The beauty of books, come from their ability to reflect the times—once printed, they become a time capsule reflecting popular trends, common fears, and collective sentiments.
The V Girl is one such book and when I read it, I am put under the impression that fictional dystopia has evolved. It has evolved from George Orwell’s “1984”, where government surveillance invades the lives of ordinary citizens and from Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World”, where the rapid advancement of technology is not all gold, to a dystopian future propagating from the rape culture that is woven into our societies and taught to us from a young age.
When someone is raped, some people say, “Well, maybe they shouldn’t have been walking outside so late at night”, “Why didn’t they just keep their legs closed?”, “You’re a man, and therefore, you can’t technically get raped.”
Yes, this book explores a dystopian future stemming from rape culture, but it also challenges other modern problems, such as sexism against both genders as well as the double standards that exist in today’s world.
Below, I will explore the major themes that are brought up in this novel.
Sexual Assault and its Impact
In the setting of this novel, sexual assault is everywhere and on every one’s mind. Underneath the calm is a very real fear that you or someone you know is going to get sexually assaulted. Feeling powerless, people will do everything they can to prevent it from happening to themselves, whether it is by always surrounding themselves with people, moving around in populated areas, carrying weapons with you, making yourself a less desirable target by losing your virginity before the “recruitment” event, or getting married to be exempt from “recruitment”. This is reflective of a sentiment still existing today, that it is the victims fault that they were raped and not the person who rapes. The “recruitment” event stems from the political divide of an America of the future, where Americans are fighting against each other and pledging allegiance to one of two sides, the Patriots or the Nationals. Victims of war are either recruited as front-line soldiers or as sex slaves, regardless of gender.
In the novel, a friend of the female protagonist is brutally gang-raped by soldiers of the opposition after being caught on a rebel-organized raid of supplies. Laying in the hospital bed, and surround by people who care and are deeply concerned for him, it is clear that rape doesn’t just affect the victim—it affects everyone around them.
After the shock settles down, he realizes that he would never be able to have kids, and that he would be seen as an invalid, having to rely on a colostomy bag after the incident.
He says: “I just want to die.”
This is a powerful moment in the book, because it makes it jarringly emphasizes the fact that men can be the victims of rape, and that it can have huge emotional impacts on not only them, but the people around them.
In other moments of this book, moments involving sexual assault trigger that fear hiding below the surface, which manifests in Lila, at times, as pure and uncontrollable rage. Physically unable to do anything about the situation everyone is in, she resorts to screaming insults that would normally be considered verbal emotional abuse. The words are not savory and they are not pleasant to read, but it is impossible to deny the naturalness of them. When fear and rage are repressed together, the moment they do come out can yield ugly results.
Battling of Extremes
This novel also explores competing extremes, namely: being sexually conservative versus being sexually liberal, science versus religion, and sexual touch versus human touch.
In the town of Starville, where the bulk of this novel takes place, the citizens are very conservative, often in an extreme and twisted way. Virginity is prized by soldiers looking to “recruit” and the loss of virginity on the night of marriage is celebrated publicly as hymen blood on a white copulation sheet is displayed for all to see. People who have sex before marriage are slut-shamed and due to the sexually aggressive undertones of the war, being raped during the recruitment ceremony is more acceptable than having sex with someone on your own volition before marriage.
As someone says in the novel: “If you married me, you’d see how important waiting for the right person is and … they only want you because you are [a virgin] … they’ll lose interest after you… when you [lose it] … If you were to get raped during recruitment, people would be understanding of that.”
This ultra-conservatism seems to be a side-effect of the war. Religion is imposed and compliance is coerced by the threat of murder or rape. In a way, this paves the road for the adoption, or appearance of, of such beliefs. Science and technology are banned from use of citizens, possession of even an e-reader is illegal. This purpose of this restriction is implied as keeping the enemy side subordinate and powerless. After all, knowledge is a form of power.
Bringing Double Standards and Sexist Myths to Light
This is a recurring theme in the book and they are often challenged by putting the protagonist in situations where they exist for the opposite gender: that men can fear rape; and can be sexually objectified, may feel uncomfortable by this attention, and feel pressure to pretend that it doesn’t—to uphold a certain version of the masculinity concept.
The concept of masculinity is displayed in two forms. In one, it includes the ability to intimidate, to be sexually aggressive, to be strong, and to be emotionless. In the other, it is shown as the ability to protect yourself and those close to you from harms and face your fears with courage. This novel does a good job of showing that masculinity shouldn’t be confused with aggressiveness; and nor should femininity be described as dependence and innocence.
Wartime sexual violence
One of the things that Mya Robarts does well, is demonstrate the sexual violence that comes as a side effect of war. She does this through parallelism and alluding to the past.
During times of war, these is a condition of lawlessness—where, only a hierarchy exists. In this environment, respect for human rights is corroded and a drive to gain a sense of power, however small or large, is stoked. In a famous motto from the American troops of World War II, it states that, “copulation without conversation is not fraternization.” Compared to falling in love with or forming relationships with the enemy, rape was considered the lesser of two evils… and it also had benefits to the sides committing it; for conquered peoples could, through intimidation, be made to serve the winning side in more ways than through hard labour. The recruitment ceremonies of the novel draw parallels to the forced prostitution of Chinese and Korean women by the Japanese during WWII. Those who were recruited from the enemy side, were made front-line soldiers (basically, cannon fodder) or sex slaves to provide an additional “perk” to the soldiers fighting for the conquering side. Sexual violence has been used in wars to gain a sense of power, and to demonstrate authority over a weaker group. It is a way to humiliate them (through the rape of men, women, and children) and to extend the reach of their destruction—beyond physical injuries—to damage the psyches and emotional capacity of the victims and their society.
In this novel, the major characters of interest are Lila (the female protagonist), her sister Azalea, her brother Olmo, her father Ethan Valez, Rey, Tristan and Aleksey.
This story revolves around Lila, who being a virgin, wants to lose her virginity to someone she trusts before she gets it taken away from her during the “recruitment ceremony”. Her desperation to lose it on her own terms can be seen as naïve, but the point of her stubbornness is in her fight to decide for herself what happens to her own body. In this way, parallel to her fight for control over her own body, this is a fight for human rights as well.
Azalea, the younger sister of Lila, is seen to have a very mature mindset for someone her age. Lila describes her as someone who has “grown up too fast.” Accepting the turmoil around her, she knows that the best way she can help those around her, is to be strong; as such, she is often seen acting as Lila’s reality check and uses her bitter humour to lighten up the atmosphere around them. Though younger than Lila, she also adopts the role of protective figure for her older sister, especially in the scene when Rey and Aleksey are pressuring her into deciding which of the two she is romantically interested in in tones threatening judgement if her decision isn’t in either’s favour—the possessive nature of their argument over her suggests that they don’t see Lila’s agency and freedom over what she does with her own body as more important than deciding who owns her. In this situation, Azalea’s support for her sister is clearest; by angrily intervening, she strengthens her sister’s voice.
Olmo, Lila’s younger brother, can be seen as a sort of “tenderness relief” (similar to comic relief in overly-serious situations). Suffering from a rare form of fibrosis that interferes with his ability to develop normally, you would think that the child would be bitter about his situation in life. However, amidst all the grimness and negative feelings created by the war and the looming recruitment day, Olmo brings a naivety and gentleness that brings comfort to those around him. He’s caring, sweet, and nonjudgmental; he even takes the initiative to befriend Aleksey when everyone else is distrusting and wary of the Accord cop. Although his understanding of war is not developed, he has the uncanny ability to trust fully, to be non-judgemental, and to be non-discriminatory, showing a beautiful side of human nature that juxtaposes the darker side of human nature brought out by the war.
Ethan (Dr. Valez), Lila’s father is another important character in this book because of his role in empowering Lila. As her father, Ethan’s ability to influence her is what fosters the strengthening of Lila’s resolve, whether it is in his insistence that Lila and her siblings learn the sciences or his support in Lila’s decision to lose her virginity. He has opposing views to Lila’s godfather, Baron, on what is proper and not proper for Lila to do. This is seen in a verbal spar between the two of them about what they think is best for Lila. Ethan’s support for her becomes clear when he stands up for Lila’s decision, by telling Baron, “As a father, I would prefer that she didn’t marry a man who values [her intact hymen] more than Lila’s distinct personality. Any guy should consider himself lucky if a girl as noble as my Lila accepts his proposal.” The first sentence reveals his belief that women are worth more than their purity. The second sentence reveals his undying support for the actions and decisions of his daughter, something that brings Lila to the verge of tears.
In the novel, there is only one person revealed to be homosexual, that is, Tristan. He is an Accord Cop who works alongside Aleksey. Hints at his homosexuality include his mentioning to Lila, his fear of being raped. He has a strong sense of righteousness, but there are times when the fear of repercussions prevents him from acting upon it. Knowing this, Lila angrily challenges his devotion to righteousness and expresses doubt in his ability to protect those who need it when the time comes. That time does come, and he does take a stand for the victims of the recruitment ceremony. Unfortunately, his worst fear comes into being; he was all alone and without support of any kind. I think his actions in the novel bring forth a glimmer of hope, that there will always be people willing to fight for and with those who seek righteousness. It was through his self-sacrifice that the misdeeds of the soldiers were made clear to the rest of the world; things weren’t as pretty and civilized as they had filmed it to be and actions were taken against those who violated the rights of civilians.
Rey is a long-time friend of Lila and, arguably, her best friend. Rey is the first person Lila seeks for losing her virginity. At first glance, he seems like a kind and morally strong man. At second glance, he is a sexist hypocrite, chastising Lila for her decision and trying to control her sexual liberty by affixing value to her as a woman by her desire to take charge of her own sexuality. Upon my third and final glance, more of an analysis now, I notice that there is something below that sexism. There is jealousy and insecurity. He is jealous because he knows that Lila is attracted to someone else. Loving Lila, he is scared that if she has sex with this other man, then she wouldn’t want him, which is why he attempts to coerce her into marrying her before having voluntary sex.
Now, in comes Lila’s love interest, Aleksey, or General Fürst. He is an Accord cop, part of the team that maintains order and fairness between the two warring sides of America. Following this character, we find out that under this “shield of masculinity”, is someone sensitive. He is someone who, despite being surround by sex and being the object of sexual attraction due to his large stature, is longing something else—what he calls, “human touch”. “Human touch” is rare in this warring time period and culture where consent is expected but never genuine; and where fear of rape and murder dominate the citizens lives and mold their morals for them. This is where his relationship with Lila is very important. Aleksey’s and Lila’s relationship marks the beginning of a mutual molding of each others’ definition of being human and of sexual awakening, respectively.
To end off, this is a book that I would recommend to all due to the culture we live in and my appreciation of the author’s fearlessness when talking about heavy and modern topics.