Women at War: The Changing Role of Woman in Contemporary American War Film
This PhD project concentrates on gender representation in four contemporary American war films portraying strong female protagonists at the center of their narratives: Zero Dark Thirty (2012) by Kathryn Bigelow, Camp X-Ray (2014) by Peter Sattler, Sicario (2015) by Denis Villeneuve and Eye in the Sky (2015) by Gavin Hood. There has been extensive research on gender representation in classical American war films, but a recent change in terms of the portrayal of female characters has gone largely unaddressed in cultural and film studies. In this project, I propose that female protagonists of the referred films, with the characterization based on qualities such as strength, ambition, and dedication, portray neoliberal womanhood(s) and the gradual integration of women into military structures.
Asserting that this integration process starts in the 1970s with the end of conscription during the presidency of Richard Nixon, I illustrate how the American army gradually morphs into a neoliberal structure, as Deborah E. Cowen suggests, and militainment emerges as a significant concept since the media acquires a distinctive position in portraying American military politics. In the meantime, second wave feminism starts to prioritize the recognition of women on the market in an indirect compliance with neoliberalism as Nancy Fraser suggests. Combining these two historical turning points in terms of gender politics and the rise of neoliberalism, I develop the term “neoliberal womanhood”, with reference to Teresa de Lauretis’s theoretical conception of woman and women, to construct a perspective on the women integrating into male dominated spheres such as the army and other military institutions.
As part of this process, American war cinema adapts itself to this shift and starts portraying strong female characters. In the context of this shift, I assert that identification as a filmic narrative tool is utilized to convey the political agenda of each war film to the spectator. Coining my own terminology of identification in relation to the narrative dynamics of each film, I scrutinize the four films with their historical, political, and ideological agenda in mind and demonstrate the diversity of neoliberal womanhood(s) through a closer look into Maya in Zero Dark Thirty, Amy in Camp X-Ray, Kate in Sicario and Katherine in Eye in the Sky.