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“Outlander” and Manliness: Why American Women Love This Show

 

The Starz TV series “Outlander” has become something of a phenomenon. In three seasons, it has done more to explain why women are longing for real manliness in their counterparts. The observant can see the vast difference in the men in this show and the man on the street. It is partially a function of time travel; the men women are particularly enamored of are the men in the 1700s. This cannot explain all of the fascination.

Kilts. It’s the kilts.

It isn’t, really, but it is the manliness and security required to wear clothing that could expose the most sensitive and vulnerable parts of a man. It should come as no surprise that Outlander (the book) has been studied for its intense and nuanced views of male/female interactions. There is even a popular paperback book called Finding Fraser which describes the modern woman’s lament and search for her own version of James Fraser, the male lead.

In order to really dive into the deep end of this, the show and the books need to be examined. I may mention character names without explanations. This is partly to save the show for people who want to be surprised, but pretty much everything that I am writing about requires a…

 SPOILER ALERT

I hope that at this point, those who want the show to be a surprise have left off.

Let us begin with a quick overview.

Outlander is a book about a WW2 combat nurse, Claire Randall, who accidentally travels through time back to 1742 Scotland. She travels back 202 years. During that time, she arouses suspicion as a well-spoken Englishwoman in the Highlands during another conflict between the English and the Scots. During the course of the show, Claire attempts to find a way to travel back to her husband in the 1940s, an MI-5 agent Frank Randall. Unfortunately, the suspicion aroused by her sudden appearance puts her in danger, requiring an arranged marriage to a Scottish outlaw, James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser (JAMMF, in the fandom). Of course, there’s a love triangle and of course, things get complicated. But this is enough of a summary for our purposes of discussion here.

Claire finds herself in a new world. Scotland in the 1700s was not a welcoming place for women. Even by 1940s standards, Claire was an independent woman. The Highlands would be particularly dangerous for a woman who felt her worth. Men were not used to being disobeyed or neglected. The concept of toxic masculinity could be placed here and would not be exceptional for the time. While there are the negatives of being placed in a time where women had limited options to support themselves, there were also positives.

Men were expected to be the protectors. They were expected to support a woman. Men served a purpose. Diana Gabaldon, the author of the series, describes it from JAMMF’s perspective (emphasis mine):

“What in God’s name do you think a man is for?” he asked at last. He spoke quietly, but in tones of complete bewilderment. “Ye want to keep him as a pet, is it? A lapdog? Or a caged bird?” — Jamie (JAMMF) in Fiery Cross, Chapter 79

This is an essential understanding of the traditional interaction between men and women. Men should not seek to lord their strength over women, but instead use it toward their protection. In this way, women cannot control their men. There is a wildness and viciousness to the nature of man; it is untamed. To tame a man is to make him ineffective. It is to take his power away and to make the marital unit weaker, as there is no designated protector. There are no designated roles. Predictability of roles and expectations helps people to understand one another, as well as come to agreement. It does not change the strengths of each gender. Both maintain strength, but tend to use it in different ways.

“There comes a turning point in intense physical struggle where one abandons oneself to a profligate usage of strength and bodily resource, ignoring the costs until the struggle is over. Women find this point in childbirth; men in battle.”Diana Gabaldon, Outlander

Modern women have been seduced by the idea of equality in all things. The simple fact is that though they are equal in nature, they are not identical. At their core, even feminists know this. Cosmo, Elle, Vogue, and other left-leaning magazines applaud “Outlander” frequently for it’s feminism and for the female perspective given to the show. While applauding, they seem to ignore how very traditional their praise for the show is. Even though the husbands are nominal feminists for their time, their roles are all very traditional.

Women do not just like this. Women need this.

There is an unspoken desire for women to be taken care of by their men. They need their men to be pillars of strength. Magazines are too proud to admit or even maintain self-awareness that they are also bringing the need for tradition to the fore. Strength does not require men to be perpetually stoic during all times of adversity, foregoing any display of emotion, but it requires men to adhere to certain traditional gender stereotypes. Whether or not it is explicit, much of the popularity of “Outlander” is from the acknowledgement that even in changing times, with changing roles, with Claire becoming a doctor and having her own career, men need to be the men in the relationship. Women need that complementary role, but more importantly, women need protectors.

There comes a point later in the books when Claire is sexually assaulted. I sincerely hope that the TV series does not change this scene, since it is very human. Some of the men are of the mentality that sex is power, some violent, but some are pathetic, lonely, sad men who see this as their only way for human connection and female compassion. One of the offenders even cries during the entire exchange. Claire, though violated, still feels a sense of regret and remorse from this man and recalls him in later books.

Sexuality is nuanced in both the books and in the series. The traditional roles are explored, but also the idea of woman as aggressor and as violator (see books 7-9). There is a very clear delineation between the natural and the unnatural. There is a clear line between positive sexuality and negative sexuality. More importantly, the sexual politics are approached with a strong bias toward value. What is the value of the sexual act? What is the value of the human beings involved? Is human value being respected?

The sexual act is always framed with respect to the humans involved. Women everywhere appreciate this. In every sex scene there is, there is an emotional component. Everything has meaning. People are not simply props for some salacious exposure of skin. People have value. Men respect that value.

When women are violated or sex is used as a bargaining chip, the questions are brought forward, not only by the women, but by the men in their lives.

“And if your life is a suitable exchange for my honor, why is my honor not a suitable exchange for your life?”Diana Gabaldon, Outlander

Indeed. In modern times, the idea of honor is almost completely lost on the current generation. We do not even have a discussion about honor anymore. This is another point of seduction in “Outlander.” Honor? Men? Women? They are speaking of honoring one another and a sense of value!

Ultimately, the reason why “Outlander” is so popular is that it treats men as men. It judges men by their own standards: courage, strength, ability to protect, honor. It does not judge the men with today’s weakened and softer sensibilities. It judges them by their standards and by standards they have been genetically called to meet. It does not excuse them for being men, nor does it ask them to be something other than what they are. There are good men and there are bad men, but they are judged as men.

And it is refreshing.

Published in Entertainment
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There are 105 comments.

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  1. Member

    I haven’t seen the show, but I read the book (books?) in the 90s and loved them. I think you’ve explained why very well. No more Beta males!

    • #1
    • October 7, 2017 at 4:08 pm
    • 5 likes
  2. Member
    TheRightNurse Post author

    RightAngles (View Comment):
    I haven’t seen the show, but I read the book (books?) in the 90s and loved them. I think you’ve explained why very well. No more Beta males!

    It isn’t that they’re overpowering Alpha. They have an acute sense of personhood and individual respect as well as integrity. A person is a person and holds some value. That value is to be protected. Women, as much as they can, defend themselves (as when Claire kills her would-be attacker), but there needs to be something to go back to. The marital unit is one of strength, but is also one with known expectations. Claire knows that whatever happens to her, Jamie will avenge her. It isn’t just a matter of his honor or his woman reflecting upon him (which is a point in the books given some of her bad behavior), it is a matter of protecting her as her own person.

    • #2
    • October 7, 2017 at 4:16 pm
    • 6 likes
  3. Member

    A friend of mine showed up for his prostate exam with me…… in a kilt with no underwear. He flipped up the kilt and said,” don’t have too much fun”.

    • #3
    • October 7, 2017 at 4:25 pm
    • 15 likes
  4. Member
    TheRightNurse Post author

    DocJay (View Comment):
    A friend of mine showed up for his prostate exam with me…… in a kilt with no underwear. He flipped up the kilt and said,” don’t have too much fun”.

    And there we have it.

    • #4
    • October 7, 2017 at 4:26 pm
    • 3 likes
  5. Member

    DocJay (View Comment):
    A friend of mine showed up for his prostate exam with me…… in a kilt with no underwear. He flipped up the kilt and said,” don’t have too much fun”.

    Now you are drifting into Lord John and the Private Matter

    • #5
    • October 7, 2017 at 5:17 pm
    • 2 likes
  6. Coolidge

    I have neither seen the show nor read the books. I have read a bunch of Bernard Cornwell novels about Medieval England and they have a tone that sounds similar. The first is “The Last Kingdom,” which is about the Norsemen invasions. The movie, “Braveheart” had some similar themes, I thought.

    • #6
    • October 7, 2017 at 5:35 pm
    • 4 likes
  7. Member
    TheRightNurse Post author

    Zafar (View Comment):

    DocJay (View Comment):
    A friend of mine showed up for his prostate exam with me…… in a kilt with no underwear. He flipped up the kilt and said,” don’t have too much fun”.

    Now you are drifting into Lord John and the Private Matter

    Which is actually a very interesting point. The Outlander books treat homosexuality as an aberration, but they are treated with humanity and kindness. The people involved are still people. There is, however, a sense that these pairings cannot make for a happy home life since there will be no one to carry on the family name or to protect the elders of the family. It is understood that only children can do that for their parents and family cohesion is very important.

    This gets into homosexuality, sex as manipulation, and consent-ambiguous sex. Diana Gabaldon is a very talented writer. Her characters are well researched and have conflict about their sexual activities just as normal people do. These are not just bodice-rippers. These are people who understand that their actions have dire consequences.

    And that’s a great book, btw.

    • #7
    • October 7, 2017 at 5:37 pm
    • 5 likes
  8. Member
    TheRightNurse Post author

    Mike-K (View Comment):
    I have neither seen the show nor read the books. I have read a bunch of Bernard Cornwell novels about Medieval England and they have a tone that sounds similar. The first is “The Last Kingdom,” which is about the Norsemen invasions. The movie, “Braveheart” had some similar themes, I thought.

    I would heartily recommend that you do, not just because I love the books and the show, but because the subject matter is well researched. The author was originally a professor and it shows. The historical perspective is maintained well throughout the series.

    “Braveheart” was of course similar because it dealt with the Scottish revolutionaries and another attempt toward freedom before the banning of the Clans. The books, written by an American, have a very pro-revolution bent. It is very hard not to when coming from a country that revolted and become the world’s leading superpower. This is one reason why the show was not aired until this year. The UK did not want a pro-Scotland show on the air that would stir anti-British sentiment during a referendum on leaving the union.

    And they were right.

    There are many Scots who have stated that this show highlighted certain legal points and historical battles that were never discussed as a part of their history in school.

    • #8
    • October 7, 2017 at 5:42 pm
    • 4 likes
  9. Thatcher

    Bought the books as gifts for my youngest sister and read most of them first; she’s reluctant to watch the show, lest it dislodge her imagination.

    • #9
    • October 7, 2017 at 5:58 pm
    • 5 likes
  10. Member
    TheRightNurse Post author

    Nanda Panjandrum (View Comment):
    Bought the books as gifts for my youngest sister and read most of them first; she’s reluctant to watch the show, lest it dislodge her imagination.

    I have enjoyed the books and the show separately. It is true that there are variations, but I’ve been surprised at how true the show has been to the books, particularly in gender roles and bringing a real contrast to modern relationships.

    If you have not had a chance, I would read the more recent books as well. They chronicle some interesting points in pre-Revolution US history and have made the idea of colonialism very real. It has also highlighted the extent of the “religious freedom” and how people may have reacted to it. The author, as I may have said, is very talented.

    • #10
    • October 7, 2017 at 6:23 pm
    • 2 likes
  11. Moderator

    Never having seen “Outlander” myself, my burning question is…

    …is it pronounced Ootlander?

    • #11
    • October 7, 2017 at 6:23 pm
    • 8 likes
  12. Member
    TheRightNurse Post author

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    Never having seen “Outlander” myself, my burning question is…

    …is it pronounced Ootlander?

    Depends on if yer Scottish er no’.

    • #12
    • October 7, 2017 at 6:35 pm
    • 5 likes
  13. Member
    TheRightNurse Post author

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    Never having seen “Outlander” myself, my burning question is…

    …is it pronounced Ootlander?

    Scottish lessons!

    • #13
    • October 7, 2017 at 6:37 pm
    • 2 likes
  14. Moderator

    TheRightNurse (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    Never having seen “Outlander” myself, my burning question is…

    …is it pronounced Ootlander?

    Scottish lessons!

    And..

    … Welsh lessons?…

    Apparently, Scots use their Celtic language to be heckin’ sexxxy to the Sassenach. Welshmen use it to bear a grudge against the Saesneg. Six of one half a dozen of the other…

    • #14
    • October 7, 2017 at 6:52 pm
    • 4 likes
  15. Member
    TheRightNurse Post author

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    TheRightNurse (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    Never having seen “Outlander” myself, my burning question is…

    …is it pronounced Ootlander?

    Scottish lessons!

    And..

    … Welsh lessons?…

    Apparently, Scots use their Celtic language to be heckin’ sexxxy to the Sassenach. Welshmen use it to bear a grudge against the Saesneg. Six of one half a dozen of the other…

    I think it’s just sexiness in general because they’re such rebels against The Man!

    • #15
    • October 7, 2017 at 6:57 pm
    • 2 likes
  16. Inactive

    A pal of mine sent me this last year because he developed a taste for Scottish history. I include this because he takes a dig at tennis players at the beginning. Andy Murray I’m thinking.

    • #16
    • October 7, 2017 at 7:09 pm
    • 3 likes
  17. Moderator

    TheRightNurse (View Comment):
    I think it’s just sexiness in general because they’re such rebels against The Man!

    And also apparently against “Magi”.

    • #17
    • October 7, 2017 at 7:12 pm
    • 2 likes
  18. Member

    DocJay (View Comment):
    A friend of mine showed up for his prostate exam with me…… in a kilt with no underwear. He flipped up the kilt and said,” don’t have too much fun”.

    Did he at least have a sgian-dubh in his sock?

    • #18
    • October 7, 2017 at 7:36 pm
    • 2 likes
  19. Member
    TheRightNurse Post author

    Muleskinner (View Comment):

    DocJay (View Comment):
    A friend of mine showed up for his prostate exam with me…… in a kilt with no underwear. He flipped up the kilt and said,” don’t have too much fun”.

    Did he at least have a sgian-dubh in his sock?

    That’s not usually considered appropriate in a medical setting. How many times has that happened to women? “Is that a dirk in your kilt or are you just happy to see me?”

    • #19
    • October 7, 2017 at 7:39 pm
    • 4 likes
  20. Member

    Once my wife was complaining, as women do, “Pornography isn’t realistic! Actual women don’t look like that!” And I thought of the romance novels she likes to read, and asked her, “And how many men do you know who are Scottish clan leaders?”

    Got a chuckle out of her, anyway.

    • #20
    • October 7, 2017 at 7:49 pm
    • 8 likes
  21. Member

    TheRightNurse: “And if your life is a suitable exchange for my honor, why is my honor not a suitable exchange for your life?”

    Well that’s a straightforward question. You never make an exchange unless you’re getting a deal. The question here arises because you’ve got two parties disagreeing about the relative worth of the good in question; each one counts the thing they have to offer rather cheap and the thing the other has as dear.

    • #21
    • October 7, 2017 at 7:51 pm
    • 2 likes
  22. Member
    TheRightNurse Post author

    Matt Bartle (View Comment):
    Once my wife was complaining, as women do, “Pornography isn’t realistic! Actual women don’t look like that!” And I thought of the romance novels she likes to read, and asked her, “And how many men do you know who are Scottish clan leaders?”

    Got a chuckle out of her, anyway. 

    Ha!  Yes, very true. One of the nicer points of Outlander is the sex. In the first season, Claire and Jamie consummate their marriage. Jamie is enthusiastic (as men often are) and does a few things that Claire, the more experienced party, finds a bit odd. She clues him in to the things she likes or doesn’t and it goes from there.

    In that way, the show is very sex positive. It shows what healthy relationship sex can and even should be. Romance novels are a little more iffy. They’re a little more of the ambiguous consent, avoiding consequences for being a lusty woman.

    Outlander makes no apologies for the voracious sexual appetite of the female lead, Claire. Additionally, it’s not shown as being totally bizarre, just mildly unusual. It’s something that is worth examining. Outlander shows married sex in its best light in both of her marriages 1700’s and 1940’s. It’s a very, very good thing for people to see.

    • #22
    • October 7, 2017 at 7:55 pm
    • 4 likes
  23. Member
    TheRightNurse Post author

    Hank Rhody (View Comment):

    TheRightNurse: “And if your life is a suitable exchange for my honor, why is my honor not a suitable exchange for your life?”

    Well that’s a straightforward question. You never make an exchange unless you’re getting a deal. The question here arises because you’ve got two parties disagreeing about the relative worth of the good in question; each one counts the thing they have to offer rather cheap and the thing the other has as dear.

    It is. There are many points in these books (and the TV series) that are worth thought, consideration, and discussion. That is one of them.

    If a man is willing to give his life for a woman’s honor, her honor is worth a life. If she is trying to save his honor, shouldn’t her life also be worth it? If she’s trying to save his life, why shouldn’t she put her honor on the line? In this particular case, Outlander can mean one’s sexual purity in honor, but more commonly, one’s sense of duty, respect, and honesty.

    It’s an interesting proposition. Particularly now. Who would put their reputation and their livelihood on the line for another? It is much less likely that you would see that now. Even in the cases where there is physical violence inferred, how many would be willing to offer up their bodies for another’s safety? Who would be willing to really risk their lives? We had a timely example of this in Las Vegas, but more often than not, heroism is dead.

    • #23
    • October 7, 2017 at 7:59 pm
    • 2 likes
  24. Thatcher

    Yes, yes!!! It’s probably the kilts!! I don’t know why, but they are so super alluring.

    • #24
    • October 7, 2017 at 8:16 pm
    • 4 likes
  25. Member
    TheRightNurse Post author

    Cow Girl (View Comment):
    Yes, yes!!! It’s probably the kilts!! I don’t know why, but they are so super alluring.

    Well sadly, after Season 3 there will be no kilts. The wearing of the plaid is banned after the ’45, so kilts come off.

    …but pants are on! Get yer head outta the gutter!

    • #25
    • October 7, 2017 at 8:22 pm
    • 4 likes
  26. Thatcher

    Cow Girl (View Comment):
    Yes, yes!!! It’s probably the kilts!! I don’t know why, but they are so super alluring.

    I notice that women seem to like men in skirts. When I was young it seemed one woman or other always wanted to drag me to a tranny show.

    • #26
    • October 7, 2017 at 8:37 pm
    • Like
  27. Member
    TheRightNurse Post author

    Fake John/Jane Galt (View Comment):
    I notice that women seem to like men in skirts.

    For the same reasons men do. Easy access.

    Also, as I said, it takes a secure man to wear a kilt.

    • #27
    • October 7, 2017 at 8:41 pm
    • 2 likes
  28. Moderator

    This series, of course, started in the 90s. I started working at Barnes and Noble in ’99, and I had great fun when shelving the Romance section up in fiction. Outlander spawned a ton of imitators, and for a while I thought of those shelves as the Scottish section (later on it became the vampire section, due to Twilight). Gabaldon was not shelved there, though, but in the regular fiction shelves.

    • #28
    • October 7, 2017 at 9:12 pm
    • 3 likes
  29. Member
    TheRightNurse Post author

    skipsul (View Comment):
    Gabaldon was not shelved there, though, but in the regular fiction shelves.

    Very true. There’s another time travel and historical series that is about to get its own TV show:  The All Soul’s Trilogy  by Deborah Harkness, a USC history professor. Her books, beginning with A Discovery of Witches are interesting, largely due to the attention to detail and the perspective on time travel. Additionally, there is also sexual content in her books that does please the feminine gaze. The sex is meaningful, important to the story, and also more true to what sex is like in idealized real life (there are awkward moments, interruptions, etc).

    These authors are very real artists and it isn’t as simple as romance novels. It is wonderful that they are treated as the complex works they are.

    Have you actually read any of the books, @skipsul?

    • #29
    • October 7, 2017 at 9:23 pm
    • 1 like
  30. Moderator

    TheRightNurse (View Comment):
    Have you actually read any of the books

    No, but my wife read the first 1 or 2. Not the sort of book I read myself though. I did skim read some of the bodice-ripper knock-offs though, laughing aloud at the tortured language.

    • #30
    • October 7, 2017 at 9:26 pm
    • 3 likes
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