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Masculinities in American Western Films

A Hyper-Linear History

Emma Hamilton

The «Western» embodies many of the stereotypes of masculinity: rugged, independent men in cowboy hats roam the barren landscapes of the American West, resolving conflicts with guns and tough talk. Where did these cowboys come from? What historical trends led to their emergence on screen?

This book explores the relationship between the Western, film and historical representation and the ways in which masculine gender performance is itself historical. It posits a new interpretation of how history functions on film, termed hyper-linear history. Hyper-linear history creates the possibility of seeing film as a vehicle that makes the past immediately explicit and relevant, rendering historical understandings complex.

The study offers a fresh exploration of American Western films made in the 1950s and 1960s, arguing that many Westerns of this period rely on the post-Civil War on-screen past to make sense of the tumultuous experiences of the period, to various effect. The films especially tap into the ways in which national economic, political, technological and social changes impact the performance of hegemonic masculinities. These films provide insight into the ways in which masculinities are performed and gender crises are expressed, explored and resolved.

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Chapter 3 ‘Back home they think I’m very strange. I’m a feminist’: Re-Evaluating the Feminine Other


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‘Back home they think I’m very strange. I’m a feminist’: Re-Evaluating the Feminine Other

Western films, many theorists have pointed out, position men and the hegemonic masculinity they embody at the centre of the narrative structure. Further, this centrality of men’s experiences has been linked to broader constructions of national identity, ideology and policy practices at both the domestic and international level. As we have seen in relation to The Naked Spur, and as we will continue to see throughout this volume, men’s gendered identities in the Western genre are positioned as not only personal manifestations but also manifestations of macro-level identity issues that operate within a distinctly historical juncture in this grouping of films. On the other hand, it is generally seen that masculine centrality occurs through the marginalization of women’s roles in Western films. For many women are juxtaposed to men, sitting on the margins of the narrative as little more than symbols of the civilization that the male protagonist will ultimately protect and embrace (through the institutions of marriage and the family), or relinquish in favour of maintaining his own rigorous identity in the ongoing quest for the next frontier. Westerns of the 1950s and 1960s, however, mark a subtle repositioning of the role played by women that contributes to, reflects and re-enforces the re-evaluation of hegemonic masculinity undertaken in these films. These Westerns illustrate the ways in which changing ideas regarding women’s roles and self-identity occasioned the...

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