Female Soldier Performativity

Dr. Marylou Naumoff is a rhetorical studies scholar whose work is informed by cultural and feminist theories. Her current research agenda focuses on understanding constructions of American identity by looking to popular culture as a primary site of creation and negotiation.  She is currently exploring the roles that race and gender play in understanding national identity, citizenship, and the rhetorical function/effectivity of longstanding American narratives.

“Cyborgs and Fembots Attempt to Repair the Image of the Female Citizen-Soldier” considers three images of the female soldier circulated by the US media: (1) the ideal female citizen soldier, (2) the female soldier that is overly feminine and fragile, and (3) the overly masculinized female soldier.

It is argued that the media coverage of Jessica Lynch and Lynndie England damaged the image of the ideal female citizen soldier seen on military commercials. In an attempt to mend or repair this damage in the collective unconscious of media-consuming Americans the television shows Bionic Woman and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles offer the American public a type of female warrior that is not too feminine and not too masculine, but a balance of the two that does not disrupt the male/female binary.

The presence of women in the military is tenuous at best as the identity of soldier is one of the archetypal male roles. If the image of female soldier goes unchecked it possesses the power to challenge and possibly disrupt patriarchal power relations in our culture.

Naumoff calls into question the notion of male versus female identity and asks: Can a woman do/be whatever a man can?

These women are necessary to the functioning and success of the U.S. military during a time of war, especially when faced with the limitations of an all-volunteer military force. How such a woman is constructed is explored by examining the two television shows and their negotiation of the existence and performativity of female warriors/soldiers.

Naumoff examines how  Bionic Woman and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and the military reinforce female subordination to men and their second-class citizenship. The analysis ultimately demonstrates how the perception and treatment of women in the military extends beyond those who serve and impacts the lives of all the women that constitute the US citizenry.