Sunday, May 11, 2008

Bananas, Beaches, and Bases

Cynthia Enloe, Bananas, Beaches, and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989).

Enloe, a political scientist at Clark and author of multiple other books about women, empire, and labor, sets out to prove basically that women exist in the arena of international politics. This is one of those ideas that seems obvious to an American Studies eye - of course there are women at every turn; of course gendered assumptions allow constructions such as military bases and light industry factories and tourism to exist - but may be transgressive when considered in light of assumptions about how diplomacy works.

Considering such figures and sites as Carmen Miranda, diplomatic wives, prostitutes who service military bases, and women who work in garment industries, Enloe tries to show that modernization "relies on women's contentment with traditional roles" - as auxiliaries, sex objects, or consumers. (In other words, "not only is the personal political, but the international is personal.") Enloe also shows instances of resistance to this general trend, as when diplomatic wives campaigned in the 1970s to be granted the status of "private persons" (rather than auxiliaries to their husbands' work), or when Philippine leaders asked that American soldiers be required to be tested for venereal diseases, as the prostitutes around military bases had to be, or when Mexican garment workers protested after the 1985 earthquake in Mexico City, after which company indifference killed many of their co-workers.

In The American Political Science Review, Anne Sisson Runyan liked the book, though wished that Enloe had been more specific in describing exactly how international politics becomes "masculinized" (and men render concepts such as risk, security, and nationalism wholly masculine). In The Women's Review of Books, Anne McClintock (she of Imperial Leather, which I haven't read) loved the book; she especially liked how Enloe focused on the gap between women of privilege and women with no social capital, and how the first group is sometimes complicit in the oppression of the second.

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