Hymeneal Acts: Interrogating the Hegemony of Rape and Romance

Publication year
Australian Feminist Law Journal

It is my contention that the capacity of rape to be discursively transformed into romance is contingent upon the signification of the hegemonic hymen. As Lynn Higgins points out in her essay 'Screen Memory: Last year at Marienbad', rape is the only crime in which it is possible to say that no crime occurred at all. In a murder, the fact of a dead body is indisputable; in a rape however, and in particular, I would suggest, the rape of a sexually active woman, the fact of her injury is radically open to dispute. When a woman has a broken hymen, all one has to rely on are the things she merely says. Her body then, coded as an undecidable text, can become the stuff of infinite retellings. (18)

Part of Charlotte Lamb's The Sex War (London: Mills and Boon, 1988) is compared to a defence given during a rape trial: "the woman with the broken hymen has her resistance renarrated as desire, a tactic realised through the grammatical construction of her as medium of a desiring process (you wanted it)" (19) but there isn't a lot about romance fiction here. The focus is on rape and the hymen. However, Puren does observe that

It is no banal point to note that Aboriginal women are yet to star as heroines in the romances of Mills and Boon. Their radical absence from these texts is a sinister indicator of the status of the indigenous woman in the romance economy. If to be intelligible in the (hegemonic) romantic regime means being 'seen' to 'have' a hymen, then being 'outside' this regime, as has already been said, is not so much about being hymen-less, as it is about being constructed with a broken hymen. The colonial citation of indigenous woman as whore, in the discourse of law, makes her body as eternal 'yes', which cannot be withdrawn. (24)

There is more about romance in Puren's later essays on rape and romance (I'm assuming that Nina Philadelphoff-Puren is the same person).