The Ultimate Secrecy: Feminist Readings of Masculine Trauma in Vietnam War Literature
El último secreto: lecturas feministas del trauma masculino en la literatura de guerra de Vietnam



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Méndez García, Carmen M. (2011) The Ultimate Secrecy: Feminist Readings of Masculine Trauma in Vietnam War Literature. In American Secrets: The Politics and Poetics of Secrecy in American Culture. Farleigh Dickinson University Press, Lanham, Maryland, pp. 37-48. ISBN 978-1-61147-006-2

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It is a widely acknowledged and often unquestioned fact that patriarchy and its modes of behaviour and social organization favour the appearance of trauma on the weakest (and defenceless) members of society: women. In the last decades, trauma seems to have taken the baton of typically female maladies such as 19th c. hysteria or 20th c. madness. Feminists in the 20th c. have long worked to prove the connection between the latter affections (and their reflection in literary texts) and patriarchal oppression or expectations of feminine behaviour and accordance to roles and rules.

With Trauma Studies on the rise, the approach to the idea of the untold as related to femininity is manifold: on the one hand, is not trauma, which precludes telling about one’s own experience and keeps it locked not only from the others, but also from ourselves, the ultimate secrecy? On the other hand, when analyzing works that reflect trauma, one is astounded by the high number of them with a female protagonist and an almost all-female cast: in this sense, a ‘feminist’ reading is almost compulsory, in the sense that it is usually the author’s assumption that patriarchal systems of exploitation and expectations favour traumatic events and their outcome (silence and secrets) on the powerless, usually women. Often, traumatic texts combine feminism with other analytical discourses (one of the topics proposed for this panel): Toni Morrison’s study of traumatic responses in The Bluest Eye and Beloved cannot be untangled from her critique of slavery; just as much of Chicana feminism and its representations of rape and abuse (two main agents of trauma) analyze the nexus of patriarchy, new forms of post-colonialism, and the dynamics of power and powerlessness in ethnic contexts.

Within this tradition that establishes the secrecies of trauma as an almost exclusively feminine characteristic, one is however faced with texts which have traumatized males as protagonists: curiously enough, most of these characters have suffered trauma through a typically masculine experience: that of war and its aftermath. By analyzing novels dealing with war veterans from Vietnam or the Second World War, the astounding findings are the frequent mixture of masculine or even ‘macho’ values and the denial of any kind of ‘feminine’ characteristics, combined with a very strict set of rules of power and hierarchy that clearly establish who is empowered and who is powerless. It is our argument that this replication of patriarchal modes of domination, which place the lowest ranks of the army in a ‘feminine’ situation, blended with the compulsory ‘macho’ stance soldiers are forced to adopt as army men (as seen, for example, in Philip Caputo’s Indian Country, Larry Heinemann’s Paco’s Story or Ed Dodge’s DAU: A Novel of Vietnam) furthers the onset and seriousness of ulterior trauma. In this sense, we can also analyze this kind of writing from a ‘feminist’ point of view, since the dynamics of über-patriarchal power established at the front at war-time deny any display of elements traditionally viewed as ‘feminine’ (such as grief, guilt or emotions) in soldiers. If trauma is the result of a game of patriarchal empowerment, how can feminist works, not only theoretical, but also fictional, overthrow it? Are ‘feminine’ characteristics necessary to escape trauma, even in male victims? How can feminist readings of trauma enhance our understanding of its dynamics and help produce new modes of interaction that transcend power and gender division as the basis for the organization of society?

Resumen (otros idiomas)

Es un hecho ampliamente reconocido ya menudo incuestionable que el patriarcado y sus modos de comportamiento y organización social favorecen la aparición de trauma en los miembros más débiles (e indefensos) de la sociedad: las mujeres. En las últimas décadas, el trauma parece haber tomado el testigo de las enfermedades típicamente femeninas, como el siglo XIX. Histeria o vigésimo. Locura. Las feministas en el siglo XX. Han trabajado durante mucho tiempo para demostrar la conexión entre estas últimas afecciones (y su reflexión en los textos literarios) y la opresión patriarcal o las expectativas del comportamiento femenino y la conformidad con los roles y las reglas. Con los estudios de traumas en alza, el enfoque de la idea de lo indecible en relación con la feminidad es múltiple: por un lado, no es trauma, lo que impide hablar sobre la propia experiencia y la mantiene cerrada no sólo de los demás, sino también De nosotros mismos, el secreto final? Por otra parte, al analizar obras que reflejan el trauma, uno se asombra del elevado número de ellas con una protagonista femenina y un reparto casi femenino: en este sentido, una lectura "feminista" es casi obligatoria, en el sentido de que suele ser la suposición del autor de que los sistemas patriarcales de explotación y expectativas favorecen los acontecimientos traumáticos y su resultado (silencio y secretos) sobre los impotentes, generalmente las mujeres. A menudo, los textos traumáticos combinan el feminismo con otros discursos analíticos (uno de los temas propuestos para este panel): el estudio de Toni Morrison sobre las respuestas traumáticas en El Ojo Más Blau y Amado no puede ser desenredado de su crítica de la esclavitud; Tanto el feminismo chicano como sus representaciones de violaciones y abusos (dos agentes principales del trauma) analizan el nexo del patriarcado, las nuevas formas de post-colonialismo y la dinámica del poder y la impotencia en contextos étnicos

Item Type:Book Section
Uncontrolled Keywords:United States, Fiction, Vietnam, Trauma studies, War
Palabras clave (otros idiomas):Estados Unidos, Ficción, Vietnam, Trauma, Guerra
Subjects:Humanities > Philology > Criticism
Humanities > Philology > Literature
Humanities > Philology > English philology
ID Code:40263
Deposited On:24 Nov 2016 06:18
Last Modified:13 Jun 2020 14:36

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