Academic journal article Women and Language

Rescuing Patriarchy or Saving "Jessica Lynch": The Rhetorical Construction of the American Woman Soldier

Academic journal article Women and Language

Rescuing Patriarchy or Saving "Jessica Lynch": The Rhetorical Construction of the American Woman Soldier

Article excerpt

Abstract: Female soldiers are consistently challenged for their involvement in the military. They are excluded from combat roles and find it difficult to advance through the ranks (Carter, 1998). This challenge is perpetuated by media representations of female soldiers. Our research examines how media representations of female soldiers separate their feminine identity from their military identity. Specifically, we perform a feminist and critical rhetorical analysis of news stories on Private Jessica Lynch. First, we argue that the media reproduces traditional patriarchal roles for female and male soldiers. Next, we argue that Private Jessica Lynch was singled out for extensive media coverage because she could easily fit a submissive female archetype. Finally, we argue that Private Lynch's rescue is a rhetorical act to demonstrate U.S. Military prowess that encourages masculine constructions of warrior heroes. This demonstration aggravates the rift between the roles of "women" and "soldiers" in the U.S. Military and perpetuates the "female soldier" paradox.


   She was hiding in her bed just after midnight
   when the Special Ops team found her, in a room
   on the first floor of Saddam (naturally) Hospital
   in An Nasiriya. A soldier called her name, and
   without answering she peeked out from under
   the sheets. 'Jessica Lynch,' he called, 'we're
   United States soldiers and we're here to protect
   you and take you home.' The American
   approached the bed and took his helmet off and
   she looked up at him and replied: 'I'm an
   American soldier, too' (Adler, 2003, p. 42).

Private Jessica Lynch's words summarize the story of many women in the United States military. It is a story of struggle for acceptance and validation in one of the most masculine of occupations. The military in general and war in particular are characterized as men's domain. The military sustains traditional notions of masculinity (e.g. physical prowess, autonomy, and competitiveness) and femininity (e.g. fragility, nurturance, and collectiveness). As Turpin (1998) observes, "masculine values must be privileged over feminine values, and masculine values become equated with military ones" (p. 16).

The hierarchical and patriarchal structure of the military epitomizes social organizing in American society. Turpin (1998) argues that "militarism relies on patriarchal patterns and patriarchy relies on militarization" (p. 15). With men in the simultaneous roles of protector and fighter, their support of war efforts is inextricably linked to their enactment of masculinity. But for men to enact masculinity in American culture, women must enact femininity (Enloe, 1989; Nantais & Lee, 1999). Women are culturally defined as being in need of protection and become symbolic constructions of what men need to fight for. Nantais and Lee (1999) argue that "the protected inadvertently justify the actions of the protector" (p. 182). Therein lie the dialectal tensions associated with the representations of women and men in the American military. The military, war, and sexism are interconnected (Turpin, 1998).

In war, as in all facets of American life, we are reminded of the profound impact of the social construction of gender. "Since war generally dramatizes women's powerlessness and suffering and the way they are forced into roles required by soldiers in a male dominated society, liberating women might naturally require their symbolic equality on the battlefield" (Carter, 1998, p. 34). DeGroot (2001) argues that supporters of gender integration view good soldiers as being socially constructed therefore women and men can both fulfill these roles. Enloe (1998) agrees and argues that, "Although the most persuasive socialization strategies succeed because they manage to portray soldiering as a 'naturally' manly activity, in reality socialization requires explicit and artificial construction, sometimes backed by coercion" (p. …

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