Romancing rape culture

There is nothing like getting lost in a good book.  For the past few days I have been immersed in Diana Gabaldon’s The Outlander, an engrossing story about a WWII nurse who falls through an enchanted craig and finds herself in the 18th Century Scottish Highlands.  I had reached the halfway point when certain events began to make me very uncomfortable.  And then it hit me; I was reading rape culture.

It all started when the Jaime, the strapping young lad, beat Claire, our protagonist and his new bride.  Jaime, who had up until then been portrayed as a fair, sensitive, and considerate man, beat Claire as punishment for making a mistake that put others in danger.  Now, to be fair, his behavior is probably accurate for an 18th Century clansman.  However, Claire is a woman of the 20th Century, and she is steadfast opposed to wife-beating.  She vows never to forgive her husband, but she forgives him the next day essentially saying, “Well, I see your point.”

Later, Claire and Jaime get into an argument.  Unable to comprehend or accept Claire’s autonomy, Jaime responds with sexual violence, stating that she is his woman and he’ll have her whenever he damn pleases.  And then he rapes her.  Brutally.  As Gabaldon takes you through the graphic rape, I get the feeling that I’m supposed to be turned on.  But instead my feminist insides were raging in a putrid turmoil.  I felt sick.

The next morning the couple wakes up cute and happy.  Apparently it had been some great sex, despite the pain, bleeding, and bruises.  Then Jaime wants to have sex again, and Claire responds “No way, I’m way too sore.”  His response? Too bad. And then he rapes her again.  But he is gentler than usual, so apparently, it’s okay.  And after all this violence and rape, Claire finally realizes that she loves him. So much so that presented with the chance to return to her own time (spoiler alert) she chooses to stay with Jaime, her lover, her protector, and her rapist.  WTF?

As a point of interest, I have absolutely no problem with S&M or rape fantasies in erotica or porn — assuming that everyone involved is aware of what is going on and consents to reading/watching/participating.  As I was reading this, I felt at odds with myself.  The scenes were very reminiscent of S&M scenes, and in that light, I can respect the fact that both Claire and Jaime could enjoy the experience of power play and sexual violence.  But it didn’t feel right.  Claire did not consent.  This was a story about love, and there is something very twisted about slipping rape fantasies into a romance and passing it off as love.

If Diana Gabaldon’s goal was to get us off using rape fantasies, she should have labeled her book “rape fantasy erotica,” not romance.  That way, her readers could choose to consent to reading it.  But by disguising it, she has played us false. Her message, unintended as it might be, is that passionate love is inextricably linked to rape and violence, or perhaps that sexual violence is an expression of true love.

Rape culture is one in which books-for-women-by-women feature strong, masculine heroes who are lovable, respectable and sexy, even though they beat and rape women.  How many women will walk away from The Outlander under the impression that rape is what brings passion to a relationship?  How many will go forth looking for a dashing hero just like Jaime?  And even more upsetting, how many will find one?

143 thoughts on “Romancing rape culture

  1. As a feminist who has read most of the Outlander series, I agree with everything you’ve said here. I love historical fiction, and time travel stories, so these books seemed ideal, and in many ways they are. The dynamics between Jamie and Claire, however, always made me very uncomfortable.

    As you said, Jamie’a attitudes may well beaccurate representations of those of men in his time period. Claire’s reactions to them, however, don’t seem realistic for a 20th century woman, and I don’t think sexual violence should ever be treated as romantic. There are similar scenes in later books that I found just as distasteful, so if it’s particularly triggering for you, you might want to avoid them.

    • Wow, thanks for the warning. I’m glad you brought up the triggering issue. That is another important reason that sexual violence shouldn’t be slipped into love stories without some sort of warning. Then again, I would hate for this sort of precaution to lead to any sort of censorship. Perhaps there should be a website that records triggering literature and films so that folks who are concerned can check to see if a book is something they are comfortable reading.

    • Claire isn’t just a 20th century woman. She was born nearly 50 years before the civil rights movement and the whole feminist movement. My grandmother, who was born 20 years after Claire supposedly was, will still to this day put down her fork and get up from the table to refill my grandfather’s plate for him. Like it or not, a lot changed during the 20th century and she was from the first half, which is vastly different from the second.

      • Women in the late 18th and early 20th century were the pioneers for feminism- they were ‘first wave feminists’. Just because your grandmother serves dinner to your grandfather doesn’t mean a woman born 20 years before her couldn’t recognize that spousal abuse is wrong. There are plenty of sexist women today.

    • I just discovered the books because of the 2014 Starz TV show series. I agree that the book was great until the part where Jaime starts pressuring Claire into sexual encounters and essentially flogs her. I honestly do not understand how she chose not to leave him at the first opportunity with his encouragement. It ruined the earlier aura of the books and was too disturbing for me to continue. I have not been able to finish the first book all the way through. It started to get too weird. It seemed way too contradictory to Jaime’s earlier character, almost as if the longer the marriage went on the worse he became (i.e. it all went to hell). Super disturbing and even bizarre. I suspect that the TV show writers will adapt those parts of the series (the show is directed and written by a group of females). Honestly, Jaime is portrayed with much more compassion in the TV series. For example, their wedding night events in the TV show was completely different than the book. The TV show portrays the relationship with more sensitivity and class. Claire herself is more reserved and demur as well in the TV show. The dialogue in the books is much more crude. The books hit the modern reader twice- first the beating and then the extremely rough sexual encounter- the wife literally says “no” and states that he is hurting her. He only continues and becomes more forceful- that would be too gross for a visual TV show written by women.

      • As a male reader of the Outlander series I hope I can comment here without upsetting everyone. If this is a female-only forum I apologize for the intrusion and hope the moderator will remove this comment. I too was struck by the rape scenes and the beating scenes in the book. It is very much a “Your mouth says no but your eyes say yes.” situation. That can be acceptable between two people who know each other well and are comfortable in that roleplaying. But these characters have just met.

        As a man who strongly believes that no means no – for my wife and I daughter – I thought this sent a very strange message, particularly from a female author. I am a recent reader of this book series and when I mentioned this to my wife – who read the book years ago – she seemed surprised it happened. She had to reread it with me and even then I could see the weight of the book’s romantic message of True Love weighed heavily against the rape and beating message. In fact it even triggered an interesting conversation between us about whether I was forceful enough in our relationship. (We have been married 33 years BTW. Short summation – my wife doesn’t want me to be more forceful. And I don’t have to buy a kilt. 😉 )

        I have read a lot of other comments on other forums that argue against those passages being rape and about how the beating is not as awful as it may seem. I think there may be a romance novel dog whistle affect going on here in which there is a special signal that only romance novel readers can hear that tells the reader the when to disregard certain actions. Regardless I read the intelligent comments here with interest and it will be interesting to see what the rest of the book series (and TV series brings).

    • I read the first couple of books and started the next but I had to stop after reading a scene where Jamie raped Claire as a punishment (I won’t give the details) with the tone of he’s doing it because he loves her. I was sick to my stomach and it triggered an intense reaction probably due to sexual molestation I suffered as a child. I won’t read any more of the books.

  2. Thank you for putting this into words. I was recommended this book and thought it was some kind of romance/sci fi. Boy was I in for a surprise when I got to the beating scene. As a grown woman, the idea of having my husband discipline me is completely abhorrent. I am just grossed out. Not only does he beat her, but he does it to publicly punish (humiliate) her. She can’t even sit down for two days and everyone knows why. What a sexy man. I am giving up on this book. I don’t need to read a rape scene. Gah.

    • Jamie never ever rapes Claire. Jamie is raped in Outlander. ….AND the beating is very real and typical for the time period. If you canna handle that them maybe historical fiction is not for you.

      • He does. The lack of consent is still rape even if the characters are oddly pleasant about it later. And DG passes Jamie off as educated and progressive in the beginning of the novel, which is part of the reason I think many people were so put off by his later actions.

        • Also, I went so far as to google search this topic after reading those chapters of the book because I wanted to see if others interpreted those scenes as physical and sexual spousal abuse. I think the show thus far is wonderful. I will pass on continuing the books through.

      • The beating is NOT “very real and typical” for those times unless, of course, the husband was an abuser. Not all men beat their wives in those days. Some men actually honored their wives and protected them. Jaimie went from being sensitive and considerate by accepting the beating of a 17 year old young woman who was caught in a promiscuous situation, to being a wife beater almost over night. sorry, the theory that it was “common” in those “times” is a cop out for wanting to read about abuse and rape. I stopped reading after that point. I skimmed ahead through the book and found other scenes that were just as gross and violent. If that gets you off, more power to you, but I’m like the others. It made me feel uncomfortable and brought back memories of my own rape.

  3. Great post! I’m honestly appalled at all of these regular books (mainstream literature) being released that condone/perpetuate abuse and that are so anti-feminist in tone. I agree that this is blatant rape culture and its terrible.

    In terms of the Outlander series I hadn’t heard a single negative thing until I specifically read reviews about the first book (and even there it was maybe 1/4 of them). I was shocked at how many were fans and who actively defended this behavior.

    At least I know I won’t be reading the series at all now, so thank you.

    • So sad. You dont know what your missing. Best written book I’ve ever read. Claire is never ever raped by Jamie. Jamie is raped though, and not by Claire.

      • micki, the reason why this post is right is people like you who were convinced that a blatant assault and rape scene is not violence and misogyny, but normal, even desirable, romance. i was LOVING the story (started watching the tv series, than took the book) until this part. now i just can’t continue, i am very disappointed. when claire said ‘no’ and jamie ignored her saying he had the right to do what he wanted with her, it was rape. when she forgives him for beating her and agrees that he was right, it was domestic violence. when the autor paint rape like it was the best sex ever, it’s rape culture 😦

        i really, really hope they change this in the tv show, otherwise it will be disgusting

      • Actually, Jamie does rape Claire when they return to the castle. He is angry because she says that she has no claim to him. She tells him to stop because he is hurting her. Jamie refuses and continues to rape her. Later he apologizes for bruising her (not the ones from the beating, just those from the rape).

      • Yes, I agree. She even says, “Yes, Jamie! Yes!”. And then they have rough sex. Definitely NOT gentle sex, but Claire does in fact state clearly that she wants to have sex with Jamie.

  4. A friend recommended I re-read Outlander. I did read it 20 years ago when I was sick and stuck in bed for a couple weeks and was mildly disturbed by the violence, but it didn’t really sink in. On this reading I was definitely disturbed. When I pointed it out to my friend she got very defensive and kept calling me “too PC, lighten up!”

    Ummm…no. It’s fiction. The author chose to use violence against women as a plot point and character device. I’m out.

    Thanks for the blog post. Nice to know I’m not alone. The Outlandish Compnaions are rather belligerent in their enthusiasm.

    • As the post below, the different perceptions of “rape culture” in the nineties and in 2014 show how women’s rights are clearer and closer to gender equity nowadays. If you take romances from the eighties or nineties you’ll find much more romanticized raping, jealousy and possesion as desirable than in this decade’s production. It even shows in sex descriptions. Later books pay detailed attention to women pleasure (they almost always are pleasured before the scene where the actual coitus takes place).
      Outlander strikes as rape culture, as many said, esencially because we want to love its characters and it’s impossible to do it with gender violence and rape in the middle… no matter how historically accurate it could be…We’ve come a long way, baby, to be enchanted by that!!!

  5. I read Outlander years ago and wasn’t offended by that scene. I didn’t see it as a rape or violence. I’ll have to reread it to reevaluate it. I suppose it could push some buttons for anyone who has been abused , was a victim of violence, or is just very sensitive.

  6. THANK.

    For some reason, reading this book just really struck me with the enormity of the problem of rape culture and domestic violence and thousands of years of women being abused and modern women reading this and getting turned on over it. When I read the beating scene I just cried and cried and cried. I feel utterly alone in this too, and trying to raise these questions with the awful, belligerent fandom gets you screamed down as a bitch.

    • ITS FICTION and historical at that. Should authors leave out authentic cultural history just because it might offend a few? Thats why out knowledge of history is so screwed up.

    • You are not alone! I’ve had the same experience. Pointing out it is a work of imagination, time traveling woman getting beaten by the romantic male lead cannot be defended historically has gotten me shouted down more than once. Pointing out the lack of concent and kinky sex to snugly morning mind flip. Actually resulted in a reader describing her own sex life on a thread on goodreads.

    • iI know! I was watching the series on TV and when it came to the beating scene I just had to break off and cry horribly for about half an hour. I never could watch it again after that. So glad somebody raised this issue!

  7. Thank god. I just read that chapter and immediately went online to see if there was anything online regarding this. I’m really struggling whether to finish the book or not- I was already unsure as it was really starting to drag. But this? I understand that it was a ‘different time’ but the way the author makes it seem like it’s understandable and we’re meant to sympathise with the actions really freaks me out. If she was going to excuse it as a man of his time you’d think there would be more of a moral judgement in the prose.

    • Thank you so much for putting that link! And I’m so happy I found this article! I couldn’t believe what I was reading when I read this book and the large amount of people trying to defend it. If anyone is questioning whether Claire gets raped maybe you should take it from the author, she gets raped and tortured by Jamie. I think that ends the discussion right there.

      • She’s not talking to Catriona in that clip, she’s talking to Sam. She called him, “Sheugs,” as she often does on Twitter. She’s talking about the Black Jack Randall scenes at Fort William.

    • In that video, the torture and rape referenced by Diana Gabaldon is that of Jamie, by another male character. (Trying not to spoil too much for those who wish not to be spoiled). She directed that comment (I.e. that she was looking forward to ‘you’ being raped and tortured) at Sam Heughan, who plays Jamie…not Catriona Balfe, who plays Claire.

      I’m not defending the scenes mentioned above. I’ve shared many of the same discomforts, and have also been discomforted by the author’s response to criticisms (which has essentially been that her books are not a space for democratic opinion, she’s the author, it’s her world, and she doesn’t give a s*** if the audience is triggered or discomforted – too bad, so sad).

      I actually find the use of rape as a plot device in these books to be offensive, sickening, but above all boring and lazy writing. There are plenty of ways in which to allow character growth without them being raped or near-raped. The author certainly does love terrorizing her creations.

      Having said that, I do love the books (well…until the last one. It was astoundingly crap in my opinion). I am yet to find truly satisfying (from a feminist point of view) fiction – Melanie Rawn’s Ruins of Ambrai series came close, but she never finished the last book (and I take leave to mention I read it 10 years ago and it may not be as good in actuality as it is in my memory!). While I don’t think it’s ideal, I guess I just come to a point where I accept that I have to sit through some really uncomfortable things to enjoy the rest of it. A bit like how I enjoyed the movie Avatar, whilst still recognising it was actually a story about white colonialism. I don’t like racism. I can shelve it for a while to enjoy popular entertainment…although not without critical thought. Or discomfiture.

      • It would be a good book if she removed half the scenes that doesn’t pertain to anything in the plot…the “spanking” scene wasn’t needed…the Loch Ness Monster scene was distracting. In the first half of the book (first 30 chapters or so), there were at least 20 chapters that could have been removed all together and in the remaining chapters, she could have removed most or all of the floggings and attempted rapes. They didn’t even matter to the plot…which to this day, I still don’t get. The whole this is poorly thought out and way too detailed. Especially the rape scenes…those just made me sick. I’m glad I’m not alone in these feelings.

      • If you want great feminist fiction, you should pick up Tracy Chevalier’s books. They’re also all set in historical times and the research she does to get EVERYTHING rigt is amazing.
        My two favorites for now are “Remarkable Creatures” and “The last runaway”. Such good books !

    • Holy $h!t. From the author’s own mouth. Yes. That clears up any question. And the way the fans laugh at it made me really uncomfortable. The author is looking forward to seeing Claire tortured and raped and the fans act like it’s the funniest thing in the world.

      • Yeah, again – she wasn’t talking to Catriona Balfe about her character, Claire. She was talking to Sam Heughen about his character, Jamie. She’s looking forward to *Jamie* being raped and tortured with (SPOILER ALERT) does happen.

        I’m not sure that that makes it any better, to be perfectly frank – although I can see why the author would be looking forward to the most dramatic and climactic parts of her book coming to life on screen in front of her. I can also see why this idea would be particularly off putting for many, many viewers.

    • My main point in posting the link ( was not to confirm that CLAIRE was raped, but to point out that Diana Gabaldon clearly considers rape TITILLATING. At 1:05 in this promo video, she was referring to the rape of Jamie, but the fact that Jamie is male does not make his rape more, or less, acceptable. Descriptions of rape TITILLATE readers (and, apparently, writers, judging by Diana Gabaldon’s statement). Writers put them in their books to sell more books!! By the way, when Harlequin Romances started including descriptions of rape in their romance novels, sales shot up, and it was, for the most part, WOMEN writing those books. Readers were primarily WOMEN and GIRLS.

      • Thank you for the link. That comment of DG’s, the fan response to it, and this article have officially settled something for me: I will never read this series. Its a shame because I was planning on buying the entire series ones season one of the show was finished. But the fact that the author and her fans find rape to be titillating is beyond disgusting. She was litterally giggling and the fans were cheering and whistling. There is clearly something wrong with them. I’m not surprised that she romanticized Claire’s rape by Jamie or that her supporters defend it. If they approve of Jamie’s own rape and abuse, him doing the same to Claire would probably be seen in a positive light by them as well.

        As it stands, the show appears to be a massive improvement on the books, just based on what has aired so far and what the book stans whine about. I hope it continues to be that way.

    • I am opposed to government censorship, but I am in favor of censorship by pocketbook. If you are opposed to rape* in books, don’t buy those books (and discourage others from buying them). If you are opposed to it philosophically, but still want to read it because it TITILLATES you, too, then consider borrowing a copy from a friend or library. At least then people like Diana Gabaldon will profit a little less from her tripe. If you are an ambitious, skilled, creative writer, and are unopposed to rape culture in books, you might want to join the ranks of Diana Gabaldon and others of her ilk. Many, many people love her books: women, men, straight, gay, young, old, etc., etc. She might be a trashy writer, but Diana Gabaldon is a savvy business woman. She has made millions and millions of dollars with her TITILLATING books, and now a television series. Of course, if you take that route, we will discuss you in blogs like this.
      *My views also extend to murder, torture, child abuse, spousal abuse and other heinous acts described in TITILLATING detail in books, television, movies, etc. Just as bad is when they treat such things as light comedy in stories broadcast on family channels (e.g., Murder She Wrote, Diagnosis Murder, Monk), or as “drama” (CSI, Law & Order Special Victims Unit, Criminal Minds, etc.). I have always wondered if people who enjoy that type of “entertainment” enjoy it as much when it happens to them or to the people they love. I wish it would happen ONLY to them.

  8. I could not agree more with this post. I started screaming into my pillow and punching my bed as the story unfolded saying “this is so messed up!” I am perfectly fine with violence or rape in books. Dominating the protagonist through repeated unwanted sex and then being rewarded for it is disgusting. This is called romance?!! I can not believe the reviews I had read saying that this book was so romantic. Here I am, a single guy wanting a nice summer love story to bring some romance into my life and I find myself reading about a woman getting repeatedly harassed/raped and beaten. And to top it all off, she stayes with this guy! What kind of message does that send to men who think this is appropriate behavior towards women?

  9. I’m shocked at all the reaction to this. If you know anything about history, you know women in that time period were worth very little. We were disciplined, beaten, treated like dirt. We were constantly being raped. That’s how it was. Ms Gabaldon’s books are historically extremely accurate. If you can’t handle reality, I suggest you don’t read historicals. It’s not all regency ballrooms and gloriously handsome gentlemen in tails.

    For the record, Jamie never rapes Claire.

      • What text book are you reading? Your interpretation of the writing does not make it text book anything, but you opinion. **Spoiler** when Claire is actually raped in later books, its traumatic and causes her to have panic attacks and PTSD. I have reread the series anytimes, and she does not get raped by Jamie, he is actually rather instant, but by the time any action was happening, she was giving what she was getting. Anyone who has actually experienced rape will tell you, you don’t come around and decide, well, since its happening, I might as well enjoy it…

        I have often been not thinking I was interested, only to have my mind and body decide, well, maybe so after all, due to a skilled lover. Unfortunately , I have also been raped… NOT. THE. SAME. THING. AT. ALL.

        • There are multiple times where Claire directly utters the phrase, “No i’m too sore/you’re hurting me” and he continues anyway. That is the actual literal definition of rape, I can’t believe we’re discussing this?

          Getting turned on and into it after non-consent is not the same thing as consent, and is rape, even if it’s not the violent-jumped-on-by-a-stranger people normally associate with the word.

          Which is all rather funny because the last third of the book is dedicated to Jamie’s rape, which involved his vocal non-consent and his getting turned on and enjoying it anyway. Which is the exact same situation, but apparently that traumatic experience was rape and something we should be worried about, but hers was not.

          If you think Jamie doing what he did was okay because they were married, because they love each other, because he apologised, because she was angry, because she forgave him, because it was presented as romantic etc, etc, then congratulations! You are rape culture.

    • No, that’s not “how it was.” The reality was far more complex and nuanced. Perhaps you should research more, rather than buying the narrative we’ve been peddled that it was just rape city for all women up until 1964.

    • Women weren’t “constantly” being raped. It was common…just as common as it is today for women to be raped, but it was also common for husbands to treat their wives better. A man who was sensitive enough to take a beating for a young girl, turned around and “beat” his wife and you say that it was “common” in those days so it was “acceptable” in the books. Well, it’s common today for a woman to be raped every 2 minutes. 1 in 10 women today are raped at least once in their life time. Every three minutes a woman is domestically abused by their spouse or loved one. Every four minutes a woman is killed by someone who they trusted. It’s “common” by statistical definitions but it’s not accepted. NOT all men in those days beat their wives. Not ALL men in those days raped a woman. Some men actually protected their women. There were cases in court where men were brought before the courts for unlawful beating of their wives. There were rules on how much a husband could punish his wife, what he can and couldn’t use in that punishment and what instances he could punish her for. I suggest you pick up a historical book about women in those days and do some more research. For the record, as you put it, Jaimie does rape Claire when he refuses to take no for an answer and when he continues even though she tells him he is hurting her. That is rape, plain and simple. No means no. It does not mean “oh okay, if you insist.” It does not mean, “Yes.” It means no…and when a woman tells their man that they are bleeding and hurting, he stops and finds out why. He doesn’t change overnight from a kind, caring man who takes into consideration everyone’s feelings and even goes so far as to take a flogging for someone to a man who laughs and beats his wife for embarrassing him. I use the term “beat” because it is not a spanking to throw a blanket over a woman’s head and beat her until she can’t sit down for two days. People who defend this kind of behavior make me sick…

    • Child rape also occurred throughout history. By your logic, Genevieve Sawchyn, graphic descriptions of child rape (that TITILLATES many people to this day) are acceptable because such things actually happened. Do you also defend those authors? What about graphic artists?

    • P.S., Genevieve Sawchyn, your “We” is misplaced. You weren’t there “in that time period” and you do not speak for the women who were. Furthermore, your knowledge of history boggles the mind.

    • Why doesn’t Genevieve Graham Sawchyn (author of TITILLATING romance novels) use her full name when posting her opinion regarding the romancing of rape culture. I wonder if it would dampen sales of her oh-so-historically-accurate novels if her readers knew that, according to Genevieve, 1) “NO” does not mean NO, and 2) it’s okay to TITILLATE readers with descriptions of rape because rapes happened in history…CONSTANTLY. Perhaps soon we will see prepubescent girls and boys on the covers of her bodice rippers–they were raped a lot in history, too.

  10. I feel that everything that happened in this work of historical fiction was accurate to the smallest detail. For the spanking, Claire did not ‘make a mistake’. She knowingly went against instructions in complete defiance of her husband and endangered everyone. As per the times, she was punished. The author clearly stated, any of the group would have gotten that or worse for risking everyone’s lives. As for the so-called rape scene, it was an 18th century husband letting his wife know that she was his and he belonged to her as well. If you choose to view everything through the overly PC lenses of today’s
    Media and go searching for what is wrong, you will never be disappointed.

    • You’re right about no matter who it was, they would have been punished. In the second book, Dragonfly in Amber, Jamie puts himself up for being punished in the same way, when a young English soldier was able to sneak into their camp. He’s certainly not a hypocrite. And he also is true to the promise he made to Claire that he would never punish her again.

    • Jeanne, Genevieve & Micki —

      You can’t have your historical cake and eat it, too. Sure, 18th-cent. husbands may well have beaten their wives and treated them as belongings. But what you fail to grasp when you make this argument is that in turn, 18th century wives would NEVER have characterized their violent marriage as a romantic partnership between equals.

      But Claire (inexplicably) does. The day after Jaimie beats her all night — “within an inch of her life” — with a leather belt on bare flesh, and she struggles so hard to escape that she gives him a bloody nose, fingernail gashes down his face and a deeply bitten wrist — she tells him she loves him for the first time. What the .. wha?

      It is precisely that 20th century vision of romance shoehorned into the historical brutality that many readers find very disturbing. It’s a real bit of cognitive dissonance.

      Either you judge the relationship by 18th-century standards: Jamie has the right to beat and “take” her sexually and Claire must endure it, but no sane woman would call it romantic; OR you judge it by 20th-century standards: Jamie’s an abuser and Claire needs to get the hell out of there and back to her kind husband. But you vehement defenders of the novel hold one standard for Jamie and a different one for Claire.

      Honestly, it amazes me how invested some readers appear to be in these FICTIONAL characters that they will mock the real pain of REAL women who may have experienced real abuse. It’s honestly that hard to show some empathy?

      These women truly did not enjoy this author’s novel. Why, in every single forum I’ve seen on this topic, do you continue to browbeat them into trying to like it, it’s not so bad, they’re really missing out. Why can’t you let “no” mean “no”?

      … aaaand that’s why this blog post about rape culture and this book is so darned accurate. I read the book for the first time last week. I’ve never read romance novels before so I had little idea how much of the violence is standard for the genre and how much unique to this author; I came online seeking some intelligent analyses of it. Thank you, Leah.

      • I am not a formal historical romance reader myself. The little bit I have read did not contain forceful sexual encounters between spouses etc. If they did, I would definitely cross off the genre from my literary lists.

    • I stopped reading Outlander about 48 hours ago after reading a little further than the beating scene (That Scene). I was very disturbed by it. I couldn’t believe Jamie would carry through with it because it seemed so out of character, whether or not it was historically accurate. He says it is for “justice”, but only a few chapters earlier in the book, he almost got himself and Claire killed while having sex away from the rest of the group, only to be found by two English deserters. No one in the book suggested punishing Jamie for that. And based on what I’d read so far, I couldn’t see Claire standing by and letting it happen. So much for justice.

      I wonder if Jamie’s violent behaviour towards Claire would be excusable to some if he wasn’t young, tall and good-looking. What if he smelled bad (Claire notices the “harsh reek of men” during the clan gathering but later says Jamie smells sweet), was missing teeth and was covered in sores? What if the scars were on his face instead of his back? What if he hadn’t married her? Would the beating still be okay? And what if instead of forcing her to have sex, he was twisting one of her arms or kicking her in the abdomen, and she said, no, you’re hurting me. Would that still be okay? Handsome does not equal noble and sex does not equal love. If people want to read romance novels, that’s fine. But this behaviour isn’t romantic. It’s abusive. We should all be aware of the difference, whatever our choices are.

      One other thing that angered me: I bought this book and Dragonfly in Amber from a local bookstore as part of a two-book special. I asked the staff if there was any violence in them because I don’t care for that. I was told, well, a few battle scenes, but that’s about it. What a lie! I’m going back to the library.

      On a positive note: I’m glad to find this post (and others like it): it helped me with my feelings of revulsion and allowed me to see I’m not the only one. Thank you, Leah.

    • I’ll defend this book from misrepresentation, as seen below, but No. This book is not accurate down to the smallest detail. She is not an etymologist and she loses a great deal of accuracy with her dialogue. She uses modern slang (incorrectly, I’ll point out) but she acts like fuck is a modern word. It dates from the 1500’s. Just because the OED didn’t want to talk about it, doesn’t mean it didn’t exist. Most of the time I can turn my brain off to these problems, but when the book is praised constantly about the details and the author herself is very smug about how accurate it is, I’m going to call shenanigans. My copy is marked up all to hell with her mistakes.

  11. Never in this series of books does Jamie rape anyone, much less Claire. In the 18th century, men were the bosses in their households and in that particular area of the world, Catholics. They believed every word of the Bible (as do I) and It tells wives that they should never hold themselves back from their husbands. I understand if this is not a 21st century norm but we’re not talking about a book written in the 21st century mindset. Just like Diana wrote, “Gentle he would be; denied he would not.” This is not rape. Not even in the 21st century, in the bedrooms of loving husbands and wives, would a man who “wheedled” his way into sex be called (in any way, shape, or form) a rapist.
    It’s a sad commentary when repressed women try to influence the minds of the uniformed.

      • Yes, Shari, you do appear to be uninformed. A wise person once said, “Sometimes it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak up and remove all doubt.”

      • Shari, do you have daughters? Here is some reading for you. “If a man is caught in the act of raping a young woman who is not engaged, he must pay fifty pieces of silver to her father. Then he must marry the young woman because he violated her, and he will never be allowed to divorce her.” (Deuteronomy 22:28-29). “If within the city a man comes upon a maiden who is betrothed, and has relations with her, you shall bring them both out of the gate of the city and there stone them to death: the girl because she did not cry out for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbors wife.” (Deuteronomy 22:23-24). “When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she will not be freed at the end of six years as the men are. If she does not please the man who bought her, he may allow her to be bought back again. But he is not allowed to sell her to foreigners, since he is the one who broke the contract with her. And if the slave girl’s owner arranges for her to marry his son, he may no longer treat her as a slave girl, but he must treat her as his daughter. If he himself marries her and then takes another wife, he may not reduce her food or clothing or fail to sleep with her as his wife. If he fails in any of these three ways, she may leave as a free woman without making any payment.” (Exodus 21:7-11). Keep in mind that this kind of stuff TITILLATES readers. Does the fact that it’s in the bible make it acceptable treatment for your daughters? As a believer, would you go along with this if your husband demanded it? Would it be okay if someone wrote a story about your daughter, and in the story, she traveled back in time to the bronze age and suffered a fate such as described in these bible verses; and the story was read by (and TITILLATED) millions? Would you defend it on this blog?

    • Marital rape is rape. “Wheedling” is coercion not seduction. This comment is way too disturbing. Hopefully, this is not written by an American woman.

    • Repressed women? I’m sorry, but I’m not repressed. I object to rape. I am a victim and survivor of rape myself. I don’t want to read or should have to read a book that glorifies rape and abuse to make people who like it feel better about themselves. Rape is the forcible sexual relations between two people. In this case a man and woman. Man says he has the right to her. Woman says no, she doesn’t want it. Man says he will anyway. Man forces himself on her and continues even when she tells him he is hurting her. Man says he does it out of love. This is rape.

  12. This series is erroneously categorized as romance. While there is romance involved, a more accurate description is historical fiction with a little sci fi and romance thrown in. I would prefer the history be accurate and not have uncomfortable situations glossed over to save the sensibilities of today’s thinking. We’ve come a long way, but we should never forget the journey which brought us here. I love Jamie Fraser’s character and he did not rape Claire.

  13. (Spoilers, TW rape)

    “‘No!’ I gasped. ‘Stop, please, you’re hurting me!’ Beads of sweat ran down his face and dropped on the pillow and on my breasts. Our flesh met now with the smack of a blow that was fast crossing the edge into pain. My thighs were bruising with the repeated impact, and my wrists felt as though they would break, but his grip was inexorable.”

    Because when the heroine says “No, stop, that hurts,” and the male lead ignores her own bodily autonomy and continues? That’s rape.

    • You have taken that quote completely out of context and are ignoring their previous sexual encounters. Here’s what happened between Jamie and Claire before what you posted:

      (More Spoilers from page 186 of Outlander)

      “He circled my wrist with thumb and index finger. “It’s just … you’re so small; I’m afraid I’m going to hurt you.” “You are not going to hurt me,” I said impatiently . “And if you did, I wouldn’t mind.” Seeing puzzled incomprehension on his face, I decided to show him what I meant. “What are you doing?” he asked, shocked. “Just what it looks like. Hold still.” After a few moments, I began to use my teeth, pressing progressively harder until he drew in his breath with a sharp hiss. I stopped. “Did I hurt you?” I asked. “Yes. A little.” He sounded half-strangled. “Do you want me to stop?” “No!” I went on, being deliberately rough, until he suddenly convulsed, with a groan that sounded as though I had torn his heart out by the roots.”

      Jamie DID NOT rape Claire. They do get passionate and aggressive with each other, but that is not the same thing as rape.

      • Yeah that doesn’t change anything. She still said ‘no stop you’re hurting me’ and he didn’t listen. It’s rape, and I can’t believe the pretzels people will bend themselves into to defend a fictional character

        • Maybe you have to “know” the characters well to understand. Have you read any of the rest of the series, Rachel? I’m just curious, because I think that is why so many of us love the characters so much. I just can’t even imagine anyone thinking Jamie would ever rape Claire, but that’s probably because I have read so much of their story and know how much she loves sex with him and how often she is the instigator. Believe me, if she had wanted him to stop he would have. Claire is definitely an equal in their relationship and enjoys expressing her sexuality and power. Jamie would do anything for her. Anyway, it’s a book worth defending. 🙂

          • No. It doesn’t matter what happened before. When someone – anyone – continues in the presence of a clear and definitive no, it is rape. Period. Women who love sex with their husbands can still be raped if they say no and their husbands continue.

            What year are we in, that people are saying this crap?

            • It does matter, because it shows how they interact as a couple. If Jamie had been raping Claire she would have made him stop, and she wouldn’t have spent the next morning musing about how good it was.

              • She would have MADE him stop? MADE him stop? Do you have any idea how STRONG men are? I tried to MAKE him stop. My sister tried to MAKE him stop. We both FAILED. I hope that some day YOU want to MAKE him stop so you can see what it’s like.

      • Jane, those two passages are miles apart (maybe 10 chapters?) in the books, and I think it’s pretty disingenuous to present them as though they were contiguous. What you quote is from the very first sex scene, in which Jamie is so clueless he can’t differentiate between female orgasm and pain.

    • Amen. I can not see how anyone could perceive that dialogue as anything but rape. This was not S&M Fifty Shades of Gray (a series I have never read but am well aware of the plot and content). This was a woman who despite her intelligence as a professional healer/nurse is subjected this sort of abuse that could not be any more intimate and personal. Maybe the author intended it to be some kind of S&M (actually I think this could be an intentional theme of her book- after all the Black Jack Randall character is a sadist who whips Jaime for a S&M flare). If so, then it is a big turn off for a modern educated balanced female. Thus far in the show they have not indicated that BJ Randall has same-sex rape tendencies yet. That is Fifty Shades of Grey nonsense. A professional female colleague of mine said she tried to read FSG and said the writing itself was so poor that she simply could not bear to continue. Yet, such a series becomes a huge hit like an adult Harry Potter. That says something unflattering about the intellectual capacity of our modern society.

  14. I’ve read Outlander several times over the past 21 years. Not once does Jamie rape anyone. He never once has sex with Claire that she doesn’t allow. There is a big difference between convincing someone to have sex via foreplay and raping. In every incidence of sex between Claire and Jamie the sex is not only consensual, it is shown as mutually pleasurable and loving. In later books in the series there are incidences of rape, because even more than now rape was a real thing in the 18th century. But not once is it ever made to appear anything but horrible. Mrs. Gabaldon goes to great lengths in those incidents to write about the trauma both, mental and physical, of the victims. And not once is Jamie the rapist. He is a strong man who protects and cares for women. I suggest that the people who are concerned by Leah’s post read the book and make up their own minds. And if you don’t want to pay for the book and therefore promote something you might be opposed to, there is always the library. I personally try never to believe what I read without first checking it out for myself.

    • “No!” I gasped. “Stop, please, you’re hurting me!”

      “Aye, beg me for mercy, Sassenach. Ye shallna have it, though; not yet.”

      What’s that about checking it out for yourself? What’s that about consensual?

      • Claire calls Jaime a sadist at one point in the book. He was abused by Randall and demonstrates that the abused becomes the abuser in that scene with his wife. It was sadistic indeed.

      • And the next day, Jamie has marks left on him from Claire too. Really, the people who stop reading when they come to the spanking scene are missing out on a great story. Yes, he spanked her-he did not “beat” her. When someone uses a closed fist, it is beating. He used his belt and it probably wouldn’t have been as bad as it was if she had not fought him. Yes, they have sex throughout the books, they are married. BUT!!! There is a LOT of story in these books and a lot of it involves people other than Jamie & Claire. If you choose not to read them, that is your decision, but you will be missing a fabulous story. If I avoided every book that showed violence against women I would limit myself to a very small library of books, I am a lifelong reader and I choose not to do that. Just as I chose to NOT read 50 Shades of Grey because of the tone of the WHOLE book, not one little section. I have been molested as a child and raped in college, so I am not condoning rape, but neither am I going to avoid literature that includes it. My choice. But if you are going to trash the whole series of books because of this issue, at least get your facts strait. Jamie spanks Claire one time, he does not beat her. And he NEVER raped her. The whole of Outlander was told from Claire’s point of view and her view was never one that included Jamie raping her. And while we are on the subject, Black Jack may have ripped her bodice open and threatened her, but those of us that have read the books know that raping a woman was not going to happen for him.

        • It was a beating. Get it right. He threw her down on the bed. He threw her skirt up over her head and he kneeled on her back, then he BEAT her with a 1 inch thick belt on her bare skin with her struggling and screaming for him to stop. He did not swat her behind and spank her, he beat her. Get it right. This was an all out beating.

  15. I just read the scene where Jamie “punishes” Claire, and I immediately felt sickened. I imagined how I would feel if my husband did that to me, literally beat me into submission to ensure that I would obey his orders in the future and just the thought made me feel furious and humiliated! I understand that that was the way relationships were at the time (men had every “right” to chastise their wife however they chose) and although my opinion of Jamie was damaged, it was really Claire’s reaction that disappointed me more. I was glad that she fought back during the beating, bloodied his nose and clawed his face, but was confused and disappointed that she forgave him so quickly. If a man held me down with his knee in my back and beat me ruthlessly with a leather belt I think I’d kill him in his sleep that night. I was enjoying the book until now, that scene just ruined the love story for me.

    • It did for me too at first, but I picked the book up again later and kept reading and the story won me back. I’m someone who doesn’t like the typical “alpha male” romance and I am totally smitten with Jamie. Something about his vulnerability brings out the healing/nurturing/protective instincts in me and really touches my heart. Claire just has to teach him to be more of a modern man first, since the book portrays him as a real 18th-century man and has him act realistically instead of prettying him up for modern sensibilities like most romances novels do. The different time periods they were from caused a huge culture clash for Jamie and Claire. It took them both a while to adjust to each other, but once they did I have never seen a more beautiful love story.

    • I had the exact same reaction. When I read that scene, I felt so sick that I couldn’t finish the book. It was like this smart, independent woman and educated, progressive man both received lobotomies and fell into a misogynist’s wet dream. And now, seeing all these articles pop up about how Outlander is the feminist answer to 50 Shades of Grey (which is also horrific in different ways) or Game of Thrones? Are you kidding me?! Just because she was more sexually experienced than him?! It’s understandable that society did not consider these characters equal. That’s part of it being historical fiction. But Jaime’s actions in these scenes show that *he* doesn’t consider her equal either. He can say he does or DG can put it in the exposition scenes, but his actions don’t show it. And that’s what I have a problem with.

      I actually kept reading to hear his explanation because I was so horrified that this well-written, likable character I’d gotten attached to had acted this way, and when he tried to say his father had done it to him when he was a child? Um…so you’re saying you’re in a parental role here and she has the autonomy of a child? VOM.

      I probably would have set the whole place on fire in his sleep and made a run for it. I just really wanted her to shiv somebody instead of forgiving him (or at least projectile vomited on him when he tried to explain why he was right in beating her). I’m not saying that Claire wasn’t a bit of a dillweed that day, but ugghhh there are reasonable responses to that. Even though Jamie’s brand of abuse was more subtle, it was no less damaging than anything the dangerous, disney-esque villains out there could do to her.

    • This was my problem too. Yes, the beating disturbed me. I would feel humiliation and distrust if my husband beat me like this. But my true problem with this section of the book was Claire’s response. I don’t think I would go as far as killing my husband in his sleep the next night… but I would be afraid of him afterward. I think there would have been a little more PTSD from this episode. Claire recovers just fine like nothing ever happened. I see a woman put through this kind of abuse cowering in a corner crying, unable to operate normally the next day. Not up and ready to go on with things.

  16. I think this so called “rape” that this article is referring to is the scene after their marriage when they first return to Leoch. My interpretation is that her “no” was about his technique at the moment, not the act itself. And then two seconds later, she is crying out “Yes, Jamie, Yes!!! I think that sounds like consent, to me. Were they a bit “50 Shades” in this scene? I think so. But I don’t see it as rape and I am a personal survivor who will not hesitate to call it when rape is evident. My guess is that the TV version will change things up a bit to make it clear that consent is evident. I’m pretty sure it was not the author’s intent to imply rape here and I bet now that she is more experienced at writing, she would likely change it up a bit if she had a “do over”.

        • We’re not talking about their first times having sex, we’re talking about halfway through the book when she very clearly says “No, please stop, you’re hurting me.” And his response is essentially “I’ll do what I want to you.”

    • I’m a personal survivor too. When I was 23 years old I was date raped by an ex-boyfriend. This scene is rape. She tells him that he is hurting her, he doesn’t stop, but continues. It is rape. Plain and simple. She said “no,” she did not say “maybe” or “well okay as long as you say so.”

  17. Wow, I read those scenes entirely different from you, I never saw that Jamie raped Claire, perhaps she resisted a little, all as part of the game. I like my version much better than yours. I also think that Jamie was very forward thinking for the 18th century and had immense respect and love for his wife.

    • And would it be just as fun and sexy a game later on, when he beats her children, too, as he says he intends to (dialogue from that same scene)?

      I think this is why Gabaldon deliberately plots the story so that Jamie has no contact with his & Claire’s daughter until she’s an adult; the author is avoiding the inevitable backlash from readers who don’t see abuse when it’s happening in the name of “true love” and romance, but are forced to see it for what it is when the victim is a child.

      • I notice this initial blog entry was from 2010, no TV show yet. The TV show portrays Jaime as willing to “STOP” when he believe Claire was in pain during their wedding night. After that, Claire did all the initiating- it was much more feminist. The books do not portray that and in fact overtly state otherwise. I think the books themselves are kind of bizarre like the Game of Thrones HBO series (super violent and disturbing for that premium cable shock factor).

        • This is why I have hope for the show. The TV series seems to have a strong feminist lean to it, especially in depicting the sex scenes. There is equal male and female nudity, very clear consent, attention to female enjoyment, and female autonomy. In other words, Outlander the TV show is the opposite of the Game of Thrones series in that it is an improvement on the books instead of an inferior and deeply problematic version. Even before hearing about the romanticized rape in the books, I was impressed by the way the show was handling the storytelling.

      • Spot on. This should be more of an indication than anything that even other female readers are able to pass terrible actions like these off as okay when it’s regarding other women… but put it in the context of children and only then do they see it for what it really is.

  18. I loved this book until I read the beating scene. All along we’re supposed to trust Jamie, and then he does this? Sure he’s an eighteenth century man, and Claire is an early 20th century woman, but the author is not either of those. She should not have so graphically depicted this scene for her 21st century readers. I am disgusted and disappointed because she does make you fall for Jamie, and now I hate him. And without victim-blaming, I wish Claire hadn’t forgiven him and had returned to Frank (first time while reading this that I was actually Team Frank).
    Finally, for those of you commenting that what Jamie did next was not rape: any time a woman tells a man to stop having sex with her, or she doesn’t want to have sex, it becomes non-consensual. Non-consensual sex is rape. Plain and simple.
    I will keep reading Outlander because it interests me, but shame on the author for including this scene. I don’t think I will love Jamie again after this, even though I tried.

  19. I admit I haven’t picked the book back up after reading about the beating, but I intend to. I’ve been in an abusive relationship and reading it brought about some very powerful feelings of dislike towards Jamie. I still find it inexcusable and unforgivable but on second consideration, I think make the author wrote this scene to clearly illustrate to the reader the cultural differences that Jamie and Claire face. It definitely cleared it up for me, this was a dangerous and scary time for women, who were nearly powerless and and at the mercy of men.

  20. Thanks for the warning. I started the series and liked it until i stumbled upon some warnings about future violence. I never liked this kind of romance that to me is not romance but submission and abuse. Rape or not some said there was a beating of Claire and she forgiving him. My alarms went off long before but now it’s clear what this is all about. Thanks but no thanks. My degree in psychology and human instinct is keeping me from being entertained by this kind of story.

  21. Thank God I am not the only one who is concerned by the violence against women contained in this successful novel. I was highly disturbed by the beating part, but I kept on reading just out of curiosity on how the author would manage to make this beating consistent with the good image of Jamie she had constructed up to that point. When I got to the rape part I just stopped reading the novel. At least I am happy I did not actually buy the novel…

  22. Pingback: The Rainbow Hub Outlander 1.4: ‘The Gathering’ Review - The Rainbow Hub

  23. Okay, I found this before I had read the book a while back because a friend suggested the series, so I went in expecting these scenes.

    I have to say I emphatically disagree with your reading of it.

    Is it Problematic? Fuck yeah. Is it rape? No.

    The beating scene I think you have more grounds for your argument. He beat his wife because she was his wife and she didn’t obey him. However, in some regard it was fair, in-so-much as a beating could ever be fair. Her other options were either permanent maiming or even flat out death. Those would have been the consequences for anyone. She wasn’t given special treatment. In fact, it probably would have been worse for her had she not been punished. The men, men she counts on for protection from worse evils, would not have kind feelings toward her and could very well have either beat, raped, or flat out killed her to retaliate. Moreover, we had already seen a girl almost be batten earlier for a lesser crime. It’s historically accurate and she wasn’t give special treatment just because she’s the main character (putting her into Mary Sue territory). So I figure your biggest problem I assume is Claire’s reaction.

    I think had she not had the chance to realize that this is how it was done and everyone, Jamie included, was dealt punishment this way, she probably would have gone on hating him. But I think her time in the war was what allowed to forgive Jamie. In fact, I was angry at her and the author for not realizing the seriousness for disrespecting an order that could have cost lives. As a war nurse, she would have understood what she did was extremely bad. Would she have been beaten? No, but in a modern war, she probably would have gotten more people injured and killed.

    I do wish she put up more of an argument to defend herself. Jamie didn’t hear how she was captured. Not to say she wasn’t at fault, but I think she could reasonably say that there were extenuating circumstance (the glade abruptly ended, drowning and didn’t see the guard) that would help her case. She’d have to lie a bit, but she didn’t even try to make him see her point of view. So in that regard, I was disappointed with Claire. I felt like she should have argued her point better, and the author even set up a way for her to do so but then got distracted and they don’t get around to it.

    I also feel like the extent of the beating was hyperbole. They say it was within an inch of her life, and yet she’s fine to rid (albeit uncomfortably) within a few days. I’m not saying that it makes it okay. It doesn’t. But, I think that it shows that Diana Gabaldon can be a little unclear sometimes and you have to follow not just what the character say but also what the do and how they act and react. That’s important for my next point.

    I agree with some of the above posters that it was not rape. Some of the quotes above (arguing that it was rape) were taken out of context. Just like many called foul on the use of passages that were several pages apart, I’m going to call foul on cherry picking quotes out of context.

    The biggest example of this is the use of Jamie saying “‘I’ll not… I can’t… Claire, I canna be gentle about it.'” While that may seem like it helps the “it was rape argument” what damns it was the very line: “I only had time to nod once, in acknowledgement or permission,…” She gives consent. She knew it was going to be rough, but she gave consent. That is the very opposite of rape.

    I can definitely say that there is an argument for dubious consent. When she says No, stop, you’re hurting me (paraphrased) he replies along the lines of it being some part of the game, just like she has made him beg in the past as well. Since she had said earlier rough sex was okay and since she had given her consent for this rough sex, it (I feel) was part of the sex. She was enjoying it (though it was bordering on the pleasure/pain area) and she was returning the same (pleasure/pain). During the beating, she fought back, kicking screaming, clawing. Here she’s moaning, quivering, and all of the other purple prose that goes into writing a sex scene. If she was truly objecting, it would have been clearer, to us and to Jamie. I think it was clumsily done and I agree with an above poster that were the author to redo the scene now, it would have been less implied and more clearly consensual, but since we have what we have, we’re left with only how Claire takes this dubious consent. Since she doesn’t resent him or feels like she was raped, I’ll side with her (a fictional character ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ).

    As for the follow up sex, again rough and she says no, but I feel like it was more of a half hearted protest for the sake of game but had she really wanted to say no, she would have made it clear. Like when I say “Ew, don’t kiss me, you’re sweaty and gross,” after my husband has been doing yard work and he kisses me anyway. It’s a game. He’s going to kiss me. It’s going to be a little gross. But I don’t mind and my husband knows that because if I did really mind I would let him know and he wouldn’t.

    I think context is very important to these scenes. He does threaten to rape her, which is fucked up. But she points out what he would be doing and that he can basically go fuck himself and he stops. He even says that she could leave and he wouldn’t stop her. Then they get down to the root of their fight which was that she was jealous and that she didn’t want to hold him back if his heart was elsewhere. In the end he gives her her wedding band and then the sex happens. I read it like it was rough makeup sex where they claim *each other*. Jamie even says “‘I am your master…and you’re mine. Seems I canna possess your soul without losing my own.'”

    I do feel like this whole scene and the beating scene is a mess and definitely contributes to rape culture. It’s easy (as evidence by this whole debate) to misread it and glorify dubious consent. Just because Claire was okay with it doesn’t mean someone in an equally grey area would be okay with it but think that it’s “supposed” to be sexy so doesn’t say anything. That’s not okay. But as for the scene in question, I don’t feel it was rape. Consent was given and the consent being revoked is too unclear (was she truly revoking consent or was it part of the game…?), leaving it just dubious consent. Since she seemed fine with it, you have to take her word.

    As for the issue of her being a first wave feminist versus 1940’s “woman in her place,” the question of marital rape and dubious consent is a third wave feminist issue, something that Diana Gabaldon would have only been at the beginning of when this book was being written. Being catcalled in the street, workplace sexual harassment, slut shaming, date rape… these were issues that were only being brought up in the early 90’s when the book was first written and only loudly talked about now. The Monica Lewinski scandal and the subsequent slut shaming had not even taken place yet. If there was such a difference between us and Diana Gabaldon in 20 years, I think it’s reasonable for there to be a great deal of difference between us and Claire in nearly 70 years. Keep in mind that had she gone back to the 40’s she would have had to go through the 50’s. There was already hints about that in the beginning of the book with her cursing in front of Frank’s boss at Oxford. She would have been “put in her place” and probably would have hated it. Probably less physically, but far more permanently and soul crushingly. I don’t think Claire would have done well in the 50’s and by the time the counter culture and second wave feminism came around, would have either been too old, too worn out, and too miserable to be able to contribute/benefit from it.

    Also to be fair, the book was not intended to be written as a traditional romance novel. It was a fiction with some fantasy and romance thrown in (as another poster stated above) but her publishers weren’t sure how to market it, so the put it in romance. So I think that it being discussed as serious literature and seen outside of a romance setting makes the work, if not the content, a little bit of a feminist novel. It’s a step in the right direction at least, though would have been better were it a less problematic work.

    All this said, if the dubious consent and the beating scene makes you (justifiably) uncomfortable, that’s your prerogative. I have only just picked up the series and haven’t even finished the first book, so I’m not a rabid fangirl who really has a horse in this race, other than being starved for a good literary debate (so you get my tl;dr argument). But I think you’re being a little disingenuous with your arguments. I went into these scenes expecting much worse. I was even put off from reading the book or watching the series because of your post, but once I got to the scenes in question, it felt like you were misleading what actually transpired.

  24. Ashley Lynn Wilson wrote: “As for the issue of her being a first wave feminist versus 1940’s “woman in her place,” the question of marital rape and dubious consent is a third wave feminist issue, something that Diana Gabaldon would have only been at the beginning of when this book was being written. Being catcalled in the street, workplace sexual harassment, slut shaming, date rape… these were issues that were only being brought up in the early 90’s when the book was first written and only loudly talked about now. The Monica Lewinski scandal and the subsequent slut shaming had not even taken place yet.”

    Nope nope nope. I am 50 years old and was in graduate school in Women’s Studies in the late 80’s while Outlander was being written. You must be fairly young to make these claims about that time period? I can assure you that feminists were HIGHLY aware of marital rape, consent issues and sexual harassment during this time period (Anita Hill, anyone?), and there was a lot of public and political debate about it. No, I think Gabaldon (who even today denigrates the term “feminist” as the province of “weak women”) just didn’t care about these issues from a female perspective other than the sexual.

    She’s not the first or last author to eroticize rape in the name of romance. I just wish readers were more honest about this.

    • Thanks for pointing that out. I don’t know why people treat women like some giant hivemind and think that when issues are brought to the forefront that means that’s the first time anyone was talking about them. I mean, one of the main reasons so many women supported prohibition in the ’20s was because they were tired of their husbands coming home drunk and beating them and their children. But wives back then just accepted that that was their lot in life, right? Just because an oppressed group of people don’t have the means to fight back at a certain point in time doesn’t mean they can’t recognise what’s being done to them is wrong.

      Not to mention, even if marital rape *was* just being talked about in the 80’s when the books were being written it is now the year of our lord 2014 and people are still having an issue calling rape what it is simply because their fave fictional character committed it.

      • Wouldn’t call myself particularly young (nearly 30, so yes, younger but not quite the child you imply I am) but fair enough. Just because it’s being talked about loudly now, doesn’t mean it wasn’t talked about then. However, the hivemind argument goes both ways. Just because a lot of people were talking about it doesn’t mean DG was aware it was an issue or really cared, which is more how I see it. I remember objecting to being catcalled in high school and I had friends, both guys and girls, brushing me off, which just infuriated me. I live in a very car centric city and they all had their own cars while I had to deal with public transit, so had to deal with street harassment since basically entering high school. Now that were all older, those same friends now make the same arguments I was making years ago because now they have had more experiences in life and can see how it’s a problem. But since it didn’t affect them directly back then, they didn’t care.

        And I don’t deny that she’s eroticizing rape. The work as a whole is a mess. (I gave up around book 2. The framed narrative was just too clumsily done and took away any enjoyment I was getting from it) It fetishizes rape culture and while I don’t think Claire was raped herself, it sets up a whole mess of trouble, perpetuating violence against women as sexy.

        But I also don’t like seeing someone turned into a victim who does not see themself as a victim, having been caught in that situation myself. I feel like to some various extent it infantilizes a person (no, we know what’s better for you, your own feelings don’t matter in this). Since Claire doesn’t view herself as a victim, I won’t treat her as such.

        I don’t like how DG handle the issue, especially the beating. But I don’t like how DG handled a lot of things.

        I agree with the idea that this is rape culture. I agree that that is a problem. And, at the end of the day, that is the more important issue because actually setting up a situation that might prevent a real person from speaking up in the case of a real sexual assault is far more important that the feelings of a fictional character.

        But, I think by disregarding the feelings of that character is a bad way to approach this work because it is easy to dismantle and thus easy for those who disagree with you to dismiss your legitimate issues.

        (This is what happens when English majors graduate and don’t have anymore term papers to write. Don’t mean to be so long winded, but, well, I am. And wow do I really want to fix all of my mistakes in my original post. This is what happens when you write at 3 AM)

  25. I was reading the 5th book, The Fiery Cross. The “rough sex/rape” scenes have bothered me. Now Roger is forcing his wife to have sex; they are both 20th century characters. So I googled it and found this blog. I’ve read all the posts. I watched the video suggested. Diana Gabaldon can write whatever she wants, but I don’t have to read it. I have been a rape victim, as a young woman and in marriage. I cannot keep reading these books.

  26. This is what is so frustrating about DG and the Outlander series. The beating scene could be a result of the time, but Claire’s reaction is not only troubling, but way out of character. The rape scene(s) later on are also way out of character for Jamie. It seems like DG is pushing a rape fantasy and it’s so aggravating because it’s something the characters would never do. I continued reading past this because I wanted to see if they would address it, but with the exception of these few scenes, Jamie’s character is respectful and loving to Claire. Then, in the second book, despite acting loving and respectful towards Claire, there is one line that is so out of character and again addresses rape: Claire puts on a beautiful and revealing dress to go to a party, and Jamie says that the way she looks makes him “want to commit rape.” This is WAY out of character for a man who has been (spoiler alert) struggling with the aftermath of his own brutal rape. I still consider myself a fan of the books because I really think that these scenes were out of character and DG just putting her own rape fantasies in the books. I’m scared that the show will include these because they want to be true to the book. If they want to be true to the characters, hopefully they won’t include these scenes.

    • She spent so long building up Jaimie as a caring, honorable man and then blows it all out of the water after they are married. What I find abhorrent in his character is how far he changed from the one to the other. And even worse, is how people tear you apart if you disagree with them over this series. If you so much as say something against them, it’s like you’ve committed a crime of treason and they want to lynch you from the nearest tree. I agree with everything you have said in this thread. The whole series is disturbing, but even more disturbing is the women who glorify it and hold it up with the excuse that “it was those times” and “it was common” for those days. Personally, I think DG is fascinated with rape and abuse. In nearly EVERY chapter of the first book there is a mention of a flogging, rape or some other form of violence that doesn’t pertain to the book or plot line. It’s disturbing to be referred to as “repressed” or belittled by people because I find it objectionable. I watched the first episode because it was free on Starz, but won’t be getting the channel just to watch this show. I wasn’t impressed with the books and I’m certainly not impressed with the show.

  27. I am currently reading Outlander and i thought the spanking scene was very disturbing and I was seriosly considering putting down the book, which was hard because I was very attached. But I did and started looking for spoilers of what would happen next so i could get an idea of it and see if I should continue reading and found this post which helped me make a choice. I continued reading and I’m glad I did. One of the motives I did is because Jamie swears the oath of fealty to her, something that he is not going to take lightly it’s not a simple promise and I can see that he truly regrets it afterwards. Other is the reaction of Claire to the spanking, I don’t think she forgives him, I think that she is resigned about it, she can’t do anything to erase it, but she can prevent it from happening again and she does, she threatens to kill him by pointing a dagger to his heart if he ever does it again. I think that she understands the reasons why he did it, which is different than forgiving it.
    As for the so called rape scene i didn’t think it was rape but i would make a mess out of myself trying to explain it, besides Ashley Lynn Wilson already explained it wonderfully.
    I won’t ever forgive or forget the spanking scene, after that I can’t see Jamie in the same light I did before. I’ll continue reading but if Jamie so much as attempt to do it again, i’m out.

    • Don’t undermine yourself. You explained the spanking scene wonderfully and more fully than I did. I brushed over that a bit more than I intended to and you summed up everything I wanted to but totally forgot (and far more concisely than I did!)

  28. Diana Gabaldon has stated on several occasions* that she IS Jack Randall, and all the rest of her characters. She describes Randall as a pervert. Diana Gabaldon is Jack Randall is a pervert is a rapist. Diana, the pervert/rapist is also her victims. When she writes the words and thoughts of Claire, to what extent are those words and thoughts influenced by, and the actual point of view of, Diana Gabaldon the pervert/rapist? Several contributors on this blog use Claire’s words and subsequent behavior as evidence that she was not raped. However, those words and behaviors were scripted by a self-proclaimed (but fictional, of course) pervert/rapist, and are similar to how rapists in the real world portray their victims; that is, as having “wanted it.”
    *For example,

  29. I am a rabid reader of the series (for 20+ yrs) the beating and make-up scene has always bothered me tho. Jamie and Claire have a complex dynamic relationship (in and out of the bedroom). Respect IS there coupled with desire, and sometimes in Gabaldon’s writing the ‘need’ (?) to show domination. It does not sit well with how I like to think of romantic love. I am a mother, and I like to think a feminist. I have children… My daughter has begun to read the series. What does she see? Is this rape culture? Jamie and Claire are sharing THEIR type of relationship, their ‘make-up sex’. It is rough. Bordering on S&M. But he does warn her ‘I cannot be gentle’ and she consents.. Before that he offers her the chance to leave the room, leave the marriage and have nothing to do with him. If he was about to rape her I don’t think he would offer her that option. She chooses him, and the type of encounter he wants to have…it is intense, THEY are intense. It is not EVERYONE’S type of bedroom, but it suits them. Which I guess is the point. Finding the person who kindles the spark inside of you. For Claire it is Jamie, and it is romantic to feel that.

    • As Leah states in her blog intro, Diana Gabaldon promotes her books as romantic, rather than rape fantasy erotica. “But by disguising it, she has played us false.” It reminds me of the religious tracts printed on what appears to be a five-dollar bill. Only after picking it up and taking a closer look does the finder discover she’s been tricked. However, in the case of Outlander, the reader has shelled out real cash and wasted a couple hours before discovering it’s rape fantasy erotica.

      • You’re right. After about two hours of enjoying the book, and then stumbling upon this scene, I stopped and thought to myself, “I don’t want to be reading this S&M shit right now, its Christmas.” The thing is, I kept reading anyway. I’ve only read the first four books and realized that this type of “rape fantasy erotica” only happens in the middle of “Outlander.” I didn’t notice it in the other books.

  30. I have just finished reading the first three Outlander books. I had a growing feeling of unease from the “spanking” scene, and now I feel slightly ashamed of myself for having bought the next two books.

    I agree totally with the post here and many of the comments. Jamie is built up as an impossibly ideal romantic character – brave, compassionate, understanding, self sacrificing – then he suddenly beats and humiliates his wife as punishment. Of course terrible things happened to women in the past and continue to happen every day, but in this novel we are asked to see this behaviour as another attribute of the romantic hero. Even more disturbing is Claire’s reaction – a few stories about Jamie being whipped as a child (which is apparently comparable to a grown woman being beaten by her husband so that she will mend her wilful ways), and all is forgiven and forgotten in short order.

    Other aspects of the novels also indicate that Diana Gabaldon has very little truck with feminism (in the third book Claire distinguishes between those women – anyone with evil feminist leanings presumably – who see men as the ENEMY, and women like her, who just like men) and Claire seems to me a character who does not actually like many of her fellow women overly much and has little sympathy for their position in society at any time.

    Other problems I had with the books: the obsession with rape and torture, broad racial stereotyping, homophobia (the sympathetic character of John Gray does not erase the earlier tone of distaste), the many historical errors (I gave up even noting them after the first book, ironic for the work of an author who prides herself in her research – Hillary Mantel need not be worried). As the books progress, the author’s compulsion to display her historical research leads to numerous pages of irrelevant detail and shoed-in historical figures – my anger at the misogyny and rape culture bullshit was eventual drowned in a tide of boredom.

  31. Well said, Fiona. I, too, feel bad for having purchased one of these books. It was probably only about $5 and was close to 20 years ago. I was in a small sundry shop in an airport and in a bit of a hurry. There wasn’t much of a selection, but after reading the back covers of a few paperbacks, I selected Outlander specifically because it was the only one that didn’t appear to be a hero rape romance or other bodice ripper or a murder mystery. I remember it well because only a few hours later I was horrified that those who romanticize violence against women had profited from my purchase. I might as well have sent a donation to a group that promotes sexual slavery. A few months before, my little sister, who had married a man who abused her in this way, had committed suicide. She was 30 years old. Recently, when I saw an ad for the Outlander TV series, the icky feelings all came right back.

  32. I’m so glad to find I was not alone in feeling deeply uncomfortable after reading these two scenes on my commute home from work. What I found most surprising is how many women have come to the defence of these scenes, attempting to degrade other female commentators by saying they are simply “taking things out of context.” I’m sorry, in what context again is non-consensual sex okay? If they’re married? If it’s in the 18th century? If he apologizes after? If we know he “really loves her and would never hurt her on purpose?” I hope you ladies don’t 180 on victims of domestic violence who use these exact excuses to stay with their partners. Your comments read like abuse apologetics.

    Fellow commenters, you needn’t come to the rescue of your sweet Jamie, he is a fictional character who was written into a totally unnecessary rape/torture scene by Diana Gabaldon. I’m far too disgusted with her as a novelist to ever continue reading her work. This is not quality literature, and you all can do better.

  33. I’m really, really happy I found this article. As many others, I started watching the show due to friends recommending it as a truly good fantasy/sci-fi. So, I started reading the books, and later, to watch the TV series. I just watched the third episode, and, so far, so good. Claire seemed a really interesting female protagonist, I liked her a lot already.

    But then, then, reading the books, I got to the damn wife-beating scene. Followed by the rapes. What the hell? Yes, rape exist, it’s a real thing, and a lot of men from the 18th century did it and thought it was right (and so does some men nowadays). The problem is how Claire deals with it. How the book portrays her reaction to everything. Rape IS NOT romantic. Context does NOT change that. How much he loves her does NOT change that. This shitty culture needs to end.

    Had the books portrayed Claire’s reaction differently, had she condemned his action, had she, even if just to herself, acknowledge that it was wrong, and not forgive Jaime for that, I might have been ok with it. But, they didn’t do it that way.

    So, I’m done. With both the book and the TV series. And Diana Gabaldon is on my “don’t read” list now.

  34. Pingback: Defending the Undefendable | Sonya's Stuff

  35. Pingback: Diana Gabaldon, spousal abuse, rape culture, and how i fell for it all… | Our sexy society

  36. It’s five years since your blog post now, and I stumbled upon it today after a Google search.

    Thank you for writing so eloquently what I couldn’t really express, but felt. I had to put the book down at that point. The scene was sickening and made me uncomfortable.

    I know several people who love the books and the show, and only after their suggestions, I began reading. Outlander…wanting something to read while waiting for the next GoT book. After that scene (in which Jaime had raped his wife because he’s the “master”), I’ve been bewildered by the number of women I know who love the books.

    Finding this helps. I’m not alone in my disgust, and I’m not alone in realizing that the books romanticize rape.

    Thank you.

  37. Thanks for putting this out there.

    I have been watching the TV series and have been disturbed by how quickly she forgives Jamie after being beaten. It made me angry and I couldn’t enjoy it any longer.

    we all know that wilful women like Claire are unlikely to forgive so quickly.

    Being beaten leaves psychological scars that taint everything that comes after it (I speak from personal experience.) It causes a loss of trust and the passion between the two people is no longer a healthy one.

    I wonder if Diana Gabaldon is unconsciously trying to resolve some of her own issues through her writing.

  38. I hope this board is still open. Six years is a long time. I just read the series in 2014 and watched the series as well and what you speak of has always bothered me. It was uncomfortable as hell. I then watched the vicious defense of both the book and the show on social media and was amazed at the denial and obsessive nature of the fans. I kept thinking there has to be a connection. Their passion and frustration matched my level of discomfort. Well, I think I hit on it. DG didn’t settle with using simple conflict to drive her narrative. She took it to another level. She created cognitive dissonance. The description of a rape did not match the description of the victims response to it. After reading the attached article I realized that the fans who are defending Jamie (and Diana) are suffering from cognitive dissonance and they are dealing with it in a negative way. I chose the “new information” route to resolve CD. They are taking a different route. Note, cognitive dissonance causes irrational and maladaptive behavior and for that reason I feel a bit abused by Ms. Gabaldon. I don’t think its fair to the readers to use this technique without warning.

    • Oh my such a discussion. I’m not going to address the “spanking” scene but I would like to give my opinion on the other.
      I was once told there should be only two people in a marriage bed and that what happens between them is non of my business. Claire may have said a “soft” no, but her body was “screaming” yes yes! She not only enjoyed the arc but wanted an even deeper union with Jamie.
      This is a fundamental part of their relationship. They are both very strong willed people who don’t bend their own will or open up their hearts to others. Jamie opens himself up to her first. Jamie knows that either guilt or unsurity, has prevented her from totally opening to him.By pushing almost to the point of forcing her and by reading her physical signs, he knows he can push her over that last hurdle. And he does. Her body and soul became truly open to him as his had been to her almost since the first time he saw her. Jamie would never rape Claire, but he knew what her “no stop” meant, and so did she.
      This love making only increased their love and deep respect for each as two very strong independent people joining together to become one.

        • Jamie “knows” what DG tells him to know; and Clair “enjoys” what DG tells her to enjoy. They are not real. They are characters in a book, and are only in-character when DG is in-the-right-character. DG has stated that she “is” all of her characters. In some of her writing, she seems to have adopted the wrong character’s perspective when describing what Jamie seems to know and what Claire seems to enjoy. A better writer knows her characters well enough to switch back and forth between perspectives. That is, when she describes what one knows, she does so from his perspective; and when she describes what another feels, she does so from her perspective. Some of the behaviors (actions, spoken words, thoughts & feelings) that DG attributes to Jamie and Claire are so out-of-character, I’m inclined to think she wrote them from her perspective as Jack Randall. During Jamie’s horrible ordeal, she had him wanting more.

  39. I am so glad other people are responding to this. I was quite enjoying the book and I was trying to be forgiving of the violence included, seeing as I believe to an extent you can only hold people responsible to the cultures of the time period they know, and realism is important in a historical novel. However, it soon progressed from the couple learning from each other, and Jamie being influenced by Claire’s more modern ideals, to the beating and rape. I found the characters’ the most condemning aspect, as I can deal with violence and such things and respect the decision to include these such incidents for the sake of accuracy, but rather than Claire, thus far a self-assured, strong character, being perturbed by the happenings she gets over the beating in one night after he sweet-talks her back around, and goes from “please stop, you’re hurting me” to encouraging the aggressive sex – fine, except that she does not thereafter so much as comment on it. And the next morning, despite her protests of soreness, he forces himself on her again! I agree that this is portrayed in a way that is supposed to be a turn-on, and is apparently acceptable because they are married and in a different time and love each other. I am quite put off continuing with this book

  40. He rapes Geneva in Voyager too. She straight up screams for him to stop and to take it out of her, and he covers her mouth, says NO, and rams himself in further. So, sorry to break it to some of you, but rape is rape, and Jaime is a rapist.

  41. The ironic part of this discussion, to me, is that Diana Gabaldon describes fanfiction about her characters as “rape.” If you decide to re-write the story without the aggressive sex and romanticizing of rape as a transformative work, apparently you just “raped” the author. Diana Gabaldon is just really an unpleasant woman.

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