Week after week, the Outlander audience, almost half of which are middle-aged white women, rooted for Claire as they decided to condemn a strong woman in reality.
For three years, Diane Gabaldon’s world of Outlander has taken over the Starz fall lineup. The historical romance is about a WWII nurse who travels back in time to the era of the Scottish Highlander, doing so while vacationing in Scotland with her husband.
The woman, Claire (played by Caitriona Balfe) meets one of the highlanders named Jamie (Sam Heughan) and a romance ensues. Their relationship then jumps between different timelines and is what dominates the show and engrosses millions of viewers each week. During those three years of the show’s existence, the show’s audience rooted for the traits of strength and independence in the lead character Claire, but then attacked those same traits when they appeared in a woman who sought the highest office the US. That woman was Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election.
I am a fan of the show, and one of 2.5 million women who Business Insider claims watched during the 2015 premiere season. The show is a favorite escape for women, with 64 percent more female viewers than male. The audience that formed for the show became middle-aged women. Middle-aged white women. They were almost half the female viewership that first season.
The showrunners were watching and planning accordingly. They even had a theory as to why the audience was largely older adult women. According to Jethro Nededog of Business Insider, the reason for the female-centric audience is feminine touch throughout the show’s production. He quoted a person close to production who mentioned that the women see in Claire, “what a strong woman looks like, how a strong woman sounds and that women at any age can have full lives.” Claire continued to be this character through the next season.
Meanwhile, another strong woman in real life sought support in 2015 and 2016. Hillary Clinton became the first woman nominated to become President of the US. However, she would find during those final months of the campaign (and as season 2 of Outlander was ramping up) that her biggest foil was the very women who spent their Saturday evenings enthralled in the escapades of “a strong woman.”
After the election, the CNN published “Exit Polls,” revealing that 52 percent of white women voted against the “strong woman”. In fact, white women ages 25-54 were the biggest Hillary-haters carrying 46% of the vote against the candidate. That age group also contained the million Outlander fans who stood behind the same traits in their Claire.
Meanwhile, every week during the election and even after, the same women who would destroy the chance for the first female president, watched eagerly as strong, independent, fallible, and sometimes morally ambiguous Claire navigated two separate time streams. She has killed men, lied, cheated on her husband Frank (Tobias Menzies) and even forced him to raise another man’s (Jamie’s) baby. This was not a perfect character, but week after week, the Outlander audience, almost half of which are middle-aged white women, rooted for Claire as they decided to condemn a strong woman in reality.
The third season brought a more independent woman. Claire used her nursing experience to earn a spot as the first women in the Harvard medical school. Fans were skeptical about her entry. Some even thought Frank earned her a spot in the first-year class. So many fans though tout Claire’s toughness, smarts, and skills.
When Jamie and Claire first meet and she takes control of the situation. Classic Claire. Good on Jamie for loving a strong woman. #Outlander
— Michaela (@MammaMickie) October 1, 2017
— Rachel Fisken (@mrsmamarfisken) September 17, 2017
— SamCait Heart (@SamCaitEyes) September 12, 2017
Those same fans grew angry when Claire’s political views are dismissed by a room full of Frank’s Harvard colleagues. The same women mourn when Claire’s expertise and birth plan are ignored and the woman put under anesthesia to miss the birth of her child.
Watching Claire's birth scene still makes me angry. #Outlander
— Lisa Tibbets (@ljtibbets) September 17, 2017
i was struck by 2 moments u mention: faculty party & birth & Claire speaks up against dismissive men.reminded me that progress is slow but⬆️
— michelle neumann (@michelleneutim) September 13, 2017
That scene bothered me so much…the fact that Claire couldn't be awake to see the birth of her child 😢 unfortunately that's was how it was
— 💛 Grazia 🍁🍃🍁 (@GraziaMgb616) September 13, 2017
The broken heart and crying face emojis tell where the audience empathized with Claire. She was still the viewer’s escape. Her travels, her bravery. Claire was everything that these women wanted to use to rip Hillary apart. They cheered as she stood next to the first black man, Joe Abernathy (Wil Johnson) in the Harvard class, a support that did not waver as she graduated and took work as a surgeon. They praised her as the mother, the professional, and the strong woman they all wanted to become.
Meanwhile, the conservatives that middle-aged white women voting in accordance with, were using Clinton’s proximity to the first black President as a handicap. They saw her potential to be the first female President as a threat and not the same type of opportunity for change that it was for Claire. Joe and Claire were a powerful team that blazed trails in their field. Obama and Clinton had begun to do the same and could have continued, but the same people rooting for Claire and Joe seemed to have a hatred for Obama and Clinton that was deep, personal.
So why would these women root for Claire but vote against a real-life representation of the women? And we all know, now, the reasons that the women from this group gave for voting against Clinton in an election where the opponent had been outed a few times as a misogynist who even treated women close to him like objects. These women claimed that Trump was a better business man than Clinton was a trustworthy feminist. They also claimed that the oppression Clinton spoke of was not something they experienced, so it did not seem like a concern when they were voting. Some cited, “Benghazi,” while others were obsessed on, “her emails.”
The most plausible reasoning came year later however. In September, social scientists released “Gender Linked Fate, Race/Ethnicity, and the Marriage Gap in American Politics.” The study found that real reason white middle-aged, married women voted against Clinton was because their husbands told them to, according to The Guardian. The study found that women who were married to conservatives were more likely to be pressured to share their husband’s political ideals. These women also saw policies that forced equality as endangering their husband’s financial status and that of the family. These women give their votes over to the men who protect them instead of keeping that vote and protecting their own best interests.
Being a Claire takes standing up to the husbands and men in a woman’s life, a feat that is often as scary as it is brave. It also means discomfort in transitioning from dependence on misogyny to independence. The fear, bravery, and discomfort are all things that middle-aged white women fought so hard to overcome in their own way. Instead of risking the it all to become a Claire, for these women, it is easier to wait for that weekly escape. Too bad it their preference for placing their heads in the sand cost the country four years under the care of a racist misogynist.