The Secret Lives of Women in the Aftermath of Combat: Female Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in European Cinema

By Rebeca Maseda.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The presence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has been prevalent throughout history since the times of Homer (Shay, 1994). Its recognition as a legitimate disorder by the medical establishment, however, did not happen until 1980. Judith Lewis Herman, in her seminal text “Trauma and Recovery” (1992), draws a connection between the acknowledgement of psychological trauma as a legitimate disorder and cultural transformations, both of which occurred in affiliation with a political movement. By 1980, the Vietnam War had proven to be a fiasco, and the pacifist, the Human Rights and the Feminist movements had forced society to acknowledge the traumas of those returning from combat and of women and children who suffered rape and domestic violence.

Cinema, as a cultural apparatus, has been representing (and often misrepresenting) the psychological wounds of those male soldiers returning home (The Deer Hunter (1978), In the Valley of Elah (2007), etc.). Cinema, however, has largely neglected the representation of women suffering from war-related PTSD. This absence is more poignant if we take into account that civilian women have historically been victimized in every armed conflict, that sexual assault and severe sexual harassment—collectively known as Military Sexual Trauma (MST)—is nearly epidemic in the armed services (Walsh, 2009), and that women are now fighting in ground combat in the late Iraq/Afghanistan War and reporting to suffer PTSD in higher percentages than men (Cave, 2009).

The purpose of this presentation is to explore if modern cinema echoes the increasing level of awareness of war-related PTSD in women and how it does so. Among the scarce examples of films that discuss traumatized female victims, we will focus on The Secret Life of Words (Coixet, 2005) and Grbavica (Žbanić, 2006).

Keywords: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Women, European Cinema, War

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 9, Issue 9, pp.123-134. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 773.159KB).

Dr. Rebeca Maseda

Assistant Professor, Language Department, College of Arts and Sciences, University of Alaska Anchorage, Anchorage, Alaska, USA

Rebeca Maseda is Assistant Professor of Languages at the University of Alaska Anchorage. She teaches Spanish Language and culture, and her research focus is on cinema and gender, and the uses of films in the language classroom. She has published multiple articles on lesbian pornography, deconstruction of gender in cinema, and she is the author of the book “Essay on Contradiction: Virginia Woolf on Screen” (Ed. Universitat D´Alacant, Spain). Lately, she has become interested in the use of psychological research for film analysis. The result was an article on schizophrenia and Julio Medem´s “Lucia y el sexo”, and the submitted manuscript “From Weaklings to Wounded Warriors: The Changing Portrayal of War-related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in American Cinema,” devoted to male PTSD.


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