In Defense of Strong Women

Fellow fans, we are almost in the home stretch. It’s almost summer and filming for Season 4 is down to the final few episodes. Soon we will be inundated with the whirlwind of promotional tours and interviews. Much like Jamie and Claire in their hurricane, we can make it if we just hold on.

But, first, I feel I need to address something that’s been bothering me for the past few weeks. I have gone on record before claiming that Outlander is one of the most authentic shows on television, due in large part to their excellent portrayals of men and women and romantic relationships. So imagine my surprise when this trailer clip was released a few months ago and managed to rile everyone up:

Friends, I honestly don’t see what all the fuss is about! It is such a short clip and I’m not quite sure how people drew so many interpretations from it, but it has had people talking. If you’ve been anywhere around any fan sites or social media these past few months you know that most people have an opinion on this trailer. And one of those opinions seems to be that somehow, in this twenty second clip, Jamie is emasculated.

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Exactly, Jamie. What?

Here’s my take: I see Claire- a woman who has lived in the modern-day United States and who has seen what this New World will become- marvel with her husband that they are here, together, with an opportunity to build a new life. I don’t think Sam Heughan plays this weakly at all. Rather, think about what the concept of freedom means to a man like Jamie- a man who has been imprisoned (or on the run or in hiding) for a great chunk of his life. That’s how I see him playing it- with wonderment and hope. Why would those be weak qualities? Are men not supposed to feel this way?

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The most concerning sentiment I’ve heard and read in regards to Season 3- and since this trailer was released- is the criticism that somehow Claire’s strength is weakening to Jamie’s character. And that, frankly, is not only silly— it’s very insulting. Let’s say this loud and clear so the people in the back can hear: Strong women do not make men weak. They just don’t. Weak men are weak men regardless of the women around them. We need to dispel with the myth right now that somehow the faults of the men in this world are to be blamed on women. Truly strong men are not threatened by strong women. And Jamie? He could never be weak.

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The problem isn’t Claire. The problem is us and and we how we expect men to behave and feel (or not feel). The problem is that we expect women to wait for men to return and not (as was the case with Jamie this season) the other way around. The problem is we want an independent female hero but never at the expense of our male hero. Why do we place Jamie’s independence and strength in higher importance than Claire’s? What are we so afraid of?

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Sam Heughan gave a tour de force of acting this past season, showing us a man experiencing pain, grief, loneliness, fear, acceptance, and wariness. Cannot an “alpha man” still be our hero and have these emotions? I think he can.

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Jamie did not change this past season- his circumstances did. First he is physically and emotionally battered and nearly killed by the double whammy of Culloden and losing Claire. Then he spends years in isolation, prison and obligatory service. Of course he is going to seem weakened by these events- that’s the whole point of prison. There are no chances for the daring rescues of Season 1 and such acts would be suicidal if attempted.

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When Jamie does get opportunities he takes them- surrendering to the British to help Jenny’s family, escaping to Silkie Island in search of Claire, and offering his life to repay the debt to Lord John. None of those are the sign of a weak man. They are the signs of a strong character maintaining his honor in pretty crushing situations.

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Once Jamie and Claire are reunited their relationship has to find its way, which it naturally would after twenty years apart. It would be incredibly hard to return to a relationship after decades of emotional independence. Jamie and Claire are both wanting but cautious, in love but guarded with their feelings, accepting but also jealous, and trying to find the “them” in the people they have become. Both actors played all of these complicated and conflicting emotions enormously well.

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Is Jamie- our brave hero- still there through all this emotional murkiness? Of course he is. He rescues Ian from the print shop. He defends the need to provide for Laoghaire’s family. He makes a decision to be honest with Claire about Willie (a change from the novel that I actually really like). He climbs up the mast to save Lesley. He manages the crew of the Artemis after it suffers damage and crew loss. He bestowes his name upon Fergus and rescues Ian from Abandawe. And, finally, in the most badass move ever- HE DIVES INTO THE OCEAN DURING A HURRICANE TO RESCUE CLAIRE. Where is the weakness? How has Claire, in any way, weakened this man?

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The answer is she hasn’t and here is where I want to defend Claire. So let’s talk about the scene that a lot of people took issue with this season- that being of Claire trying to save the life of the exciseman who attempts to rape her.

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I argued before that Claire took an oath and she took it seriously and after twenty years of healing people- regardless of character or circumstances- it would be hard to say no. Doctors, after all, are required to treat nuns and rapists alike.

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But, more than that, I think this scene was meant to feel disjointed and jarring to us  because that’s exactly how Claire was supposed to feel. 1968 was a far different cultural landscape than when she went back the first time in 1945. Claire had been used to years of increasing gender equality and the Constitutional laws afforded to her. All of that is out the window the minute she steps back in time and we are meant to feel her cultural shock. Thus we see Jamie reminding Claire that she is in a different century with different consequences and so she has to alter her expectations. To me that was the purpose of this scene- not to make Jamie seem weak and Claire seem bossy, but to make us feel that impact and remind all of us to adjust our own expectations.

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And, while we are at it, Claire is not bossy. We need to stop using that word. We do not refer to men as bossy- would anyone ever describe Jamie- a man who is equal to Claire in terms of bravery and forthrightness- as bossy? Nope, we wouldn’t. Nor would we use it to describe Dougal or Colum. And that’s because we reserve “bossy” as a word for women when we are uncomfortable with their leadership. We also use it to describe children. Children and women, but not men. So, no, she is not bossy. Demanding at times and independent always, but never bossy.

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And, finally, Claire has not changed either. The Claire of Season 1, the one who gives her husband this look when he questions her opinion…

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… who knows her own agency and asks for cunnilingus…

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…and fights for her life…

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…and orders Dougal’s men around…

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…is our same Claire. And that was just the first episode! She hasn’t changed nor would we want her to. It’s why we love her. It’s why Jamie loves her. And because he loves her he is okay being a truly equal partner- physically and emotionally- in their relationship.

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Strong women are not the problem. Over the years the strong women of our world- the Claires- have fought for our right to vote, to have our own bank account, to buy a home or car without our husband or father, to leave an abusive partner, to have our own credit cards, and to receive a higher education. We want these women. We need these women. Strength as a woman does not come at the cost of men and the truly strong men of this world- the Jamies- are not afraid. We shouldn’t be, either.

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Slàinte.

 

Photo credits: STARZ

 

 

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22 thoughts on “In Defense of Strong Women”

  1. Lady, you are full of crap. Claire does not weaken Jamie, the new female writers have done that. When they had Jamie following Claire through the jungle to get to Abandaway they blew it, big time. No Scots warrior from the l8th century would allow his wife to dive into danger ahead of him. Just their way of making her the hero, not even the heroine. You and they are turning Outlander into a soap opera.

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    1. Rewatchthat episode. That’s not what happened! He starts out ahead of her but then he looks back to see Archie Campbell being carried off. Claire gets ahead of him because she’s frantic to rescue Bree, but he catches up with her and he is the first one into the cave and he’s holding her hand!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I agree with you completely. I have read and reread the books and I love the series on television. I don’t see Jamie as weak at all in the series, it is the perception that strong men and strong women can’t coexist or love or live as equals. He loves her in a way anyone would want to be loved, I don’t see that as weak. Thank you to all the strong women–including, I suspect, Outcandour. And I have found your reviews of the season spot on to what I have felt about the portrayal. Bring on season 4, I say.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Sly but not so much is what I call S3. We have feminism sneaking in the back door and trying not to be overtly pushy. Having grown up in the 60’s and 70’s I saw the birth of the feminist movement. It was filled with desire to be treated equally yet full of equal respect. What we are seeing now is a sad facsimile of something meant to help women. The young women today don’t have that insight. The hate and viciousness is off the charts. Tearing down the barn to get the rats out doesn’t work, they come and go as they please. That said, I felt this season lost some of its value to me as a fan because of this definitely feminist shadow hanging over the dialog. If this tone continues the series may lose me as a viewer, I’ll stick with the books. My thoughts and opinions!

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  4. Strong women everywhere who had to fight for their independence and respect are nodding their heads in complete agreement and clapping! Thank you truly for these candid and truthful words! Best article I have read on this subject of Claire emasculating Jamie…hogwash!!! And trust me I have seen lots of comments about it on social media since season 3 ended!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. You obviously haven’t read the books. They are vandalising the story. We had one good season then the rot set in. It is set in the 1700s keep the 2018 feminist politics out of it.

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  6. Hmmm, let’s take this back to the beginning. Starz was looking to for more original programming to try and compete with the likes of HBO and others so they wanted to appeal to an audience that was not being recognized, women. By choosing Outlander they hit the nail on the head and the majority women book readers became show fans and it brought in others as well and the show became a hit. Now understand, we are in the era of “Peak TV”, amazing shows all around and many of these shows feature…wait for it… a strong female character. Think GOT, Homeland, The Americans, Fargo, The Crown, to name a few. In my opinion, Starz has something to compete with these shows and THEY turn the volume up on “strong woman” Claire but by doing this, Jamie’s volume is turned down. For example, in S2 (and S2 has lots of examples of this) Jamie’s scene at the end of Faith was cut. It was an amazing performance by Sam and even he was disappointed that it was cut. Ron Moore claims it was cut for time, but with his scene included it changed the whole dynamic of Jamie and Claire’s interaction to grief and forgiveness from her perspective.
    I’ve always said that there is no need to strengthen Claire because she already is a strong woman to begin with. One of my pet peeves is in the scene at the stones in the S2 finale. Claire tells Jamie she will name the baby after his father but in the book one of the last words Jamie says to Claire is “name him Brian!”. Why take that need for Jamie to live on, even if its through his father’s name, away from him?
    I could go on and on but this is not just my perspective. I read other blogs where people feel the same.

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  7. Thank you for writing this. I whole heartedly agree with u. In my opinion the show has not altered either character in any way. I have been reading these books since 1991 and i think that for the most part the show has done them justice.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. I agree with you except for Claire performing surgery on a man who’d just attempted to rape and possibly kill her. On a bed that she and Jamie had recently just had sex . It would be criminal to attempt that type of surgery in such primitive conditions. I know some people site the Hypocratic Oath but, no doctor I know would even attempt that,especially after said patient attempted to do her harm. Claire shows her strength in so many ways . That scene (not in the book by the way) wasn’t needed not to mention another rape scene.

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  9. I love your interpretation of the show. I wish readers wouldn’t take other opinions and make them into attacks. It’s a t.v. series. It’s a series of books. It is not a constitutional amendment that needs to be debated and then voted on. It is perhaps the most addicting of all books I have ever read. In my life time I have never read a book more than once except for the story books I have read to my children and my students. Why must we take fictional characters portrayed by excellent actors and turn them into real life people we feel we must either defend or vilify. Enjoy the reading or the watching and leave out the snarky, mean and rather childish comments that only serve to divide the community. I’m sure the author did not intend for her science fiction to become an attack on our social morality.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. What a fantastic piece, thank you! You’ve made some excellent points and I’m really looking forward to reading your recaps of season 4’s episodes.

    The writers have had to make changes in order to show Claire and Jamie’s relationship evolving, since they don’t have the luxury of keeping every detail from the books and I think they’re doing a good job. Unfortunately there are some who have taken against the series and so will always seek to criticise, so it’s great to read your positive take on it. I love when you reference the costumes too, so much thought goes in to them!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow- thank you! I sincerely appreciate you reading and leaving such kind feedback.
      I feel for the series writers- adaptation I think would be so hard. In the novels,too, we are inside Claire’s head A LOT which doesn’t translate well to the screen. So they have to make up action or give different lines/actions to different characters, etc. The podcasts are so helpful to listen to because they explain the changes from the novel so well.
      Thanks again 🙂

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      1. Don’t tempt me with the podcasts, between the series, the books, the novellas and blogs I’m already abandoning my children enough 😂. It’s fine though, they may be barely clothed but they’ll grow up with an in depth knowledge of the 18th century!

        Liked by 1 person

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