(Para)normalizing Rape Culture: Possession as Rape in Young Adult Paranormal Romance

Publication year
Girlhood Studies

Here's the abstract:

Contemporary Young Adult literature is a favored genre for exploring sexual assault, yet rarely interrogates the social structures underpinning rape culture. In its representation of heterosexual relationships, Young Adult paranormal romance offers insight into the processes and structures that uphold rape culture. Genre tropes normalize abusive behavior and gender ideals, demonstrating the explicit and implicit construction of rape culture, culminating in the depiction of supernatural possession analogous to rape. Here, I reflect on power, control, rape culture, and girlhood in a textual analysis of Nina Malkin's Swoon, Becca Fitzpatrick's Hush, Hush, and Sarah Rees Brennan's The Demon's Covenant. A constructive reading reflects implicit cultural discourses presented to the girl reader, who can apply this to her own negotiation of girlhood.

I'm not sure whether these novels are actually romances or whether they're like Twilight, and are maybe more YA fantasy. All three novels mentioned are just one book in a series, so the relationships and characters appear in more than one book. Due to this lack of clarity, I have not added the names of the authors to the tags. Despite my confusion about the genre of these works, I felt that I should include the article in the database, if only because it indicates the way paranormal romance may be characterised.


Under cover of paranormal romance, abusive behavior and unequal gender dynamics are rationalized and idealized in an attempt to coach the girl character and reader into submission or afford them the opportunity to critique the structures of rape culture. A male supernatural love interest introduces the female human protagonist to the paranormal world, where she finds her life at risk, often at his hands. Their relationship is fraught with issues of power and control as he stalks and pursues her in a physically aggressive manner, coaching her into a submissive state. Negotiations of power and control manifest as acts of supernatural possession during which the supernatural male hero invades and controls the mortal heroine’s mind and body against her will. This becomes a literal enactment of control, and a form of rape as the culmination of tropes in the text contribute to an embedded rape culture. The act is depicted as invasive and traumatic, and simultaneously coded as romantic; for the girl reader, this provides insight into the societal and cultural structures that embed and protect rape culture. I use Hush, Hush (2009) by Becca Fitzpatrick, Swoon (2009) by Nina Malkin, and The Demon’s Covenant (2010) by Sarah Rees Brennan as case studies for textual analysis, evaluate their engagement with this trend as a way of highlighting and deconstructing rape culture, and examine possibilities for resistance by the girl reader. (69)