FILM THEORY & CRITICISM

The Lesbian Soldier and the Supportive Wife: Gender Roles and the Woman Warrior in G.I. Jane and Courage Under Fire

The question of women in the American military during the 1990s was rife with controversy due to the multiple sex scandals reported by the media from harassment to rape. Most notably among these were the Tailhook scandal of 1991 where 83 women claimed to have been sexually assaulted at the annual Las Vegas convention and the reports of sexual misconduct at the Aberdeen proving ground, in particular the actions of Staff Sergeant Delmar Gaither Simpson in 1996 and the charges of rape brought against him. Considering the scope of these scandals, their large presence in the media and popular culture is not surprising. The reoccurring problems in this gender-integrated military, one flooded with an unprecedented number of female recruits, was the subject of countless articles, studies and scholarly debates. All of these women were now part of a historically male sphere, a fraternity free of femininity, so the emergence of conflicts was inevitable. In the Tailhook scandal, "the young fliers who committed the assaults were . . . angry over the growing number of aviators who were flying combat aircraft" and it "revealed a remarkable depth of hatred for women in the Navy " (O'Neill 65 & 67). This tension set the tone for much of the popular culture of the time, including movies. There were several military films during the 1990s that addressed the gender-integration of the military in various ways, including the films G.I. Jane (1997) and Courage Under Fire (1996). These movies, though not portraying actual events, serve to highlight the controversies and tension present during the 1990s regarding women in the military.

Both films attempt to glorify the role of woman in combat role to show that gender does not matter in heroic deeds because women are just as capable of defeating the enemy. Courage Under Fire positions Capt. Karen Walden, played by Meg Ryan as a possible recipient of the Medal of Honor, the first woman to do so, pending the investigation of Nat Serling (Denzel Washington). The film follows her progress as a combat-placed female soldier and the men's reaction to her, all the while developing Serling's parallel storyline. G.I. Jane also depicts a female soldier, Lt. Jordan O'Neill played by Demi Moore serving in a combat role and how her fellow male soldiers react. However, several factors both in the films and in the atmosphere of the 1990s undermine this position. Simone de Beauvoir states that the woman in a phallocentric world does not stand as an autonomous being, instead "[man] is the Subject, he is the Absolute—she is the Other." This is certainly true in G.I. Jane and Courage Under Fire. To begin with these films set Lt. Jordan O'Neill (G.I. Jane) and Capt. Karen Walden (Courage) as a minority, the Other present in a group of male warriors, and positions them as the un-feminine woman which sets them as Other from the general public of women as well. In order to incorporate themselves somewhere, particularly in their chosen path as soldier, they must transform by replacing their femininity with masculinity; they have to regender themselves to be the "good soldier," a traditionally male construct. Though they do this to varying degrees, Jordan and Walden both end their stories firmly ensconced in the military and this good soldier status. However, they do not do this by becoming woman warriors akin to the Amazons but instead disavow their gender and pattern themselves after the male soldier. Because they want to succeed within the "boys club" and patriarchy, they physically and mentally alter themselves. If they are successful in this they are rewarded by a cessation of harassment and camaraderie among their fellow soldiers. Unfortunately, though they prove that they can be "good soldiers," Jordan and Walden fail to prove that woman warriors can succeed. Perhaps taking their cue from the examples set up by the sex scandals of the decade and the evidence that femininity was a liability in the military, these women instead work to become men, to prove their equality but only because they are able to take on masculine attributes and attitudes. In an environment steeped in problems regarding the gender-integrated military, a woman warrior or true female soldier cannot succeed which is supported by movies such as G.I. Jane and Courage Under Fire.

Courage Under Fire posterCourage appears to proclaim the good that can comes from a successfully gender-integrated Army with its honoring of a heroic woman but the truth was that the political environment of the 90s was far from showing any such success. The fact that the film addresses the media's involvement in the Gulf War with the character White House correspondent Bruno as well as references to the various scandals of the 90s with the comment stating Walden and her deeds are exactly what the military and the President need to help their public image. Bruno tells Serling as long as he does as Bruno expects and rules in Karen Walden's favor, so that President Bush can have a ceremony in which he can lean down and tie a "pretty ribbon around her [Walden's daughter] pretty little face" there will be no problems. This harks back not only to the Gulf War as a televised event but the need for positive press regarding women in the military. The '91 Tailhook scandal happened mere months after the end of the war (the timeline present in Courage) and the Aberdeen investigations were most likely underway during production of the film. A 1997 New York Times article titled "The Army's Problems with Sex and Power" addresses the fact that "[t]he coed military is a sexually charged place, but also one in which sex is regarded as a threat to good order and therefore must be governed by complex rules" (Sciolino). Considering this, both films address sexuality either by criminalizing it or by destroying it completely by regendering the women warriors into "good soldiers," a construct that requires masculinity.

Both Karen Walden (Meg Ryan) of Courage and Jordan O'Neill (Demi Moore) of G.I. Jane place themselves in a world of testosterone and "cock-swinging commandos". As women they "find [themselves] living in a world where men compel her to assume the status of the Other" (de Beauvoir), which not only hinders their acceptance into their respective units but creates unease among the men. In a world that views the enemy, those that they are fighting, as Other, having individuals within their ranks that are effectively viewed as the enemy makes their job difficult—at least psychologically. As William O'Neill posits in his article "Sex Scandals in the Gender-Integrated Military," "Tailhook 91 had been a warning, and by no means the first one, that military men deeply resented having women in their ranks" (64). Master Chief John James Urgayle claims that Jordan's presence in the elite SEAL team "makes us all vulnerable," something that is validated when Urgayle abuses Jordan, an action the men almost expect to happen to themselves but when perpetrated on a woman they cannot look. A gender-integrated team makes the men uncomfortable and hostile, culminating in violence towards Jordan during a training exercise and death for Walden. Jordan refuses to give into this violence or any of the previous instances of harassment, instead demanding harder trials and a single standard for training. She ignores any gainsayers, including the advice of another woman: "Ain't really none of my business but I say leave the bastard." Despite the abusive relationship Jordan experience with the Navy SEALs she refuses to leave but throws herself completely into the attempt to fit in.

Walden also refuses to fold, maintaining her rights to command the men even when suffering from a gunshot wound to the gut. Captain Karen Walden exists in limbo as a female helicopter pilot during the Gulf War. Serving at a time when legislation had just passed allowing females to hold such a role in active war zones, Walden occupies a tense position, both as a woman in the military and a commanding officer during war time. As Susan Linville argues in her book History Films, Women, and Freud's Uncanny, war serves "in general as a privileged arena of masculine display" (96), making Walden's presence jarring to say the least. In order for these women to survive they must shed their obvious femininity and try to fit in by becoming masculine. In other words, they must attempt to regender themselves, becoming less of a woman and more of a soldier.

This regendering of both Karen and Jordan happen to varying degrees of extremity and success. Karen Walker, despite her "butch" appearance and vulgar, masculine language, fails to ever successfully breach the boys club that exists in the Army and her squad. Jordan O'Neill, on the other, hand goes beyond sexuality or gender, stripping herself of all feminine traits in order to become a SEAL, someone that legally and historically must be male. Her success, and survival, comes from the transformation, whereas Walden's death can be blamed on her inability to command the respect of a male officer, resulting in the mutiny of her crew. Monfriez in particular believes that a woman cannot command and rallies the other soldiers of the unit to consider her credibility. Linville points to the existence of "sexist myths and double standards concerning female credibility" (95)—as seen in scandals like Tailhook where investigators were found to have posed inappropriate questions to female victims regarding their past sexual histories or promiscuity while ignoring the sexual past of the men involved. Sex, the core of male bonding in the military, lends itself to outrage and prejudice when present in female soldiers; men can have "a girl in every port" but should the female enlisted or officer think about extramarital sex, a death sentence falls upon their career. Both Karen and Jordan, in order to reach positions fairly accessible to men, had to "put up with a lot of shit to become an officer, had to work twice as hard as everybody else, be twice as good . . . never let her guard down, show any sign of weakness" (Courage). There was no time for tender emotions or womanly problems—just look at Slovnik's reaction to tampons in the SEALs barracks or the reaction to Walden's tears during the firefight.

Courage Under Fire posterIn G.I. Jane, Jordan is shown to be shedding her femininity, becoming if not a man, then at least an ungendered or masculine woman. The beginning of the film focuses on her beauty, her long hair and sexual relationship with Royce, a man that was commissioned at the same time but further ahead in the chain of command because of combat experience, something denied Jordan despite her requests. Royce possesses more ribbons than Jordan ever will based on the policies regarding women in combat. However, because of the machinations of Senator Lillian DeHaven, brilliantly depicted by Anne Bancroft, Jordan finds herself (precisely because of her beauty and femininity) thrust into a situation new to the female soldier: SEAL training camp. Once there she discovers that she must reinvent herself. Gone are the heterosexual relationship and the makeup—upon arriving she is wearing pearl earrings which quickly disappear after meeting with the C.O. Salem. The deeper she gets into the training, the more she resembles her teammates and the further she strays from her previously feminine body: "the battered but defiant heroine ‘muscles' her body through boot-camp endurance tests and proves her ability to ‘take it like a man'" (Linville 96). Despite the fact that DeHaven chose Jordan because of her appearance as a beautiful, feminine woman instead of the other "butch" candidates put forth, Jordan quickly casts off these trappings to succeed.

The transformation begins as soon as she decides to pursue the opportunity offered by DeHaven, with Jordan claiming power in her relationship with her lover Royce by telling him to "[g]et your dick back in here." This focus on the phallic permeates her experience throughout the rest of the movie, particularly with the presence of the ubiquitous cigar. In her initial meeting with the C.O. Salem, he tells Jordan that he is "not trying to change [her] sex." However, the very fact that he draws attention to this and expresses his opinions about women in the SEALs, he wishes to do exactly that. Her fellow trainees, all male, also want her gone and harass her endlessly hoping she will leave and their unquestioned dominance is restored.

William O'Neill states that women in the military during the 1990s were subjected to some type of sexual harassment daily and their only option was to "ignore it":

In most cases . . . stoicism is the most common response to minor acts of harassment—harassment being perpetrated by young men who have grown up in a gender-integrated society, many of whom have working mothers, and who have been taught in school from early on that women are equal to men. Elsewhere that may be so, but not at West Point, and not in the military as a whole (80-1).

Just like these women, Jordan is assailed with terms like "split tail" and statements such as "give me one night and I'll set her straight". As Jordan gets deeper into the training and becomes more masculine, the comment is repeated but now only a half a day was needed to set her straight because she is no longer completely woman and therefore not as out of place as she originally was. Jordan is outside of her sphere of the home and instead occupying the active, masculine world which makes the men uncomfortable and challenges their beliefs. As Simone de Beauvoir says in Second Sex, "[t]he ‘modern' woman accepts masculine values: she prides herself on thinking, taking action, working, creating, on the same terms as men; instead of seeking to disparage them, she declares herself their equal." In order to counter the men's belief of her as the weaker sex, Jordan demands a single standard of training and the right to bunk with the men, because she just "want[s] to go through like the rest of the guys." No longer is she a woman, but one of the guys, which she further cements by shaving her head. The cigar that she ignored earlier is now familiar to her, an appealing shape and even a habit she later embraces, smoking one with Royce as almost a celebratory victory over her sexual conquest of him. Her entire conversation with Salem debates her presence as a female and the way in which it damages the men and the Navy as a whole:

JORDAN: I think you've resented me from the start, sir.
C.O. SALEM: What I resent, Lieutenant, is some politician using my base as a test tube for her grand social experiment. What I resent, is the sensitivity training that is now mandatory for all of my men. The ob-gyn I now have to keep on staff just to keep track of your personal pap smears. But most of all what I resent, is your perfume, however subtle, interfering with the scent of my fine three-dollar-and-seventy-nine-cent cigar, which I will put out this instant if the phallic nature of it happens to offend your GODDAMN FRAGILE SENSIBILITIES! Does it?
JORDAN: No, sir.
C.O. SALEM: "No, sir" WHAT?
JORDAN: The shape doesn't bother me. Just the goddamn sweet stench.

The last comment directly addresses Jordan's opinion on sweet smells, including her own perfume, furthering her dismissal of her femininity. What a woman's presence in the military meant was in the news almost daily during the 1990s and whether or not it is possible is still questioned today. These warrior woman films bring to the forefront a hot topic of the decade, giving those countless women involved in scandals like Aberdeen or Tailhook a public face, one all movie goers can relate to. However, they also show what might happen in a gender-integrated military, one successful and the other tragic.

Jordan's eventual acceptance among her peers at training comes due to her transformation from feminine to masculine; a transformation complete with biological changes such as the loss of menstruation and body fat. She is obsessed with honing her body so that it could compete with the men, as seen by the montage of her working and camera shots focused on the development of her biceps and quads, not to mention the sheen of sweat that coats her (even after the beating and established camaraderie, the film often portrays Jordan working out). Yvonne Tasker comments in her article "Soldiers Stories: Women and Military Masculinities in Courage Under Fire" that "[m]asculinity is both culturally constructed and physically embodied. In this way Moore's muscular physique and shaven head in G.I. Jane signal her commitment to a masculinized military identity" (213). Jordan had become as close to a man as possible without surgery and by doing so claimed a position among her teammates, particularly during her fight with Urgayle on the Island. Urgayle beats and mimics raping her in an attempt to show the men how a woman's presence in combat is dangerous. Instead, the men, including his co-trainer, feel his treatment of a woman is "wrong" and turn their backs, somewhat proving Urgayle's argument since they are unable to stand the abuse of a woman which could lead to problems if they were to be caught in future missions. It is not until she claims male anatomy, stating her maleness, by telling Urgayle to "suck my dick" that they are able to cheer. In the end, Urgayle is not penalized for his actions, either by the Navy or the trainees, because once Jordan claims to possess a phallus his beating had not been of a woman but a fellow masculine soldier. This regendering was the only path Jordan had open to her if she wished to compete and find acceptance.

Conversely, Courage Under Fire places Walden as an already "butch," masculine helicopter pilot apparently integrated into her all male team, as evidenced by the picture of them all and her commanding position in the Army. However, as the film progresses the viewer sees exactly how much she has not succeeded. Walden's co-pilot Rady assures Serling of her heroics, in so much as he remembers, but does agree with his girlfriend as to her "butch" appearance. In other words, Walden's story begins as masculine, furthers shown by Rady's statement that "[s]he gave her life for those men. [s]he was a soldier." The first scene of her portrays Walden in charge of the helicopter and barking out orders to the men under her. Her voice is gravelly and the language full of curse words, including the word Fuck and all its various formations. Walden's attire is formless and identical to all the other soldiers around her, her identity as a woman questionable. However, as the film progresses and the viewer is privileged to her other teammates' stories, her gender not only re-emerges but repeatedly maligned. Karen's attempt to lead her team means that she must be masculine. Though the film begins with her in this position, that masculinity slips as the truth emerges. There are times later on in the film when she attempts to re-masculinize herself, such as her demand of Monfriez's gun during the standoff. Her command falls short and her femininity returns not only with her failure as the authority but with comments drawing attention to her status as woman: "I gave birth to a nine pound baby asshole, I think I can handle it" and the tears she shed during the firefight. A result of tension, she is othered by her "weaker" emotional reaction compared to the anger shown by the men.

The re-feminization of Karen leads to the dissolution of her power as a commander and ultimately her death. After showing her female weakness with tears, she challenges Monfriez about his weapon and his plans. However, since she was no longer a manly commander, Monfriez refuses to listen and must prove his superiority, screaming at Walden that "You're not taking my weapon cunt!"—another reference to her lack of phallus and the deficiency of her weapon during a war. Monfriez is threatened by a woman commander and "no one is more arrogant towards women, more aggressive or scornful, than the man who is anxious about his virility" (de Beauvoir). He must make her female and inferior ("cunt) while at the same time assert his own masculinity, which he does by physical superiority and manly language—"I don't get emotional about this shit." While Jordan's claim in G.I. Jane of male genitalia succeeded in masculinizing her, when Walden accepts the moniker of "cunt" she firmly places herself as feminine, repeated with her reference to childbirth. In the end, Walden is subject to a kind of rape (the penetration of a bullet from Montfriez's weapon, the same one she tried to emasculate him with by appropriating), one more real than what Jordan experiences because Walden maintains the female organs.

Tasker believes the "the co-existence of her military masculinity and her status as a military woman that makes Courage Under Fire such an intriguing movie" (213). Of more interest though is Walden's confused gender and sexuality. Arguably Walden's status as woman is a construct the male media in need of un-molested, successful female soldier—a little good press—and the emasculated soldiers under her command. Even her final words resemble those of a son, the product of a father pushing duty and technology, not a daughter: "I only hope that I made you proud, that I did my job, I didn't let down my country, my crew, my fellow soldiers." However, though she attempts to become a "good soldier" (a man), she cannot escape the fact that she gave birth and still possesses a feminine history. Because of these continually conflicting gender signifiers, Walden she can only be one of the guys once she has died for them, shedding herself of the womanly ties she had in life and giving her life for the team, the Army and ultimately her country.

Susan Linville posits that the breakdown of Ilario might be another reason Walden, and by extension many women in the military, cannot be successful soldiers, particularly commanders: "[Ilario's crisis] implies that the maternal Walden, no matter how fine a soldier she was, is the wrong sex to perform crucial tasks that the war genre demands: initiating young males into the symbolic order of war and inaugurating them into manhood" (111). Walden is unable to participate in the male bonding or serve as an example for the soldiers. Though as a commander she can attempt to protect them, as she does by covering Ilario's head during the fight, she is automatically banned from the male bonding and camaraderie that solidifies a team. This male bonding, similar to other male dominated or exclusive organizations, is based on sex (the discussion of it, conquests, similar biological reactions, and so on) and helps create a common mindset or trust, no matter what their religion or family life. The presence of a woman within the circle, one who holds a different view of sex (just by the sheer fact that she biological lies on the other end of it—the penetrated instead of the penetrator) and more importantly is the object of their sexual discussions makes that bonding more difficult. This sexist environment makes the battlefield of a gender-integrated military tricky, which is why the adjustment period of the 1990s raged with scandals such as Tailhook and Aberdeen. As William O'Neill says, "a gender-integrated armed force requires a kind of bonding for which there is small precedent in civilian life, and none in the military. It requires giving up that misogyny which is at once a shameful feature of service life and perhaps a necessary one, at least among combat units" (82). So despite her "butchness', Walden fails to fully conform to the masculine form required by the current Army by maintaining the remnants of a feminine life and female organs. Or as Simone de Beauvoir says, "[w]oman has ovaries, a uterus: these peculiarities imprison her in her subjectivity, circumscribe her within the limits of her own nature." Jordan on the other hand disavows such a feminine history, which is possible since she has not given birth to a child that would always anchor her to a title of mother and therefore woman, making it possible for her to become masculine and participate in the bonding.

Capt. Karen Walden's story is not told in her voice, or even another woman's, but by a group of men, some who never even knew her, and indicates the lack of a woman's power in "this man's army". It also seems to suggest that a living female soldier could never win the Medal of Honor: "Walden's self-sacrificing heroism is honored, but the particulars of her experience as a woman are finally subordinated to and subsumed within a universalizing vision model of military service" (Linville 103). Jordan receives a medal in G.I. Jane but only once she proves her masculinity by "pulling a 250-pound man" out of harm, something a woman could not do. Even then, the medal is not legally designated to her but just a gesture of respect from Urgayle indicating her place in his Navy. Walden's success depended on disappearing completely into the patriarchal military which required not only the masculinization of her person but her death as well. Had her voice been present, she would have been set apart as Other and not the same as the everyday soldiers present in the Army (men). Her story must be told by men because they are the determiners in war; a female voice would have meant that a heroic and triumphant commander could be feminine, something posited by theorist but unapparent in the 1990s military made up of the good ole boy network. The scandals running wild in the press and women continually accusing the military of sexism and assault, the decoration of such a prestigious an honor on a female soldier shows the world that the military views those women among them as just as heroic and powerful. However, the fact that it was awarded posthumously puts her firmly under male discourse and control again. A dead woman has no voice and her physical body is not there to remind everyone of her sex (particularly since her appearance in a head shot was considered "butch"). Because Walden made the ultimate sacrifice her presence can no longer stand to remind the world of her femininity. Instead these men can remember her as butch and a fellow soldier. The fact the award is placed on her pre-pubescent daughter, a woman in name only since her menstruation cycle has not begun yet, perpetuates the belief that the medal goes to a soldier, and not a woman—just a soldier like the rest of them.

Both films provide the women with a choice: that of a good soldier or a woman. In Jordan's case, she can be either a woman in a relationship with a safe desk job or a masculine warrior willing to renounce her previous life and appearance. Walden on the other hand must choose between soldier and mother. The existence of Walden's daughter seems to matter greatly to the males investigating her life, though the lack of women in the movie leaves the viewer questioning what impact it might have on women officials. Senator in DeHaven states in G.I. Jane that ‘[n]o politician can afford to let women come home in bodybags", whether it is because of the social male imperative that they protect women, the mother of man, or the fear men might lose their place of power. While Jordan most definitely choose to completely be a soldier in all its masculine glory, the audience must question whether Walden does the same. In the end she dies for the beliefs of a soldier (duty, honor, sacrifice) and remits her daughter to her parents' custody. Her letter home says that she "knows [Ann Marie] is in good hands, the best" indicates that she was not the best choice of parent, despite those stating she was a "great mother". Even her list of regrets places the fear of failure as a mother falls well below that of her failure as a commander—"What I'm really afraid that I might let my people down, my crew." These men are hers to protect and she cannot let them down, whereas her daughter is fine because she is with the best parents a girl could wish for. This is supported by the montage of scenes depicting Walden with her daughter which always take place outside the home, a feminine woman's socially prescribed place, and instead in the active, male sphere of the yard. The closest the two of them get to being inside the home is the porch scene, but here instead of performing motherly duties the viewer sees Walden in a "wife-beater" tee doing pushups. In the end, her abilities as a soldier are confirmed with the achievement of the Medal of Honor evidencing that the battlefield belongs more to Walden than her home does.

Conversely, the audience of Courage is given an ideal model of a woman in the military: the military wife. Not only are these women given their own voices, not visibly filtered through a man, but they are visibly feminine, occupying roles that are socially if not acceptable then unsurprising/anticipated roles. Each woman holds physical female traits, such as the long hair on Rady's girlfriend or the dresses always worn by Serling's wife and the secretaries in the Army office, and they tend to be portrayed in a supporting role. These women are understanding of their male counterparts, those military men that demand their attention and are not threatened by their presence. In the case of Serling's wife Meredith, she is never seen without a dress, outside the home area or without her children within hearing distance. She has presumably moved countless times in order to further her husband's military career and though she states that "It took me a long time to learn how to be an army wife without completely obliterating myself," it is immediately followed by her promising to learn a new way of life, a new identity as a civilian wife. The book Campfollowing: A History of a Military Wife details the experiences and expectations of a military wife:

[T]he military wife's role is basically the same today as it was when Elizabeth Custer crossed the frontier or when Elizabeth Helmick sailed to the Philippines. She is expected to be an uncomplaining helpmate, lover, mother, social butterfly, and volunteer extraordinaire. She must always be aware that the military comes first. When her husband gets orders, her campfollowing begins (Alt & Stone 138).

A military wife, the historically acceptable role of a woman in the military, exists firmly within the feminine and domestic sphere, albeit one that they sometimes have to create in a wigwam. Rady's girlfriend, with her long blonde hair and her tendency to fuss over him, set herself firmly in the feminine by her disparaging remarks about Walden, dismissing her as butch and sneering over "those women who want to be officers." These women are also placed in the scene as secondary to the men. Often in the conversations between Nat Serling and Meredith she is place behind him, her characters blurred out, forcing the audience to focus on Nat. Rady's girlfriend is also seated behind Rady during his interview.

Jordan also has a choice to make: stay an information analyst and the woman in Royce's life or take her chance with the SEALs, a world highly unfriendly to women. As Royce demands, "did I just miss a decade or something? Will I wait if you go off to war, is that what you are asking me?" This is something that countless women in history have done, but once the roles are reversed and the man is now expected to stay home and wait for his girl to return home safely, Royce refuses to make a commitment and leaves the bathtub. Jordan demands he "get his dick back in here" but ultimately leaves for Coronado bereft of a relationship. Because she fails to be the proper "military wife," her relationship fails. Furthermore, since she leaves the womanly domestic sphere to become a warrior, to man up, she loses not only her femininity but her previous sexuality. Her masculine attitude targets her as a lesbian, yet another othering factor. William O'Neill addresses the policies the Navy had in targeting those most masculine female soldiers, an unreasonable number of women charged of homosexuality:

Yet, the only sexual issue that seemed of interest to commanders was the extent which women under their command were lesbians . . . The greatest purge of all was conducted by the Atlantic Fleet in 1990. On July 24 all of the nearly 200 ships in this command were instructed to deal ‘firmly' with the ‘stereotypical female homosexual in the Navy,' who was described as ‘hardworking, career-oriented, willing to put in long hours on the job and among the command's top professionals.' This was a perverse double standard, indeed, since if fully applied, it would have made every woman eligible for promotion subject to discharge (78).

Jordan almost obsessive commitment to becoming a good soldier, a competitor in a masculine world, would slot her into this "stereotypical female homosexual." Since she is not visibly sleeping with anyone of the male gender, she must be a lesbian—particularly with that haircut. As one text puts it, "O'Neill's hybridized body positions her to be read as a stereotypical ‘butch' lesbian" (Owen et al 213). As the others of this book illustrate, the camera focus juxtaposes shots of a body clear of all "feminine fat" while still presenting a feminine face and breasts, a contradiction. The film even provides her an opportunity for a sexual interaction with one of her male teammates when Slovnik hits on her in the bar and instead of taking him up on his other, not that the audience can blame her, she leaves to go spend time on the beach with the "lesbian" soldiers from the base. This not only throws a shadow onto her sexual orientation but give the Navy a legal reason to expel her from a program they see as strictly "phallus required". Walden's sexuality is also questioned in Courage with the comments about her being "butch". However, because she fails to fully immerse herself in masculinity, removing all traces of femininity, the inquiry is not taken as far.

"[T]he court-martial of Sgt. Delmar Gaither Simpson in a cramped military courtroom at Aberdeen Proving Ground was also something else: an intriguing, even disturbing look at the messy, unresolved issues of sex and power within the ranks" (Sciolino). The modern day military, almost twenty years after Tailhook and Aberdeen, still experiences the growing pains of a gender-integrated Army or Navy. Though the idea femininity in a soldier is not as threatening, there still exists a certain regendering that occurs, the acceptance or pursuit of certain masculine attributes. There is still a phrase in the Navy about the women and there "standard issue ass," a reference to her unattractiveness or asexual presence. Because of the patriarchy still in command of the military, the existence of a woman warrior depends on her ability to conform herself to masculine expectations and not as a soldier that can succeed as feminine or not. In 1990 military films, particularly those focusing on combat, a woman must conform so much so that she loses all femininity and as a result loses her status as a woman warrior. Until the gender-integrated military enables a woman to be feminine while at the same time aggressive and ambitious or integrates a form of bonding not based on the objectification of women and sexual conquest, those women occupying spaces traditional slotted for their male counterparts will have to acquire masculine attributes in order to succeed, therefore voiding the possibility of a true woman warrior.

Works Cited:

  1. Alt, Betty Sowers, and Bonnie Domrose Stone. Campfollowing: A History of the Military Wife. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1991. Print.
  2. de Beauvoir, Simone. The Second Sex. Marxist Internet Archive. MIA, n.d. Web. 30 Nov 2010. <http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/ethics/de-beauvoir/2nd-sex/introduction.htm>.
  3. Linville, Susan. History Films, Women, and Freud's Uncanny. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2004. Print.
  4. O.Neill, William L. "Sex Scandals in the Gender-Integrated Military." Gender Issues. 16.1/2 (Winter 1998): 64-85. Print.
  5. Owen, A. Susan, Sarah R. Stein, and Leah R. Vande Berg. Bad Girls: Cultural Politics and Media
  6. Representations of Transgressive Women. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc, 2007. Print.
  7. Sciolino, Elaine. "The Army's Problems with Sex and Power." New York Times 05 May 1997, Print.
  8. Tasker, Yvonne. "Soldier's Stories: Women and Military Masculinities in Courage Under Fire." Quarterly
  9. Review of Film & Video. 19. (2002): 209-222. Print.

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