Terry Dresbach

Outlander Costume Designer

Reply To: On Objectification of Sam, et al


Hello! I posted a little something earlier today that seems to have touched a nerve. Terry asked that I add it here, so I will be pasting it below. Thanks for reading!

Link: http://www.twitlonger.com/show/n_1sd2jub?new_post=true

The whole thing:

Can we please stop talking about Sam Heughan’s ass?
For the uninitiated, Sam Heughan is one of the stars of the popular new television show, Outlander, which airs on the Starz network. The show is an adaptation of the wildly popular series of novels by Diana Gabaldon. Heughan plays Jamie Fraser, a charming, fierce, and yes, incredibly handsome 18th century Scottish highlander. As a reader of the books, I can attest that Heughan’s portrayal of Jamie so far has been sublime. He has so thoroughly surpassed anything my imagination had conjured up that I can’t even remember my own image of Jamie before Sam. He is that good.
But that isn’t what people are talking about the most. They’re talking about his ass.
Much has been made of how the television version of Outlander is breaking new ground as a show that caters to the female gaze. This is not just because the camera gives equal time to appreciating the male and female form. Part of what makes Outlander so different is that the heroine, Claire, is smart, tough, and a fully engaged sexual being. In Claire, we get to see a female character who actually gets to enjoy sex on her own terms, without the excessive boob bouncing and porn star vocalizations that are a requisite part of most other bedroom scenes on television today. It is kind of a revelation. I do wonder, however, if one lingering shot of Sam Heughan’s bare backside in the seventh episode of the series may have set off a perfect storm, leading women around the globe to lose their minds and perhaps their sense of appropriate boundaries in the process.
Readers of the Outlander books have been waiting a long time to see their vision of Jamie and Claire come to life, so the television series has been met with Beatles-coming-to-America levels of enthusiasm. Undeniably, though, the moment fans have all been dying to see was the wedding, which took place in the seventh episode.
I’ll be honest. The wedding night is hot in the book. It was even hotter on screen. It doesn’t hurt that Sam Heughan and the lovely actress who plays Claire, Caitriona Balfe, are both gorgeous and in various states of undress for the bulk of the episode. So, yeah. I get the giggling like a fourteen year old. But what I don’t get is the objectification. I won’t say I don’t understand the impulse, but I simply cannot stand for it.
The peacemaker in me wants to keep softening my outrage with caveats like “maybe I am just a prude” or “call me old fashioned,” but here is the thing: if a group of men were making these same kind of comments in a public space (like Twitter or the comments section of an article) about Caitriona Balfe, we would all be horrified. We would call it creepy. We would talk about how she is a person and not an object. We would remind commenters that she took this role for the character, not the chance to be naked on camera. We’d probably say something along the lines of “Bugger off, perv!” and tell them to get a life. And thank goodness for that. I am glad that we have reached a point where we speak up when we see this kind of thing happening. So I think what makes me uncomfortable is a tacit acceptance of this same kind of behavior because we are women and the person we are catcalling this time is a large, strong man with a good sense of humor.
Part of what of sets Outlander apart from your average bodice ripper (time travel, historical figures, and a surgeon-heroine who makes ether and penicillin in her spare time not withstanding) is that Claire and Jamie’s relationship is a marriage of equals. This radical notion–that they are both worthy of the same respect, regardless of gender and in defiance of prevailing culture–is hard won. The circumstances of their story may be supernatural, but the portrait of how two people learn to trust and respect one another feels very authentic. I suspect that is what resonates with so many readers.
Outlander’s author Diana Gabaldon seems to understand that there is nothing sexier than being seen for who you are and respected for it. All kilts and accents aside, the core of what makes Jamie swoon-worthy is the way he learns to respect his wife. So it feels somewhat incongruous for admirers of this character to distill what is interesting about him down to a discussion of the bare ass of the actor playing him.
Feminism in its purest essence means believing that women and men are worthy of the same rights and treatment. It is the feminist in me then, that is bothered by the objectifying of Sam Heughan and his ass. In order for the radical notion of equality to work, the blade has to cut both ways. If I don’t want men to think it is acceptable to talk about my body like it is an object, then I need to model that by extending them the same courtesy.
Maybe you are rolling your eyes and thinking, “Lighten up! We’re just having a little fun. He can take it!” That’s fine, just as long as you would be satisfied by the same explanation from the construction worker who hollers out “Nice tits!” when you walk past. Any small thrill we get from the role reversal–women objectifying men–is false power. As women, taking our turn as the ogler will not even out the historical score of objectification. Nor do we get a free pass just because an actor happened to be naked on our TVs one night. Any arguments about how the actor knew it was in the script and he shouldn’t be shocked that people noticed sounds dangerously close to asking a girl what she was wearing when she was groped at a party. It is a flimsy defense for acting as we please.
I don’t think anyone involved with the show could have anticipated the insane response to Sam Heughan’s naked ass. Even so, it is the responsibility of the audience to find a way to control ourselves. Since there have been no new Outlander episodes in the last two weeks, some of the hubbub surrounding Heughan’s rear view seems to be dying down. But the season is only half over, and executive producer Ronald D. Moore has hinted that there will be more nudity to come in the second half of the season. So we likely haven’t seen the last of Jamie’s ass. With six months before the next episode airs, perhaps we can use this time away to consider how to be respectful viewers next time we see it.
Now, it is entirely possible that Sam Heughan really doesn’t care that his backside is the object of such scrutiny. Maybe he thinks it is hilarious that he is in possession of the ass that launched a thousand internet memes. Perhaps too, he is so good-natured that he will never, ever grow weary of every tittering interviewer asking him what he wears beneath his kilt. Even so, I’m not sure that gives us free license to talk about his naked body and what we might like to do with it as though he has no agency of his own in these matters. Whether or not it makes him uncomfortable, it does make us look uncouth. And more importantly, while I do not know the man, I am willing to bet MY ass that HIS ass is by far the least interesting part of him.