Rewind, Review, and Re-Rate: ‘G.I. Jane’: Can Women Be Navy SEALs?

By Mark Jackson
Mark Jackson
Mark Jackson
Film Critic
Mark Jackson is the senior film critic for The Epoch Times. Mark has 20 years' experience as a professional New York actor, classical theater training, and a BA in philosophy. He recently narrated the Epoch Times audiobook “How the Specter of Communism is Ruling Our World,” and has a Rotten Tomatoes author page.
September 25, 2021 Updated: September 30, 2021

August 22, | 2h 5min

“Navy SEALs” (starring Charlie Sheen) came out in 1990 and kicked off America’s current SEAL infatuation. Active-duty SEALs apparently enjoy quoting “Navy SEALs” dialogue while on operations. When rescued local noncombatants (in, say, Afghanistan) thank them, SEALs like to say, “There’s no reason to thank us because we don’t exist. You never saw us. This never happened.”

When “G.I. Jane,” starring Demi Moore came out in 1997, none of the scads of literature about SEALs and SEAL training was out there yet. SEAL warriors like Chris Kyle, Jocko Willink, and David Goggins weren’t yet household names, and so I thought “G.I. Jane” was big fun. There was cool stuff happening, even though everybody at the time was pretty sure no woman could ever pass SEAL bootcamp (BUD/S, Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL), notoriously the most brutal military training in the world.

Now, after having read pretty much every last book about SEALs, watched all the SEAL movies, and followed Willink and Goggins on Instagram—and then rewatched “G.I. Jane,” it was like a camera lens finally coming into focus: It’s one of the most ridiculous military movies ever made. 

woman in white Navy uniform in G.I. Jane
Topographical analyst Lt. Jordan O’Neil (Demi Moore), in “G.I. Jane.” (Buena Vista Pictures)

And Yet!

Apparently, a woman has now passed BUD/S. According to SOAA (Special Operations Association of America):

“Has there ever been a female Navy SEAL? While the U.S. Navy has yet to have a female join their ranks as a Navy SEAL, they did recently have the first female to ever pass the grueling and demanding U.S. Navy SEAL officer training course. … Originally, Navy SEALs were just one of two communities that were required by law to not allow women to join. The other is Navy SWCC (Special Warfare Combatant-Craft Crewmen). However, that is not the case today.”

woman in Navy SEAL battle gear, on land, in G.I. Jane
BUD/S candidate Jordan O’Neil (Demi Moore), in “G.I. Jane.” (Buena Vista Pictures)

I’m not surprised. Women who are on the cutting edge, involved in things that were previously considered male-only endeavors, can pretty much do everything men do. Lynn Hill free-climbing The Nose, solo, on El Capitan in Yosemite Valley, before any man could do it, comes to mind (along with her tongue-in-cheek exclamation after exiting the 3,000-foot climb: “It goes, boys!”) And have you seen those top-level CrossFit women? Arnold Schwarzenegger didn’t have abs to rival theirs at the height of his bodybuilding career. I jest, of course. But only slightly.

It is, however, safe to say that no woman on earth can compete with 6-foot-9-inch, 400-pound Hafthor Julius Bjornsson, the world’s strongest man, who recently broke a 1,000-year-old Viking record by carrying a 1,433-pound log on his back for five steps. In the legend that the record comes from, the Viking Orm Storolfsson broke his back on the fourth step. You know why no woman can compete with that? Because no man can either. And very few elephants.

The Story

“G.I. Jane” mostly comes off as a 1997 recruitment advertisement made by Ridley Scott (“Alien,” “Blade Runner,” “Thelma & Louise”) for the Navy, with the intent to show exactly just how tough U.S. Navy SEAL training is. The Scott boys must have had some kind of deal with the Navy because Ridley’s brother Tony made “Top Gun.”

man in blue t-shirt with gun in G.I. Jane
U.S. Navy SEAL Master Chief John James Urgayle (Viggo Mortensen), in “G.I. Jane.” (Buena Vista Pictures)

Moore’s character, Jordan, is supposed to be the first woman ever to undergo BUD/S. She’s singled out for abuse by D.H. Lawrence-quoting Master Chief John James Urgayle (Viggo Mortensen).

The question is never whether Jordan will make it; it’s how, and what kinds of fetishized punishment audiences can watch her endure on the wet, sandy beach-run to self-actualization. It’s basically an essay in eroticized brutality and masochism, and if not for its faux feminist credentials, it would have probably been roundly denounced as misogynist.

woman being tested with drowning in G.I. Jane
BUD/S candidate Jordan O’Neil (Demi Moore) in SERE training (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape), in “G.I. Jane.” (Buena Vista Pictures)

Predictably, Moore’s character not only finishes her training but also earns the respect and trust of her prejudiced male compatriots.

The Main Issue

The age-old question is, should women serve in the military in combatant roles? They definitely already do in Israel and in war-torn African countries, the latter of which I dismiss because they employ child soldiers, and because women and children traditionally really ought not to be fighting in wars, which was always a man’s job.

But there are highly competent female fighter-jet pilots. And even hardcore Navy SEALs say they cannot understand the moxie and cool-headedness needed to pull off an insane, pitch-black, nighttime, flying-by-instruments-only, aircraft carrier landing, in 30-foot waves, in a thunderstorm, which pilots call “a night in the barrel.” But women can do that now.

What I also find convincing about the topic is that there are two former Delta Force operators who have become action-thriller authors. Both of them have a female character written into the story who’s every bit as good as the men on the team, with the added specialty that in operations that call for more spy than warrior, the women can do their hair, put on lipstick, wear little black dresses, catch the enemy off guard, and put them in compromising situations. If these guys didn’t think women can operate at the level men can, their books wouldn’t be as believable as they are. On the other hand, people tend to be attracted to the outrageous; maybe these guys are just selling books.

woman in white blouse at desk in G.I. Jane
Texas Senator Lillian DeHaven (Anne Bancroft) criticizes the Navy for not being gender-neutral and rigs a deal whereby if women compare favorably with men in a series of test cases, the military will integrate women fully into all occupations of the Navy (which is really all about her career advancement), in “G.I. Jane.” (Buena Vista Pictures)

Let’s say for a minute that combat is a good thing for women to do. At one point, Demi Moore famously snarls a certain anatomical curse beloved of men. Wellll… but, you know, Jordan—you don’t actually have one of those. It’s one thing when a woman is able to compete in the macho, male-dominated world of spec ops military, but when aping the worst of male behavior is seen as empowering, then you know that the well-intended aspects of feminism got discombobulated somewhere along the way.

Here’s the real problem: Men fighting in wars might get PTSD from seeing their male comrades’ heads getting blown off in a fire fight, but the sight of a woman getting similarly killed automatically adds, for all alphas with a chivalrous gene, the burden of not having defended her well enough. In fact, Mortensen’s character in the movie, has the following quote:

“The Israelis tried it—women in combat. Seems men couldn’t get used to the sight of women getting blown open. They’d linger over the wounded females, obviously trying to save those who couldn’t be saved, often to the detriment of the mission.”

woman in Navy SEAL battle gear, in water, in G.I. Jane
BUD/S candidate Jordan O’Neil (Demi Moore), in “G.I. Jane.” (Buena Vista Pictures)

What it boils down to is this: Rape and pillage happen in war. If a SEAL gets caught by the Taliban, he’s going to get his head chopped off. If a female SEAL were to get caught by the Taliban, all sorts of unspeakable evils would immediately occur—and be videotaped—and then she’d get her head chopped off. And all of it would go on the internet. Ultimately, it’s this undefendable vulnerability that shouldn’t be allowed to go downrange, in military vernacular. A video like that could give an entire country PTSD.

So—can women be SEALs? Yes. Should they be SEALs? It’s still up for debate. According to former SEAL Rorke Denver, there are seven different types of Navy SEAL: 1) Smurf SEAL,  2) Rough-Upbringing SEAL,  3) Brawler SEAL,  4) Proto SEAL, 5)  Gamer SEAL,  6) Ivy League SEAL, 7) Legacy SEAL. Maybe Female SEAL will be the eighth type.

‘G.I. Jane
Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Demi Moore, Viggo Mortensen, Anne Bancroft, Jason Beghe, Jim Caviezel
Running Time: 2 hours, 5 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Release Date: Aug. 22, 1997
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Mark Jackson
Mark Jackson
Film Critic
Mark Jackson is the senior film critic for The Epoch Times. Mark has 20 years' experience as a professional New York actor, classical theater training, and a BA in philosophy. He recently narrated the Epoch Times audiobook “How the Specter of Communism is Ruling Our World,” and has a Rotten Tomatoes author page.