My Favourite Feminist: Cynthia Enloe

What Pocahontas and Carmen Miranda tell us about international politics

For more than 30 years Cynthia Enloe has worked as a feminist researcher, author and activist on women’s struggles around the world. Enloe who currently is Research Professor at the Department of International Development, Community, and Environment (IDCE) atClarkUniversityhas tirelessly been fighting against marginalization and militarization. “Where are the Women?” is the central question leading her work and probably the work of thousands of feminist scholars around the world following her example.

She has published nine books and innumerable articles, scientific as well as journalistic (e.g. in Village Voice and Ms. Magazine) on feminism, globalization and militarization and has appeared on National Public Radio and on BBC. She has taught seminars in Britain, the US, Turkey, Korea and Japan and has been awarded “Outstanding Teacher of the Year” at Clark University three times. Translation into many languages (e.g. Turkish, Japanese, Korean, Swedish) has made her work accessible around the world.

In one of her famous books, “Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics”, first published in 1989 (London: Pandora Press) and recently (2003) in a newly edited, Turkish version, she aims to answer this question by looking at Carmen Miranda, a Hollywood movie star of the 1930s and 40s who became the symbol of the Chiquita Banana (“bananas”), at the link between sexism and tourism (“beaches”), and at female sex workers on military bases (“bases”).

Hardly any feminist author has shown as impressively as Cynthia Enloe that international politics is not understood by a restricted perspective on what “important” statesmen do. Instead, we should look at the everyday lives of girls and women, at the silent women behind the “statesmen”, at those working in textile factories, at sex workers and at women refugees.

If we want to understand the political economy of the banana, we have to think of how “Carmen Miranda’s movies helped to make Latin America safe for American banana companies at a time when US imperialism was coming under wider regional criticism.” (Bananas, Beaches and Bases 1990, p.124) And we have to pay attention to the paid and unpaid labour of women in Latin America andAfrica, which brings the banana to our supermarkets. Cynthia Enloe links the sexualized symbolism of the banana to sexual harassment that controls women working in the banana plantation factories.

By looking at nannies and maids in diplomatic households, totally dependent on their employers, Cynthia Enloe aims at giving a voice to those never heard in international politics. “Big” and “important” international politics is still presented by media and science as a male space where “womenandchildren”, a widely cited term Cynthia Enloe introduced in a famous article in Village Voice, play, if ever, an unimportant role.

Cynthia Enloe’s work shows us that this is in fact not the case, that international politics is permanently (re)constructed by hierarchical dichotomies of masculinity and femininity. She not only claims that the personal is political, but that the personal is international, too. This is in line with the thinking of the famous feminist scholar Christine Sylvester (Feminist Theory and International Relations in a Postmodern Era, 1994, Cambridge University Press), who turned the term “international relations” into “relations international”.

The idea that racial, national, ethnic and class identities shape constructions of femininity, masculinity and gender relations and vice versa has always been present in Cynthia Enloe’s work. Telling stories of the daily lives of women and girls in a very special style (“Wars are like love affairs. They don’t just end.”, The Morning After, p. 2), Enloe’s writing is inspiring to those familiar with feminist international relations theory as well as to those who never thought that you could write a book on international politics “thinking about Pocahontas and […] mulling over the life of Carmen Miranda” (Bananas, Beaches and Bases, 1990, p. xvii).

Selected Publications of Cynthia Enloe:

The Curious Feminist:  Searching for Women in The New Age of Empire (Berkeley,CA:University ofCaliforniaPress, 2004)

Maneuvers: The International Politics of Militarizing Women’s Lives (Berkeley,CA:University ofCaliforniaPress, 2000)

The Morning After: Sexual Politics at the End of the Cold War, Berkeley and London(Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1993)

Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics (London: Pandora Press, 1989; Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1990)

Does Khaki Become You? The Militarization of Women’s Lives(London, Pandora Press, 1988)


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