Professor and author Cynthia Enloe spoke to about 40 people Monday about the role of so-called “military wives” in U.S. military policy.
Enloe, a research professor in the department of International Development, Community, and Environment at Clark University, focused on the government’s attempts to manipulate women for the purpose of furthering its military aims.
“You can’t make sense of how the government uses a militarized foreign policy without using a feminist’s perspective to analyze women whom the government controls and manipulates,” Enloe said.
Vyjayanthi Rao, a professor in the Anthropology Department and postdoctoral fellow at the Yale Center for International and Area Studies, said Enloe’s lecture was important despite her failure to address its advertised topic, the militarization of Iraq.
“The focus on the military wife was surprising, but Enloe demonstrated the significance of women in U.S. foreign policy, which helped bring post-[Iraqi] war discourse into focus,” she said.
Instead of discussing the war in Iraq, Enloe began the talk by discussing the Crimean War. She said after the 19th-century war, the British government blamed the underperformance of British soldiers on health — especially venereal disease. This assumption led to a debate about whether a military with married or unmarried soldiers is best for imperial effectiveness, Enloe said.
“Although unmarried soldiers are more at risk for venereal disease and alcoholism, wives were seen as alternate objects of loyalty in spite of the fact that they encourage a type of [moral] behavior that makes for good soldiers,” Enloe said.
Enloe said a recent shift in military doctrine results in increased attention to military wives. Throughout the 1990s, crafters of U.S. military policy opted to reduce the active duty military, which was once the military’s primary source of soldiers, Enloe said. She said the government began to rely more on the National Guard and reserves for military operations instead.
This is significant because men who are not on active duty are more likely to have families, Enloe said.
“Women are therefore integrally involved in [the U.S.’] new foreign policy doctrine,” Enloe said.
Enloe discussed the impact of military wives on retention and morale in the military, characterizing these areas as two major sources of anxiety for the Defense Department.
“The military invests a lot of public money in soldiers,” Enloe said. “Military wives, as well as girlfriends and prostitutes, are often viewed [as people] who will encourage men not to reenlist.”
Enloe said the military’s methods of solving this problem include improving childcare on military bases and ensuring that military wives’ longtime benefits are not lost as a result of divorce. Other strategies include encouraging military wives to be morale boosters and attempting to reduce domestic violence in military families.
“[The military] encourages military wives who have given up hopes for a career to see themselves as doing something valuable,” Enloe said. “Volunteer work helps them feel as though they have contributed to national security and have become a part of the military family [as a whole].”
Emily Wills ’04, who attended one of Enloe’s previous lectures, said she was enthralled by the speaker for the second time.
“Professor Enloe is one of the most articulate speakers I’ve ever heard,” Wills said. “The lecture was great.”
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