By: Najla Mangoush
Cynthia Enloe’s phenomenal book, Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics, now in its second edition, has revolutionized our understanding of women’s lives as it relates to international politics. Enloe’s profound analysis of globalization reveals the crucial role of women in international politics by looking at their everyday lives: from the impact of their personal daily decisions in the workplace, to the ideologies of masculinity and femininity that underlie the political economy of tourism and agriculture, these are the material of global politics (Enloe, 2014). This concept of international politics is often overlooked, deemed apolitical, or unimportant but it is central to understand power, gender, and politics.
Enloe’s analysis shifts our global and historical thinking about women and women’s lives from apathetic to curious, revealing to the audience numerous stories about women’s crucial role in international politics that often go unperceived or unquestioned. Enloe provides illustrative accounts of how policymakers rely on false notions of femininity and masculinity to fuel a flawed system that controls women and renders them invisible from the whole realm of international politics. Enloe clarifies that even women who have served in top positions, such as Margret Thatcher or Indira Gandhi, have shown militaristic attitudes in the international system to handling conflict. Enloe challenges the commonly understood notions of women as ‘natural’ peace-builders, instead calling attention to the ways that both women and men are complex characters, both able to engage in violence and peacemaking.
Among the chapters that most sung to me was Diplomatic and Undiplomatic Wives, as it spoke about the invisibility of the wives of diplomats and their expected, but unacknowledged, and unpaid labor conducted for the state. In this chapter, Enloe describes the challenges women face at the diplomat level against discrimination in an industry where men hold approximately 93% of all civil service jobs (Enloe, 2014). Women, however, are often left in lower-paid positions and excluded from serious policy-making. Enloe urges us to look at the woman behind these diplomatic men by elaborating how men in government positions depend on the unpaid labor of women to facilitate building and maintaining the crucial relationships with their international political colleagues. Enloe explains that the “ongoing political history of marriage plays a decisive part in opening or shutting doors to women in diplomacy.” She explains that as long as women are seen by politicians as wives, the sexist barriers will remain high and the normalization of masculinized diplomacy will remain rooted.
This fascinating analysis is timely as we think of the role of women in positions of top leadership or in decision-making roles today. At S-CAR, and in the Conflict Analysis and Resolution field, women act as peacebuilders at both the grassroots and at the middle level as activists, organizers, and teachers. However, there are very few women at the top level of peacemaking in organizations such as the UN, and at the negotiation table in track-one diplomacy (Dahlerup 2013).
For instance, in September 2005, the global average for women in parliament stood at 16 percent. Since this time, women have achieved only 30 percent representation in national parliaments in 19 countries. Progress has been uneven and slow (Dahlerup, 2013).
Enloe invites us to consider the question of why we don’t have women political leaders who can shape diplomacy as feminists without being beholden to men every step of the way. Enloe also calls attention to the ways that women are currently shaping global politics, yet are ignored and rendered invisible by political discourses that deem their work unimportant (Enloe, 2014). As it stands, the women actively engaged in shaping diplomacy remain invisible. Enloe is challenging this erasure in her work. By making the case that international politics is utterly dependent on women and on normative assumptions of femininity and masculinity. She advocates for a deep investigation of how politics relies on these ideologies of masculinity and femininity to maintain the status quo, fueling our lack of curiosity (Enloe, 2014). Enloe’s contributions to feminist theory are a quantum leap from apathy to curiosity as she rewrites the historical narratives of women’s contributions that may be unseen, but have shaped global politics today.
For more of Enloe's insights on international politics, register for our upcoming conference, Feminism is the Future, and hear Dr. Enloe's keynote address, ''When Does 'Post-War' Start? Does It Ever End? Feminist Insights".
Dahlerup, D. (Ed.). (2013). Women, quotas and politics. Routledge.
Enloe, C. (2014). Bananas, beaches and bases: Making feminist sense of international politics. 2nd Edition. University of California Press.