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.
For More Information
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- Putting women in combat: a quick look at the other side of the debate.
- About the future of an American army with women as combat soldiers.
- Women in combat are the real Revolution in Military Affairs.
- News about the battle for women’s equality in our armed forces.
- Martin van Creveld looks at Amazons: women warriors in the real world.
- Martin van Creveld looks at the experience of women in the Israel Defense Forces.
- Martin van Creveld: women are a problem in the military, not the cure.
- Will feminizing the Marines win wars?
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).