“The most dangerous thing around”? The Representation of Women Soldiers in U.S. 'War on Terror' Novels

Aktivitet: Foredrag og mundtlige bidragKonferenceoplæg


In this paper, I examine how U.S. women soldiers are represented in four War on Terror novels that feature women soldiers or veterans as protagonists: Helen Benedict’s Sand Queen (2011), Cara Hoffman’s, Be Safe, I Love You (2014), Brian Van Reet’s, Spoils (2017), and Whitney Terrell, The Good Lieutenant (2017).
These novels all engage with a recent “discontinuity in American social, political, historical, and cultural life” (CFP), namely the 2015 decision by the Pentagon to open all combat jobs to women. This decision was a significant break with a tradition of warfare as highly gendered: military service has long been seen as “an obligation of male citizenship and as a rite of passage to manhood” (Bell 2004, 481). For centuries, the cultural imaginary has defined the soldier based on traditional sex role behaviors, in which the male body has served as a central metaphor for power, strength, and risk-taking. The military and popular culture in the U.S. soldiers have hailed “their” soldiers as “warrior-protectors, necessary to shield innocents from the enemy…” (de Volo 2015, 55).
This tradition has been carried over into U.S. war literature, which for centuries has been an almost exclusive male space. As Cooper has noted, “women play a part in war,” but “in our culture ‘arms’ when juxtaposed to ‘woman’ evokes sexual and maternal love” (Cooper et al., 1989, 9). In war literature, as Smith points out, “to write about women in war is to write about gender – about what it means to be constructed as ‘feminine’ in time of war. But for men this is not an issue” (Smith, 2004, 4).
A central question in my paper is to what extent the American tradition of the war story can accommodate a female soldier as its central figure. By writing fiction that places female soldiers front and center in their narratives, and by constructing their protagonists as active combatants rather than passive, nurturing victims, Benedict, Hoffman, Van Reet, and Terrell expand and, well, revolutionize, the literary tradition of U.S. war novels.
Periode27. maj 2023
BegivenhedstitelNordic Association for American Studies (NAAS) 2023: Crises and Turns: Continuities and Discontinuities in American Culture
PlaceringUppsala, SverigeVis på kort
Grad af anerkendelseInternational