Outlander Lessons: Why The World Needs More Goat Ladies (and Mamacitas)
Yes, Outlander features strong female friendships. But Claire’s triumphs also rely on women helping women with no strings attached, women like the Goat Lady and Mamacita.
Outlander is the gift that keeps on giving. Each time I rewatch an episode I gain a new insight or find a new moment for reflection. A few days ago I rewatched “Uncharted” (Season 3 Episode 11). The first time I watched the episode it felt similar to the much-maligned “The Search” (Season 1 Episode 14) — heavy on scenery, short on dialogue, and me wishing that we could just get on with it. The first half was a slow, laborious slog from the beach through the jungle and the second half was a race through the jungle back to the beach — all for the sake of Claire reuniting with Jamie. This time, though, I was impressed by something. Claire was only able to make that roundtrip beach journey with the help of two women.
If you think this is going to turn into a heartwarming description of female friendships in Outlander, you’re wrong. Anne Gavin has already done that better than I ever could. Instead, these are my thoughts on the magic of women helping other women without any kind of relational strings attached.
In the opening scene of of “Uncharted,” we see Claire literally over a barrel, washing onto the shore of a deserted beach. In the previous episode, Claire had jumped from the H.M. S. Porpoise knowing that it was her only hope of finding Jamie. Annekje Johansen, my beloved Goat Lady, masterminded the jump and shouted encouragement to Claire as she stood, uncertainly, staring into the dark water below.
We don’t know anything about Annejke’s backstory. What we do know is that she lives on a ship with a drunken husband and a tiny herd of goats. It appears to be a fairly miserable existence from my vantage point, but maybe it was better than most in those days. At any rate, what motivation would Annejke have to help Claire? If Claire had remained on the ship, she could have easily become the company to Annejke’s misery. They might have forged a friendship that would have made the days less lonely for both. If nothing else, they could have found solace in each other, the only two women on a ship full of men.
When the first escape plan was foiled by Captain Leonard (or is that Lieutenant Leonard?), Annejke was undeterred and formulated the idea to jump from the ship. She didn’t just take Claire to the edge of the ship and push her. She helped Claire prepare for the jump and the swim ahead of her. She shared information about ocean currents. Annejke didn’t just want Claire off the ship, she wanted her to survive and find her love.
Fast forward a bit. Claire is desperate for food and water after her two (or was it 15?) day jungle trek. She has been bitten by fire ants, violated by a snake, and used some survival skills that would make Bear Grylls proud. Claire loses consciousnesses near Father Fogden’s Funny Farm and we learn that she is being tended by the menacing Mamacita.
While Mamacita doesn’t exactly nurture Claire, she does keep her alive. Tying Claire to the bed seems a bit over the top until we realize that it is to keep Claire from scratching her bites. The drink of water that she administers looks vaguely like torture but it also parches Claire’s thirst. Mamacita prepares a bath for Claire but first has to point out that Claire stinks. She washes Claire’s clothes but casts a disapproving eye at Claire’s undergarments, no doubt thinking that she is a woman of ill-repute.
We know that Mamacita’s daughter was married to Father Fogden before her untimely death, but we don’t know why Mamacita is still here with him. Perhaps she cooks and cleans for him to ensure that another woman never takes her daughter’s place. Perhaps she stays with Father Fogden because he is the only remaining link to her daughter. We only know for sure that the weight of Ermenegilda’s loss hangs over Father Fogden and Mamacita and that they both still mourn her.
Claire is desperate to leave the house and get to St. Luis du Nord where Father Fogden says that she can then take a fishing boat to Cap-Haitien. Coco, however, has delayed the journey because he (she?) refuses to give Father Fogden a straight answer on whether or not it’s safe to travel.
When Claire hears of the Chinese sailor on the beach, she knows that the men from the Artemis are there and that Jamie is just a jungle 5K away. She pleads with Father Fogden for directions to the ship but he is lost in his grief for his beloved goat (seriously, what is it with the goats?). Mamacita shouts to Claire and points in the direction of the ship. She tells her to run and Claire does.
Does Mamacita help Claire because she’s moved by Claire’s desperation to find Jamie? Does she seize upon the opportunity to be rid of Claire so that Father Fogden will continue to live alone, haunted by the memory of Ermenegilda? Does Mamacita reach out, beyond her own grief, to give Claire what will always remain just out of her own grasp? All we know for sure is that Mamacita is Claire’s lifeline and she is the reason for that passionate beach reunion.
In my rewatch of “Uncharted,” I began to feel the powerful presence of women. In the book version of Voyager, it is Father Fogden, not Mamacita, who leads Claire to the ship. Karen Campbell and Shannon Goss wrote this episode and would have been responsible for the changes in the storyline. Were these women sending a message to their majority-female viewers or did they just switch up some of the details to advance the story? I would love to ask them! Until then, I have my own takeaways from the episode.
As women, we often reach out and help the women in our circles — our mothers, friends, children, and co-workers. We understand the importance of their presence in our lives and ours in theirs. We depend on these women for support in tough times, for shared laughter in the good times, and hugs (and shared glasses of wine) when life seems caught between the two.
How often do we reach outside our circles to help other women? How often, like Annejke, do we risk our own well-being to help a woman who is in a bind? How often do we, like Mamacita, help another woman albeit through gritted teeth and a less-than-generous spirit? How often do we even consider our impact on the lives of women that we aren’t bound to by love, family ties, or professional relationships?
I’ll leave you to answer those questions for yourself. I can say with complete honesty that, for me, the answer is not very often. In the last few weeks I have been moved time and again by the strength of women and the magical possibilities that exist when they harness their collective wisdom and resources. When I combine these real-life moments with my reflections on “Uncharted,” I am reminded that I need to open my eyes to the opportunities around me. Whether I’m Mamacita or Annejke on a given day doesn’t matter as much as my willingness to reach out and help another woman in need, not because I have to but because it’s the right thing to do. I may have, unintentionally, foreshadowed this post when my Season 3 Life Lessons post included a reminder that in times of crises there is always a Goat Lady and that you should look around for her. Since we’ve come full circle, I think my advice is that we should all try to be the Goat Lady that the world needs. To all of my Outlander sisters, I hope you can channel your inner Mamacita or Annejke and help make a moment in someone else’s day a little brighter, a little better, or a little more tolerable. We’re all in this together. Also, smash the patriarchy.
Nikki joined Outlander Cast as a writer in 2016 when she realized that her friends would no longer tolerate her constant talk of Outlander. Each time you read one of her blog posts, you are working to save those friendships. Both Nikki and her friends thank you. If you would like to read more of Nikki’s mostly nonsensical and occasionally heartwarming writings, you can visit her personal blog at sassynik.com. If you’d like to see pictures of beer and wine in lovely locations you should follow Nikki’s Instagram account. You can find her at @nikkigastineau on both Instagram and Twitter.