Because of Time’s Up and Me Too, Outlander May Finally Have to Deal With Its Rape Problem Next Season
[Spoilers For Events Up to The 4th Season of Outlander]
I am hard on Outlander, I know, but that is because, for a series that is praised so highly for many of its good qualities, it constantly skirts over more problematic issues that other shows, like Game of Thrones, get called out for. I understand that some women feel kink- or romance-shamed when people bring up Outlander. I get it. I watch problematic things that I love, but that doesn’t excuse it from being called out when it fails at something. And Outlander has had a rape narrative problem for a long time.
As I’ve read the first three books in the series, and have read summaries for future ones, sexual violence, and sexual assault are frequent plot points in Diana Gabaldon’s books.
In the first book, her main male lead Jamie Fraser gets raped, and Claire is frequently at risk for sexual assault. In the second book, a supporting female character gets raped and Claire is sexually assaulted. In the third book, Jamie rapes a woman who tries to blackmail him into taking her virginity; when she backs out of the act, he rapes her. That scene was changed in the adaptation of the third season, as explained by executive producer Maril Davis, because:
“We didn’t want to approach that part or include that part because, at the end of the day, we didn’t feel like what that scene was about. That scene should be all about Jamie being forced into doing something, but still not trying to take advantage of [Geneva] — and wanting the experience, even though it’s being forced on him, to be an okay one for her. It’s all about Jamie as a gentleman… Certain sexual violence is, not appropriate, but like the Jamie rape [in Season 1] — no one wants to see it, we’re not glorifying it — but it’s important to show it in its gory detail so that people understand why Black Jack has such a profound effect on Jamie and Claire moving forward. There are moments like the Geneva one where it’s not an important part of the story, so we choose not to show that… We didn’t want to bring that part in because it was unnecessary.”
Now in the upcoming season, rape will be coming up again, because that is apparently Diana Gabaldon’s m.o when it comes to creating emotional conflict. In the fourth Outlander novel, Drums of Autumn, Jamie and Claire’s daughter Brianna/Bree is raped, and she gets pregnant from that rape. One of the conflicts of that book is that the child may have been fathered by a rapist.
It has been confirmed that this will be a part of the upcoming season, but there will be extra pressure because of #TimesUp and #MeToo bringing more light to the way sexual violence is depicted. Executive producer/showrunner Ron D. Moore talked about this with The Hollywood Reporter:
“We’ve always been guided by that principle … We have a history of it with the show itself [so the question becomes] how much of this material is in the show, when do we do it, when do we decide not to do it and why are we making that choice. You have to approach it on a case-by-case basis and this is obviously a big story point so it wasn’t really an option not to do it. It’s more a question of how you’re going to do it and what it meant to that story in how you presented it.”
Of all the shows that feature rape, Outlander has managed to escape a lot of criticism because their depiction of rape has always been seen as being done “responsibly and sensitively.” The problem for me is that they have always used this veil of “historical accuracy” to excuse the excessive sexual violence and Jamie’s previous violent treatment towards Claire, which Roberts addresses.
“If you harken back to season one where Jamie spanked Claire, a lot of the criticisms were about domestic violence and abuse,” Roberts says. “But in that time, that wasn’t even a thought. When a modern audience views Outlander through a modern lens, then yes, you can have problems with it. But if you actually place yourself in the period — and we’re not saying that rape was OK in that period either — but how the characters view it is how we’re showing it. We’re not showing it how we view it and that makes a difference.”
“We’re sensitive to what’s going on in this time right now, but we’re also filming something that’s a historical piece,” Davis says. “So we’re trying to do that with both hats on.”
This. This right here is my problem with this series. Stop acting as though rape was never a crime. Yes, men didn’t often get convicted. Well, men don’t often get convicted now. At the time in history where Jamie and Claire are in, rape is most certainly not a “point of view” situation.
Stop acting as though domestic violence, between noble couples (which is what Jamie and Claire were when it happened), wasn’t seen as a sign of instability in the men who did it. Men who were historically cruel to their wives were not lauded in their time, nor in this one; they just had enough power to do so. Also, men beat their wives now and get away with it, so this isn’t an issue of the past either.
Your label as a “historical piece” does not make any of this inherently historically accurate, nor does it mean that it shouldn’t be questioned why every single book has rape in it. These books are written for drama, not fact, although Gabaldon does do a lot of research I’ll give her that.
Still, I find it rings false to paint critics of the show as unable to understand historical differences in perspective, when its premise has to do with a woman time traveling through magical stones.
(via The Hollywood Reporter, image: Starz)
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