Outlander is a hit, but if you’re a man, you probably haven’t seen it yet.
The gist of it: in 1945, a British army nurse, newlywed Claire, accidentally travels back to Scotland in 1743, where she meets up, and subsequently shacks up, with a Highlander soldier, Jamie. The series, which airs on Starz, debuted last summer; the second half of the first season premiered on April 4.
Even though women would probably very much like men to watch Outlander — lots to learn, gents — the fantasy is watched primarily by women. Nielsen ratings reveal that an average of 2.5 million women have watched each episode this season, one million of whom are aged 25-to-54.
Business Insider conducted some interviews with women who love the show; the resulting list of reasons for their fandom is remarkably prudish, considering the content at hand: that female fans are into the “family values” or got hooked on the series after reading the books.
Here, some alternate theories:
Maybe women like Outlander because, unlike Game of Thrones, which offers up female nudity at a rate so astonishing it borders on the comical but rarely showcases the bodies of men, Outlander lingers on naked male bodies in nearly every episode. Maybe it’s because the protagonist is a time-traveling feminist — not a time traveler’s wife, but the actual agent of her own life story, a heroine who is making choices that determine her own fate even while trapped in a time period where such agency is unheard of — who insists on an equal partnership with both her husband from the past and her husband from her present.
Maybe it’s because her WWII-era husband performs oral sex on her in the series premiere, a gesture that shouldn’t be notable at all, considering women of premium cable give out blow jobs like their knees are magnetically attracted to the floor, but here we are. (We are only a few years removed, after all, from Blue Valentine getting temporarily slapped with an NC-17 rating because of a scene in which Ryan Gosling’s character performs oral sex on his movie-wife, played by Michelle Williams.)
Maybe it’s because while other shows have an uncomfortable way of treating sexual violence as something the audience is supposed to consider a turn-on (repeat offender Game of Thrones comes to mind, again) Outlander actually reckons with rape, and the persistent threat of assault Claire faces, as the violent horror that it is.
Or maybe it’s star Sam Heughan, who, for the uninitiated, looks like this.
Every time a movie or show that caters to female desire is successful, the general reaction always seems to be this cocktail of shock-and-mock. Isn’t it hilarious and crazy that so many women saw 50 Shades of Grey? Isn’t life one big bachelorette party when ladies show up at the cineplex for Magic Mike? Men want to see naked women so badly they will commit criminal acts in order to do it, and while there is a sense of outrage at that fact, there is, typically, no surprise.
But whenever women express that same desire, the response tends toward the “can you believe it?” in a scandalized, derisive tone. Or we pretend that women only care about sex as an afterthought and really watch a romantic fantasy like Outlander because they’re devoted to the books.
If you still haven’t gotten your mom a gift for Mother’s Day, may we humbly suggest you order her a subscription to Starz.