If you’ve been following my blog lately, you probably know that I’m pretty much obsessed with Outlander. I read the books years and years ago after my best friend shoved it into my hands and demanded that I read it and I’ve been waiting for a movie or television show adaptation ever since.
Game of Thrones paved the way for the genre it was meant for: cable television. It’s too long for a movie, too violent and sexual for normal television. Game of Thrones proved that you could have big productions on fantasy-like books and the fans (and more) will follow. I was worried because there’s always the chance that it will be a mess. I’ve increasingly felt frustration with Game of Thrones because of unnecessary changes and departures from important themes of the books, especially when it comes to the female characters. As much as I like Game of Thrones, there’s something about Outlander that I love more.
I think it comes down to the fact that I am a woman.
Of course it’s easy to say that, as a woman, I’m in it for the eye candy or the romance or the pretty costumes or the beautiful landscape of Scotland. All of that stuff is fine and dandy, but it’s something much bigger than that: When the credits roll, I don’t feel disrespected. I don’t feel like women are merely used as plot devices or to fall into the Madonna/whore tropes or most commonly, as a vehicle for men’s eyes. It’s a story about Claire, a woman who is strong while being feminine, outspoken without being unkind, unapologetically sexual, and most of all, intelligent. Even in 2014, we don’t really get all of those at once, just caricatures or glimpses of it.
This week’s episode, the much anticipated “The Wedding,” explored the consummation of Jamie and Claire’s marriage. After watching it, I felt justified about my feelings regarding the groundbreaking nature of the show and, in particular, the sex scenes. It seems silly, but I came away thinking (and hoping) that perhaps it would set a bar for other shows to reach from now on.
I had high hopes after the first episode showed Claire’s first husband Frank going down on her. I was actually taken aback, because how often do we see that, much less in a first episode? A woman being pleasured, without reciprocation or over-dramatic reactions to said pleasure that many men might find sexy. I can honestly say that at 31 years old I have never seen that anywhere, in anything. How sad is that? A woman’s pleasure is usually (unrealistically) shown to appease men, not other women, but I’m not sure I understood the gravity of that until I saw that scene.
This week, there were a few different sex scenes that I found to be innovative. Jamie and Claire’s first scene was awkward and quick. She didn’t have an orgasm. [insert joke about all of that sounding true-to-life] Shock of all shocks, the virgin didn’t really deliver on the first try. But yes, it IS shocking. You mean, the man wasn’t an expert who could swiftly bring a more experienced older woman to orgasm? Nope. And even better, she didn’t pretend to either. Sure, it was nice, but she didn’t lie to protect his masculinity, nor was she cruel about it.
On their second try, she did have an orgasm and when he thinks he hurt her, she gives him a bit of a lesson. That’s followed by her going down on him, a scene in which the shots focus entirely on his pleasure. I’ve racked my brain trying to justify why a man’s physical reaction is groundbreaking for women since it seems like all scenes are for and about men’s pleasure and what I’ve come up with is this: she is in control in the scene. He’s vulnerable, completely at her mercy. And frankly, the scene caters to the viewers who would find Jamie sexy. I feel like there’s something else too, but I just can’t put my finger on it. Perhaps someone out there can express it more articulately than I can.
The third scene is more tender, more intimate than the others to show that it’s not just about sex, they are truly falling in love. At the end of the day, that’s what I loved so much about the episode and Ron Moore’s depiction of the night. It felt realistic. It wasn’t a home run off of the bat. There was awkwardness and complicated feelings, but it was also progressive, which is usually how it goes in real life. And hey, to top all of that off, a woman wasn’t shamed or violated or there simply for the male gaze.
Outlander isn’t completely faultless, especially in terms of feminism, but I’m finding it to be the boldest show on television right now in it’s depiction of sex. Game of Thrones (and other shows) have a lot to learn in its wake, especially as women are getting increasingly frustrated with the lack of realism and respect.