G.I. Jane- The First Woman in the Navy

G.I. Jane is a 1997 American action film directed by Ridley Scott  and starring Demi Moore, Viggo Mortensen and Anne Bancroft.The film tells the fictional story of the first woman to undergo training in U.S. Navy Special Warfare Group. It discusses the issue of gender, and how the gender stereotypes are layered on top of the biological distinction between male and female. The film contends the gender stereotypes, made by cultural beliefs, that dictate the relative masculinity or femininity of a host of the behaviors, traits, occupations, and roles. When we refer to the biological categories of male and female, we typically use the term “sex;” however when we refer broadly to the social constructions of masculinity and femininity, such as stereotypes and roles, we use the term “gender.” We make this distinction to avoid psychological essentialism: the tendency to view category members as sharing deep immutable properties that fundamentally determine “who they are.” So, to avoid essentializing cultural  conceptions of masculinity and femininity, gender essentialists view differences in how men and women think, feel, and act as biologically fixed and immutable. Therefore  they assume that new cultural conditions will not make men and women more alike.

In the film a Senate Armed Services Committee interviews a candidate for the position of Secretary of the Navy. Senator Lillian DeHaven (Anne Bancroft) fromTexas criticizes the Navy for not being gender-neutral. Behind the curtains, a deal is struck: If women compare favorably with men in a series of test cases, the military will integrate women fully into all branches of the Navy.

The first test is the training course of the (fictional) U.S. Navy Combined Reconnaissance Team (similar to U.S. Navy SEAL BUD/S). Senator DeHaven hand-picks Lieutenant Jordan O’Neil (Demi Moore), because she is physically more feminine than the other candidates.

To make the grade, O’Neil must survive a grueling selection program in which almost 60 percent of all candidates wash out, most in the first week (“hell week”). The enigmatic command Master Chief John James Urgayle (Viggo Mortenshen) runs the brutal training program that involves 20-hour days of tasks designed to wear down recruits’ physical and mental strength, including pushing giant ship fenders up beach dunes, working through obstacle courses, and hauling landing rafts.

Given a 30-second time allowance in an obstacle course, O’Neil demands to be held to the same standards as the male trainees. Eight weeks into the program, the Master chief ties her to a chair with her hands behind her back. Then he grabs hold of O’Neil and slams her through the door and then he grabs her from the floor she fell on. And then he dunks her head in ice cold water repeatedly in front of the other crew members. O’Neil fights back, and is successful in causing him some injury despite her immobilized arms. In so doing, she acquires respect from him, as well as from the other trainees.

Navy leaders, confident that a woman would quickly drop out, become concerned. Civilian media learn of O’Neil’s involvement, and she becomes a sensation known as “G.I. Jane.” Soon she must contend with trumped up charges that she is a lesbian, and is fraternizing with women. O’Neil is told that she will be given a desk job during the investigation and, if cleared, will need to repeat her training. She decides to “ring out” (ringing a bell three times, signaling her voluntary withdrawal from the program) rather than accept a desk job.

It is later revealed that the photo evidence of O’Neil’s alleged fraternization came from Senator DeHaven’s office. DeHaven never intended for O’Neil to succeed; she used O’Neil as a bargaining chip to prevent military base closings in her home state (Texas). O’Neil threatens to expose DeHaven, who then has the charges voided and O’Neil restored to the program.

The final phase of training (an operational readiness exercise) is interrupted by an emergency situation that requires the SEAL trainees’ support. The situation involves a reconnaissance satellite powered by weapons-grade plutonium that fell into the Libyan desert. A team of U.S. Army Rangers is dispatched to retrieve the plutonium, but their evacuation plan fails, and the SEAL trainees are sent to assist the Rangers. The Master Chief’s shooting of a Libyan soldier to protect O’Neil leads to a confrontation with a Libyan patrol. During the mission, O’Neil displays a definitive ability in leadership and strategy while rescuing the injured Master Chief, whom she and McCool pull out of an explosives-laden “kill zone.” With helicopter gunships delivering the final assault to the defenders, the rescue mission on the Libyan coast is a success.

Upon their return, all those who participated in the mission are accepted to the CRT. Urgayle gives O’Neil his Navy Cross and a book of poetry containing a short poem, “Self-pity,” by D. H. Lawrence, as acknowledgment of her accomplishment and in gratitude for rescuing him.

In the beginning, the injunctive norms or the socially enforced expectations of O’Neil’s participation in the training were very prescriptive, but later it started to decrease, and people and many agents started to support her.

This film reflects the conceived gender differences and whether they are real or could be changed. On one side evolutionary theorists view women and men as fundamentally different, physically and psychologically, such as: abilities, ways of thinking, and personalities. Gender stereotypes reflect inherent and stable sex differences that developed as adaptations that served to increase the odds of human survival .This stereotype was explained by evolutionary theorists who contend that men and women differ because of evolutionary biology. Men evolved to be competitive provider and aggressive  while women evolved to be caregivers and nurturing, putting into consideration that O’Neil was selected because she was more physically feminine than other candidtates. The evolutionary approach generates controversy  among gender researchers because it suggests an essentialistic view in which men and women fundamentally differ psychologically and physically. However the film does not support this approach much because when O’Neil was put into these hard very masculine training, she passed and did very well just as the men.

On the other hand, cultural or social theorists view gender as a social construction, a product of cultural ideals about femininity and masculinity. Social constructionists tend to believe that biological sex differences affect only a limited number of physical traits and that psychological differences between the two sexes are  culturally created. The two hands differ in that the latter points out that variation within each sex on any specific characteristic remains much greater than the average differences between men and women. This approach is much supported by the film. These differences are because of culture rather than nature. They become real because social forces compel men and women to enact gender rather than because sex differences are embedded in people’s genetic codes. This is expressed in the way Senator Dehaven played the card of O’Neil. She never believed she would succeed; In fact she was the one brought the pictures as evidence of O’Neil’s fraternizing with women. Social Learning Theory focuses on modeling or observational learning , acquiring behaviors by observing others. The cultural ideals about how how people ought to behave are passed from one generation to another as children learn them through observation. these cultural ideals are known as gender schemas that guide people’s perceptions of self and others and their behavior, becoming the lenses through which people view the social world. This explains why O’Neil’s training was faced by huge discontent. Unfortunately many agents account for the persistence of gender stereotypes: media, authority figures, peers, and etc.

The social structural approach suggests that positions of groups within society and the structure of intergroup relationships determine perceptions and behavior towards members of differing social groups. Roles and occupations members of a group typically perform and their place in status  and power hierarchies form the situational context that shapes intergroup relations. This approach I think is the most recommended by the film because both suggests that socialization as an important mechanism that shapes men’s and women’s traits and behaviors. Gendered division of labor and gender-based hierarchy determine the content of socially shared beliefs about men and women as social role theory suggests. O’Neil is a clear example of this. After socialization, she gained a higher different status than what she, and women in general, used to have earlier. If men’s and women’s social roles had been different, the cultural ideals would have developed differently. Therefore social role theory could predict when and why social changes lead to changes in gender stereotypes. This approach offers a way of integrating cultural and evolutionary forces.




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