Terry Dresbach

Outlander Costume Designer

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


AllisonL, I definitely see your point(s)! Having reread the books just recently, I was struck (again) by what I felt was the pairing of equally strong, equally deserving-of-one-another characters. I suppose then, watching the show, I was surprised to see (what I felt was) a less mature Jamie characterized as “catching up” to Claire, setting out on a path to eventually form a pairing more similar to that enjoyed in the books. We see many moments in the first novel wherein Jamie is deciding and acting rather than reacting. In the show, less so. Book-Claire is a strong character, proactive and resourceful, and I see more of her in the show than I do Book-Jamie. Many of his “strong” book moments have been cut. I suppose I am curious as to what prompted the writing team to change this aspect of his character, and on what kind of journey they plan to take him, and whether that plan includes having him become more like (my impression of) Book-Jamie or rather transforming him into something quite different.

And I totally agree with you — an emotionally vulnerable man is not feminine, nor an emotionally strong woman masculine. My comment regarding feminine/masculine traits was in part based on my interest in the perception of mainstream audiences, and what they might identify as weakness or strength, and how these characteristics may sometimes be exhibited through stereotypical “feminine” or “masculine” actions for the sake of expressing subtleties of character to a wider audience. If someone isn’t looking for gender roles in characterization, I wonder how many tropes they’d not think twice about because of the way these identifiers are so hard baked into our societal mindset.

Because television is so visual, we “see” actions often without additional description, and must as individuals interpret expressions and body language to understand the depth behind the dialogue. In a traditionally patriarchal sense, displays of emotion are more often tied to women; stoic calculation more in the realm of men, and perhaps, as producers of mass television, it’s easier to stick to easily referenced “norms” for the sake of clarity? Obviously the show runners are invested in creating interesting and complex characters, and I wonder how much they’ve intended to elaborate on Jamie’s and Claire’s complexities by drawing upon connections to traditionally held ideas of Man and Woman.

And so, my question was perhaps more about why the viewing audience might still identify these traits as belonging to a specific gender, considering the efforts many feminists and equal rights supporters have gone to in order to lessen the grip these ideas have on the Western mindset, and whether the team behind the show is tapping into this particular mindset as a way to tell the story.

But the glory of all this is the subjective lens through which we can view it, and the discussions we can have about our personal experiences with the material. Thanks for reading and responding to my post!