On April 2, 2015 Dr. Cynthia Enloe of Clark University presented the keynote address, How to Take Militarized Masculinities Seriously Without Losing Your Feminist Curiosity, at the Center for the Study of Gender and Conflict’s third annual research conference. Before her address, CGC staff members, Lisa McLean and Alice Peck interviewed Dr. Enloe, and a lively conversation on a range of subjects ensued, including integrating gender analysis into university curricula, harnessing key skills for feminist activists and academics, and militarized masculinities and policing in the United States.
Our interview began by discussing the critical need for the broad implementation of gender analysis in academic programs, research, and practice in order to create deeper understandings of the dynamics of conflict and war. Dr. Enloe addressed the central issue that confronts feminists in academia and beyond, one aptly captured by the assertion of Mason's Dr. Ingrid Sandole-Staroste (2011) that, “gender is all too often understood to mean ‘women’[…] and it is mostly left to feminists and other female scholars to address gender relations.” We asked Cynthia for her perspective on gender courses that are framed merely as an ‘option’ or elective, as opposed to fully integrated into core political science and conflict resolution curricula. She responded:
Why do you really think that your analysis of conflict is reliable when you’ve got no gender analysis in here? What do you really think you can say about the causes of war, or the ongoing dynamics of war - as in Iraq over years, or what makes for sustainable peace, or a just post-war society? What makes you think you can understand any of those things if you don’t ever put your mind to investigating the workings of masculinities, femininities, and the lives of women[…] If you can’t understand the workings of relationships between men and women, then you can’t, in fact, make reliable sense out of any conflict.
Photo 1 - From left to right: Leslie Dwyer, Elizabeth Mount, Lisa McLean, Cynthia Enloe, Oksana Anderson, Alice Peck, Christina DiBartolo and Emily Allen. Photo: Alice Peck.
Photo 2: Dr. Cynthia Enloe. Photo: Clark University.
Never accept later. Never be satisfied when they say, “that’s a great idea, we’ll work on that, it will come later,” because later never comes, and when later does come, it’s too late. All of the other systems are firmly established so that when you do get your demand met, the structure is so elaborate and so institutionalized that by the time your request is respected, in fact, it will have no effect on the workings on power. “Not now, later,” simply becomes another system.
Rejecting the ‘add-women-and-stir’ approach, Enloe argues that a feminist curiosity is not merely “a side dish of brussel sprouts,” but requires “a profound rethinking” of academic programming and practice in conflict resolution.
To successfully pursue necessary structural and institutional change is an extremely fraught and complex issue. Enloe suggests three political skills that all feminists should embrace to ensure their work is oriented to positive social change, without perpetuating the “unreliable” status quo. The first is to recognize and resist tokenism: “how to tell if you’re a token? One of the hallmarks of a token is that it is visible, but it changes nothing.” The second skill is to be cognizant of co-optation, which Enloe admits is a challenge: “some of us cannot tell that we’ve been co-opted until it’s already too late and we have lost the trust of the people with whom we thought we were allied.” The third skill is to acknowledge when you are becoming complicit: “While being co-opted usually means that you believe that you are still the force for positive change, you don’t realize that you’ve been hugged to death. Complicit really means that you’ve sold a little bit of your soul. That you’ve lost some capacity to really see what your own goals have been warped to become.” These skills are important not only to feminists, but to everyone committed to social justice work. A ‘feminist curiosity’ about power, positioning, discourse, and the ways in which these are used to support the status quo, or challenge structures of power is critical for burgeoning activists.
A curiosity regarding gender and conflict enables scholars to explore spaces commonly overlooked in analysis of conflict and violence, and to consider the ways in which militarism seeps into areas of everyday life. A curiosity about gender reveals the gendered experiences of violence in places not typically considered ‘warzones.’ For Enloe, asking questions about the hidden manifestations of militarism and violence is critically important; such questions force us to consider, “how any masculinity can get militarized[…] And that means that we find ourselves talking about what kinds of mindsets, what kinds of structures, and what kinds of physical environments encourage a step-by-step militarization of masculinities, but also of femininities.” Consider policing in the United States, the militarization of which is much discussed. Enloe encourages us to consider how people in our own communities are constructed as ‘enemies,’ who benefits from this construction, and how this sense of living in a world of enemies militarizes gendered relations of power.
Enloe describes how the militarization of the police creates a “hierarchy of masculinity” even among the police officers themselves, distinguishing those issued standard gear from those who receive military-issued hardware. One of the issues that captured Enloe’s attention in relation to the coverage of Ferguson was how it appears that changing the equipment police are assigned also serves to “change their own notion of gender.” Creating hypermasculinized units, decked out in tactical military-grade gear, shifts the gendered dynamics within the police force, and between the police and the community. As the police are positioned as masculinized, armed protectors of the community, a divide between these militarized, hypermasculine ‘protectors’ and those who have been cast as the enemy becomes entrenched:
If you have just a nightstick and the power to arrest, you still are likely to think you are amongst your fellow citizens. If you’re equipped with an M16, or you are driving around town in a DOD-issued armored vehicle, your fellow citizens don’t look like fellow citizens, they look like the enemy. And when you have police people thinking that their fellow citizens are, to their minds, the enemy, you are way down the path not just to militarization, but to the shredding of democracy. Through these examples, Enloe demonstrates not only the consequences of militarization in our communities, essentially ‘bringing the war home,’ but also the gendered nature of this process.
It is through curiosity about gender, and through an explicit attention to the gendered dynamics of power woven into all relations and structures within society, that we can begin to add complexity and nuance to existing interpretations of conflict. This curiosity to gender must go beyond the focus on women to acknowledge and deconstruct the ways in which rigid constructions of masculinities and femininities shape everyday life.
A link to the conference can be found at:
This Interview also appears in the April edition of the S-CAR Newsletter: