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Presentation of Gender in Cameron’s “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” Essay

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Updated: Oct 10th, 2021

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), co-written, co-produced and directed by James Cameron, is a sequel to the movie the Terminator (1984). It narrates the story of Sara Connor (Linda Hamilton) who takes up a mission of saving the world from a Nuclear Holocaust, for which she has to protect her son John Connor (Edward Furlong), who is supposed to become the leader of human resistance during 2029 AD when the disaster is destined to happen. The plot evolves around a concept that Skynet, a computer system, will take over control of the world and exterminate nearly 3 billion humans. Skynet knows that John Connor will eventually emerge as the savior of human kind, and in order to obviate this possibility they send T1000, a robot made of liquid metal, which can take any form it wants. John Connor, on the other hand, reprograms the original Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and sends him back from the future to protect the young John. What follows is a series of thrilling encounters involving both cyborgs, the boy and his mother. However, Sara Connor who is the only human protagonist in the movie is the central character and the one who is most motivated and she determines the direction the story takes. By portraying Sara as a strong and determined female the movie postulates that feminine gender has transformed from the weak and fragile secondary element to a powerful leading figure that takes up a responsibility of saving the entire human race.

As opposed to traditional movie concepts where female characters exist to serve the purpose of their masculine counterparts, Terminator 2 takes an abrupt departure from the established norms by making a female as the most important character in the movie. The story revolves around her life and it is she who takes up the challenge of facing all the adversities in her bid to save the world. From her first appearance in the movie at the hospital scene, where she is seen doing pull-ups, Sarah’s masculinity rather than femininity becomes pronounced. By casting Linda Hamilton, whose physical features are impressively strong, James Cameron reinforces the masculine slant of Sarah’s character. Her attempt to escape from the hospital projects her, again, as a character that is more masculine but ensconced within the frame of a woman. The way she smashes the guard with a broom, and breaks the doctor’s arm etc underlines the elements of primal savagery and brutality that are part of the male human nature rather than female. Throughout other episodes in the movie, especially during her encounter with Dyson, the viewers see this quality resurface in her. Traditional female movie characters usually have remained confined in roles where they took care of the family, and the quest for broader objectives remained left to males. In this movie, however, it is the female character that takes up the responsibility and vows to save the world from disaster and fights for the human cause.

A critical analysis of her some of Sarah’s characteristic traits, as under, will prove that this character is more masculine than feminine:

  • Physical characteristics: From the pull ups scene in the mental hospital, one can see that she is so focused on her physical strength. She is with a muscular body and she attempts to attack her doctor in the hospital scene. She is strong enough to overcome the security guards in the hospital. Later, once again she attacks her doctor and hurts his arm. In the last scene, she is seriously hurt but manages to use a gun against T-1000. These instances point to her physical focus which is usually the trait of male characters.
  • Mental alertness: She withstands her mental problems and manages to escape from the hospital. Later, she decides to kill the engineer, who was the mastermind behind the Skyline project, and sets off alone to execute her decision. In the encounter with the SWAT team, even when she is seriously wounded, she asks others to escape and decides to resist the men on her own. When T1000 follows them on the helicopter, Sarah fights him alone while the Terminates drives the vehicle. The kind of valor and determination that the character displays in these scenes staunchly validates her masculinity.
  • Determination and will power: From beginning to the end, she never gives up. When her doctor and other question her, she cunningly collects a pin and uses it to unlock her belt and the door. Because of her will power she is capable of escaping from a room with maximum security. Such a feat is not usual for a woman to accomplish and demonstrates the hidden masculinity that she veils with her feminine frame.
  • Decision making: When she realizes the truth behind the arrival of T101, she shoulders the full responsibility and takes over the control of all the deals. After the escape scene, she decides to flee to Mexico. In the chasing scene, she manages to resist the attack of T1000 by shooting at it. Moreover, she controls T101 in crucial situations.
  • Psychological problems: When she is emotional, she uses bad words (hospital scenes, at the engineer etc). When she happens to meet her friends and relatives she consumes liquor without hesitation. There is more than one scene where she smokes cigarette. She is short tempered, and because of the nightmares that haunted, she seems to be nervous (hospital scenes). Her stony face that betrays no emotions is a quality typical of males and this subtly points to the undercurrent of masculinity within her.
  • External appearance: From the hospital scene itself, she to dresses like a man. In the fighting scenes with SWAT men, T1000, chasing scenes etc she exhibits her courage and suffers pain like a man. She knows how to use arms and ammunition and it is evident from the chase scenes and the last scene that she can tout a weapon with the same ease and agility as a tough, trained male. In the fight scenes she fights like a male character. In some scenes, she gets far ahead than other characters.
  • Universal motherhood: She is ready to protect her son by facing dangerous situations in hospital and managed to escape for the same purpose. But her love and caring is not restricted to her son but her aim is to help the children whom she regularly meets in nightmares. This, again, is a trait that an audience usually associates with the typical male heroes and not a female lead in a movie.

Harsh experiences in life transform Sarah Connor into an extremely muscular and ruthless fighter against the odds. The male characters in this movie are only the shadows behind her; in fact, one cannot attribute males to them by virtue of their being machines, except in the case of appearance. Her son is perhaps the only significant male character in the movie, but his importance gets diluted by the fact that he doesn’t even know about his mission. The doctor is not ready to trust and to help her. T-101 and T1000 are machines ordained to protect and destroy her son. In some scenes, they are mere machines that are unable to take decisions according to their will. The engineer is working against humanity.

Most of the circumstances are against Sarah’s survival but she never gives up. She is ready to shoulder the responsibility to save her son and other children. Paul Brians in “Terminator vs. Terminator Nuclear Holocaust as a Video Game” points out that the character Sarah does not display any motherly affection towards her son. She is ready to save him because she wants to escape from the nightmare which is about the death of other children. “Sarah displays no motherly affection for the child she is so frantically trying to protect. She wants to save him because she has nightmares about the death of other children.” (Brians). The reason behind this behavior is that her aim is to protect all the children from total destruction. So she is totally devoid of any feminine affection towards her son. When one is destined to protect the whole human race from a nuclear war, human emotions and feminine affection will transform to universal motherhood. The movie projects Sarah Connor as the best example for this transformation.

Sarah Connor is haunted by her past and she usually has nightmares about the doom of children. The society is under the control of evil forces and no one is ready to trust or help her. The only thing which offers help is a machine. Sarah’s husband is dead and she had to look after her son. It becomes her duty to save humanity with her own effort. Moreover, she represents masculinity in a female body. Most of her deeds and body language represent her gender identity. So it is evident that Sarah Connor in The film Terminator 2 is an embodiment of masculinity in a female body. Her gender identity is identical to a male character, which is muscular, brave and powerful.

Works Cited

Brians, Paul. Terminator vs. Terminator Nuclear Holocaust as a Video Game. 2006.

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IvyPanda. "Presentation of Gender in Cameron's "Terminator 2: Judgement Day"." October 10, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/presentation-of-gender-in-camerons-terminator-2-judgement-day/.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Presentation of Gender in Cameron's "Terminator 2: Judgement Day"." October 10, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/presentation-of-gender-in-camerons-terminator-2-judgement-day/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Presentation of Gender in Cameron's "Terminator 2: Judgement Day"'. 10 October.

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