Happy Home Front Heroines? Army Wives in US Literature and Culture

Internally funded project

Start date : 09.05.2016

Project details

Scientific Abstract

Narratives of war and military conflict usually revolve around the figure of the soldier and cast military spouses and families in a rather marginal role. In the context of the so-called New Wars of the 21st century, however, a growing number of (popular) US-American texts construct the military wife as a heroic figure of national importance: from Siobhan Fallon’s critically acclaimed short stories and Victoria Kelly’s poetry to the hugely successful Lifetime television show Army Wives (2007-2013) to numerous country songs, self-help books, and memoirs. At a time when an increasing number of women actively serve in the military forces and military families have become more diverse, the almost nostalgic turn towards the ‘army wife’ – as the most iconic cultural representation of military spouses – seems to be somewhat anachronistic. However, it resonates clearly with an alleged return to the domestic in the post-9/11 era and it draws attention to the situation of military families. Most of these recent cultural texts endow their female protagonists with a degree of “affective agency” (Rebecca Wanzo) while, at the same time, relying on and thus affirming established gender performances. They construct the ‘army wife’ as heroic figure that serves to legitimize military action, to represent the U.S. nation as the “victim-hero” of global politics (Elisabeth Anker), and to communicate military culture and its norms, values, and practices to a civilian audience. This project examines the political ramifications of these constructions, and reads them critically against and along historical precedents and representations of military spouses. Taking recourse to Betty Friedan’s notion of the “happy housewife heroine” and Elizabeth Abele’s concept of the “home front hero,” I suggest that these cultural texts construct the army wife as “happy home front heroine.” The term signals the investment of this idealized figure in ‘traditional’ gender logics and the domestic sphere (in its double meaning of home and homeland). And, it also refers to its embeddedness in sentimental discourses that validate the role of the army wife as significant part of the war effort, as mediator between military culture and the civilian population, and as central figure in the (re)negotiation of the nation and national identity.


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