The Intersexts of Linda Hamiltons Arms
"Men want biceps, and biceps are used for pulling things. Women want triceps, and triceps are used for pushing things away."
Madonna's personal trainer
The Gasp Heard 'Round the World
The fascination with Linda Hamilton's arms began in the summer of 1991 with her spectacular appearance in the movie Terminator 2. It is 14 minutes after the action has started and Hamiltons character, Sarah Connor, has not yet appeared on the screen but she is heard in a voice-over. We have already been introduced to Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator and have met John Connor, the freedom fighter that Arnold's cyborg character tried to eliminate in the first Terminator film. Now John is a 10 year old boy that Arnold, in an ironic twist, must defend against a new, improved killer cyborg from the future.
John's mother is Sarah Connor. At the end of the first Terminator film we saw a solemn and pregnant Sarah, having developed in a matter of weeks from an airhead waitress into the warrior "mother of the future," driving south to Mexico, towards violence, savagery, passion and heat. We learn later from John that after his birth Sarah spent 10 years in Central America "shacking up" with guys to learn all she could about weapons and battle, even though she still loved Kyle Reese, the time traveler who impregnated her. Sarahs job was to keep John alive at all cost so that he could prevent the future nuclear holocaust.
In the final battle against the first terminator cyborg, Sarah had crushed the metal endoskeleton to the sound of audience cheers and her own indictment: "You're terminated, fucker." The terminator arm that is the only remnant of the endoskeleton rests prominently on Sarah's shoulder at the end of the scene, foreshadowing the transformations to come and hinting at the significance of arms and intercourse to this series of narratives.
Ten years after the first termination, with the knowledge of imminent nuclear disaster haunting her every moment, Sarah, we are told by John, is "a complete psycho" and a "total loser." According to John, his mother has been shot and arrested while trying to blow up a computer factory and now she was being held in a state mental hospital. Obviously that's enough to change any woman, but nothing could prepare the audience for the first sight of Sarah in her isolation room.
This new Sarah is not the stereotypical picture of a mother protesting nuclear annihilation (this stereotype appears in Sarah's own dream as a fluffy-haired, gingham-dressed version of herself). This Sarah may be mentally ravaged but she is not physically disabled by her knowledge of the future. This Sarah is also no mere improvement over the original but has undergone an unbelievable physical transformation in response, it seems, to her nuclear knowledge.
After an establishing shot showing the entrance to the mental hospital, we are shown an extreme close-up of big, bulging, wet and gleaming biceps doing pull-ups on a metal bar. The muscles stretch and bulge, unbelievably taut and momentarily suspended in air, fully pumped. The arms are juxtaposed to soft, long blond hair on the head of the person they lift. When the camera returns from its view of a hallway where all the patients are women and all the orderlies men, we see the arms pull up the body of Sarah Connor, grunting and puffing as she pumps herself on a hospital bed overturned and transformed into a chin-up bar.
Connor is chiseled, no body fat evident, her breasts flat, the lines of her once soft face hard and angled. But it is her remarkable arms that draw our attention and the camera's initial focus. They sweat, ripple, undulate, and explode, and the overturned bed suggests the exertion has been orgasmic. When she stands on the floor and turns to look at us and her doctor, her stringy hair hangs in a face that appears animalistic and ferocious, quite like she is "savage" (Maslin 1992:1). When this transformed body of Linda Hamilton first appeared, many audiences gasped, loud and long, some murmured, and some cheered.
Get Me the Arms of Linda Hamilton
Linda Hamilton's arms became the talk of the summer of 1991, at least among women viewers of Terminator 2. Those arms became desirable and women were striving to duplicate them. One trainer at a Manhattan health club stated that after Terminator 2, "every woman who came to me wanted Linda Hamilton's arms" (O'Neill 1992: B1). During the following year, Hamilton's pumped-up arms had become an established icon. In a special issue of Self magazine (May 1992) devoted to the body and fitness, the editor shows herself with a fantasy body sporting Tina Turner's legs, Madonna's stomach and Linda Hamilton's arms. Although these arms, several years later, may no longer be the specific goal of womens training, they still stand as a prominent reference point for a desirable body image that displays power and strength in unambiguous terms.
The opening week of Terminator 2 found Linda Hamilton, director James Cameron and co-star Arnold Schwarzenegger featured on many major news and interview programs. While interviews with Cameron and Schwarzenegger typically considered issues like the film's record setting budget, the startling computer-generated special effects, or the recasting of Schwarzenegger into a kinder, gentler terminator, Hamiltons interviews referred to her physical transformation and weapons skills, or more specifically, to her arms and the arms they carried.
Press releases, publicity packages and media interviews for T2 focused attention on Hamilton's training with a fitness trainer and with the appropriately named ex-Israeli commando, Uzi Gal. Hamilton's three month, six day a week, three hours a day regimen and strict diet were promoted as necessary to make her look and act like she had become a skilled and efficient warrior since the last film, set ten years earlier. What Hamilton herself had actually become in the past years (we were often reminded) was a divorced, abandoned single mother and the star of a television cult hit, Beauty and the Beast, a show noted for the fragility and softness of Hamilton's character, Catherine. Thus her new screen image had suitable contrasts that reiterated the wonder of her mutation.
And here with me this morning is an unarmed Linda Hamilton, said Faith Daniels (her emphasis) on the Today Show that first week in July. Laughing, Hamilton threw up her hands and said, Ive got arms! Youre really a tough guy in this film, continued Daniels. Yeah, I am, replied Hamilton. By the time the film was released, Hamilton had reduced her muscle bulk and presumably was no longer the uzi gal she had been. Still Daniels interviewed Hamilton extensively about her weapons training, and forced a focus on Hamilton's arms long after the biceps themselves were gigantically bulged and long after Hamilton had stopped toting guns.
Despite efforts to reduce her impressive bulk after the film shooting had ended, Hamilton still had so much muscle that it continued to intrude upon her every appearance. She hosted Saturday Night Live in October, 1991, and was featured in an "It's Pat" skit (about a person of unidentifiable gender); the skit was set in a fitness center. Hamilton also appeared in a late July-early August 1991 Los Angeles production of Love Letters opposite her Beauty and the Beast co-star, Ron Perlman. The play, which is built around a series of love letters exchanged between two long-time acquaintences, provided an eerie backdrop for Hamilton's still pumped arms, which were distracting in their prominence and their contrast to the rest of the old-fashioned gendered roles of the play and her own delicate flowered outfit.
Linda Hamilton's model for her bodily transformation was Arnold Schwarzenegger who built an unprecedented form and then muscled his way into real estate, motion pictures and Republican politics, slipping smoothly between multiple worlds with little distinction made between his filmic and other musclings. Like the Terminator/Schwarzenegger, Hamilton followed a regimen of hardness, fitness, and stoicism and molded herself to the demands of the medium. Schwarzenegger is known for this ability and at a body building competition he hosted in 1990, he told the crowd he had to trim down the muscles on his body because they were too massive and took up too much space on the movie screen. When asked by Faith Daniels if Hamilton wanted to be the next Arnold she answered, "Yeah, why not, it worked for him."
Arms Become Her
The confusion of Linda Hamilton with her T2 role of Sarah Connor is not merely the result of a well-oiled publicity machine or the convenience of lazy reviewers. It is Hamilton's physical transformation that sets the condition for this blending of two worlds. When headlines read, Linda Hamilton Flexed Her Pecs to Neutralize a Nasty Terminator (Grogan and Cunneff 1991: 71), we are seeing the long-standing convention of equating stars with their roles played out in much more physical, biological terms. It is not just that Linda Hamilton's arms gestated in a cinematic world; it is that there is no longer a need or desire to make unnecessary distinctions between the real world where these arms are in motion and the made-real world of film where these arms are an image. Her arms became too big for the screen to hold and they burst through the film membrane.
As the rapidly evolving trend in films (for example in Who Framed Roger Rabbit  , Beauty and the Beast , Cool World , Toys , and Alladin ; or in Disneylands new Toontown attraction) which fuse the real with animated figures and geographies makes clear, the passage in and out of film life is no longer an issue of possibility or of fantasy and effect, but an issue of traffic. And the control of that traffic as well as the movement itself is at the heart of the iconography of Linda Hamiltons arms.
Film has become a virtual membrane through which, as though by osmosis, the real and the unreal pass. This is symbolized dramatically in the hyped and hyper-physical worlds that Linda Hamiltons arms encompass. Linda Hamilton-as-Sarah Connor-as-Linda Hamiltons arms is the figure who has managed to secure easy passage across the border, or at least the illusion of it. It is not because real life and film life are indistinguishable in her, but because she seems to be able to travel across the membrane in both directions at the same time.
The same ability to transmit the evolutionary changes in a film onto the real-world self cannot be seen in Susan Sarandon, Geena Davis and Kathleen Turner, for example, in their respective films that summer. Unlike Thelma, Louise, and V.I Warshawski, Hamilton/Connor could not be contained by film precisely because her arms have become strong enough and sufficiently adaptable to break the film/reality barriers. The other women could not reach back out of the film roles indeed have done the opposite by effectively 'erasing' the roles as they move on to the next method-acted characterizations.
Geena Davis in A League of Their Own (1992), for example, does not seem to carry the baggage of Thelma & Louise (1991) with her. Sarandon has never been tied to any specific image or role, particularly not one involving a memorable physical transformation. Turner, in particular, recently has been undergoing a bizarre metamorphosis on the tabloid pages each time she completes one film and awaits the start of the next: she seems to get fat in real life and slim down in film-life. As one tabloid reported recently, Sultry Kathleen Turner has peeled off a whopping 30 pounds to win back her sexy image in preparation for her new film (Star 1992: 36), as if her film self were in hibernation between shoots.
While it was the film script that required Linda Hamiltons arms, it was the terra firma world that experienced the repercussions of them. Hamilton's arms became involved in a shameful real-life "scandal" because they reached into another woman's bedroom. At the premier celebration of T2, Hamilton was noted to be arm in arm with the director, James Cameron, who had not brought his wife, action movie director Kathryn Bigelow.
Tabloids and gossip columns, those purveyors of modern-day mythology, soon reported that Hamilton had, "literally muscl[ed] her way into Cameron's heart". Cameron, the tabloids said, "was a macho guy and just loved her new muscles." And instead of showing up for the premier of Bigelow's new film, Point Break, "Jim and Linda were in each other's arms far away on a beach in Hawaii," the Enquirer reported.
Arms Make the (Wo)Man
Arms big, muscular, flexed arms are our visual metaphor for power. When Charles Atlas flexed his muscles in the rear of comic books in earlier decades, children learned that arms make the man make him powerful, make him capable of avenging other men, and make him capable of commanding admiration from women. In this shared visual shorthand that equates bulging arms with power, someone striking a flexed double-biceps pose communicates an accomplishment, an ability, a victory or a successful power play. The word "muscled" implies not just an overall finely developed, rock-hard body but also a general seriousness of purpose and the ability to succeed.
Flexed arms, as the first site of the representation of power, are the "advance man" (O'Neill 1992: B1) for the rest of the person, providing a quick snapshot of character. When the flexed, strong arm belongs to a woman (for example, in the World War II poster-image of Rosie the Riveter, a character created to promote women's entry into the workforce, Rosie is shown with her sleeve rolled up and her sturdy biceps flexed), the show of strength and readiness co-opts a stereotypically male symbol of aggressive might and a willingness to assert that power. Consider, again, Faith Danielss remark to Linda Hamilton: Youre really a tough guy in this film! (our emphasis).
Even the American Anthropological Association, not a particularly muscular organization, has recently used an image of bulging biceps to suggest power. In a mailing to its members offering term life insurance, the AAA sent a brochure that features male biceps and the words, "AAA Used This To Negotiate An Insurance Deal..." The brochure opens out into an extended arm, unflexed, and the text continues, "That Won't Cost Members This." The brochure states inside, "Muscle. It's The Difference Between Negotiating Insurance For Thousands And Insurance For One." Here in this insurance pitch, the arm offers the sight of power and also locates the potential site of the loss of power.
Parallel to this use of the biceped arm as a sign of power is the proliferation of firearms, both cinematic and real-life, as an "expression" of muscle. The National Coalition on Television Violence reports that, "By the age of 18, the average American child will have seen 200,000 violent acts on television, including 40,000 murders" (Plagens, et al. 1991: 51).
In the decade since the original Terminator, both individual and governmental possession and use of actual firearms has proliferated. Since the early 1980s, the U.S. has seen a spectacular increase in its procurement of military hardware, spending "$150 billion to produce new, technologically superior nuclear war fighting weapons," and spending $60 billion a year to buy and operate those weapons (Center for Defense Information 1991: 6). Seventy million Americans own guns, and firearms are involved in about 30,000 deaths in the United States each year, almost a quarter million in the 80s alone (Lacayo 1990: 16). 60% of the 23,200 murders in 1990 involved firearms and the rate of handgun murders jumped 18% between 1985 and 1989 (Morganthau, et al. 1991:38). Los Angeles often has as many as 1000 drive by shootings a month (Rutten 1991). In an essay asking, "What it is about Americans and guns?" and addressing his own personal involvement with them, Leonard Kriegal (1992:51) suggests that, "Guns command! Guns command attention, guns command discipline, guns command fear."
A conjunction of two signs that convey force and influence, the muscled body and the fire-armed body, makes a particularly convincing image of power in films. This combination of signs has been used extremely successfully by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Jean-Claude Van Damme and other muscle bound, guntoting male heroes in the movies, and has obviously carried over into the everyday lives of Americans.
The issue of women and guns is even more provocative. A new magazine called Women and Guns appeared on the news stands in 1992 and caused a stir when it was advertised in the more traditional women's magazines that are sold at grocery store checkouts. Women and Guns features women who are committed to the use of firearms for sport or protection. The magazine has highlighted underwear, purses and clothing that can hide firearms as well as stories of women who have used guns in self defense.
In Angry Women, a book on the other end of the political spectrum, artist Diamanda Galás addresses women's creative channeling of rage and states, "I'm convinced that all women seriously have to get guns. I personally own a .38 Special" (Juno and Vale 1992: 22). Andrea Juno adds in the same work, "The only form of gun control I would support is that women could own guns and men couldn't. Women should carry guns (ibid.). As Ann Powers states the case, "A peace-loving woman who wields a gun claims a certain amount of individual power; she sacrifices her ideals in the name of her own safety" (Powers 1991:21). A recent Village Voice article about women and guns added, "The hardest thing (about deciding to get armed) is to choose your weapon wisely and then join the action with a certain wit and grace."
The Arm(s) that Rocked the Cradle
Molly O'Neill (1992), in her New York Times article, "The Arm Fetish," observes that an intensified interest in the development of the perfect arms seems to be designed specifically to connote an unusual achievement, not to promote the arm as a newly fashionable body part. O'Neill suggests that built arms result from and/or signal self-determination as well as the possession of "priorities and perseverance, competence, strength, pride" (ibid.: B1). This arm is not the over-pumped one that is mere display for the sake of display. This arm "hints of usefulness" (ibid.), as if the arm itself is just the outermost sign of a more important and significant agenda.
For Hamilton, her remarkable arms signaled an achievement resulting not just from bodily improvements, but done in conjunction with paramilitary commando training and an accomplished skill in the use of real firearms of all types. It is an arm that connotes the achievement of war-like mechanization, the reasonable, automatic, logical execution of violent action thought uncharacteristic of women.
There is more here than merely a fascination with the masculinization of a once soft and weak female character/actor and the body that bears/bares her arms. There is instead an uncomfortable intercourse between female flesh and metal weapons that smacks of bestiality but seems even worse. Elaine Scarry observes this joint venture by saying that, "Although a weapon is an extension of the human body. . ., it is instead the human body that becomes in this vocabulary an extension of the weapon (Scarry 1985: 67). Donna Haraway calls this combination of a body and its extensions a cyborg, a "creature of the post-gender world" whose couplings are pleasurable because of the confusions they cause (Haraway 1985: 65-67). The cybermovie Lawnmower Man (1992) illustratres graphically the pleasures and confusions of this coupling.
That Sarah Connor had become a terminator cyborg herself has been a highly promoted interpretation of the shift in Sarah's body and character. Director James Cameron stated in the infomercial, The Making of T2, and in the Tri-Star press packet for the film that, "In a very real way Sarah Connor becomes the Terminator of the second film, at least on a psychological level." Hamilton herself has also reiterated these ideas both about her work in the film and in her own real life.
In Terminator 2 we see the "logical" and horrifying conclusion of arming a woman or having a woman with strong arms in her personal arsenal. In a logic derived from Lamarckian (rather than Darwinian) evolution, women will develop bodies that are a natural extension of the gun power they hold in their hands and will pass this body/power on to future generations. Lamarckism was an eighteenth century precursor to the natural selection of Darwinism. Instead of creatures surviving because of their selected adaptation to a challenging environment, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1820, a contemporary of Charles Darwin's grandfather) proposed that creatures acquired needed characteristics and then passed them on to succeeding generations.
Even more important was Lamarck's idea about how creatures acquired traits: "according to the immediate and perhaps future needs of survival perceived in some mysterious way by organisms" (Calow 1983:4). Each organism had a sentient interieur (inner disposition) and a flow of caloric and electrical fluids which allowed it to meet the needs of a changing environment (ibid.). It had a purpose and agency later denied in Darwins model.
Lamarck, whose mechanism for evolution was discredited when Darwinism (Charles Darwin, 1809-1882) came to rule science, could have been talking here about the development of cybernetic organisms for whom acquisition rather than natural selection determines traits, and for whom fuel and programming (sentient interieur) control actions. Lamarck may not have been incorrect in his model as much as placed in the wrong historical period.
The female bodies that result from the Lamarckian acquisition of arms will not become masculinized; they will move beyond sex and gender as we know it, into the unprecedented body of the cyborg or maybe the post-cyborg, the inhabitant of a Toontown where growth, reproduction, learning and death are redefined as acquisition, bioengineering, programming, and termination. These arms don't denote the adoption of male values or activities as much as an adoption of a new set of directives, and a direction, pointed out by the sight and barrel of a gun.
Encapsulated in the transformations that takes place between Linda Hamilton's media persona in the first Terminator and Beauty and the Beast, and her appearance in Terminator 2, is a kind of a mini-evolution. In the November, 1991, Spectravision Entertainment magazine (distributed in hotel rooms), Hamiltons evolution is presented visually. She is shown in a fairy tale transformation in two photographs labeled "beauty" and "beast." In the beauty image, we see a demure Hamilton under soft focus and yellow lights, her hair wispy, her neckline bare under a blouse with flowered embroidery. In the beast image on the next page, Hamilton is bare-armed in a rubberized suit that climbs to her neck. Harsh lighting reflects off her chest and highlights her hard-edged features and muscled biceps. The flowered framed of the first image is replaced with a jagged, razor-like border. Her face is impassive behind her T2 sunglasses. These two images/words have become conventions of feminine attractiveness and masculine raw power, and now they are carried by one body. USA Today (July 5, 1991) used the same notion, titling an article about Linda Hamilton, "Beauty and the Biceps."
When Charles Atlas developed from a 98 pound weakling into a muscle man, he had to go back and attack the man who had kicked sand in his face. This seems in our shared mythology to be the inevitable result of muscles that they lead to acts of violence and vengeance. The muscled male body seems to carry its own armor and arms. The popular linking of violence to big bodies has been intensified by the recent analyses of steroid use, muscle building, and violence. Football player Lyle Alzado, who recently died by what he said was a steroid induced cancer, spoke openly about his violent behavior on steroids. Known as a "'roid" monster because of his violence as well as his size, Alzado "was involved in several well publicized off-field altercations" as well as on-the-field animalistic behavior (Hudson 1992: C1).
A juiced-up Steve Michalik, a body building champion of the 1980s, confirmed that steroids not only pumped up his body but also his craziness quotient. "Here I was, a churchgoing, gentle Catholic," said Michalik, "and suddenly I was pulling people out of restaurant booths and threatening to kill them just because there were no other tables open" (Solotaroff 1991: 32). A psychologist studying violence with the NIMH recently suggested that the male body burdened by the muscle inducing hormone testosterone was the problem, and "if we wanted to do the simple thing [to stop violence], it would be to prevent the birth of males" (Sipchen 1992: E1).
When Sarah Connor pulled herself up with arms designed to be remarkable on a woman, such power and seriousness seemed at first to signal that women, too, could now be understood in terms of physically muscled power seen as a violent weapon. Sarah Connor's arms and heart adapted to the historical imperative of metal, weaponry and a singularity of purpose. By wedding her muscular body to firearms use, her entire being required a continued cycle of action and vengeance, perhaps the new lunar cycle of post-cyborg women. This combination of muscles and firearms seems to signal a threshold for women, something truly different, a new phase in the feminine corner of the New World Order.
Beginning several years ago and continuing to the present, the phenomena of women taking up arms has became a popular subject in films such as Thelma & Louise (1991), V.I. Warshawski (1991), Aliens (1986), Mortal Thoughts (1991), Fatal Attraction (1987), The Gun in Betty Lou's Handbag (1992), Basic Instinct (1992), Blue Steel (1990), Silence of the Lambs (1991), Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992), Switch (1991), Total Recall (1990), Lethal Weapon 3 (1992), La Femme Nikita (1991), Guncrazy (1993), Point of No Return (1993) and in the proliferation of women's detective fiction and television programs.
Much like the women in classic film noir such as Gun Crazy (1949) or Out of the Past (1947), these women use weapons in their efforts to right the wrongs of the world or to deal with some issue of anger or love. In a cover story in New York magazine featuring Hamilton, "hardbodied killer women" are described as "the Tania photograph of Patty Hearst come to life," "creatively vicious" like the heiress seeking revenge for years of male control (Baumgold 1991:26). James Cameron's claim in several interviews that T2 is a film especially designed to appeal to a female audience certainly plugs into this theme.
Connor has had a lot of company in the last few years in her arms race. Lt. Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in Aliens (also directed by James Cameron), for example, gave us a preview of the intensity with which cinematic women would become attached to their guns and machines. Ripley was labeled "Rambimbo" in the popular media for her armed rampages against the alien mother that had invaded a space colony. She equipped herself with impressive weaponry, flirting with a soldier (played by Michael Biehn, who also played Kyle Reese) and enticing him to teach her everything about weapons. But as demonstrated in a scene where she helps move some supplies by skillfully manipulating a large-scale robotic power loader, Ripley relies on brain power, technical know-how and chutzpah, not physical muscle, to achieve her goals.
The driving force behind most of Ripleys violence is not armed vengeance but a maternal urge, a bodily compulsion of another type. She remains basically female, one node in the nuclear family that is restored at the end of the film. By Aliens3 (1992), she has lost this family, but is still decidedly a female, now residing in a world of hostile males, all without weapons. She loses all control of her body by finally becoming impregnated by the alien being that has haunted her for so long, and she sacrifices herself and her fetus in a fiery death for the good of humanity.
Ripley's body was ripped but not rippling like Linda Hamilton's; neither were Thelma's and Louise's. Thelma and Louise, in the controversial film that was charged with "toxic feminism" (Maslin 1991:11), continued to be uneasy about their use of guns, never really threatening the world the way they might have. Despite the connection between the threats to their bodies and their initial use of weapons, the firearms never become a natural extension of their arms, a Lamarckian outgrowth of experience, practice, and need. They continued to apologize profusely for the use of their weapons, especially to male authority figures. The causes of their problems are all shown to be ultimately traced to things outside that intrude upon their bodies boorish husbands, problematic boyfriends, sleazy truck drivers, drunken rapists. They were still trying to combat the male world as it still is instead of as it was becoming, and they were still trying to use old-fashioned flesh and blood female bodies for the fight.
This is what makes Hamilton's Sarah Connor so important and fascinating. The dual training of arms and firearms means that Hamilton's/Connor's new arms were more deadly that those of either women who simply used guns, especially in the context of emotions (Jamie Lee Curtis in Blue Steel (1990), directed by James Cameron's wife, Kathryn Bigelow; Faye Dunaway in The Eyes of Laura Mars ) or women who simply strengthened their bodies without connecting it to the potential for violence (Mariel Hemingway in Personal Best ; Jamie Lee Curtis in Perfect ).
The dual training of arms and firearms means that Hamilton's/Connor's new arms were more deadly than those of either women who simply used guns, or women who simply strengthened their bodies without connecting it to the potential for violence. Crossing the thresholds between the real and the filmic, the strong and weak, the organic and the cyborganic, hard and soft, the mechanical and the maternal, peace and violence, death and reproduction, and between the world and the end of the world, Linda Hamilton/Sarah Connor became a dangerous woman, threatening to ruin more that just Jim Cameron's marital fidelity and the Terminators' futures. She provided a bridge, albeit temporary and troubling, between this world and the next, terra firma and the image, the screen and the seats, life and death. Although she continued to exist in the simplistic world of binary oppositions, she showed a hint of what was being left out.
Your Mama Wears Combat Boots. . .
The experiences of Sarah, Thelma, V.I., Ripley and Louise, and their real life counterparts in the U.S. military and society at large, suggest that there are major costs to women as a result of being armed. Despite the powers that become available to them through arms, the prices they have to pay-- include pain, violence, death, madness, mechanization, and, as we shall see, the loss of maternity. Set in an atmosphere of real women going off armed to real battles in Panama and the Persian Gulf, and fighting the military over sexual harassment, these discussions about hardbodied and cinematically armed women can help us understand the possibilities for women in the real world.
In the military, women make up 11% of the 2.1 million U.S forces ( Ramberg 1991: A7) and many were under fire and danger in both recent military excursions. Despite top brass concerns that, "Women give life, sustain life, nurture life, they can't take it. If you want to make a combat unit ineffective, assign women to it," (Healy 1991: A15), women performed well my military standards (Schmitt 1991: A8). To be fair, some military brass recognizes that the new military technologies have "blurred the old boundaries between 'front' and 'rear'" on the battlefield (Hackworth 1991: 24), and that trying to keep women out of battle is difficult when the troops behind the front lines are often attacked first by airborne weapons. But some military old-timers refused to see that their active/passive dichotomy is a nostalgic image, based on old World War II battles and movies that had men on the front lines and women back home.
Media coverage of women in Panama and the Gulf focused less on their capabilities for battle and more on their battles to remain feminine. Stories focused on their marriage and child care problems, lack of tampons and privacy, the potential for illicit sexual relations, their bathing habits, and their interactions with male soldiers. Photographs showed women laughing, hugging other women, hugging teddy bears, praying in church, playing games, talking to children, doing embroidery, looking in mirrors, looking at pictures of their children, or, much less often, lugging heavy loads and toting guns in images that seemed awkward, innocent, and disquieting. Much media coverage, especially but not exclusively in the tabloids, focused on their failed mothering and their abandonment of their children in the face of duty, often leaving startled husbands alone with child care duties. "Mom Goes to War," said the cover of People (September 10, 1990), while the Globe's (September 18, 1990) tabloid headlines screamed, "My baby is only 7 weeks old but I'm off to war because. . . My Country Comes First."
Ann Marlowe (1991), in a Village Voice article about women, violence, guns and the film La Femme Nikita, says that the reason there is so much concern about women and combat has nothing to do with protecting women from death and violence. If it were, there would be more concern about the violence women face every day. Rather it has to do with the fear that women would commit violence (we would add, with weapons) and would enjoy it (and, we might also add, would become expert at it). As one woman soldier explained about her experience in Panama, "When it all came down, I just started pumping. I didn't really think it all came naturally" (Ryan 1990: 38).
This fear that women would find weapons fascinating and useful is subtly reiterated on a Newsweek (May 28, 1990) magazine cover for a story about the biological and behavioral differences between the sexes. The cover shows a little girl in a dress holding a doll and a boy in a cowboy outfit holding a gun. "Guns and Dolls" is the large headline that accompanies the photograph which has the little girl ignoring the doll in her arms and looking longingly at the boy's gun. Despite General Norman Shwarzkopfs assurances during a Barbara Walters interview that we now seem ready to face the death of women in combat, we do not really seem to be ready for armed women.
Susan Jeffords, in her discussion of the remasculinization of society as seen in stories and films about Vietnam, says that the ultimate definition we use of masculine and feminine in our society relates to this question of combat and death. She sees in Vietnam narratives a definition of the masculine/male as believing that there are things worth dying for and the feminine/female as not believing this (Jeffords 1989: 76). To be masculine/male is to be willing to put your life on the line for a belief; to be feminine/female is to resist this inclination.
Sarah Connor in T2 and the military women in Panama and the Gulf suggest that this no longer has to be the case. If the female body, formerly programmed for the maternal and the anti-combat, has reprogrammed itself to actively visit death on the earth, the entire basis of our world is shattered. The military opponents of women in combat are, in a sense, quite correct in their fears of the consequence of arming women.
Giving women access to creating death completes their powers of life to death, beginning to end, creation to destruction. The extension of women through (their) arms would close their circle of influence, and theoretically give them the ability to control everything. The recognition of this is becoming evident in recent efforts to paint men as the true powerless victims of society who need to regain the access to power and control that women have usurped. The men-are-victims movement seeks to reinstate the definitions of masculinity and femininity that Jeffords noted.
As Marlowe (1991:59) says, Men know well that what power on earth does not come from love comes from the death drive and its sublimations. Because of this, the armed female body must be a body that fails at maternity. The completion of this power cycle must never be allowed.
This theme is relentless pursued in many major motion pictures. Thelma and Louise die before they can reproduce; Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs is decidedly single and job-oriented; Catherine Tremell, the bisexual maybe-murderer in Basic Instinct emphatically refuses to raise "rug rats"; Ripley, having lost two daughters so far, in Aliens 3 takes her alien offspring into the flames with her; V.I. Warshawski is divorced and alone and fails miserably at protecting a child. Only the one-time use of a gun by the angry wife and mother, Beth Forrest (Anne Archer), in Fatal Attraction (in order to eliminate her husband's pregnant lover) hints at the possible radical implications of women taking up both the reproductive and the destructive stances. But Beth has only the restoration of the patriarchal nuclear family in mind, as the ending shot of the family photograph attests. The "sequel" to Fatal Attraction, The Hand That Rocked the Cradle, shows us more vehemently the danger of having vengeance and nurturing milk coming out of the same breast.
Sarah Connor's failed maternity became the focus of the center portion of Terminator 2. After Connor, the Arnold terminator, and Sarahs son John finally escape the mental hospital that has been holding the nearly mad woman, she reaches over the back seat of the car and grabs her son. Thinking that he is being hugged, John embraces his mother but soon realizes she is merely searching his body for signs of damage. Her combination of violence and what is supposed to pass for maternal caring confuses John. The shock of a mother who does not want to hug him but instead scolds him causes John to cry and the emotionally ignorant terminator to ask, What is wrong with your eyes? Johns eyes are seeing the last chance of having a well-defined mother dissolve before him.
Young John is left with a mother who only succeeds in embarrassing him with her refusals to be either clearly a cyborg or simply a woman. This ultimately drives him into the arms of the Terminator, who will prove to be a better father/mother than any human could ever hope to be. This encounter between Connor and her son conjures up a slogan that was popular on bumper stickers and placards at anti-nuclear rallies in the 1980s You cant hug a child with nuclear arms. Sarah is evidence of a fusion experiment gone awry, the fallout of the attempt to mate present day human females with weapons (and with absent fathers); her nuclear arms fail her in their maternal efforts.
Sarah's failure as both a cyborg and a mother are highlighted in the scene where she goes off on her own to kill the one scientist, Miles Dyson, whose research sets off the machine revolt in the future. Sarah takes off from her desert hideout fully equipped for battle. Her muscular limbs daringly, aggressively displayed in a sleeveless tank top, she is armed, overarmed actually, yet still fails to kill the black man despite what seems to be several hundred rounds of bullets. Given the chance to finish him off in a face to face encounter, she freezes and breaks down, emotionally unable to carry out her plan. As he lays his head on a table filled with Traditional Home, Estate, and House Beautiful magazines, she backs away and puts her gun down, slumping to the floor in a sobbing heap.
Enter John and the Terminator to rescue the world from Sarah Connor. Sarah can finally hug her son but her feelings seem perverse by this point. In what Fred Pfeil has called "the film's one overtly erotic moment" (Pfeil 1992: 30), Sarah cries, "I almost, I almost..." and falls into Johns arms. Then she realizes why he is there. "You came here to stop me," she says and he confirms this. "I love you John," she says as she looks at him passionately, and he at this moment resembles his father from the future, Kyle Reese. "I always have," she adds. As Pfeil describes, "A second later, though, we are delivered from this hot and heavy scene before it goes any further and shorts out the film, thanks to the presence of Arnold, whose stern let's-get-going glance to John literally pulls the boy out of Sarah's dangerous clutches and allows the action to roll ahead" (ibid.).
Her inability to carry out her mission as a Terminator, and her erotic gestures towards her son, suggests that she has now failed in both roles she has tried as a mother/woman and as a Terminator/cyborg. When Dyson asks after the rampage, "Who are you people?", John doesn't rely on his mother for an answer but hands the Terminator a knife and says, "Show 'em." The Terminator slices off the skin on his arm and flexes the metallic endoskeleton of a cybernetic organism which now represents all of them. Dyson recognizes this arm as a duplicate of the one he has been researching (the arm remaining from the Terminator's first appearance ten years earlier). Both he and his wife are horrified at the revelation. Later Dyson's reaction to this pregnant moment is to say that he feels like vomiting.
Johns final revenge on his mothers weak maternal ways comes when he later scolds her for preaching to men about the power of maternity. Sarah, in a passionate speech to the man who will build the computers that will trigger the nuclear end, says Fucking men like you built the hydrogen bomb. Men like you thought it up. You think you're so creative. You don't know what it's like to really create something, to feel it growing inside you. All you know how to create is death and destruction." During this speech John buries his face in his hand and then interrupts her, saying, Mom. MOM! We need to be a little more constructive here, okay?
This reorientation away from reproduction towards construction breaks Sarah's brief attempts to control both life and death. Johns negation of his mothers maternity completes the process of leaving her arms and going into those of the terminator, whom Sarah has described as being the ideal parent because he will never let John down. When the Terminator says at the end of the film, I know now why you cry, as he hugs the boy before being terminated again, we see the complete transformation of the Terminator into a more maternal figure than Sarah Connor herself. His wave to John and Sarah is with his one remaining arm which shows more humanity than Sarah has managed throughout the film. And we need not overlook the wry twist on the macho expression: I can take you with one arm tied behind my back.
Pre-occupied- The History of Things to Come
Sarah's story is about being on the threshold of a new world order and it would be foolish to see it as just another old story about the restoration of old fashioned male superiority. Because of the high cost for women of being armed, Hamiltons pumped up biceps and ripped body must have some payoff for somebody. We suggest that the arming of hardbodied women is a setup, designed to make them superficially succeed at gaining armed power but showing them to be greater failures by truly failing to control death and also by losing the ability to be maternal and reproductive. In numerous films and in countless real ways, these maternal roles are then being taken up by men who show that they are once again better at both male and female activities and responsibilities.
Sarah Connor's story demonstrates the difficulty of being both a cyborgian woman and a maternal one. But the border war of the cyborg, according to Donna Haraway, is "no longer structured by the polarity of public and private" (Haraway 1985: 67) as previous gender wars have been. The tag line used in T2 ads, "It's Nothing Personal," should be believed because the real battleground now seems to be the revision of the "masculinist reproductive dream" (ibid.) which compresses the formerly male/public world into the formerly female/private/womb-world.
This negation of the armed woman in the form of Sarah Connor has a counterpart in the rearming of men to take over the only distinctive female characteristic biological reproduction. If women are losing the ability to be women by their futile attempts to become (as critics of feminism would state it) both men and women, men are not sharing such a failure. The new men's movement, a resurgence of interest in fathers' legal rights, and the development of new reproductive technologies have made possible previously unimagined male entries into self-reproduction.
Male characters in film are being successful not only in maintaining and redefining masculinity, but also in taking over or occupying female roles. In the 1980s, quite a few films had men successfully occupying women's roles, in fact engaging them better than women could. In Tootsie (1982), Mr. Mom (1983), or 3 Men and a Baby (1987), for example, men demonstrated a seemingly long-suppressed talent for mothering and/or being feminine (but not effeminate).
(Soldier takes over Mom's role in Time magazine and men really want babies in Newsweek)
The only human conflict defined in the techno-whiz-bang blockbuster Jurassic Park (1993) is that Sam Neills scientist doesnt like kids. At the films end, however, this problem is resolved along with that of the rampaging dinos. Despite all the criticism that there is no human character development in this film, the dino action often seems merely incidental to Neills development into a potential father. Macho men Arnold Schwarzenegger (Last Action Hero), Burt Reynolds (Cop and a Half), and Mel Gibson (Man without a Face) are also teamed with tykes in 1993 releases.
In other popular films, men seem to be attempting self-reproduction (Alien ; The Fly ) or get involved in obsessive parenting (Raising Cain ). In The Abyss (1989; directed by James Cameron) a man literally delivers his wife from a metal womb into life; in City Slickers (1991) a man delivers a calf from its struggling mother. In Enemy Mine (1985), a decidedly masculine alien also births a child from his body; in the now canceled television program based on a film, Alien Nation, men and women shared the gestation of the pod/child.
Arnold Schwarzenegger films have dominated the 90s focus on these themes. In Kindergarten Cop (1991), for example, Arnold the cop makes a better substitute kindergarten teacher than the woman cop he replaces and, indeed, better than all the other women in the school. In Total Recall (1990), a man physically usurps the site of birth. Kuato, a leader of the worker's rebellion on Mars, is actually a mutant growing half-born, half-fetal, out of the stomach of another man. Schwarzenegger is also reported to be preparing for a film (alternately titled Oh, Baby or Junior) in which he plays a pregnant man.
Other films of the 90s have taken a different slant on the occupation of women's activities. The fantastic invasion of a female body by a male entity, usually his spirit or soul, has become a common theme of these male-occupation movies. In Total Recall, Schwarzenegger tries to hide in the body of a cyborgian woman, only to have the mechanics of the robot go haywire, revealing his cross-dressing. In Ghost (1990), the spirit of a dead (white) male communicates with his girlfriend through the body of a black medium (played by Whoopi Goldberg).
In Switch (1991), the condemned spirit of a murdered womanizer must occupy the body of a woman in order to find one female on the earth who loves him and will prove he is worthy of eternal salvation. The man never becomes comfortable in the woman's body, struggling with tight dresses and high heels, but he learns the advantages of combining stereotypical male violence and female wiles. It is not until the body he occupies is impregnated (by his best friend) and the resulting girl child gives unquestioning love to his/the mother's body that his soul can be released from it's imprisonment in the female form. Learning the joys of motherhood (not fatherhood) liberates him.
A scene at the end of Prelude to a Kiss (1992) suggests just what the issue is here. In this film, an old man has forcefully changed his soul with that of a young bride played by Meg Ryan. Ryan has played a character who fears the world and expresses it through an adamant refusal to consider having children. One of the first things the woman with the old man's soul does after the switch is ask her husband to make love to her on a beach so that she can have his baby. At the end of the film, when the souls are switched back, the old man tries to explain his reason for causing the exchange. He talks about watching the deep connection between his wife and his daughter, resulting, he says, from the fact that the daughter was first inside his wife's body and later clinged to it from the outside. He was so envious of them, he said, that he felt like "eating them up."
The connection between occupying the female, and the male desire for a true reproductive experience, is expressed as a type of cannibalism (also a recurring theme in films like Silence of the Lambs and Cape Fear). The next world suggests that this cannibalism is not a "primitive" one executed from the outside, but one that will eat the female body from the inside, emptying it of its vital activities, leaving it with empty arms. Whether it's fertility doctor Cecil B. Jacobson impregnating up to 75 patients with his own sperm (Eaton 1992), or the tabloid rumors of pregnant males (Sawyer 1992), or the flurry of techniques for out-of-womb fertilization, fathers rights in abortion and adoption cases, or the actual development of synthetic wombs (Kirk 1992), the occupation of women's bodies for masculinist reproductive purposes is not only a celluloid fantasy. It is a form of cannibalism in which the female body is incorporated into the bodies of males.
The occupation and incorporation of female roles by the Terminator in T2 offers an interesting response to a question raised by Richard Corliss writing about that summers films with leading strong-woman roles: This summers films feature more female roles, but are they strong women or just macho guys in drag? (Corliss 1991:66). We would argue that in the case of Sarah Connor, a strong woman has been fighting occupation by men and by the medium in which, and for which, she reconstructed her body. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kyle Reese, the T1000, James Cameron, John Connor, her real son, the T800, Ron Perlman, her real ex-husband, Uzi Gal, Edward Furlong, Vincent, King Kong Hamiltons body must carry all these attachments in a way that male bodies never do. Her body carries not macho men in drag, but feminized, reproductive men in combat vehicles. They are Humvee wombs, off to fight as well as to reproduce in order to prove that the switches they force are appropriate.
Ironically, or fortuitously, the complete occupation or replacement of Sarah Connor by a man or machine never takes place. In this, one of the most technically sophisticated special effects film ever conceived and delivered, there was no special effect used to represent Sarah. When it came time to supply a duplicate of Sarah Connor for a key scene, a robotic version of her was not used. While the multiple robotic Arnolds used in many scenes indicated the feasibility of this type of substitute, when Sarah Connor had to face her T1000-duplicated double, the production turned to Linda Hamilton's real twin sister for the role. This human special-effect is a complete reversal of the film's trend, a sliding into humanness that suggests that the female body and its double (reproduction) are unique after all and maybe not easily usurped.
Linda Hamilton's arms signal a shift towards the infusion of human will into physiobiological changes. Like genetic engineering, synthesized organs, or the design for acrylic wombs, her arms are located at the crisis between biology and technology. This crisis is a crisis only as long as Darwinian evolution prevails as an explanatory tool because that theory cannot explain the desire to change our biology that we find in our prosthetic culture.
Photographs from Terminator 2 courtesy of Tri-Star Pictures, copyright 1991.
© 1996–2009, Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media. (Copyright Notice)