Trigger warning

Today, the fine people at Go Fug Yourself posted their weekly Outlander recap, and this week's episode appears to focus heavily on rape, the fallout from rape, and (curve ball!) coercive sex. I left a comment on the GFY recap that basically summarized my thoughts on historical fiction/TV shows using rape as a narrative crutch, but I feel like hijacking other people's blogs to yell at length about my feelings is impolite. That's why I have my own blog.

First of all, I want to make it clear that I don't automatically object to rape scenes. Rape is a real and all-too-common crime, and fiction has every right to reflect that. However, I do object to rape scenes that feel like a cheap and easy way to cause the character in question pain, and I doubly object to rape scenes that are held up as some kind of proof of historical accuracy—particularly when the show in question doesn't seem to worry about the historical accuracy of anything else, from the characters' perfect dental work to the existence of time travel. (Or, in the case of Game of Thrones, dragons.) Too often, rape is used as the default method of causing a character serious harm... but serious harm that still leaves them pretty. I feel like the showrunners of Outlander and Game of Thrones want characters like Sansa, Claire, and Jamie to suffer, but only in ways that leave them scar-free, interestingly pale, and blessed with all their teeth and full heads of hair... and rape is perfect for that! So convenient!

Second, these rape scenes are a waste of actual historical accuracy. In this particular episode of Outlander, the heroine is forced to have sex with another man in order to free her husband from prison. Did you know that the origin of the word rape—the Latin word rapere, “to seize”—had less to do with the injury to a (presumably female) victim, and more to do with the damage done to her as an object of her husband or father's property? A more interesting, thoughtful TV show might have reflected at length on the differences between 20th and 18th century attitudes towards bodily autonomy, and Claire's struggle—as an educated, first-world, 20th century woman—to come to terms with the idea of her body as her most important financial asset. But on Outlander? It's just another crappy, abusive thing in a long line of crappy, abusive things that happens to the character. If the show truly wanted to wade into the grossest aspects of the past, why not show us an attractive, elegantly-dressed woman dying of an ingrown toenail? Or peeing in the street? Or dealing with lice and fleas? Why is rape the gold standard of storytelling historical realism?

So I guess what I'm saying is please stop using rape quite so often, Outlander and Game of Thrones. I'm tired of you simultaneously using sexual violence against men, women, and children to shock and titillate your viewers and piously holding it up as proof of your dedication to historical reality. Your use of rape is neither subtle nor jaw-dropping; it's lazy, and I am really uncomfortable with the fact that I'm actually getting bored by such a fundamentally horrifying subject.
Posted by: Julianka


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