A Note from the Director: The fight for gender equality

Posted on August 5, 2015 «
Categories: 2015 Discussion Challenge, A Note from the Director «
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gender equality sexual assault on tv

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.

gender equality sexual assault on tv
gender equality sexual assault on tv


11 responses to “A Note from the Director: The fight for gender equality

  1. From my understanding, most of the outrage over Sansa was because that scene doesn’t happen in the books and a lot of people felt that the script writers were buying into rape culture by changing her part of the story. That being said, I have only read the first book and have only seen up to season 3, so I don’t have an opinion on that yet.

    • I haven’t read/listened to book 4 or 5 yet in the Martin series. I struggle to see how adapting one character’s storyline means that the series creators are buying into the rape culture. Knowing the setting of the stories, rape is a very real thing and is part of Ramsay’s MO. It’s not as if the series creators pulled something out of their hat and did something that didn’t fit within the confines of the story. Not that Sansa or anyone should have to experience that. It’s just jarring to me to see the Internet decrying how awful rape is for one character and then remain virtually silent when a character of another sex experiences a similar thing.

  2. Brilliant post, Terri!! I don’t watch tv so I’m clueless about this but I completely agree with you. Why is it that people would only be up in arms when something happens to a woman? If people want equality, we *must* be equal in our support and outrage for EVERYONE.

    • Thanks, Brandee! It was a tough post to write perhaps because I have been a fan of Outlander for so long. It is interesting to see how the Internet responds literature. I run into so many people that are more outraged by Jamie’s treatment of Claire after she runs away than they are about Black Jack’s treatment of Jamie. It’s this weird dichotomy that exists in our society. It’s apparently okay to beat a man, but not a woman.

  3. I haven’t seen either of these (or read the books – well I’ve read some of the Martin books, but I don’t even remember how far I got in the series), so I don’t have opinions on either specific instance and how they were handled, but I DO think that you bring up a very good point about how we view men and women differently and what causes outcry. I’ve thought about this with other books and movies before – to a lesser extent – that sometimes the way that a man is treated by a woman is accepted when that same behavior in the other direction would be considered horrible. It does seem like there’s a bit of a backlash of gender inequality that tends to swing in the other direction (meaning that because women have been historically oppressed for so long, we can’t overlook it, but we tend to with men because they have traditionally been in positions of power). Definitely some food for thought. Very interesting discussion!

    • That’s a good point about the historical oppression of women, Nicole.
      Because our oppression (real or imagined) women have become quite vocal about what is right and wrong. I suppose we just need to be careful that we

  4. This post is FABULOUS Terri! I agree with you wholeheartedly. It is that double standard that makes men who ARE victims of these violent acts in real life afraid to come forward. I read an article once by a man who’d been sexually assaulted, and it was heartbreaking. He tried to report the attack, only to be laughed at while he basically broke down from the emotions. WHY is it okay to think that assault only works ONE way- men assaulting women? It can happen TO anyone BY anyone, and to think otherwise says something very sad about our society.

    In fact, I have always assumed that there are SO many more male victims than we’ll ever know, just because of the stigma associated with them coming forward. And that is NEVER okay. I haven’t seen either show (too poor for premium channels hahaha) or read the books (yet, anyway!) but I am SO glad you brought this to our attention- because you’re so right! I am GLAD that people were upset about a female victim and knew how wrong THAT was, don’t misunderstand, but there should have been the same outrage for a male victim, undoubtedly. Fabulous, fabulous post!

    • Thanks, Shannon. I agree there are probably just as many male victims as female victims out there. It would be wonderful everything was equal and both sides felt safe to come forward and share their stories.