Terry Dresbach

Outlander Costume Designer

Reply To: On the TV portrayal of the "Strong Woman"


I do love me some good gender politics discussion.

So what traits does TV!Claire have that could be seen as masculine? She has sexually agency, and you could make the argument that she’s sexually aggressive (Episode 1, initiating sex with Frank; Episode 7, taking charge of all the sex), but I don’t see that as a solely masculine attribute these days. She’s not cowered by men unless physically threatened (backs away from Dougal in Episode 5 when he swaggers forward at her in that way that I love about Dougal) or trapped (Episode 8, BJR). [exception: she doesn’t stand down when Angus pulls a knife on her in Rent.] She speaks her mind, sometimes to her determent. I think all of these are masculine traits for 1743, but not for 1946 or 2015. And let’s not forget, she can tell a dirty joke, which shocked Rupert (after which he went somewhere and cried, I’m sure).

TV!Claire’s strength isn’t physical (masculine), it’s attitudinal, it’s intelligence, it’s foresight and forthright. She shows leadership capabilities, too, with taking charge of the poisoned boy situation and organizing the men for the arm amputation in Episode 6.

Flipping this for a moment, TV!Jamie has more feminine traits than Claire. He’s sexually inexperienced, more willing to be vulnerable, and caring and somewhat nurturing toward Claire. While he shows masculine traits in his physical strength and fighting prowess, and the gleams of leadership in the Laoghaire beating and diplomacy at the Gathering, to me he is more the feminine side of the pair at this point.

I like that Outlander flips these stereotypes, but as we discuss strong female lead, I agree that we never say strong male lead (we just say male lead) or weak male lead when he shows more feminine traits.

The lead is always the strongest character on the show, so I would say this phrase has less to do with gender identity and more to do with the focal character on the show. We’re seeing more shows carried by women so maybe soon we can one day do away with the moniker of strong FEMALE lead as if it’s something different.