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If you’re headed to the new Terminator franchise film this July, you may wonder what new insight you can bring to a conversation that will inevitably focus on explosions, “hasta la vistas,” and the fate of the world. But what if you were to interrogate The Terminator and its ubiquitous star, Arnold Schwarzenegger, through a lens of gender? Would every analysis find that Schwarzenegger embodies patriarchal, violent ideals?

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Not exactly. In her analysis of Schwarzenegger’s film roles,
Sara Martín Alegre finds rich fodder in two women’s contributions to the study of masculinity in which Arnie plays the star. But when Alegre studies the “icon of masculinity,” she discovers something strange indeed: “with the theoretical tools currently available Schwarzenegger may be criticized and even ridiculed, but…the root of his undeniable appeal cannot be satisfactorily accounted for.”

Despite presenting as an “ideal man” who turned from skinny teenager to world-renowned bodybuilder to action hero, writes Alegre, Schwarzenegger defies stereotypes: he plays heroes and villains and somehow portrays “the essence of masculinity without being sexually attractive”. Alegre notes Yvonne Tasker’s argument that by drawing attention to the performance of muscle-bound masculinity Schwarzenegger actually challenges masculinity.

Alegre also investigates Susan Jeffords’ claims that Schwarenegger’s Terminator character actually supplants the mother by “birthing” the future human race and denying women their traditional power in motherhood. But Alegre finds feminist discourse in Terminator 2, writing that even Schwarzenegger’s burly robot cannot replace the care of a mother.

By bridging “the patriarchal old man and the feminist new man,” writes Alegre, Schwarzenegger takes the threat out of performative masculinity—and presents new possibilities for today’s man.

Alegre’s arguments are echoed in Susan Seyfarth’s article tracking Schwarzenegger’s evolution from “predator to protector.” Schwarzenegger’s move from barbarian to Kindergarten Cop is actually a a path of humanization, writes Seyfarth, helping Mr. Universe recapture his “lost manhood” as he serves as surrogate father. So sit back, relax, and let Terminator Genesys serve up some nuance along with all that popcorn.


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Atlantis, Vol. 20, No. 1 (Junio 1998), pp. 85-94
AEDEAN: Asociación española de estudios anglo-americanos
Studies in Popular Culture, Vol. 15, No. 1 (1992), pp. 75-81
Popular Culture Association in the South