Note: This post contains spoilers for the novel Outlander as well as the Starz television series. If you do not want to see them, stop reading now.
Yes is a small but powerful word.It implies choice, agreement, and’s most importantly with regard to This Thing We Do, consent. However, I also fully believe that within the context of a relationship, that yes doesn’t always have to be verbal. I’m a firm believer in the concept of what I call consent by behavior. In other words, if you know what the consequences of a particular action are likely to be beforehand and you walk into the situation with full knowledge of the likely consequences but do it anyway, then you are, by virtue of the behavior, consenting to the consequences. Your actions are saying yes whether your mouth is or not.
Cade and Stacy, the main characters of my first novel, Playing with Fire, discuss this concept after Stacy deliberately does something she knows Cade won’t approve of.
“Bull,” Cade said bluntly, pinning her with a look. “If you’d wanted a drink you could have done that here. This was a tantrum.” Stacey shot him a withering look, but he ignored her, continuing. “You wanted my attention, and you got it. You couldn’t bring yourself to say it, to talk about the kind of relationship we talked about so you showed me. You acted out in a way guaranteed to get me to react. You knew what I’d do, and you practically dared me to do it.”
Cade recognizes that even though Stacy cannot bring herself to him verbally that she agrees to the DD aspects of the relationship, she is clearly showing him by virtue of her behavior. That’s consent, of the sort anyway.
Lately, I’ve been saying a great many stories that seem to overlook the importance of consent. The Outlander TV show is one that comes to mind right off the top. I first encountered the Outlander novels when I was in college. I found them on a list of mainstream books that included spanking and subsequently located the first book at my local library. I clearly remember reading the book and coming up on the infamous spanking scene. I remember being in my dorm room and arguing with Claire, verbally, out loud about the trouble she was getting herself in, thinking what are you doing? You know you’re going to get in trouble. And how did she know that? Jamie told her.
Much to my personal annoyance, they left that part out of The television show. In the TV series, Jamie sprung the punishment on Claire without warning. The TV show presumes Jamie is acting out of a sense of duty, and that is what is emphasized. In the book, it’s totally different. While Jamie may very well have been acting out of a sense of duty, he’s also simply making good on exactly what he told Claire he would do.
“If you leave that copse before I come for ye, I’ll tan your bare arse wi’ my sword belt. Ye wouldna enjoy walking all the way to Bargrennan. Remember,” he said, pinching my cheek gently, “I dinna make idle threats.” He didn’t, either. I rode slowly toward the grove, looking back to watch him racing away, bent low over the saddle, one with the horse, the ends of his plaid flying behind.
What’s more, Claire is fully aware that he means it. When she wanders away and goes looking, she knows what will happen if she gets caught. She walks into it with full knowledge. Having Claire be completely blindsided by the punishment might have made for better TV, but it sacrifices the important element of consent. Even though Claire doesn’t verbally consent, in the book, she goes into it with full knowledge, making the punishment highly deserved. That bit of knowledge and the opportunity to choose her behavior whether or not to follow instructions is very important. It establishes consent. Claire may not have said yes verbally But she was clearly well aware of what she was getting into and did it anyway. That’s saying yes to the consequences, in a way,and that’s a vitally important.