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Hollywood Westerns are certainly not renowned for their contribution to feminist plots or characters, but True Grit (1969) is one of the more forward thinking movies with respect to women’s roles. However, the movie still portrays traditional power structures of patriarchy that undermine the female character’s autonomy. Looking at this film through the lens of both Critical Rhetoric and a Gender Diversity Perspective allows us to see the nuances of Mattie Ross' stand against oppressive traditional roles, while also examining the ways in which she is still dominated by discursive patriarchal practices. Celeste Condit’s gender diversity perspective encourages ditching traditional views of “male” and “female” as a way to liberate women. Mattie Ross’ character in True Grit is not classically feminine. She wears masculine clothing, drives a hard bargain, speaks her mind, and shoots people in the name of the law. By portraying these traditionally masculine characteristics while still retaining a feminine side, her character breaks free of traditional gender roles that have historically oppressed women. Raymie McKerrow’s principles of critical rhetoric, especially his critique of domination and his concerns with power, encourage the exposure of unequal power structures in order to challenge their merit. Mattie Ross disrupts typical patriarchal power structures throughout the film; she is bookkeeper for her family, chases after outlaws in the name of justice, and stands up to men in positions of authority. Though we see her strength and bravery throughout the film, in the end she is still put in a position where she must be rescued by the male hero, Rooster. So while it’s clear Mattie’s character allows for steps towards female liberation, the audience is still left with the parting image that ultimately the men prevail and save, while the women’s place is still boxed in by traditional roles. The rhetoric around us creates our cultures, identities, and even our realities. Given this fact, it is of the utmost importance to reflect on portrayals of discursive practices that can be harmful and oppressive in order to help empower dominated groups. These lenses give us an approach to critique rhetoric in order to create more realities where women are not held back by unequal distributions of power.

Publication Date



Logan, UT


feminism, gender roles, power distribution, media


Animal Sciences | Dairy Science

True Grit (1969) and Feminism: How it Succeeds and Why We Should Expect Better

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