Gendering the “Enemy” and Gendering the “Ally”

United States Militarized Fictions of War and Peace

Authored by: Tessa Ong Winkelmann

The Routledge History of Gender, War, and the U.S. Military

Print publication date:  August  2017
Online publication date:  August  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138902985
eBook ISBN: 9781315697185
Adobe ISBN:


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During the American Revolution, white European settlers in what would soon become the United States attempted to distance themselves from what they characterized as the delicacy and effeminateness of British soldiers. This was in many ways a response to being themselves characterized as a vulgar and degenerate lot of colonial subjects by many in the “metropole,” as settlers in overseas American colonies were often seen as lacking the manly influences of civilization found in the motherland. Around the turn of the twentieth century, the “closing of the frontier,” as it was described, put American manliness and vigor in jeopardy since white settlement had reached the farthest Pacific coastline, and there were apparently no more “wilds” left to tame. Manly regeneration had been possible through the “strenuous life,” an idea that embraced hard living and strife and was popularized by national leaders such as Theodore Roosevelt. Imperial wars of conquest and occupation were an extension of strenuous living, and the people of Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and other former Spanish colonies were imagined as effeminate and childlike “wards” in need of the manly protection and tutelage of the United States. During World War II, American propaganda often depicted German and Japanese soldiers as savage and barbaric. The defeat of both, many believed, was vital to preserve proper heteronormative families at home, as opposed to whatever queer relations the enemy might bring to American shores. More contemporarily, many U.S. bombs dropped during the Gulf War were emblazoned with the message, “Bend over, Saddam,” the queering of the enemy in this case emboldening U.S. troops. 1

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