February 29, 2024 · University of Virginia

Vulnerable genders: Pain and power in post-Cold War America.

Abstract segment: "Vulnerable Genders" argues that a new model of vulnerability emerges in popular films and television from 1990 to the present. This new model, epitomized by G.I. Jane's bruised, triumphant female soldier and Saving Private Ryan's vulnerable, penetrable men, surfaces as technologies of war progress, traditional global alliances shift, and diverse images of women circulate in an era of digital technology. Currently, representations of the body in the military, on the police force, and under government surveillance divorce vulnerability from gender and undermine the audience's conditioned response to the suffering body. The new model of vulnerability emerging in texts from NYPD Blue to Battlestar Galactica teaches viewers to perceive the abused female body as powerful, not victimized, and creates male and female bodies that master pain instead of succumbing to it. I focus on representations of war, police brutality, and state-sanctioned violence because it is in these sites that culture and criticism remain most tied to traditional models of vulnerability, most insistent on the coercive power of violence, and most invested in women's special vulnerability. By asking why we assume the sight of female pain should arouse audience pity, I uncover a new way of reading onscreen violence, one that challenges the ways film theory and cultural studies have continued to conflate vulnerability and femaleness. Recognizing the new construction of vulnerability emergent in post-Cold War popular culture allows film studies to catch up to the new iconographies emerging in the theaters. These images offer viewers reactions to the suffering body beyond pity, identification with the bleeding body beyond masochism, and feminist images of the female body where we least expect to find them.
Sarah Hagelin
University of Virginia
Susan Fraiman
Department of English
Date Added November 5, 2016
Date Modifed October 17, 2017
Collection UVA scholarship on sexual violence, 1974-

Item Relations

This item has no relations.