The pressure to conform to the "correct" gender in 'Boys don't cry' and 'Brokeback Mountain'

Term Paper, 2006

23 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of Content

1. Introduction

2. Society in Boys don’t cry and Brokeback Mountain

3. Society’s Pressure and Reactions to it
3.1. Boys don’t cry
3.1.1. Teena Brandon or Brandon Teena
3.1.2. Lana Tisdel
3.1.3. John Lotter
3.2. Brokeback Mountain
3.2.1. Jack Twist
3.2.2. Ennis Del Mar

4. Brokeback Mountain as a Symbol

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

Even nowadays people who do not fit in the commonly accepted sexual role models of our society still face severe problems and hostilities which frequently culminate in murder. This is illustrated in the movies Boys don’t cry (1999) and Brokeback Mountain (2005). The two low-budged productions by the directors Kimberly Peirce and Ang Lee both tell love stories that are not blessed by society. The individuals suffer the pressure to conform to what is regarded as the “correct gender” in the respective societies.

But what is meant by “correct gender”? “Gender”, as García Landa defines it, is a “matter of language, of signs and symbols”. It is a social construct and refers to the “cultural representation of sexual difference”. In practice it can not be seen completely detached from biological sex as its definition is partly based on features as for example social behaviour and clothing commonly attributed to one certain sex. Also, sexual identity, which refers to the sexual orientation, is closely linked to gender because it is constructed on the basis of selfsame.[1] The term “correct gender” refers to what society generally expects from a certain sex, in other words a person who biologically is a man should also conform to the male gender. As in all cultures individuals are socialized into a dominant heterosexual eroticism this includes having a heterosexual orientation.[2]

The aim of this paper is to analyze how the societies where the pressure originates from are built, how the characters cope with or try to escape from or strengthen the pressure to conform to the “correct gender”, and which consequences this has. Also, on a structural level, the cinematographic means and techniques which the directors use will be analyzed in the course of the paper.

When quoting from the film minutes will be stated in parenthesis after the quotation. The analysis in chapter 3.1. is taken from the audio commentary of director Kimberly Pierce which is included on the DVD Boys don’t cry.

2. Society in Boys don’t cry and Brokeback Mountain

Both movies Boys don’t cry, based on a real incident, and Brokeback Mountain, an adoption of a 30 page short story by Annie Proulx, present similar problems and convey similar messages to the audience. Parallels of the two stories concerning the social situation and circumstances which form the basis of the extreme hatred, frank hostilities, and rejection culminating in each of the films in the murder of one of the lovers can also be seen.

In Boys don’t cry Brandon Teena, a young transgender woman played by the actress Hillary Swank, grows up in Lincoln, Nebraska in the 1990ies. She is, just like her newly won friends, part of the uneducated “white trash” mid-western working class. Monotony and hopelessness along with violence, crime, alcohol abuse, and broken love relationships dominate life or rather are community’s life. It is this very situation which forwards the hatred and pressure Brandon is experiencing throughout the story: Ignorance and caginess of the rural uneducated community form the basis of the unlimited animosity against anybody who does not fit in their patriarchal pattern and does not stick to “their” rules. Clearly defined conservative “black and white” role models prevail: men may show no sign of weakness or any feelings at all, they have to be “manly men” and may not allow anybody to doubt this fact which is why they feel obliged to prove their manhood at all times.

Just like Boys don’t cry Brokeback Mountain is set in a rural environment, in the early 1960ies up to the 80ies in Wyoming and partly Texas. Also this society is marked by violence as well as a very conservative and religious attitude. Ignorance evokes fear and no deviation to what is considered as “normal” is accepted and everybody is pressured to belong to the “correct gender”. Any otherness is demonised and when some detect a spark of otherness in themselves it makes them hate and therefore brutalize and kill the “others” in order to defend and assure their own sexual identities.[3]

Just like Brandon Teena the protagonists and lovers Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist are confronted with a deadlocked, intolerant society where men have to be strong, aloof and straight.

3. Society’s Pressure and Reactions to it

In Boys don’t cry we learn how different members of society deal with Brandon’s “sexual identity crisis”: depending on which position they take they rebel against the pressure of conforming to the “correct gender” or exert pressure themselves. Generally it can be said that the female characters react in a more understanding way than the men. Teena Brandon tries to escape the pressure by denying that she is a girl, Lana refuses to see the truth, to her love is more important than gender. Candace, Lana’s and Brandon’s friend, is shocked on learning the truth, however does not turn against Brandon either and after having broken the secret grants Brandon asylum in her house. Lana’s mother at first reacts very hostile towards Brandon after having learned the truth. Her position, however, changes when she has to face the fact that John and Tom are rapists. John and Tom themselves are very homophobic and their hatred culminates in them first raping and then murdering Brandon. The only man that does not turn against Brandon upon, although knowing the truth, is Teena’s long-time friend, yet we do not get to know him very well.

In Brokeback Moutain society’s reaction is not shown as extensive as in Boys don’t cry. Here, except for a few short examples, like the reactions of Ennis’ wife Alma, John Aguirre, and Jack’s parents, the pressure society exerts and the silent rebellion against it show in the main characters Ennis and Jack. The spectator sympathizes with the lovers as the story is told from their point of view and attention is turned to the main characters trying to save their love and the inner struggle Ennis finds himself in.

In order to show the different, partly opposing ways of dealing with the pressure and its consequences, in each film the reaction of each of the lovers will be analyzed whereat in the analysis concerning Boys don’t cry John Lotter’s character will be included as it stands exemplarily for the homophobic society.


[1] Chantal Carnut-Gentille D’Arcy, José Ángel García Landa: Gender, I-deology essays on theory, fiction and film, Atlanta, Georgia 1996, 15.

[2] Carnut-Gentille D’Arcy García Landa , Gender, I-deology essays on theory, fiction and film, 17.

[3] Dennis Grunes, Haunted by memories- Brokeback Mountain, (2006) (08/17/2006).

Excerpt out of 23 pages


The pressure to conform to the "correct" gender in 'Boys don't cry' and 'Brokeback Mountain'
University of Heidelberg  (Anglistisches Seminar)
Cultural Studies: Gender Trouble in U.S.Films
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Boys, Brokeback, Mountain, Cultural, Studies, Gender, Trouble, Films
Quote paper
Kathrin Herz (Author), 2006, The pressure to conform to the "correct" gender in 'Boys don't cry' and 'Brokeback Mountain', Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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