'People Want to See Tears’: Military Heroes and the ‘Constant Penelope’ of the UK’s Military Wives Choir

Citation:

Cree, Alice. 2020. “'People Want to See Tears’: Military Heroes and the ‘Constant Penelope’ of the UK’s Military Wives Choir.” Gender, Place & Culture 27 (2): 218–38. 

Author: Alice Cree

Abstract:

This article offers a feminist analysis of the UK’s Military Wives Choir as a vehicle for depicting the subject of the ‘Penelope’ military wife. The Penelope subject is characterised by patriotic feminine stoicism, and is a figure through which the masculine military hero is created and reflected. This paper will use the example of the Military Wives Choir to the argue that the making of the Penelope military wife subject in the national imagination is an important means through which women married to servicemen are rendered useful for the military. Drawing on primary fieldwork with the Plymouth branch of the choir alongside an analysis of secondary material such as song lyrics and Gareth Malone’s BBC television programme The Choir: Military Wives, my discussion will centre on three themes; lyrics & music, history & time of the state, and violence & representation. By discussing the making of the Penelope subject through these lenses, this paper will contend that there are clear, yet often nuanced, forms of violence at work in the representation of the choir. And yet, as this article will conclude, in order to shed a more textured light on this violence what is needed is a critical and in-depth engagement with the lived experiences of the women of the choir.

Keywords: critical military studies, feminist geopolitics, military wives, military wives choir, gender

Topics: Feminisms, Gender, Women, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Militaries, Nationalism, Violence Regions: Europe, Northern Europe Countries: United Kingdom

Year: 2020

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