Masculinity as Foreign Policy Issue

By Enloe, Cynthia | Foreign Policy in Focus, October 9, 2000 | Go to article overview

Masculinity as Foreign Policy Issue


Enloe, Cynthia, Foreign Policy in Focus


The militarization of any country's foreign policy can be measured by monitoring the extent to which its policy: 1) is influenced by the views of Defense Department decisionmakers and/or senior military officers, 2) flows from civilian officials' own presumption that the military needs to carry exceptional weight, 3) assigns the military a leading role in implementing the nation's foreign policy, and 4) treats military security and national security as if they were synonymous. Employing these criteria, U.S. foreign policy today is militarized.

A feminist analysis can help reveal why U.S. foreign policy has become so militarized--and at what costs. Since 1980, due to the growth of the women's movement, it has become almost commonplace in many domestic U.S. policy circles to ask: "Will this proposed solution have disproportionately negative impacts on girls and women?" and "Does this policy option derive from unspoken assumptions about men's employment, men's health, or men's supposed abilities?" Notable strides have been made in domestic policy arenas, even if there is still a long way to go before such intelligent questioning produces equally smart policy outcomes.

By contrast, in foreign policy, progress toward a more sophisticated--realistic--understanding of the causes and costs of policy options has been sluggish. In the 1970s and 1980s, women activists and feminist analysis did help drive popular protests against U.S. wars in Southeast Asia and Central America. Yet, generally, U.S. foreign policy has been tightly controlled by the president and Congress, limiting a genuinely public debate. Stalling progress toward bringing feminist analyses into foreign policy decisionmaking processes has been the conventionally naive belief that international affairs--trade, immigration, high-tech weapons sales--have nothing to do with gender. They do.

Feminist foreign policy analysis is not naive. It derives from a systematic, eyes-wide-open curiosity, posing questions that nonfeminists too often imagine are irrelevant or find awkward to ask. For starters:

* Are any of the key actors motivated in part by a desire to appear "manly" in the eyes of their own principal allies or adversaries? What are the consequences?

* Which policy option will bring women "to the negotiating table"?

* Does the alleged reasonableness of any foreign policy choice rest on the unexamined assumption that women's issues in the target country can be addressed "later," that it is men's anxieties that must be dealt with immediately?

American feminist analysts and strategists have had the strongest impact on international political debates in recent years when they have worked in concert with women's advocates from both developed and developing countries, and when the U. …

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