Thursday, June 12, 2014

Why I Don't Like the Outlander Series

A friend recommended Book I of the Diana Gabaldon series of romances, way back when I was pregnant with Gillian. It was called Outlander and there is presently a TV series in production based on the books.

I did really enjoy Outlander, a very original story about a woman who goes back in time by accident and becomes involved with an eighteenth century Scottish clansman named Jamie Fraser. The story was exciting and unusual, the characters were great, and the sex was super hot. You see, Jamie, a man in the sense that no man from the twenty-first century can really match, does not hesitate to use his brawn and bluster to try to put Claire in her place. In his mind, a woman is a lesser being to protect and coddle and, essentially, own. Claire, who is a modern woman, is having none of this. Their disagreements and conflicts are the sparks to the fire of their sexual compatibility and they soon realize they are a pretty equal match.

However, my problem with these books is the character of Jack Randall, whom we are encouraged to despise in the first and second books. He is a very unsavoury character, and eventually imprisons Jamie in his fortress, drugs him and, quite unexpectedly (at least for me), rapes him.

I will admit that the scenes of Jamie's implied rape by this man, that both he and Claire (and the reader) hate, were initially somewhat arousing to me, probably because it was so unexpected and you really weren't lucky enough to encounter any male on male sex in popular books at the time. And there is perhaps something darkly erotic about the idea of being taken by force. However the actual circumstance of rape has less to do with sex and more to do with violence and power.

I later found my physical reaction to this plot turn quite repugnant, since these men were not having consensual sex, but one was actually torturing and then raping the other. It's true that it was only a depiction of rape but this did not really comfort me and I read on with some reservations. The final straw came later on when Claire discovered that the reason Jamie was so traumatized by his experience in Randall's captivity was not because of the violation and cruelty of it, but because he, wait for it, actually enjoyed it.

Now, as an avid reader and writer of intense and graphic BDSM male/male sex, why, you may ask, would I be upset by this?

Because BDSM does not involve cruelty and torture. Yes, it can, and usually does, involve pain and implied domination and submission. But the people who engage in consensual BDSM activities are involved willingly in a play activity that permits them to access some of their deeper and darker instincts in a safe and usually very pleasurable way.

I can pretty much promise you that if a real Jack Randall had done what he did to an actual Jamie Fraser, there would have been no pleasure in it for the unlucky captive. This was a man Jamie despised, whose entire life seemed focused on ruining and hurting him and anyone he loved. Turning this into the result of a so-called perverted and erotic obsession on Jack's part was, in my opinion, just plain trashy and presents an unsavoury image of a bisexual male character.

It really bothered me that some readers of the Outlander series, because they perhaps did not yet have access to blatantly erotic M/M stories (they do now, boy!), were so titillated by the rape of Jamie Fraser perhaps because it was the only acceptable way to portray two men having sex together in books at the time. Why, it wasn't Jamie's fault - he was forced to have sex with Jack Randall. Because we can't portray two men willingly having sex together in a romance novel. That would just be...too radical and even more disturbing!

So, I'm sorry if I'm a bit of a curmudgeon about the Outlander series but it still leaves a kind of bitter taste in my mouth.

~ Liz

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