Thursday, August 7, 2014

Outlander: Feminist or Not?

I'm going to stray from my usual MG/YA topics and focus on the buzz surrounding the new Starz series, Outlander. Fans of Diana Gabaldon's books, myself included, have been eagerly awaiting a screen portrayal of these characters. Having seen the first episode online, I can say the show gets off to a quiet start, but by the end of this first installment, the story of Claire and Jamie begins in earnest and I can't wait for more. FYI for those who don't like explicit sex scenes (though fans of the books won't be surprised), there are a few already between Claire and Frank in the first episode. The story-telling appears to aim for faithfulness to the novel, and I think fans will be happy, though I don't believe Caitriona Balfe has quite mastered how to convincingly say Claire's favorite blasphemous oath. I was more worried about whether Sam Heugen would make a good Jamie, but after watching, I think he'll come as close as anyone could.

 Anne Helen Petersen's article about the show discusses whether the show will appeal to men as well as women. Though I don't think it will need male viewers to be a hit, I agree with her that the show will appeal more to women than men. I disagree, however, with her calling the story "feminist," at least not the version of feminism espoused by NOW. Ms. Petersen quotes Diana Gabaldon as "smartly" avoiding an admittance that the story is a feminist one by saying: “'[Outlander] is about a woman, who is quite confident in who she is as a woman, and that’s one definition of feminist — you take yourself at your own worth, and you demand that others take you at your own estimation.'” Now I don't pretend to know Gabaldon's true intentions, but Claire doesn't come across as a NOW feminist to me, and the above statement can apply to the most old-fashioned sense of feminity.

Anyone who has read the books knows that Claire and Jamie both have enormous respect for each other as human beings and both appreciate the other with all their flaws. Claire is a woman called to the profession of healing, a nurturing feminine role, which she pursues to its highest level later by becoming a doctor, considered in both the 1940's and 1740's as a  masculine role. Jamie has no problem with her profession because it doesn't mean Claire can't be feminine. He himself can be very tender, though he surely epitomizes masculinity full blown with his old-fashioned notion of honor and his courage, and Claire doesn't denigrate him for that. In fact, she allows him to fulfill the masculine role in their relationship as much as he allows her to be a loving, nurturing female unafraid of making a scene when she feels it's necessary. This balanced, complementary relationship is romantically fulfilling and (in addition to Gabaldon's mad writing skills), I believe, a large part of why the series has been a bestseller.


  1. Ah! My comment disappeared! I hadn't ever been interested in Outlanders until I read your description here. Sounds like a promising show. I'm a resolute feminist, but a romantic, too.

  2. Sorry about the commenting snafu. I just finished reading the latest book in the Outlander series. Such great characters and relationships. Watching the show will help Gabaldon fans wait several years for the next book. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. I'm an Outlander fan. One of the few times I've regretted not having TV is that I'll miss the show. I loved the books.
    I'm a fan of your writing too! Love the blog.