), raping Celtic women and even Boudica’s daughters. The Roman men throw “dice” in order to decide who gets to gang bang the young girls first (292). Boudica’s rage fuels her people into a walking army that fights against Roman colonization. The rape of royalty is intolerable in the community (298). Boudica’s men, however, are not immune to using rape as a measure of control against Roman women or Celtic women who have, along with their husbands, chosen Rome’s side. Boudica is conflicted because she is both their leader and a woman. Her inner conflict is reconciled by the idea that her men would simply desert the cause if she forbade them from raping the women (335). She remains silent as they violently carry out the task and the victimized women scream.
Through the centuries, little has changed regarding reactions and solutions to rape in the martial bed and on the war front. Ravens and recent media attention to rape cases indicate that rape is a frequent and normal element of humanity that shows no signs of disappearing any time soon; it is so systematic and deeply embedded that outlawing rape and instituting military policies such as never going out alone or making sure you go to the washroom with another female soldier are only band-aid solutions.
Bradley, Marion Zimmer. Ravens of Avalon. Viking: Toronto, 2007
Author: Nicolette Westfall
Nicolette Westfall is an interdisciplinary artist slash environmental activist from Southwestern Ontario, Canada. Her writing and photography have been published in a few places, including Neon Magazine, The Binnacle, and Pushing out the Boat.