I found several aspects of the novel extremely problematic and difficult to read. My main issues were with Wright’s relationship with Shori and the question of both parties’ ability to consent to a sexual relationship. Wright’s ability to consent to Shori’s advances is clearly questionable, due to his addiction to and biological dependence on her venom. Although their relationship may seem mutually beneficial, it raises the question of whether he was an active party or whether he was effectively drugged into compliance. Does their relationship consequently constitute rape on Shori’s part? This question alone was perturbing enough, but the addition of the pedophilic undertones in their relationship provoked the additional concern of whether Wright, despite Shori’s mental age, was essentially complicit in statutory rape.
Shori’s bite eliminates the autonomous choices of the humans around her. The drug-like effect of her venom intoxicates them, and this compromises their ability to genuinely consent. There is a disproportionate distribution of power between the Ina and humans. And despite Shori’s apparently genuine affection Wright, she recognizes the power she wields over humans and uses this advantage to her advantage. For example, on page 36, when someone knocks on the door to the room that Shori and Wright are in, she says that it’s no problem because if they come in she can just bite them, and they’ll be alright with what’s happening. Shori clearly understands not only the effect she has on humans, but also the benefits that this effect provides her. When Shori said “I heard consent in his voice” [page 12], I literally cringed. This is an unnecessary and disturbing justification on Shori’s part because she is fully aware that her intoxicating effect on Wright will allow her to do almost anything she wants to him. This idea of tactic consent is even more disturbing when one takes it out of the context of a piece of science fiction and examines the prevalence of this thought as a justification for rape in the “real world.”
Ultimately, the issue of consent in this novel raised more questions than answers for me. Does genuinely caring for her symbionts justify Shori’s inherently coercive relationships with them? Can Shori ever have non-problematic sexual relationships with another person? And if not, does her need to bite humans for sustenance permit her to engage in these acts without moral repercussion? I am still working through these questions and Butler’s intentions.
However, although Wright may not be able to fully consent, his relationship with Shori still seems immoral on his part because of the pedophiliac connotations of a grown man having sex with a person who physically appears to be only 10. Shori may be 53, and consequently an adult capable of consent, but her physical appearance makes Wright’s attraction to her incredibly disturbing. Even he is aware of the problematic nature of the sexual relationship between the two: on page 12 he tells her “You are way too young. Jailbait. Super jailbait.” Despite acknowledging the inappropriateness of their relationship, he still engages in it, albeit under the influence of Shori’s venom.
These interactions may be permissible within the context of the plot, but as a reader, visualizing their sexual interactions disturbed me. I cannot rectify Wright’s attraction to Shori as being a result of Shori’s chemical influence over him when this type of attraction is so prevalent, disturbing, and destructive in contemporary society. If the reader is to accept their relationship as permissible due to Shori’s mental age, they further the frequently used excuses in cases of statutory rape that “they acted older than they were” or “they were mature for their age.” These traits in a child do not justify an adult’s sexual relationship with them, and although they may be literally true in Shori’s case, it is important for the reader to critically examine Wright’s attraction to her. Butler must have been conscious of the reaction she would provoke in the reader by illustrating these scenes, leading me to question what her intent was.