I hate when great TV shows come with a “but.”
“It’s usually a lot of fun, BUT some of the jokes are kind of offensive.” “The plot is super addictive, BUT don’t expect any answers that make sense.” “I love the characters, BUT it’s kind of lacking in girls.”
It’s an amazing show, BUT it has rape in pretty much every episode.
Like many other people, I started to watch new Starz show Outlander recently, and fell into a deep, deep hole of obsession. People have called the show “Game of Thrones for girls,” and although that statement is wrong and offensive on many levels, Outlander does feel like epic television made with its female audience in mind. It’s a fantasy-ish, historical-ish story with a capable, compelling female protagonist and a female perspective underlined by frequent voiceovers. Although it has nudity, like Game of Thrones, it never feels like it’s for the audience’s benefit — except perhaps for the frequency with which highlander love interest Jamie is without his shirt. It’s been said that it’s shot with a “female gaze,” but generally it just feels like a non-objectifying gaze.
And it’s so refreshing to watch a show that is gorgeously shot and gorgeously acted and generally epic feeling, without constantly worrying about what misogynistic thing will come along next.
But. But. What is with all the rape? I’m not sure there’s been a single episode of the show so far that didn’t have at least one threat of rape against the protagonist, Claire. I wish that was an exaggeration. But if characters aren’t actively trying to rape her (episode 1, episode 4, episode 8), they’re threatening to do so, or joking about it, or, at best, the male protagonist is sleeping outside her door to protect her. In a massive crime against pacing, Claire is almost raped twice in one episode, by two different threats, with the two scenes within half an hour of one another. One is fairly graphic, and one is incredibly graphic, with added threat of mutilation since a straight rape threat has already been used up this week.
It’s constant. Everyone is talking about how this is the perfect show for female viewers, made with them specifically in mind, and yet this comes up week after weeks. Some people will inevitably argue that it’s “historically accurate,” but is the show really incapable of having tension without it? Can it not think of any other threats to a timetravelling woman in 18th century Scotland? And do we really need two instances in one episode? At least space them out a bit and create the illusion that something else will happen to Claire.
After tackling the first book in the series (as I said, deep hole of obsession), I know that this stance reflects the books, and that several other casual references have already been deleted in creating the show. But is this really what we consider a fantasy show full of the “female gaze”? One with romance and gorgeous scenery and a great female character and a very attractive male lead, but where the rape threat is constant and from all sides? On the one hand, it could be said to reflect serious and very real fear, a part of the genuine female perspective that the show is exploring. But every episode? In a show that should ultimately be enjoyable and escapist to watch? It’s too much.
And it’s depressing, considering that the show is otherwise amazing. The casting, the chemistry, the scenery, the music, the costumes… everything is just wow. And yet, we still have this.