It’s Time To Talk About Frank

15 Jan


I am not ashamed to say that, from nearly the beginning of Book One, I didn’t like Frank. In fact, I liked him less than Black Jack and my distaste never changed throughout the eight books. Black Jack was a sick, twisted, sociopath. Frank was a “decent man,” yet thoroughly unlikeable to me because be straddled the fence between decent and narcissist. I like for a man to be who he is, good or bad (the same for a woman). The glory of the written word is that, unlike the adaptation where they have chosen to portray Frank as sympathetic, I get to have my interpretation and my own opinion.

In my line of work, understanding people’s motivations is of utmost importance. Having enjoyed Outlander so much, I’ve often thought about Claire and her heart wrenching decision to stay with Jamie. He later characterized her choice as “abandoning” Frank, which description made her wince, as it did me. Having thought about it, I’ve decided that Frank abandoned Claire, long before she ended-up in 1743. I’ve limited my references to Book One, and thus Season One of Outlander, so as not to spoil anything for anyone. As the story plays itself out, I might re-visit this issue, as there is “evidence” down the road that I also find important.

I begin with disclosure. Frank was Claire’s professor in college and about 11 years her senior. I have a distaste for creepy professors who choose their paramours from amongst their new crop of fresh faced students. While I am sure there exist female professors who do it, I’ve only been witness to male professors, so I attribute it to an “old goat” activity. Further, despite the fact that they were married for eight years, five of the eight were war years wherein they saw each other ten days, not even ten times. Thus, I attribute their blissful happiness the first three years of their marriage to the “newness” of it. After all, Claire was 19 years old and Frank was at least 30 years old. Eleven years age difference, when you are 39 and 50, is nothing. Eleven years when you are 19 and 30 is quite something. I believe that, absent a common grand social belief in a cause, etc., lovers must share the same generation of music. Absent that, at least some semblance of shared pop culture must exist between them. Seriously, I can’t imagine Frank enjoying “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy!” Further, there is virtually no evidence of any common interests shared by Claire and Frank. I have thus assumed that Claire was captivated by his intelligence, his ability to hold the attention of his students and, of course, his lithe, athletic body.

Claire and Frank were “inseparable” during their first three years of marriage. Then WWII interrupted their lives. In the ensuing five years, they are together a grand total of ten days. That’s a killer for any relationship. I don’t care how in love you are, how meant for each other you are, how devoted you are: Over 1800 days apart dooms what you had. That isn’t to say that you can’t rekindle your love or that you don’t still have a basis for the relationship. I just don’t believe that you can salvage what you had, in the form in which it existed, after being apart for five years. In the case of Claire and Frank, I don’t think they could even rekindle, so much had they changed and so little had they in common from the beginning.

So, off to the front lines goes Claire and behind the lines in British Intelligence goes Frank. Here is where I give Frank slack. He’s a man now pushing his mid-thirties. He watches his eager, twenty-two year old wife go off to war, knowing she will be stationed in the front lines, subject to bombs, gunfire and general potential slaughter. In addition to death, she is subject to German capture and abuse. The longer the war raged, the more likely would be her capture or demise. I assume that Frank prepared himself mentally over and over to lose her. He would have to steel his feelings against the loss. The more intelligence he received, the more young men he saw come home in body bags, the worse the war got, the more he would have to prepare himself to lose Claire. Thus, when she survived and returned, it seems almost as though Frank didn’t know what to do with her.

When Claire returns, she is twenty-seven, war weary and much more pre-possessed than she could ever have been when she left. While we never met the pre-war Claire, we can imagine that, given her upbringing, she was adventurous and interested in new things. After five years on the front lines, she is a woman who is unaccustomed to creature comforts and is very accustomed to rough living. She has spent five years watching men die and being expected to take control of emergency, life and death situations. Upon her return, she is expected, like all women similarly situated after WWII, to put the changes wrought into a box and return to her “old self.” As if anyone, male or female, could return to his/her “old self,” after the tumult of war.

She and Frank are having a hard time getting to know one another again. So, they decide to take a holiday. In the book, they are returning to the romantic environment of their wedding, that took place in the very church in which Claire would eventually marry Jaime. In the show, they are simply visiting the Highlands for Frank to do some family research. Frank irritated me from this first introduction. His wife is returned from the war, they can go about rebuilding their lives, and he does not even choose a vacation where the two of them can engage together in getting to know, as Claire says it, “The people they had become.” Instead, he chooses the self-centered, literally, individual endeavor of family research. Now, I know that this is a plot line so that Claire can learn things that will be useful down the road, but it is also indicative of Frank’s self-centric ideology. Nevertheless it is a perfect plot line. I’ve done family research with my mother and I can attest to it as a very solitary endeavor. Thus, it fits perfectly into Frank’s mind set.

More evidence against Frank occurred when he made his careless comments about little Roger Wakefield specifically, and orphans generally. He either forgot, or didn’t care, that Claire was an orphan. Her parents died in an accident when she was five years old. She was reared through the graciousness, and love of course, of her uncle, Lambert. She had seen war, seen children lose their parents and knew exactly what it meant to be orphaned. She wanted a child and wasn’t getting anywhere in her goal to become pregnant with little Frances. She was already thinking ahead about potentially adopting when she met Roger. They left this storyline out of the adaptation. I don’t criticize because God only knows that this adaptation is about as good as adaptations get, unless you want to nearly film the book scene by scene (as in BBC’s six-hour adaptation of Pride And Prejudice). Claire is enchanted by Roger and puts a great deal of thought into his situation. When she mentions same to Frank, he immediately lets her know that he is not keen on adoption. She presses a bit, but he flat out tells her that he could never love a child that was not his blood. Claire is a little taken aback by the confession, though in true Claire fashion, she files the conversation away to be continued in the event he is unsuccessful at putting an additional “branch” on his family tree. It is unfortunate that this part of the story was omitted in the adaptation because it is such a good example of Claire’s kindness.

Next, Frank comes “home” and sees the ghost outside Claire’s window. Keep in mind they’ve previously discussed ghosts and the superstitions in the Highlands. Further, the guy disappeared before Frank’s very eyes! Nevertheless, Frank essentially accuses Claire of cheating on him. This scene sealed the deal for me regarding Frank. Claire had a healthy suspicion regarding Frank’s fidelity after this exchange, and so did I. Of all the reasons a Highlander would be peering in her window on a rainy night, his following her there to “re-connect” is at the very bottom of the list! How would he know she was in Scotland? Which Hotel? Actually expect to get a glimpse of her in the window? Frank was in military intelligence. He knows better. I was immediately convinced that he was so distant and difficult because he had slept around and emotionally “moved on.” I am convinced it was guilt talking, as though letting her know that he would “love her anyway” could ease his own conscious.

Finally, Frank drags Claire off to those damn stones to get a surreptitious glimpse of a druid ceremony, before dawn nonetheless. Claire might be interested in such things, but once again it appears to be just for his gratification. Then, when she goes back to get the flower, he declines the opportunity to spend some more time with his wife and opts instead to meet with the Reverend to go through documents.

Frank didn’t lose Claire. Frank no longer had anything in common with Claire. He was generally blasé about their relationship, opting instead to be a solitary man with a wife. One wonders whether, had she been connected to him at all, she would actually have traveled through the stones. Claire was a “voyager,” adrift at sea. However, had her moorings been tethered, she might not have drifted off at all.


Rape Culture

26 May


Rape Culture.  It is a term with which I have been familiar since college, and that was over 20 years ago.  It is not a new term, but apparently is as explosive today as it was when coined in the 70’s.  It reared its ugly head this week, when a friend posted the following on Facebook:

“I am furious right now. My youngest daughter is a fifth grader…. Today is field day. We got email reminders and memos warning that they can’t wear short shorts. Jane doesn’t like short shorts anyway, so we picked out a pair of gym shorts that she wears to play volleyball and other sports that are the “proper length.” Five minutes after I dropped her off at school she calls me and says she needs me to bring a different pair of shorts because the ones she is wearing have an elastic waistband. I have to find a pair of her blue jeans and cut them off at the knee. I return to the school, and much to my delight the Principal happened to be standing in the office. So I asked him, ‘Would you mind telling me what’s wrong with my daughter’s shorts?’ He says, ‘Well elastic waistbands are iffy because boys like to pull them down.’ I couldn’t believe he actually said that! So I said, ‘Don’t you think you should be teaching little boys how not to be little pigs?’ He laughed and said, ‘Well, it’s not just one boy, it’s like 20 of them when they get together.’ I could not believe my ears!! I said, ‘So what you’re teaching these little boys, is that if there is gang of them together, it’s ok to attack a little girl and undress her?’ He started to look uncomfortable and said, ‘Boys are just like that at this at this age.’ I said, ‘It sounds like you have a problem at this school.’ He reluctantly nodded his head and laughed again. So I asked him what he planned on doing about it. He just stared at me. I said, ‘That’s what I thought.’ I changed Jane into uncomfortable blue jean shorts that she won’t be able to be athletic in because we are teaching boys how to be rapists.”

The post attracted many posts. The posters were uniform in their support of her opinion, until one of them accused the school of fostering a “rape culture.”  The reaction of posters to the comment is a reminder that framing the argument matters more than it should in public discourse. “Rape culture” is a term that was coined by feminists in the United States in the 1970’s. The term applies to society’s normalizing sexualized violence, and consists of “…a complex set of beliefs that encourage male sexual aggression… In a rape culture, women perceive a continuum of threatened violence that ranges from sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself.. . In a rape culture both men and women assume that sexual violence is a fact of life, inevitable . . . However . . . much of what we accept as inevitable is in fact the expression of values and attitudes that can change.”

No one condones rape. But one friend posting on my friend’s Facebook site was greatly incensed at the use of the term “rape culture.” He argued that subscribing to such an idea is “liberal babble.” If the term evokes too much emotion, or is associated with a “liberal” agenda, perhaps it should be changed. The issues are so important and they should be apolitical.

The physical maturing of a young woman is obvious. Of course boys notice developing breasts. Their attention is expected. However, society accepts that boys publicly ridicule girls, joke about them or make physical contact like “popping” a bra strap, explaining this conduct as “boys will be boys.” All of these actions are intended to bring attention to a girl’s maturing body. They are unacceptable. Young girls should not be subjected to this behavior, and certainly should not be exposed to the potential of the “gang” attack described above. In fact, what we must eradicate, in the mind of young boys, is the very idea that it is acceptable to touch girls in such a manner. The notion that “boys will be boys” is not applicable. “Boys will be boys” should apply to snake hunting, bike riding, wrestling and/or whatever behavior one might define as “boyish.” In 2015, it should never apply to sexual harassment. Society doesn’t help us much. Children see sexual objectification everywhere they look. They see it in magazines. They watch it on television. They hear it in music. That is why it is incumbent upon adults to understand the dangers of such behavior and how to stop it in its tracks. There is no room for political offense resulting from the use of a term that’s been established for 40 years. There is no room for the notion that women who invoke the term are “extreme” feminists. There is nothing extreme about working to protect young girls and prevent rape, to the extent that it can be prevented, by changing cultural ideas that foment it. Further, it is certainly not extreme to make sure that young boys understand prohibitive behavior now!