The hero takes off his leather belt and beats his disobedient wife.
This is not our typical 21st century Western attitude to relationships so why do we consider this acceptable and even applaud, as the premier audience of Outlander part 2 did last week?
Interestingly, it comes down to establishing what we, the reader/viewer, have accepted as an accurate representation of the social and cultural norms within the story.
Then, we must be in the right character's POV (point of view).
Not only in historical novels, but also in contemporary stories that deal with different cultural norms, the audience needs a clear understanding of what the attitudes and expectations of key characters are. Creating this understanding must be done carefully, with respect and clarity. Once the setting is established, we need to be in the right 'head space' to connect with the key character in that scene.
How important the right POV is to how readers/viewers react is demonstrated by the spanking scene in episode 9 of Outlander. From Jamie's POV, we can accept what happens as part of the cultural, social and moral aspect of life in 1743. Jamie's spanking of Claire is about duty and justice, not a power struggle between the sexes, or a sadistic streak in our braw Highland laddie. If Claire had a deeper understanding of the dangers of the times into which she had fallen, she would not willingly have placed Jamie and the Mackenzie men in the unenviable position of having to storm the English fort to rescue her. And she might have put aside her 20th century indignation at being told what to do and listened to the man who had committed his life and his body to keeping her safe.
For me, the scene was skilfully played and revealed a great deal about both characters. Jamie has to adjust, not only to what it means to be a husband, but to being the husband of a woman with quite different attitudes and values from his. Two hundred years and a whole suffragette and social movement separate their ideas of what is appropriate. Ultimately though, these two wonderful characters learn much about themselves and their fledgling marriage, and discover that, just because something has always been so in their respective times, doesn't mean it must remain so. Communication and trust and a willingness to adapt will be keys to survival.
I can't wait for the rest of their story.
If you would like to read more about the cast and director's thinking with regard to this scene, click here.