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From Draft NOtices, July - August, 2004

Maneuvering Consent

— Shelley Gutierrez

Cynthia Enloe, a research professor in the Government and International Relations program at Clark University in Massachusetts, has been a leading scholar of militarism on an international scale. Probing into how militarism utilizes and functions within the lives of people of color and women, Enloe has offered important insights to students of militarization since the publishing of Ethnic Soldiers: State Security in Divided Societies in 1970. While this text focuses on the state's usage of the political and manpower benefits of mobilizing and deploying ethnic soldiers, her more recognized and influential body of work focuses on the ways in which women's lives and identities play a role in and are shaped by international relations and the global political economy (The Morning After: Sexual Politics at the End of the Cold War, 1993; Bananas, Beaches, and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics, 1989; and Does Khaki Become You?, 1988).

Enloe's most recent and ambitious text, Maneuvers: the International Politics of Militarizing Women's Lives, solidifies her position as a cornerstone within scholarship on international relations as she explores with great care the ways in which women's identities and lives are (often insidiously) militarized. With a feminist lens attentive to experiences and resistance of women internationally, Enloe shows the interconnectedness of diverse groups of women's experiences with the military across the globe and that these realities are mutually constitutive to the more readily recognized components of militarism.

This approach to militarism enables one to understand, for example, how the recent reporting of rapes of women detained at Abu Ghraib, the lack of attention to the spousal abuse among military families, and marketing campaigns aimed at recruiting mothers are connected. Unfortunately, Enloe only gives mention of the militarization of the U.S./Mexico border, but those of us attuned to this geopolitical landscape can recognize how many women in borderland communities, for instance, are asked to help enlist their sons while others feel the wrath of militarized border patrol programs. However, through similar examples, Enloe points out how militarism often relies upon maneuvering women of diverse groups against one another even though they each experience militarism in several of its many forms.

A crucial addition Enloe makes within this text that is relevant to anti-militarists is her exploration into how aspects of ordinary life become militarized. Enloe defines militarization as, "the step-by-step process by which something becomes controlled by, dependent on, or derives its value from the military as an institution or militaristic criteria." Enloe notes that things such as laundry, girdles, marriage, town pride, and sneakers can be embedded with military culture. For instance, sneakers are militarized when "the women who are sewing those sneakers (in China, Indonesia, or Vietnam) have their wages kept low because the major brand corporations and their factory contractors hire military men as their managers, call on local militarized security forces to suppress workers' organizing, or ally with governments who define the absence of women workers' independent organizing as necessary for national security."

To truly highlight militarism's pervasiveness, Enloe points out other more subtle examples. For instance, laundry is militarized when it is done by a mother to allow a son relaxation time during a break from service, and making a picnic basket can be militarized if it is used to boost a soldier's morale. Her opening chapter, "How do they Militarize a Can of Soup?", which is devoted to this infiltration of the military within civilian life brings attention to how as mothers, sisters, and teachers, women play important roles in helping children mediate the meaning of militarized food, toys, TV shoes, movies, clothing, video games, and classroom experiences.

Essential to understanding the relationship between gender and the military, Enloe also points out how the military maneuvers discourses of feminism, gender and sex equality. In the opening portion of her text she notes that Junior Officer Reserve Training Corps programs (JROTC) have adapted to critiques of gender inequality in high school sports programs by ensuring that young girls in JROTC participate in numbers that closely parallel young men's (about 40%). Similarly, the militarization of first class citizenship has made women conflate women's rights within the domestic sphere with women's "right to fight" since the women's suffrage movement during World War I. In short, Enloe points out that feminists must recognize that the military maneuvers even feminism to meet its manpower, familial, sexual or labor demands.

In this important text, Cynthia Enloe clearly illuminates how the military's stability relies on both the voluntary and involuntary participation of women. Women are needed as nurses, soldiers, mothers, wives, workers, prostitutes and rape victims for militaries to operate throughout the globe. Without a critical consciousness of how prevalent the military is, many of these subtle forms of militarism in women's lives go unnoticed. As Enloe states, " . . .militarization does not occur simply in obvious places but as can transform the meanings and uses of people, things, ideas located far from bombs or camouflaged fatigues . . ."

With her keen analytical skills and usage of personal stories, Enloe eloquently makes the case that unraveling these formerly unseen or peripheral actions, relationships, and components of militarism is fundamental to dismantling it. As an advocate against militarism, Enloe reminds us that subtle forms of militarism unknowingly make mothers recruiters and also slowly work to establish consent for the violence militaries impart disproportionately against women and children throughout the world. When hearing about sexual abuse, mistreatment of gays in the military, rape of Iraqi women, marketing to Latina mothers, the new release of a military movie, and the death of yet another female soldier — while the U.S. continues to wage war in Iraq and deploy troops throughout the globe — a reader of this text will be better equipped to connect the dots.

Information Source: Cynthia Enloe. Maneuvers: the International Politics of Militarizing Women's Lives. University of California Press. Berkeley: 2000.

This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (


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