Summary: Hollywood worked long to create today’s support for opening all combat roles to women in the US military. On film and TV we watched countless women kick men’s butts. Here James Bowman reviews one of the two breakthrough films of 1997 about women warriors. We can understand our dreams better by examining them on the big screen.
Before Wonder Women there was
G I Jane.
By James Bowman, 7 August 1997.
From his website.
Reposted with his generous permission.
Photos added to his review.
Speaking of propaganda, there can be few more spectacular recent examples of the same than Ridley Scott’s G.I. Jane. Here is a film which has no single bit of characterization or plotting or dialogue which is not designed solely to persuade us that putting women into combat is right and reasonable and in keeping with the liberal ideal of racial and sexual equality.
Any conceivable objections on behalf of what, hitherto, has been the virtually universal practice of keeping them out are raised only to be shot down (if you’ll pardon the expression), and the vexed question of “gender norming” — the means by which women may be accommodated in the same jobs as men while being held to lower physical standards — is also by-passed. Instead, Mr.Scott simply pretends that the comely and lissom Demi Moore, to whom he gives the unisex name of Lt Jordan O’Neil, can opt to be held to the same standard as the men (and a Navy SEAL standard at that!) and still pass with flying colors. So what’s the problem?
Perhaps only stick-in-the-muds will object to such dishonesty, but there is also an internal incoherence in the portrayal of Miss Moore’s character. On the one hand she says she doesn’t “want to be a poster girl for women’s rights.” When she arrives at the Navy Seal training base, she assures her commanding officer that her being there is “not a statement.” She is merely seeking to advance her career “like everyone else, I suspect.” Leave aside for a moment the obvious truth in the Captain’s reply that “If you were like everyone else. . .we would not be making statements about not making statements.”
She herself, later on in the film, lays claim to a larger feminist objective, which is to give women “the choice” to go through the same training as the men. Don’t tell me you wanted that kind of job,” her wimpy boyfriend says to her.
“I wanted the choice,” she says to him. “That’s how it’s supposed to be.”
In other words, she sees herself as a feminist pioneer rather than a soldier. And isn’t that rather the point of the objection to treating the armed forces as if they were laboratories for social experimentation?
Moreover, at two critical moments in the film’s final passage, in which an actual episode of combat is meant to show that G.I. Jane can cope splendidly under fire, Scott fudges in the portrayal of her performance. In one, her commanding officer, Master Chief Urgayle (Viggo Mortensen) has to shoot an enemy soldier rather than allow her to try to kill him silently, and so gives away his own position.
Then, when he is almost killed himself as a result, the lovely Miss Moore is forced to call upon the assistance of a comrade in order to drag him from off the field of battle. Of course all ends happily, but unless Scott is sending some very subtle messages here, you’ve got to wonder at such undermining of his own position.
It is also raised as a disturbing possibility that the kind of brutalization which Miss Moore’s character is forced to undergo as a result of her “choice” has erotic overtones. In particular, in one scene redolent of sadistic or chicks-behind-bars-movies, the Master Chief, an aficionado of the poetry of D.H. Lawrence, beats the young woman severely and is then beaten by her in return.
Erotic imagery of her shaving her own head, or doing impressive feats of calisthenics, or showing off her body to the Master Chief in the shower, will remind us of why women have been kept out of combat units in the past—and why, in the present, otherwise sensible people must be going to see a movie like this.
About James Bowman
Bowman is a Resident Scholar at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.
He has worked as a freelance journalist, serving as American editor of the Times Literary Supplement of London from 1991 to 2002, as movie critic of The American Spectator since 1990 and as media critic of The New Criterion since 1993. He has also been a weekly movie reviewer for The New York Sun since the newspaper’s re-foundation in 2002. He has also contributed to a wide range of other major papers.
Mr. Bowman is perhaps best known for his book, Honor: A History, and “The Lost Sense of Honor” in The Public Interest.
See his collected articles at his website, including his film reviews going back to 1994.
For More Information
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Hollywood shows us films of women warriors!
Trailer to Starship Troopers (1997).
Trailer to G.I. Jane (1997).
Katy Perry joins the Marines.
Video for “Part Of Me” (2012).
A young girl (12) fights evil giant robots!
Trailer for Transformers: The Last Knight (2017).
1 thought on “Before “Wonder Women” there was “G I Jane””
I haven’t seen GI Jane in a long time, but one thing that struck me about it was that you had a character who was Senator or something, and she was pushing for women in the SEALS, but she herself didn’t seem to think the idea was going to end well. You had Navy characters who clearly didn’t believe in the idea but were trying hard to make it work, or at least escape blame when it all came crashing down. Then there was the main character, who didn’t seem to have thought it through very well when she joined and was surprised when she found she was just being used s a prop. In the end, Jordan grits her teeth, guts her way through the course, and gets a happy ending. (If you can call being in combat a happy ending.) But I never could quite decide how seriously even Ridley Scott took that happy ending. In the movie, we get to write an HEA even when it doesn’t feel earned or even credible. In real life not so much. The People In Charge seem unaware of this, and with respect to the military, it doesn’t seem to apply just towards policies about women.
Regarding Starship Troopers, it shouldn’t have surprised me that the guy who gave us Basic Instinct and Showgirls would give us coed shower scenes. I said to someone after the movie that if Neil Patrick Harris wandered into the wrong bar dressed like that, he was gonna get bent over the pool table. I think Verhoeven was trying to say something terribly profound about fascism. He may also have been trying to say something terribly profound about women in combat, but there was too much sheer goofiness for me to worry too much about what it was.
I read on a Red Pill web site somewhere that women are a lagging indicator. What he meant was that if you were having success with women, it was because you were doing other things right in your life related to your job, appearance, dress, physical and mental health, etc. Maybe there’s another side to that coin. We won’t have military failure because we have women in the military. On the other hand, maybe the fact that we are cavalier and don’t really think through what we’re doing in this area may be a lagging indicator of a cavalier approach to other kinds of military decisions as well. And we won’t be able to have the writers tack on an HEA when the dust settles, the smoke clears, and it’s time to bury the dead.