Outlander’s Top Ten Awesome Feminist Moments
by Zoe Gray and Angel Cruz
After working as a British army nurse in WWII, Claire Randall took a trip to Scotland with her husband Frank in order to reconnect and discover their family history. Unfortunately, Claire got a little more history than she bargained for when she touched a group of magical standing stones and got sent back to 18th-century Scotland.
The season one finale of Outlander aired on May 30. The show, based on Diana Gabaldon’s popular Outlander books and written by Battlestar Galactica’s Ronald D. Moore, has gotten favorable reviews from critics and fans alike.
Outlander is a thrilling, sexy, feminist romp through history, and we love it. Here’s a few of its best moments that highlight why we, Zoe and Angel, love this new show.
Jenny’s breast milking
By episode 14 of Outlander, we have seen a lot of nudity, including breasts, but it’s been framed almost exclusively in a sexual setting. That’s why I was surprised when, halfway through their trip, Claire and Jenny stop so Jenny can squeeze the milk out of her breasts, which were full because she’d given birth three days earlier. The two women continue to discuss their strategy for breaking Jamie out of Wentworth as Jenny milks her breasts on screen (How badass is Jenny? Going on a rescue mission three days after giving birth). It was incredible, but it definitely says something about our culture how much more shocking it is to see breasts used for their actual, natural purpose instead of as sexual objects.
Claire remaining loyal to Geilis and not divulging her secrets to get ahead
Claire’s protectiveness over her fellow women is one of my favourite things about her. She always tries to support and help the women around her, even when they’re not as forthcoming about their intentions as she is. Geillis might be shunned and feared by the villagers, but Claire doesn’t let that affect her judgment of the other woman.
Even Laoghaire is given the benefit of the doubt—the audience knows she’s got it out for Claire, but Claire tries her hardest not to antagonize or provoke the younger girl. She understands how Laoghaire feels, and won’t make the rejection worse.
Claire becoming a traveling performer to find information
When Jamie is taken, Claire doesn’t waste time. She immediately begins searching for him, regardless of the danger to herself. And when Murtaugh suggests trotting her out as a performer to catch Jamie’s attention, Claire readily agrees, even if she doubts it will actually help. She charms the people they meet with her Scottish rendition of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” singing the song clad in trousers, and leveraging the “disadvantage” of being a woman into bringing Jamie back.
Jamie performing oral sex on Claire and it being given the same weight and focus as other sexual acts in the show
Outlander handles sex quite interestingly for a cable show: while there have been instances/mentions of rape, there are also several scenes in which sex is respectful and consensual, as well as concerned with the woman’s pleasure. Jamie and Claire’s first night together is more of a learning experience for Jamie than it is for Claire, but there is a mutual respect between them. The camera doesn’t try to titillate its audiences–each shot is meant to reinforce Jamie and Claire’s appreciation of each other. This carries into a later scene where Jamie performs oral sex on his wife without being asked. It’s a natural action, something Jamie does because he wants to. Claire isn’t shamed for wanting it or enjoying it. They are both consenting adults, who respect each other in and out of the bedroom.
Jamie’s youth and virginity
Here is yet another example of Outlander taking popular romance tropes and turning them on their heads. At the time of his marriage to Claire, Jamie is a virgin. A hot, younger romantic interest who is a virgin—we’ve all seen this role before, but rarely ever as the male romantic lead. It’s especially poignant because, even in 18th-century Scotland, with all of its sexism, Jamie doesn’t try to shame Claire for having had sex before. And neither does Claire try to take advantage of him in any way because of his youth or ignorance about sex. No, they pretty much just go, “you’ve had sex? Cool, I haven’t,” and then proceed with their lives.
Claire standing up to Colum MacKenzie about rape culture
Defenders of shows like Game of Thrones, and yes, Outlander too, have cited the time period as a vital aspect of understanding the prevalence of rape. Outlander, however, has a particularly powerful moment in an early episode, when Colum MacKenzie poses a question to Claire: “You’re saying that a man bearing the King’s commission decided to rape a stray lady traveler he came upon in the woods, for no good reason?”
Claire responds by asking Mackenzie, “Is there ever a good reason for rape?,” and we know we can’t be the only ones who cheered for her as MacKenzie was silenced. With one question, she forces the men around her to realize what they’re saying. She consistently refuses to let history dictate her beliefs, and she challenges the people with whom she interacts.
Claire not standing for domestic abuse and Jamie falling into line
As talk of the adaptation became reality, there was one scene that many Outlander fans were concerned about, and understandably so. The scene in which Jamie spanks Claire for disobeying him is controversial in the book, and remained so as the show began to film. Some viewers—including myself— felt that the way it was portrayed in the show put too much emphasis on humour, but it was sill a powerful scene, and one that is worth discussing.
Claire has spent the months before her marriage to Jamie alternately being tossed about and forced into uncomfortable (at best), and terrible (at worst), situations. She respects herself too much to allow Jamie to mistreat her. She knows her own value, and she won’t let her husband browbeat her. Claire’s insistence on their equality in this marriage, and Jamie’s continued efforts to ensure it, is what keeps their marriage strong.
Claire’s compassionate strength
The show has stressed in several instances that Claire is not merely strong in a ‘manly’ interpretation of the word—where you beat people up, have a troubled backstory, and don’t talk much—but in a compassionate, sensitive, and caring way. One great example of this is in the first half of season one, when Claire and Jamie save a child from a desperate situation (involving ears and nails) via teamwork, even though it’s against the rules. Another is later in the season, where Claire tries to save a baby through similarly forbidden means. She tries to reason with people, tries to ask them nicely, but she ultimately does what she has to in order to ensure that justice is doled out.
Geillis helping the Jacobite cause
Geillis is, overall, such a complex and awesome character. She herself isn’t necessarily feminist (real feminist agenda: sleeping with dudes and then killing them?), but her writing and character arc definitely arc. She’s a great example of a female character being shown in a role that is usually occupied by a male character, with what stereotypically masculine ambitions. She is invested in a cause, and will use unconventional and immoral methods in order to further it. It’s not a role you usually see a woman in, but Geillis slips into it flawlessly.
Jamie believing Claire and helping her
In 18th-century Scotland, relationships between women and men were far from equal. They did not always marry for love, and things were not always consensual. That is why it is so important to recognize how Jamie reacted to hearing about Claire’s origins. It would have been perfectly rational for him to not have believed her, or thought her a witch or a traitor. It would have been perfectly normal for him to question the nature of their relationship, given how she had been lying to him for its entirety. But what does he do? He tells her that although he might not understand, he believes her, and he does everything he can to help her, proving that their relationship is founded on trust and respect (unlike many from the time period).
These are just a few of our favorite moments from Outlander, but there are countless more like this throughout the show, and book, if you’re interested. However, we must warn you that there are graphic depictions of rape and torture that may be very upsetting to some viewers.
Few current shows are as witty and smart in their writing, and as bold in their feminism, as Outlander, but we hope that it sets a new standard for television, and especially inspires other fantasy or genre shows to have more strong female characters, healthy and equal relationships, and female-centric plots.