How does one enjoy a book series while not agreeing with the author or much of the fandom? It’s a struggle, and I’m this close to tapping out. I have loved the Outlander series from the moment I cracked the first page. I have re-kilted, and I cover the TV show on occasion for TN. I am a fan and love the stories.
Diana Gabaldon gave us incredible characters in a larger than life setting. She made me accept a world in which time travel exists! Her behavior and comments in the past have gotten my side eye, but you don’t have to love everyone all the time. Philip Roth is an amazing author, one of my favorites, and he’s a well-renowned dick. It’s fine.
However, after reading Gabaldon’s comments on Facebook this past week, regarding a controversial scene in Voyager (the third book of Outlander and basis for the third season of the TV show filming now), I can’t say it’s fine. It’s not fine. It’s a bit horrifying.
In Gaelic, Stop Means Shove
I’ve made it clear in two posts for TN that I think what happened between Jamie and Geneva is rape.
You can disagree. Gabaldon certainly does. It’s not disagreement that bugs. But her take on sexual assault, cultural sensitivity, and victimization deserves push-back.
So…why the heck do some of you guys think Jamie raped her?
Because she said “stop” and he didn’t. Forget everything else that did and didn’t happen, forget the personalities of the people involved, forget the innate power imbalance of the situation, forget the exploitation of an enslaved person, forget _everything_ except the shibboleth (you might want to look that one up, if you haven’t seen it before) that “no means no.” (As long as it’s a female who says it.)
Gabaldon’s comments go beyond acknowledging literary criticism. The issue isn’t that she created an unbelievable scene or that Jamie/Jesus did something out of character. The scene with Geneva is entirely believable. The issue is what we, the modern reader, call what happens in that scene. Rape isn’t always neat and tidy. The power dynamic between two people can be mercurial. Is Geneva using the postional power she has? Yes. Is Jamie using the physical power he has? Yes. Would Geneva or Jamie call what happens to her rape? Probably not. Would the modern reader? Yes. And the reason for that is that Geneva says to stop and Jamie says no.
But forget Geneva. Look at what Gabaldon says:
In short, “no means no” is not—as some people seem to think—an immutable law of physics, true throughout all times and places. It’s not even statutory law. It’s a useful fiction, developed in response to a very limited cultural context (emergent over the last fifty years) in which promiscuous casual sex has been widely accepted as both normal and not immoral.
I hope my daughter never has someone tell her this in all seriousness, and Gabaldon is serious. “No means no” has emerged in what we accept as consent because it’s correct. We become more progressive in our thinking with the movement of time; we become more decent. I am a reader in the 21st century, judging what happened in the 18th. No one is saying rape and blurry lines of consent didn’t happen back in the day. We are only saying Jamie did this thing and that thing is what we call rape.
Essentially, within this specific little ideological space, “no” is a safe-word. It’s meant to stop things getting out of hand, and if ideally employed, often it does.
However, no safe-word is effective unless both parties recognize the same rules of engagement.
What_the_ever_loving_fuck. “I’m sorry, your honor. My victim had a safe word I never agreed to.”
He doesn’t stop. [Here I will pause, for the gasp! of shock from whose innocence, cultural conditioning (see below) or lack of experience.
So if we think this is rape, we are either virgins, students at Oberlin, or virginal students at Oberlin? Oh, okay.
One More Thing About Intercourse
I know that Gabaldon is a big lover of science, but her take on losing your virginity is laughable.
She _is_ a virgin, which means that there’s an unavoidable point where push comes to shove, literally.
The hymen is not made of Valyrian steel. The vagina can lubricate itself and expand to accommodate a penis, even the first time. Even if there is an intact hymen. Your first experience with sex does not have to be painful or require shoving. If you are a hetero virgin reading this, make sure you are well lubed, well fingered, well orgasmsed, and well taken care of when you take the leap. It can be fantastic, especially if you demand your own pleasure. Shoving is very much avoidable.
The Fandom. Oy.
Most distressing to me (because I’m used to Gabaldon at this point) was the reaction of some of her supporters on Facebook.
(Picking my head up off the desk…)
An excuse I’ve seen about these comments is that the older fans think it’s not rape, i.e. younger fans are much more sensitive to the issue of consent. You know what? Age is not an excuse. “Oh grandma can’t help it! She is racist, but she’s old.” If black people could endure Jim Crow, your asshole Grandma can endure being told to stop being a garbage person.
Hey older fans, you were raised in the time of sexual liberation and the first and second waves of feminism: Don’t be so dismissive and glib about what constitutes sexual assault. I’m 43. I ain’t young. My college experience made me question my role in my own sexual assault. But I have been paying attention, and I have learned whom to blame and it sure as shit ain’t me.
Admin Note: Think we aren’t real Outlander fans after reading this? Think again. We’ve been excited about the books and the show and the cast and the costumes for years. The passionate response that we have to it is proof positive that we care – maybe a little too much, actually.
So, want to chat more Outlander with us? Starting in January, read along with us as we tackle Voyager before season 3 airs. Our Voyager chat, In the Waterweeds, will be ridiculous and fun every two weeks until the new season starts.
The first IN THE WATERWEEDS chat is January 4th, and we’ll be discussing Parts I and II (Chapters 1-6).