Just a word of warning before you continue reading. This post may contain spoilers for the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin and Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. This includes the both television series as well.
This post is a discussion about gender equality, sexual assault and torture and my perceptions of how the Internet reacted to events in both shows. Proceed at your own risk if you don’t wish to be spoiled or if these are sensitive topics for you.
A few weeks ago, the morning after a key episode of GoT, my Facebook wall was full of news stories raging about the treatment of Sansa Stark on her wedding night. A horrible thing happened to her and people were upset.
When my husband and I watched the episode (we are always a day behind), I told him about the headlines and we braced ourselves. We both read about the Red Wedding and witnessed it on-screen. Seeing Joff die on-screen was rewarding and heartbreaking as Cersei wept. What would happen to Sansa?
It was bad. Not shocking, but not surprising considering how Ramsay has been treating Theon/Reek. Sansa “got off easy” compared to Theon and everyone else Ramsay has assaulted, flayed, tortured and killed. My husband and I agreed at least we didn’t have to watch the act like the murders during the Red Wedding which was shocking even though we had both read the book.
After a few minutes to digest that final scene, I turned to my husband and said, I wonder if there will be the same outcry for Jamie in the final episode(s) of Outlander. Will my Facebook wall be full of outrage because Jamie gets tortured, raped and is nearly killed by a someone with Ramsay Bolton’s same sick, sadistic love of power?
It took a few weeks for Outlander to wrap up and in those few weeks I drew to the end of re-listening to book 1. I relived that final sequence of Jamie’s agonizing sexual assault brutally slow because my commute is only 20 minutes each way. I continued to wonder how the show runners would handle this sequence and how the viewing audience and media would react.
I can say the day after the episode aired, my Facebook wall was silent. Only one friend reacted and she was surprised at how much they displayed on screen…it went too far, showed too much. Now I haven’t seen the episode, but I responded that I was shocked, after Sansa’s treatment and subsequent media reaction, that people were not reacting in the same way regarding Jamie as he went through a similar thing. She responded that very few people were upset at Ramsay’s treatment of Theon and he, too, suffered a sexual assault.
Why was everyone silent about Theon’s treatment? Was it because Theon deserved it? The viewers are quite sympathetic to the Stark family. I suppose that’s a reason. It was justice. But why be silent about Jamie’s treatment? He’s a decent guy compared to Theon, right? Jamie hasn’t killed children for political gain. Even the charges laid against him by the British government seem somewhat suspect. So why was social media so quiet after the episode aired?
I don’t have a concrete answer, but perhaps it was shock. We don’t often see men, fictional or real, in positions of submission in our society. We talk a lot about sexual assault and women and how to prevent it. But this happens to men, too. It wouldn’t be in books like Outlander and the Song of Ice & Fire series if there wasn’t a kernel of truth in it. Fiction does mirror life in many ways. I know Sansa, Theon and Jamie are all fictional so standing up for them may seem silly and childish, but fictional stories, thanks to the Internet, unite us in many ways. For example, as the release of the movie Fifty Shades of Grey neared earlier this year, my Facebook feed was full of stories and petitions protesting the movie because it didn’t represent that lifestyle correctly and the relationship was unhealthy. People were leveraging fiction to bring attention to real issues.
It still bothers me there was no real outcry regarding Jamie’s assault and torture. I hope that individuals, especially males, who have experienced sexual assault take some comfort in Jamie’s journey. I hope a wider audience will stand up for others who have experienced something that traumatic, both male and female. I hope that more people will encourage others to speak out and share their stories. It seems to me that if we don’t stand up for fictional characters equally when they suffer at the hands of abusers, we won’t standup for real people equally when they suffer. Everyone deserves to have a champion, a friend, a voice; the chance to be heard, regardless of race, gender or reality.