WARNING: This post has spoilers.
ANOTHER WARNING: This post discusses sexual assault and rape. Told you it contained spoilers.
Still with me?
There I was, cooking dinner, happily listening to Davina Porter read Diana Gabaldon’s Voyager, the third book in the Outlander series, when this happens:
“Stop it! It’s too big! Take it out!” Panicked, Geneva thrashed beneath him. Pressed beneath his chest, her breasts wobbled and rubbed, so that his own nipples leapt erect in pinpoints of abrupt sensation.
Her struggles were accomplishing by force what he had tried to do with gentleness. Half-dazed, he fought to keep her under him, while groping madly for something to say to calm her.
“But—” he said.
“Take it out!” she screamed.
He clapped one hand over her mouth and said the only coherent thing he could think of.
“No,” he said definitely, and shoved.
What might have been a scream emerged through his fingers as a strangled “Eep!” Geneva’s eyes were huge and round, but dry.
In for a penny, in for a pound. The saying drifted absurdly through his head, leaving nothing in its wake but a jumble of incoherent alarms and a marked feeling of terrible urgency down beween them. There was precisely one thing he was capable of doing at this point, and he did it, his body ruthlessly usurping control as it moved into the rhythm of its inexorable pagan joy.
As I listened to this scene play out, I stopped everything and just stared at my phone (the device I was listening to the audiobook on). My brain: “Gabaldon wouldn’t make Jaime rape someone, right? Right?! Any second now this will stop. Right?! She’s told him to stop twice now, surely he’ll at least slow down? Right?!?!” Nope. Jaime rapes her.
Confession time: I didn’t listen to another word of the book. I did read a bunch of spoilers and it sounds like the woman he raped was pretty ok with it (as in morning-after-confession-of-love ok) and the book doesn’t seem to treat the incident as an act of rape. I hope this impression is wrong (and welcome corrections) but I cannot bring myself to spend anymore time with this book so I’m relying on the Internet. I know this is highly problematic because a) it’s the Internet and b) judging a larger work based on one problematic scene or phrase is the MO of so many book challenges. That’s why I want to make it clear that what follows is not a review of the book; it’s not meant to encourage or discourage anyone else from reading these books; and it’s not a judgment on anyone who read this book and feels differently than I do about this scene. It’s my attempt at understand why my brain burst into flames of rage and I nearly threw my phone across the room.
While I am extremely uncomfortable with the way rape is used in so many works of fiction, I have never been made so angry that I quit something I was enjoying. Game of Thrones (show not books) has sorely tempted me, but I keep watching. I’m not sure what this says about me as a woman or a feminist, but there it is. But this…this…
There are a lot of extenuating circumstances one might point to in order to explain or justify this rape:
- Jaime’s consent was dubious at best. He was coerced into sex in the first place, blackmailed by a stupid girl who threatened his family.
- Her consent was whole-heartedly given. She was desperate for him to deflower her to the point of aforementioned blackmail. Also, she’s kind of the awful.
- The idea that consent can be withdrawn at any time is a modern one, and no one in this period would have considered this rape.
- The book was published in 1993, mere years after the 80s heyday of the rapist hero in romance.
I’m sure there are more, but these are the ones that popped into my mind as I tried to figure out why I was so mad and whether it was justified. Mileage varies with these justification, but if I’m being honest, I’ve used similar arguments to understand why other rapes didn’t bother me. So what gives?
It hit me that the key is in that last justification: published in 1993, Voyager is just recycling some slightly out-of-date romance tropes about male sexuality. Diana Gabaldon says Outlander isn’t romance? Sure, it’s also an adventure tale, historical fiction, fantasy. Sure, Jaime isn’t the stereotypical 80s alpha romance rapist hero; he’s sensitive, respectful of women, a generous lover, etc. Sure, Claire isn’t the typical retro heroine: she’s strong, willful, and aggressive.
But Gabaldon is writing a story focused on a romantic relationship that will presumably end happily. It’s romance. She’s created a hero seemingly designed to make readers swoon at how dreamy he is. And then this… I can’t read the above and not come to the conclusion that I am being told that Jaime raped her because his lust was so powerful, so out of his control, there was no way he could have stopped having sex with her, even as she screams and struggles beneath him. That as good and kind as Jaime is, inside him lurk uncontrollable urges that can overpower his reason and sense of right. That this doesn’t make him bad; it just makes a man. Boys will be boys.
So, I suppose what happened is it took me two and a half books to realize that Gabaldon has written a romance novel that is still steeped in ideas about male sexuality that I have exactly zero time for. I don’t have time for rapist romance heroes from the 80s; I don’t have time for many of the alpha males found in some recenr romance; and I don’t have time for James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser’s “inexorable pagan joy.”