Chapter five: feminism and homosociality
It was noted by structuralist and post-structuralist film-theorists at the time that the popular western buddy movie of the 1970s foregrounded a homosocial order. Masculinity was argued to have become destabilised as 'muscular individualism' gave way to corporatisation and the institutionalisation of social relations following WWII and this focus on male homosociality articulated nostalgia for the 'phallic' phase of American 'childhood'. Liberal and left male discourses during the 1960s and 1970s still typically expressed a belief that the 'problem' of feminism arose from capitalism which had torn women from their 'natural' role as mothers (or which had constituted that 'natural' sphere as oppressive – see Engels, 1884 or Mitchell's overview, 1971: 79-81). The parallel 'emasculation' of men was felt to have been intensified in the post-war period by the institutionalised conditions of late industrial society (Karamazov, 1978; Charles, 1975).
The successes of second-wave feminism were seen as having further destabilised masculine identity. The 1970s buddy genre was thus argued to have developed in reaction to feminist challenges to the homosocial patriarchal order. Many critics made a link between the crossover of feminism to the mainstream and a focus in popular cinema on male camaraderie, the militarised body, and violent action. Indeed, by the 1980s, a decade which many feminists associated with a backlash against feminism (Faludi, 1991; Dorchen and Raymond, 1990; Jeffreys, 1994), the action movie was one of the most successful genres of the "Age of Rambo" (Tasker, 1994: 92; Jeffords, 1993: 245-6).
This chapter will overview the development of the male buddy-movie action genre in the revisionist Westerns of the 1970s, transferring to the cop action genre in the 1980s. In this context of intensified cultural anxiety about masculinity and a conservative drift (or 'backlash'), the female buddy movie articulated a reverse-discursive radicalisation of feminist and lesbian discourses through a subversive reworking of the homosocial bonds which constitute heterosexual male identity.