‘Unrealistic’ and Expectations

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Warning: the discussion post ahead is ranty.

I am sick to fucking death of people saying something in fiction is ‘unrealistic’.

Oh yeah? WHY is it ‘unrealistic’? Because you’re too privileged to imagine a world where it could be so?

People say it’s unrealistic that a woman whose husband hits her would stay with him, when we have mountains of evidence to show that that’s exactly what happens.

People claim ‘this FUTURISTIC world is so unrealistic, I can’t imagine how modern society could EVER develop into this situation’ and then ignore what actually goes on in the real world where old white men are trying to put women in jail for murder when they miscarry. You can’t see our world turning into The Handmaid’s Tale if it continues down this route?

In our world, women reporting rapes are dismissed or the charges against their attackers more lenient because they don’t behave in the ‘expected’ way a rape victim ‘should’.

What triggered this particular post

I read a review that claimed a girl’s response to her stepfather’s physical abuse of her was ‘unrealistic’ because she was ‘flippant’ and didn’t convey the seriousness of the situation when she spoke about it.


I saw red because my best friend in the whole world suffered far worse than physical abuse from her dad and she is a beautiful, bright, bubbly person full of positive energy who can casually mention her dad in passing despite the horrific things she endured. My best friend is unrealistic, yeah?

I saw red because I myself am a victim of sexual abuse and I can casually mention it in conversation without conveying the ‘seriousness’ of the situation.

I saw red because not long ago I was talking to a friend’s mother who said to me, ‘You’re speaking very casually about your husband’s mental illness” and I said, “I want to eliminate the stigma against mental illness so I talk about things very openly, honestly and as casually as I can, much like if I’m talking about cancer or diabetes or a broken arm.”

Because fuck you and your privilege. You have NO RIGHT to say what is and is not ‘realistic’ when it comes to a character’s behaviour, ESPECIALLY if you’ve never been in the same situation. You are viewing the world through rose coloured glasses and you can’t see beyond your own privileged, sheltered life.

I didn’t tell my parents about my sexual abuse until about seven years after it happened. I can still remember the look on my mum’s face. Utterly devastated, heartbroken, and she had no fucking clue. Because I didn’t ‘act’ like a ‘normal’ survivor. You just can’t predict how people will respond to this kind of thing.

You’re part of the victim blaming culture if you say it’s unrealistic, that they ‘should’ be re/acting in a ‘certain’ way. That it’s unrealistic for them to respond in any other way.

You’re making it harder for real life people to tell their stories because you expect them to behave in a certain way.

You’re projecting on to both fictional characters and real life people and it’s because you have a limited view of the world and also a limited imagination.

There’s no graceful way to end this rant except to recommend that if you truly believe characters behave in ‘unrealistic’ ways when presented with certain trauma, then you probably need to stop and think for a while on your own privilege.


About Nemo

A lover of kittens and all things sparkly, Nemo has a degree in English Literature and specialises in reviewing contemporary, paranormal, mystery/thriller, historical, sci-fi and fantasy Young Adult fiction. She is especially drawn to novels about princesses, strong female friendships, magical powers, and assassins.

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2 thoughts on “‘Unrealistic’ and Expectations

  1. Eilonwy

    I love your rants, Nemo.

    You make such good points here.

    I also get a little upset when someone says a character in a story behaves in a way that’s “unrealistic.” If someone seems flippant about what happened, maybe that’s just their defense mechanism, a way of keeping themselves distant or safe. I’ve occasionally amazed myself with how unemotional I sound when I talk about the things in my life that hurt me the most but I wouldn’t be able to talk about them at all if I allowed that emotion into my voice. Why can’t readers accept that a character is expressing things in the way they CAN?

    I love your approach to talking about mental illness like diabetes or a broken arm. I’d love to see the stigma around mental illness diminish and eventually disappear, and being able to talk about it openly and casually is a good start and so, so important.

    Great post.

    1. Nemo

      Thanks, it’s just something I’ve noticed recently and found those people to be quite ignorant of their own privilege and/or lacking in imagination.

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