Performance Paired With Power in G.I. Jane and Courage Under Fire

There are a lot of commonalities throughout G.I. Jane and Courage Under Fire, the most notable trait being female power and performance. The bulk of films we have watched this semester, other than Aliens, have not portrayed a female role of leadership however, the leading ladies of O’Neil (Demi Moore) and Captain Walden (Meg Ryan) illustrate emotional endurance, physical performance, and leadership on screen. As G.I. Jane and Courage Under Fire portray female leaders, they in turn encompass cultural conflicts surrounding women in power.

In Courage Under Fire and G.I. Jane we see O’Neil and Captain Walden take on difficult roles of female leadership (although O’Neil is hesitant at first). In both films we see male comrades reject female leadership and refuse to obey the orders of their female leaders. In Courage Under Fire this occurs when Monfreiz (Lou Diamond Phillips) refuses to give Captain Walden his M-16, and in G.I. Jane when two teammates ignore O’Neil’s orders to retreat, and instead enter a swamp to get a “souvenir.” These acts of defiance triggered sever consequences, the former example ignited a conflict that lead to Captain Walden’s death, and the latter lead to the torture of O’Neil. Interestingly these scenes are the climax of both movies, and while they portray the negative consequences of male doubt on female leadership they also, however, illustrate skill, leadership, and courage of female leaders.

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The rejection of female leadership within these predominately male occupations parallels with the longstanding female stereotypes that women in power will be “over emotional,” and that a female president would “cry too much.” These are clearly conveyed in the fabrication of Monfreiz’s description of the events of February 22nd, where he describes Captain Walden as hysterical and irrational.

G.I. Jane resonates with the obstacles females face when entering primarily male occupations, like the aim of making partner at law firms. Today, more females than males graduate from law-schools, yet a mere 16 percent of partners at law firms are women; and although I do not believe gender equality should take the form of women achieving male occupations I think the struggles of women who aspire to achieve that are critical to contemporary discourse around gender, and these films spark that discussion. G.I. Jane represents an overlooked obstacle of women putting other women down, when the senator who positioned O’Neil in the SEALs becomes the person who also removes her. Obstacles for working women do not solely take the form of men.

Collectively these films represent women who thrive in performance and power, and I would argue that the negative responses portrayed in the films (from male and female characters) represent the realities and obstacles of women seeking power or occupying powerful roles.


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