The Rape of Inara: On heroines, consent, and women’s sexuality

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Title: The Rape of Inara: On heroines, consent, and women’s sexuality
Creator: prozacpark
Date(s): 2011
Medium: online
Fandom: Firefly
Topic: equating woman's morals with her sexuality
External Links: on livejournal, on dreamwidth
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The Rape of Inara: On heroines, consent, and women’s sexuality is an essay by prozacpark about the planned episode of Firefly in which Inara would have been raped by reavers. The episode was not produced because the show got cancelled, but the contents of it were discussed by Tim Minear.

The description of the scene:

It opens with Mal and Inara fighting (as they do). Mal tells her she pretends to be a lady and wants everyone to bow before her and kiss her hand but she’s just a whore. Then the Reavers attack and take Inara. While trying to get her back they learn that she had something that would make anyone who had sex with her die. When they finally track down and board the ship they find all of the Reavers dead and Inara shaking and traumatized. They take her back to the ship and Zoe guards her room. Mal tries to get in to see her and Zoe tells him he’s the last person Inara needs to see. He pushes past her, kneels before Inara and kisses her hand.

prozacpark stated that they were "now gleefully happy that “Firefly” got canceled" in the wake of the revelation, and proceeded to deconstruct the double standard applied to women in fiction regarding consensual sex, as well as the "Hooker with a Heart of Gold" archetype and why these characters are so often considered to be anti-heroines.

The essay prompted further critique of Firefly and discussion of rape as a narrative device in the comments. The essay has since been frequently linked to and cited outside of LiveJournal and has become a go-to essay to support criticisms of Firefly and Joss Whedon's treatment of female characters.

Some Topics Discussed

  • Tim Minear's and Joss Whedon's issues with portraying women
  • Narratives punishing women for their sexuality
  • Equating lack of sexual "purity" with being an immoral person
  • The "Hooker with a Heart of Gold" archetype


I am now gleefully happy that “Firefly” got canceled. Not that I wasn’t before, but now? I can almost forgive FOX for canceling all those TV shows if it means that Inara was never raped. Also, TV, can you stop having the women with sexuality be raped or otherwise punished for having it while pretending to be edgy for having women with ‘unconventional’ sexualities?

So the framing of the episode is through Mal, who calls Inara a whore and then learns a lesson and is forced to acknowledge that she’s really a lady. This bugged me, but I could not figure out why because of the EPIC RAGE and despair, which eventually subsided to give way to thoughts: So, what makes her a respectable lady instead of a whore at the end of the show? Nonconsensual sex with a gang of reavers, which results in their deaths.

In other words: A woman having consensual sex that she enjoys and/or profits from is a whore, but a woman being raped can be a lady. It's the taking away of her CHOICE that elevates her to the status of a lady because it's okay as long as she didn't want it. Is it any wonder that our fiction is so filled with RAPE when we’re not COMFORTABLE with women having consensual sex, when fiction constantly feels the need to punish women for *wanting* sex, especially sex outside the bonds of a socially sanctioned monogamous relationship? Inara is, from my brief strays into the Firefly fandom, the most hated character, which is not really surprising given how uncomfortable fandom is with certain types of heroines. But this whole attitude that Inara somehow owes Mal something and all her sexing is actually cheating on him and how he doesn't deserve her? Gah. He calls her a whore repeatedly, slut shames her, and ENJOYS it. When she has asked him not to, and this is our hero. The one who learns an Important Lesson from her rape.
Jessica Valenti in “The Purity Myth” states it best, “While boys are taught that the things that make them men—good men—are universally accepted ethical ideals, women are led to believe that our moral compass lies somewhere between our legs. Literally. ” Our fiction is made up of this double standard. This is why the romance genre is so littered with rape, because heroines can be forgiven for having sex and be heroines only when they never wanted the sex, when the hero has less than consensual sex with them and when they want sex only with that one man. So they get to experience it without ever wanting it because it’s the active desire that makes them whores, and whores are bad. The romance hero who has had a million relationships in his past finds true love and reforms, but how many romance arcs (in or outside of romance novels) have sexually adventuress heroines who reform? Because you can’t redeem whores, apparently. Their morality is not determined by how *good* they are as people, but how PURE and chaste they are. And it’s not even about their character because they can’t be redeemed simply by giving up their sexual liaisons because once they have fallen off of some pedestal, they’re irredeemable in patriarchal narratives.

When we made the list of anti-heroines, I had initially listed Inara, which was questioned by nicole_anell (<3), and it occurs to me that the reason I had done so was because all my studies in Western literature taught me that Hookers with a Heart of Gold are anti-heroines, and I have never really questioned it because I like anti-heroines so it’s not really a bad thing in my book?

However, Hookers with Hearts of Gold are, of course, GOOD people with good intentions who usually end up sacrificing themselves for the greater good. So why the anti with that type of heroine? Because the flaw is a moral one where morals are judged by PURITY and not actual actions or goodness. Can you imagine a male hero with that type of personality ever being referred to as an anti-hero no matter how much sex he has? We have a whole literature made up of this, of women dying for being unconventional, often in sexual terms, because if women with sexuality are not punished properly, it somehow takes away the HEROINE bit of the anti-heroine. Because they must always, ALWAYS suffer for having a sexuality. It’s probably rarely intentional, not anymore anyway, and often just seems like ‘edgy’ plotting, but our fiction is still filled with this. Do good women get punished as often? Who are the women that usually get the rape arcs? And who learns a lesson from that rape and who is hurt the most from it, narratively speaking? I…honestly haven’t consumed enough fiction with rape to start giving examples because that’s usually my cue to stop watching/reading, but I’m willing to bet that there are patterns and that they’re not pretty.



"BUT HELS. A woman being raped OBVIOUSLY has to be about the man who ~caaaaares~ about her, because it is HIS PAIN at NOT BEING ABLE TO SAVE HER. And also his confusion about whether to forgive her.

(wow, that hurt to type)

ALSO. Rape is in real life, so any woman in fiction who hasn't been raped is impossible. We can have spaceships and dragons and parasitical viruses and giant spiders that make earthquakes, BUT SUSPENDING OUR BELIEF for women with happy sexualities is IMPOSSIBLE."[1]


"And also his confusion about whether to forgive her.

THIS is so true. And a plot element that bugs me like no other? Because it really brings into perspective that the man's problem isn't with faithlessness (because it wasn't her choice!) but with the now perceived lack of purity because women are objects whose worth can be ruined with things like rape.

The presence of rape in SFF especially irks me because with all the world building, they can't write rape out of their narratives? And we must have rape even when we're pretending to have a society where there's no sexism. Because rape is dark and edgy and just adds to your apocalyptic world-building."[1]


Mal isn't good enough for Inara. His behavior towards her was just flatly unacceptable at times. I was hoping when I watched Firefly that I was supposed to think that, and not be impressed with him or anything. It seems like I'm always giving people the benefit of the doubt that "Oh, they're not endorsing this, they're just writing about it as a terrible thing, and to have an imperfect 'hero' (like in District 9) as a main character" but then I tend to find out later that I'm wrong, and I was actually intended to sympathize with some misogynistic jerk. Which, yeah... disappointment with various authors ensues.


"Yes, I was the same. It *seriously* undermines your universe to have these high-ranked prostitutes who are universally respected, then have your main character ~coincidentally~ speak for the mainstream trope of "ew dirty girls yuk worthless whores"."[2]


Mal's treatment of Inara is horrible, and while we hear from Inara that she has called Mal worse things than a whore, I can't think of any bad word for men that holds the same stigma that the word whore does for women? But I'm pretty sure we're supposed to find Mal calling her a whore amusing and charming, when it's clear that it makes her uncomfortable. GAH.[3]

"It's like the shows wonder what's the worst thing that can happen to a man, and it's always that someone has *gasps* spoiled the PURITY of his love interest! Definition of Man Pain, pretty much.

I have realized that the lack of limitations when it comes to gender roles are what draws me to so many of the SFF things I read/watch? So it always feels like a bigger betrayal when it fails because it's not limited by our real world dynamics/rules and can do better. Firefly, OTBH, never did well with anything. It's a pretty formulaic Western in space that manages to both be horribly racist and incredibly sexist but people treat it like the second coming.

Buffy got a lot of things right, but I would never rec it to you because I know that you watch for characters and Buffy, in my unpopular opinion, doesn't have many interesting ones (it's still the ONLY show where I have a plot-related investment instead of a character-based one.) I also suspect that I would hate it on principle if I were to watch it now, knowing all the Joss fail. I almost think that I would be able to accept the good bits of BSG and reject the badness if only the fandom could stop worshipping at Ron's feet and praising him for his miracles? Undeserved fandom glee always makes me react with more hatred than the thing probably deserves, so I completely understand (and approve of!) your decision to shun Jossverse. ;)"[4]


"OH MY FUCKING GOD, I am so appalled by this.

And it sounds stupid from a storytelling standpoint too. Like, what would the mechanism be? I know this is science fiction, but seriously--is it some random virus she picked up the day before, or a superpower Inara has always had to kill with her evil vagenda but it only works on Reapers so she never knew about it before, or what? Because if just having sex with her killed everyone, that would have seriously cut into her ability to make a living. Plus why would the Reavers not just eat her and wear her skin or whatever after it quickly became obvious that the raping was not going so well for them? They're CRAZY, but not unable to discern cause and effect and act on their observations.

All of which pales before my horror of INARA WAS GOING TO BE GANG-RAPED. I'm SO glad I didn't know that until now."[5]


"Mal tries to get in to see her and Zoe tells him he’s the last person Inara needs to see. He pushes past her, kneels before Inara and kisses her hand."

So in spite of all his manpain over the rape, he still doesn't get that women have a right and sometimes a need to tell him no. And this guy is supposed to be a hero. D: I'd heard about this before, and it was what settled the "Is Joss Whedon really all that pro-woman?" question for me. Obviously, it settled the question on the "No" side.

"I tried to find something to say but the words fail me.

This reminds me about the plans for Gina on BSG and how good Tricia managed to make RDM change the story. Sometimes I think the less I know the better. Somehow things are easier to like the less exposure to fandom and the less knowledge about the creative process the better of one is.

I used to hate Polish as i always found the 'what author had in mind' question incredibly annoying. Not only I didn't know how could they know but I tend to have completely different interpretation on things. For example I used to think Inara was the good, respectable person and the Mal behaviour was to show what anti-hero he was. The only way for them to ever get together was if he changed. I'd prefer live in a world when I don't know what creator though about it.

I love you for putting into words all I feel about the Hooker with the Heart of Gold stereotype and general treatment of female sexuality. I hate how it's treated as something that makes them evil and they have to suffer for it before being considered equal to "good" people. It's irritating trope even when applied to other things and with women and sex it become infuriating. All Inara does is consensual and advantageous for both sides. Sex is not something one needs to make up for.

I dislike the use of such a cliche storylines. But this one. This one enrages me. I hate everything about this. From the suggestion that she is a bad person just because she has sex and that's why bad things happen to her. To the implication that this suffering will make her worthy of true love and then it will make everything ok.

The other thing is that this kind of storyline always somehow becomes all about the pain a male hero suffers when "his" woman is attacked. I know our culture is not equipped to deal with the suffering of other people so the stories concentrate on the reactions of those close to them as it gives us a way to distance ourselves from the true pain. However I just have enough of brave men standing by their women and bravely taking their outburst of pain. It's not them I'm to sympathize with.

I now everything is one trope or other but this should never, never ever, be used again."[6]

[Brett William C]

"I have mixed feelings on this one.

On the one hand, rape is what the Reavers do, that is established from the outset. In that context, it makes sense. Is this more horrifying than what they did to the only survivor in the episode "Bushwacked", who was forced to see his friends and loved ones tortured to death in front of him until it drove him insane? Arguably no.

On the other hand the very point of that episode is that no human being can come back from that sort of horror. In order to deal with this properly it would take months for Inara to recover from that kind of trauma and I don't see the show doing that. So it is likely the whole seriousness of rape, and especially this kind of systematic abuse, is going to be downplayed.

But while I understand that people are angry that this episode is pitched more about Mal than Inara, the reality is also that Mal is also a victim in this scenario. Husbands who have wives who have been raped also suffer. We see this shown the other way around in which men are shown to have suffered torture or abuse, and their wives also live with the consequences. While I have no proof that this episode and those after would have dealt with the problem meaningfully and intelligently it is worth noting that male partners are also affected when women they love are raped. Their need to deal with that pain is also very real, confusing, and important.

Finally, we know Mal doesn't call Inara a whore because she has many sexual partners. Mal literally met Kaylee while she was on her back with her legs in the air under his then mechanic, but he never faults her for that. His attitude, good or bad, towards Inara stems in large part because she supported unification ("I don't suppose you're the only whore that did"). So the last scene written here where he kisses her hand is not about his legitimizing her - it is rather his way of saying (I believe) that she has always been a lady and nothing has happened to change that. Having something that horrible happen to her does not either lower or raise her status - she is what she is because of who she is inside, not what was done to her by others.

That's my opinions at first glance, anyway."[7]


The Rape of Inara has been linked outside of LiveJournal many times and is something of a go-to essay for criticisms of Firefly or Joss Whedon's treatment of women in fiction. The essay was cited as an example of fan criticism in Joss Whedon vs. the Horror Tradition.[8]


  1. ^ a b lyssie and prozacpark. Comments on LiveJournal, Jan 14, 2011. Archived from the original on March 4, 2021.
  2. ^ lilacsigil. LJ comment, Jan 14, 2011. Archived from the original on March 4, 2021.
  3. ^ prozacpark. LJ Comment, Jan 14, 2011.
  4. ^ prozacpark on LJ. Comment, Jan 14, 2011.
  5. ^ geekturnedvamp. LiveJournal comment, Jan 14, 2011. Archived from the original on March 4, 2021.
  6. ^ ellestra on LiveJournal. Comment, Jan 15, 2011. Archived from the original on March 4, 2021.
  7. ^ Brett William C. Comment on Live Journal, April 6, 2014. Archived from the original on March 4, 2021.
  8. ^ See search results for "The Rape of Inara: On heroines, consent, and women’s sexuality" in Google Books. (Accessed March 4, 2021)
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