22 April 2007

Hummers and Hierarchy

Went to an amazing lecture on Thursday given by Cynthia Enloe, author of a number of great books including "The Morning After", which looks at gender politics after the Cold War, and "Bananas, Beaches and Bases". The talk was on the Militarization and Masculinization of society, and focused mainly on the increased militarization of US society and it's negative effects on gender issues.

She argued that in a militarized society people are divided into protectors or victims, with protectors adopting a masculine role and victims being given a feminine role, and she related this to the US government's treatment of Hans Blix before the start of the second Gulf War, and described how they had adopted a policy of feminizing his team and efforts in order to weaken their position. Living in Massachusetts she highlighted the flyover by stealth fighters at the opening game of the season as an example of how ingrained the military is into all aspects of US life, to the point that it seemed normal that a sporting event would be celebrated with weapons of mass destruction. In the Q&A session she looked at a couple of examples of militarism in Irish society, such as the use of Shannon as a stopover for charter flights taking US servicemen to Iraq, but also commented on the low numbers of women in the Irish army in comparison to the higher numbers in the US.

Although I didn't say this at the time I think that this has a lot to do with poverty, and the role that poverty has in the militarization of society. In Ireland the Defense Forces have really never had an aggressive recruitment policy, they accept a limited number of recruits in usually to balance out retirements, and in some years have no recruitment at all. The military has never been seen as an escape from poverty in Ireland in the same way that is has in the US.

While Enloe highlighted the increase in ROTC and other cadet classes in schools and universities as a sign of increased militarization, I am more struck by the aggressive non-traditional recruiting tactics aimed at traditionally disadvantaged areas of society, in particular the use of tricked out Hummers in urban areas (not to mention the fact that a military vehicle has become such an object of desire in the first place) or the sponsorship of a team in NASCAR. To use Enloe's own example poverty itself feminizes parts of society, leading to a much more aggressive masculine hierarchical society, which in turn increases militarization. No effort to demilitarize or address gender inequality can succeed without equally addressing poverty.

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