Cynthia Enloe is a Research Professor in the Department of International Development and the Department of Gender Studies at Clark University, Massachusetts. Her career has included Fulbrights in Malaysia and Guyana, and guest professorships in Japan, Britain and Canada. Here she shares how she was stirred by Hannah Arendt‘s early works and recommends several books for the light each shines on the myriad genderings of war and post-war.
I grew up in a New York suburban household where books and magazines abounded. My mother read novels and biographies of accomplished women, while my father read European history and the biographies of male explorers. I loved tales of girls as well as boys having adventures. My parents subscribed to two daily newspapers, the New York Herald Tribune and the New York Times. I remember how grown-up I felt when I mastered the art of elaborately folding the Times so one could read it on a crowded Long Island commuter train.
I had a wonderful education at Connecticut College (then all- women, now co-ed), but what I remember vividly are less the books and more my professors – Miss Dilley, Miss Holborn, Miss Noyes. It was these professors who brought Hannah Arendt to speak on campus. Listening to her left a lasting impact.
In grad school, at University of California, Berkeley, I began to collect books. As a political science doctoral student and a novice Southeast Asia specialist in the ‘60s, I read novels, as well as histories and colonial archives, to prepare for my work in Malaysia. Even after dozens of moves, I still have my slightly mildewed copies of Anthony Burgess’s The Long Day Wanes: A Malayan Trilogy and of Han Suyin’s And The Rain My Drink, novels that gave me a nuanced sense of how British colonials and the Malays, Indians and Chinese they colonized imagined their lives.
Americans were taking over the imperial baton from the French in Vietnam, but there were scarcely any books in English on Vietnam. I’ve just pulled down from a shelf my battered copy of Frances Fitzgerald’s eye-opening Fire in the Lake, which I read first in The New Yorker, as I have many books (another reading legacy inherited from my parents). Fitzgerald, an American journalist, studied with the French scholar Paul Mus, one of the handful of US-based academics knowledgeable about Vietnamese history. Later, I bought the paperback edition, assigned it to students; it’s still stuffed with my barely legible notes on scraps of paper. It was at Berkeley too that I started reading Hannah Arendt in earnest, again first in the New Yorker and in the New York Review of Books. While I now have a shelf devoted to Arendt, I’ve kept my folder of Arendt’s original yellowing magazine articles to remind me that profound works of political thought can (and should) appear on the local news stand. I found Arendt’s Men in Dark Times, a collection of her profiles in intellectual courage, particularly stirring.
In the 1970s and 80s, reading Chalmers Johnson’s study, MITI and the Japanese Miracle, along with the Ralph Nader group’s searing studies of the US Forest Service (The Last Stand), and Food and Drug Administration (Chemical Feast), taught me to stay curious about the micro-cultures that are nourished inside bureaucratic organizations. This interest in institutional cultures stood me in good stead when I began to study militaries and militarism.
It was only in the late 1970s that I began reading feminist works, books by British and American feminist historians, poets and journalists. It was exhilarating. Once I read Angela John’s By the Sweat of their Brow, the politics of British coal mining could never again look simplistically masculine; reading Beatrix Campbell’s Wigan Pier Revisited, made masculinist analyses of any nation’s recession look naïve; Susan Kingsley Kent’s Sex and Suffrage in Britain revealed how radical suffragists’ thinking was. These were also the years when feminist bookstores were thriving, and I bought books there by the armload: for instance, Claire Midgely’s Women Against Slavery, the until-then untold story of British women’s transnational campaigning, and Margot Badran’s Feminism, Nation and Islam, an account of Egyptian feminists’ organizing in the 1920s. Each made me appreciate the dynamic relationships between activist women’s strategizing and their theorizing.
Being a teacher, one can share your enthusiasms with students. Among my favorite books are those that I’ve taught, rereading books over and over, hearing each group of students’ fresh reactions to an author. Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas is so marked up that I’m now on my fourth copy. No author, I think, has laid out so complexly (and so wittily) the entanglement of patriarchy and militarism. A book that I’ve never taught but which has effected my teaching and had a profound effect on my on-going growth as a feminist is Adrienne Rich’s On Lies, Secrets and Silence. Like Woolf, Rich reminds me that feminist curiosity transforms the way one looks at everything.
Among recent books I would enthusiastically recommend for the light each shines on the myriad genderings of war and post-war are: Yasmin Husein Al-Jawaheri’s Women in Iraq: The Gender Impact of International Sanctions; Drew Gilpin Faust’s The Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War; and a shocking story of international bureaucratic misogyny, The Whistleblower: Sex Trafficking, Military Contractors and One Women’s Fight for Justice, by Kathryn Bolkovak, the Nebraska police woman deployed to Bosnia, where she challenged traffickers, contractors and the UN.
But there are books that I read without a pen in my hand. I love mysteries, not the spy-chasing or serial murder sort, but the stories of women and men deep in organizations who, against the bureaucratic odds, pursue justice: Donna Leon’s Venetian commissario, Colin Cotterill’s 1970s Laotian coroner, Rebecca Pawel’s Franco-era Guardia Civil sergeant, Quentin Bates’ Icelandic police woman, and the classic Seicho Matsumoto’s Tokyo police detective. I always have a mystery and another novel going at once. Recently, for instance, Julie Otsuka’s When the Emperor was Devine, Yiyun Li’s The Vagrants and Monique Truong’s The Book of Salt.
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Cynthia Enloe is a Research Professor in the Department of International Development and the Department of Gender Studies at Clark University, Massachusetts. Her career has included Fulbrights in Malaysia and Guyana, and guest professorships in Japan, Britain and Canada, as well as lecturing in Sweden, Norway, Germany, Korea, Turkey and at universities around the U.S. Her books and articles have been translated into Spanish, Turkish, Japanese, Korean, Swedish, and German. She has written for Ms. Magazine and has appeared on National Public Radio and the BBC.