Bananas, Beaches and Bases is a thought-provoking book that will make you question everything you thought you knew about gender politics. Cynthia Enloe documents how women’s lives are shaped by deeply engrained dynamics of patriarchy both at the societal and personal level. She truly has an exceptional skill in rendering the workings of power in women’s everyday life visible, and in the exact situations and places you wouldn’t even consider. I discovered groundbreaking stories about the gendered politics of tourism, masculized expressions of nationalism, the exploitation of women as a weapon of war and so much more.
Cynthia Enloe encourages us all to exercise genuine curiosity about women’s lives, especially in the places deemed “domestic” or “private” by politicians. It is in places as unexplored as the very closets of women that layers of gender inequality need to be peeled. This curiosity should not be passive, however, but a first step to continuously question “the complicity in creating the very world that one finds so dismaying”. The gender-curious lenses used by the author are driven by emancipatory objectives to not only raise awareness but also undertake action to make a change in the forgotten areas of women’s lives.
One chapter that I found very interesting uncovers the underestimated role of “diplomatic wives” in international politics. I learned that many assumptions on femininity and women’s unpaid work (for example self-effacing companions and caring hostesses) are exploited and manipulated by the state to institute political and commercial links with other states. Enloe demonstrates the crucial role played by many women in the history of diplomacy and emphasizes how feminine charms have been used to facilitate man-to-man negotiations.
What I loved most about this book is that it provides a complex yet accessible intersectional analysis of the relations between women and politics, all the while avoiding generalizations. The cases documented are very diverse in terms of race, class and age which is crucial for making sense of global patterns of femininity and masculinity. Enloe displays a clear awareness of the different ways in which notions of masculinity play across generations and cultures. When I finished reading the book, I was left with a feeling of profound admiration for Cynthia Enloe as she remapped the boundaries of international relations to show how the personal is international and vice versa. If you are curious about the workings of power in the different spheres of women’s life, this book is for you. I guarantee that you will learn so much and will have a more accurate and complete vision of International Politics.