Book Review-‘Bananas, Beaches and Bases’

Cynthia Enloe’s Book ‘Bananas, Beaches and Bases’ has been, and continues to be widely read by scholars and students of International Relations. What makes her work stand out from other works in the discipline, is her usage of a gendered lens to analyse the world of International Politics. Where are the women in International Politics? Who put them there? and who benefits from them being there? These, Enloe believes, are crucial to a thorough analysis of International Politics but have hitherto been ignored and overlooked. Another crucial question that Enloe wants us to ask is that what does the woman who is put in a particular position think about being there? How would she interpret her position? These questions would hint at what Enloe attempts to do and that is, to view International Politics from the vantage point of women.

An essential point that Enloe makes is that what’s more important is to ask questions of the existing system rather than having ready-made answers. The reason behind this is the very fact that the existing system does not put forth a wholesome picture as it doesn’t include the experiences of women.  Enloe believed that the absence of women in IR was far from natural, in fact, it is constructed. This is because the existing structure is marked by manipulation by and domination of masculine culture and politics. The position of women is constructed by men and thus, for women to feature in such a system, they have to become like men. This implies that in doing so, they devalue femininity and acknowledge that the masculine traits are superior.

Typically, when people wrote in IR their focus was on making links between political and international without accounting for gender. Enloe is assertive when she points out such an understanding is far from complete. The reason behind this, she highlights in the key phrase of ‘The personal is international, the international is personal’.

 For Enloe, feminist informed investigation of international politics yields valuable insights into the complex politics of masculinity. The international is much broader than mainstream experts assume and the political is well beyond the public square. In this book she focused on aspects that are not thought of as ‘consumer goods’ i.e. tropical beaches, women’s sexuality, the service of flight attendants to name a few. Enloe views women in third world countries as global political actors.

Enloe takes the case of The League of Nations to cite as an example. At the face of it, in conventional works of IR, one would think of it as a site for preventing war post the wreckage caused by the First World War. But thinking of it from the premise of women brings in a hitherto overlooked aspect of The League of Nations i.e. as a site for promoting social justice as some women emerged as international civil servants because of the same. It is important to applaud Enloe’s work for its positive impact. It has enabled an area for dialogue where many more women have now joined the conversation. These women add their experiences and findings to the conversation. The coming together of women enables a genuine exchange of ideas. Therefore, the doors to reinterpret international politics using a gendered prism has been thrown wide open to us.