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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
… who knows her own agency and asks for cunnilingus…
…and fights for her life…
…and orders Dougal’s men around…
…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.
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.
Photo credits: STARZ