The representation of femininity in contemporary Vietnam War films

Miller, Andrew (2007) The representation of femininity in contemporary Vietnam War films. BA dissertation, University of Portsmouth.

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    I opened up my investigation with the statement that women have no place in the mythology of war, which is a suggestion by Carol Lynn Mithers. The original quote can be found in the introduction. My aim was to apply this statement to contemporary Vietnam War films, and determine if women, and femininity have a place in the mythology of war. First of all I introduced my investigation with Full Metal Jacket (Kubrick, 1987), because in my opinion it is one of the most interesting portrayals of femininity. This is for two reasons. Firstly because this film, unlike many Vietnam War films, actually contains some poignant female characters. The prostitutes and sniper allow an insight into women's involvement in the war and portray explicitly that women are the enemy. The second reason the film is interesting in its representation of femininity is the way the film portrays feminine characteristics as weak and as less powerful than masculinity characteristics. The way in which Sergeant Hartman seemingly ties to expel all feminine qualities from the soldiers to make them stronger connotes that strength comes from masculinity, not femininity. It is only when the troops have become masculine that the punishment stops, and they are sent to Vietnam to fight the enemy, which ultimately turns out to be femininity. I followed on with the work of one man, Oliver Stone. I chose to detail in depth Stone's work because of his actual involvement in the Vietnam War. This, I believed, would help give a justified and truthful representation of what the war was like, and therefore, give a truthful representation of femininity, however, I believed it was important to constantly keep note that the work of Oliver Stone is in fact fiction, despite its reliance on fact. With his first Vietnam War film, Platoon (Stone, 1986) he demonstrated the masculine and feminine characteristics that soldiers in the war would adhere to. Because of the lack of female characters in the film (and presumably the army) the masculine and feminine characteristics were dealt between the characters. The two Sergeants, Barns and Elias, are both male, but one is undoubtedly more masculine than the other. Chris Taylor is the private caught between these two sergeants. His actions to defend Elias portray him as choosing the feminine characteristics, but his killing of Barns portrays him as adhering to the masculine actions of Barns. Stone's second Vietnam War film, Born on the Fourth of July (Stone, 1989) takes off where Platoon finished. It details the life of a returning, crippled vet, who has trouble coming to terms with his involvement in the war. Because of his loss of legs and phallus, he has also lost his masculinity. It is only through what Susan Jeffords calls 'Debriding' that Tom Cruise's character can regain his masculinity. I consciously avoided discussing in depth Oliver Stone's third Vietnam War instalment, Heaven and Earth (Stone, 1993) for reasons discussed in the conclusion. My close study on Jane Fonda was an important and poignant part of the investigation. Being well known for both her on-screen and off-screen involvement in the Vietnam War, it became obvious that Jane Fonda would help give a huge insight into the representation of femininity from a different perspective. With her work in Coming Home (Ashby, 1979) she helped portray women dealing with the war back home in America. Her relationship with left-wing crippled veteran Luke and her right-wing husband Bob signified the political divide that was so apparent at the time of the Vietnam War. Her off-screen political involvement, and especially her infamous trip to Hanoi made her both an iconic political idol and a despised American 'traitor'. The work of Jane Fonda proved to give a huge insight into women's involvement in the war, both off and on screen. I finished by explaining the problems with my investigation, such as the lack of varied texts. Because of such in depth analysis on the films and areas I chose, some areas were overlooked. I gave a brief analysis of both Apocalypse Now (Coppola, 1979) and The Deer Hunter (Cimino, 1978) which explained both their brief representation of femininity and my reason for avoidance. I did the same for Heaven and Earth (Stone, 1993) and discussed why I didn't incorporate it into my investigation when it was an important part of Oliver Stone's Vietnam War trilogy. I briefly talked about an area which I found fascinating and would have liked to have examined in further depth, but it wasn't as relevant to my investigation as the work I had included. My analysis of Predator (McTiernan, 1986) and Aliens (Cameron, 1986) and how they acted as allegory for the Vietnam War is interesting because it takes an alternative approach to looking at the representation of femininity in Vietnam War films. I finished my essay arguing that when looking at Vietnam War films women do have a place in the mythology. War is predominantly a test of masculinity for men. To become a man is to become a warrior and to become a warrior one must go through the masculine test of war. Women's place in this mythology is to act as the obstacle. If one cannot become masculine, they become feminine, and if one is feminine, they are not a man. Femininity is the one thing men must expel if they are to truly become men.

    Item Type: Dissertation
    Departments/Research Groups: Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries > School of Media and Performing Arts
    Depositing User: Jane Polwin
    Date Deposited: 20 Jan 2011 12:47
    Last Modified: 28 Jan 2015 11:13

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