Toy Soldiers, 2016, Felt, fleece, thread, fiber-fill
With this project I sought to address the dominant discourse of masculinity, particularly as through the lens of the US Military, a hypermasculine institution that is informed by and informs gender roles in the United States. Rather than focus on the dangers that this hypermasculine discourse inflicts on American society, I chose to confront the machismo, thin-skinned pride and inflated ego of this masculinity that permeates American understanding of what it means to be a man. I did this by creating dolls dressed as soldiers with cartoon expressions of fierceness or anger. The dolls challenge the belief that men are inherently physically and mentally strong, and non-emotional, more rational, and are naturally more disposed to bravery than women. This belief reduces men’s humanity and delegitimizes any female possession of these traits, including any roles associated with them, such as breadwinner, leader, or soldier. This has become particularly relevant as the US Army approves admission of women into combat and enlistment in the draft. It seems unthinkable that it took until 2016 for this to push through, especially considering that women have already been fighting in combat since they entered the army. The persistence of this hypermasculinity is revealed in the push-back and suspicion of women entering combat.The image of a female soldier rejects longstanding ideas that women need to be taken care of and protected from danger, and that somehow to be a man, a hero, a virtuous person means taking care of women. Those who oppose women entering combat maintain that women’s physical weakness compared to men, their over-emotional tendencies, and the inevitable sexual distractions they would provide to male soldiers, would be catastrophic to the integrity of US Defense (the plethora of sexual assaults against female soldiers already within the military seemingly does not undermine this integrity).
For this piece, rather than a hard, menacing, or courageous depiction of male soldiers, these dolls present a childlike portrayal of the classic toy soldier that rejects the notion of men as inherently strong and pokes fun at the macho pride and accepted superiority so intrinsic to our conception of masculinity.
In the future, I would like to continue working on these dolls, creating a whole army of them that could fill a room, working on varying the colors of the uniforms and elaborating on the details of the metals, badges, and other military identifications.