15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on October 17, 2001
What do nationalism, Chiquita bananas and Mexican garment factories have in common? In Cynthia Enloe's trailblazing book, they illuminate the interplay between global politics and women. Few scholars have investigated why and how international politics and global trade shape definitions of masculinity and femininity; this book does that and more, providing new perspectives on the gendering of power. For Enloe, power imbues the cultural, social and economic interactions that gird global politics; "relationships we once imagined were private or merely social are in fact infused with power, usually unequal power backed up by public authority (p.195)." Here, Enloe extends the analytical approach Friedan used in The Feminine Mystique (1963), which considered the connection between feminine stereotypes and evolving US global power and security interests. Enloe pushes Friedan's analysis into a global context and brings into sharper focus the way public politics are masculinized via the control of women's activities.
Each of the chapters in Enloe's book explores a different theme -- from tourism to US military bases -- in order to demonstrate how the personal is political and the political is personal. Enloe most successfully draws out the linkages between domestic life and public authority in her chapters on nationalism, banana republics and garment factories. Looking at the experiences of women in places as diverse as Sri Lanka and Palestine, Enloe finds women asserting a sense of national identity that conflicts with their feminine roles of tending home and children. Even more problematic, if increased militarization creates an emphasis on communal unity, issues of sexual inequality are often discounted; thus, the nation is redefined, but in a masculinized form. Enloe's most global chapter nicely couples women in the United States with women in Honduras, both of whom the United Fruit Company controls to a certain degree by promoting and relying on women's feminized roles. In the United States, housewives respond to advertising and turn bananas into a booming business, while in Honduras, mothers and daughters accept low paid work on banana plantations or in nearby brothels. In a later chapter, Enloe turns to the international garment industry, noting again how industry keeps women's work cheap by drawing on patriarchal ideas about labor. At the same time, concepts like risk and adventure underlie international financial decisions and masculinize global banking, the money driving the garment industry.
In arguing that international processes depend on particular configurations of masculinity and femininity, Enloe has produced an important work. However, this book is so wide ranging that it often forgoes providing a complex analysis of its topics; Enloe makes sweeping and often simplistic generalizations, such as "international tourism needs patriarchy to survive (p.41)." Yet Enloe depicts a tourism industry that responds to changing cultural and social norms; for example, the tourist industry incorporates the idea, launched by women, of the white female adventurer. Enloe wants to demonstrate the importance of gender in tourism; however, this reader was more struck by the way her book illustrates tourism's dependency on racism for its survival. In addition, many of Enloe's linkages, especially between female sexuality and the control of predominantly male populations, while intuitively comprehensible, are poorly supported by evidence. The presence of high levels of prostitution around US military bases, for example in the Philippines, seems at least equally tied to issues of international economics as it is to providing security for military bases. Why, I wonder, is there a collapse (in the host country) of previously defining notions about male / female domestic and sexual relations? Why are the patriarchal values that keep women at home or considering the needs of their compañeros in Afghanistan and Mexico suddenly demolished in the Philippines? Attention to the pressure that international economics places on the gendering of domestic relations in countries that maintain US military bases would have nuanced Enloe's argument.
Despite these flaws, Enloe should be commended for broadening our understanding of global politics. Indeed, Enloe challenges our conceptions of international politics while empowering female readers to think about how global issues might relate to their own experiences. The author's portrayal of the September 19th Garment Workers Union in Mexico highlights how women can recognize their dehumanized role in the global economic system; moreover, in examining the lives of working women across the globe, she calls on middle class feminists to hear and support a diversity of female needs. This book provides a welcome addition to current scholarship on the global market and will benefit anyone interested in considering the complex forms that power can take in international politics.
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on December 8, 2002
I've been studying international politics and gender issues for some time but they've always been presented as separate subjects. To find a cohesive, academic work integrating the two was fabulous. Her work is jointly informative and interesting providing enough theory to be of academic interest and enough examples to exceed the category of a mere textbook. Highly recommend this!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on June 26, 2007
An excellent book for anyone interested in feminism, international politics, or simply if you want an informative and interesting non-fiction book. The pressing question of BB&B is: "'Where are the women at?'" Cynthia Enloe takes the reader on a tour of some international hot topics and explores this question. Terrific book and I could not put it down. For a long time I had been searching for a feminist critique of the military, etc and I found exactly what I was looking for here.
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
This book is a study of international politics through the lens of women who influence husbands who happen to be the major power brokers within the international system. Enloe also studies how third world women are used as expressions of sexual and national power through agribusiness, tourism, and military bases.
This work is enlightening because it examines the quiet yet immensely influential role women play within the geopolitical economic system. Enloe's main thesis is that the personal is political, therefore the power plays within international politics correlates strongly with the power struggles within the personal relationships between men and women. Unfortunately where Enloe falls short is her narrow definition of masculinity and femininity. Ultimately she defines them as pillars of power, rather than the embodiment of choices. The truth is when it comes to these kind of dichotomized debates, the answers are usually a bit more nuanced.
First, what isn't clear is Enloe's use of the term `political' in which she also uses interchangeably to mean `economical'. The problem is if you don't clearly distinguish between the two it becomes difficult to identify who is a genuine victim of the vicissitudes of international political fiat, versus those who are freely making choices deciding between trade offs in an environment limited by scarcity. Enloe commits this fallacy because she views today's market system as a form of neo-mercantilism. In some cases she may be right but nevertheless it's still important to make the distinction because if the personal is political and the political is economical, why should the political/economical be of concern to anyone if the source of it all is personal, and people are completely happy with their personal choices? For Enloe, it seems to makes a difference if one believes that the personal sphere is a construct forged out of coercive power, rather than of choice. For Enloe, to command power over international politics also means commanding power within the personal sphere. If true, than universal happiness could not be possible because, in her worldview when it comes to power, there is always a winner and a loser.
The problem is power is subjective, arbitrary and always destined for conflict. If 'masculinity' and 'femininity' are simply power constructs then ones power is as good as the other. Since masculine and feminine interests are distinct power interests, this means they must be in perpetual conflict with each other since a simbiotic peace, that transceneds power that is founded on shared moral ideals, is not possible. Power constructs are not concerned with questions of ethics, rights, justice, truth, obligations and expressions of individual free will. Power constructs are solely concerned with aquiring more power.
Secondly, Enloe discusses how first and third world women are `used by the makers of the international political system', who are primarily men. Unfortunately, Enloe limits her definition of masculine power solely within the context of European nationalism. Afterall, what about third world men who are `used by the makers of the international political system'? Enloe doesn't have an answer. Doing so would require Enloe to reject or significantly alter her central thesis that the source of international politics lies primarily within the personal power struggles between men and women. Enloe's theory is incomplete because it stems from her Marxist reasoning which is rooted in a conflict-based world-view.
Despite these criticisms this is a very good book and it's highly recommended for anyone interested in learning about the `quiet' power women have in influencing international affairs.