G.I. Jane: “Empowering” Language

In G.I. Jane, there is a distinct turning point for O’Neill during her SEAL training. In a single moment, her hard work and perseverance pays off; O’Neill is finally recognized by her peers as one of them. She’s finally proved herself to her male comrades as an equal. You’d think it was her refusal to give up information to Master Chief in a brutal drill that included enduring some serious torture. You’d think it was in her choice to fight back, to kick his ass, to not give up. Or maybe, it was her demanding her comrades not give up information for her sake, even though she was beaten and bloody. No, it was the moment after Chief Master asked her to “seek life elsewhere” after telling the male trainees that “her presence makes us all vulnerable.” O’Neill responds, snarling at Master Chief:

Suck my dick.

To this, her fellow trainees erupt in cheers, banging on and climbing up the fenced pen they’re locked in, like they can’t possibly contain their testosterone-fueled expression of solidarity. Here, O’Neill earns their unified support, thus rendering her their equal. Master Chief nods his own approval after witnessing the reaction.

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My issue isn’t with the indisputable vulgarity of the phrase “Suck my dick.” Instead, my concern is what this heavily gendered phrase mean in this context. What does it mean coming out of O’Neill’s mouth? Is it ironic or witty, meant to show her ownership, subverting the implication of the phrase that you supposedly need a penis to be powerful? In uttering it, she clearly shows that this assumption is wrong. Sure, I can read it like this. Her empowerment comes from taking words that are supposed to be belong to men, that are supposed to be out of her reach, just like this training.

Although I can read it that way, I still don’t. Why does she need this male phrase, even if she defies its gendered meaning in her use? My first thought, however silly, was I wonder what their reaction would be if she was like, suck my tit (I actually have heard this said before, which is why I thought of it) or something along those lines? Then I realized women don’t have a phrase that works in the same way, which is okay, given the phrase is meant to be offensive, born out of a sexist conception of sex.

What I hated about her use of “Suck my dick” was its effect, its reification of male empowerment–that she needed to identify with men to then be empowered by men. The language equalizes her and only through being “equal” is empowerment even possible. But what is the value of equality when it means conforming to men? Why isn’t proving herself as a combatant enough? Why does she need to prove herself as a male combatant?

O'Neill cheers

Following this experience, the male trainees invite her to a bar like “one of the guys,” and they cheers to the transformative phrase.

I’d love to hear other takes on this scene and O’Neill’s choice of words and the subsequent effect.

3 thoughts on “G.I. Jane: “Empowering” Language

  1. Great close reading. I completely agree. Before this class I would have viewed this as an act of becoming equal, but as we have discussed in class, equality shouldn’t not be about achieving acceptance into the dominant class or hegemonic beliefs. That is to say, equality for women should not take the form of becoming a man; and in relation to your example, O’Neil should not be accepted because of her words frame her as a man, she should be viewed as equal based on her different but equal skills.

  2. I, too, agree. I remember watching this a few years ago and laughing when O’Neill said that. Now, I find it much more problematic. Her use of a male phrase only perpetuates and reinforces that power.

  3. Wow, I’m really glad you caught this- while watching the movie, I didn’t think twice when O’Neil said “suck my dick”.

    It really is sad that it took O’Neil saying “suck my dick” for the squad to accept her. Equally sad is the fact that O’Neil’s acceptance and equality came in the form of “being one of the guys”. These two occurrences reflect the fact that the army isn’t for men and women. According to G.I. Jane, the army is for men, and for those women who defeminize themselves enough to become “men”.

    I also have issues with the phrase “suck my dick” in general. Gendered insults like “suck my dick” and “stop being a pussy” need to disappear because in most cases, masculine insults reflect strength while feminized insults reflect weakness. They perpetuate the mentality that the strong have dicks while the weak have vaginas.

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