Masculining Women in Positions of Power and Militarism as a Fashion Statement

In our society why do women feel the need to act or present themselves as more masculine in order to be taken seriously within a position of power? Specifically within the military?  And why is dehumanizing violence a fashion statement in our country? These are two questions which Cynthia Enloe attempts to answer in chapters 5 and 6 of her book, Globalization and Militarism, Feminists Make the Link.

One idea that I took away from chapter 5 is the way in which women are pressured into presenting themselves as more masculine as they gain power in society. One place that we can look at this outside of the military is at everyday jobs. As women in different parts of the world are given the opportunity to be in higher positions of power more and more, the feeling of pressure to conform to masculine ideals builds. For example, when women are promoted to positions typically given to men, they often feel the pressure to conform to the standards set by the men in their position before them. At least, this is my common experience when dealing with women in position of power. We all know the story of the female employee going out to the strip club with her male co-workers to try to fit that role. I think that this masculinization is incredibly problematic and that it is something that we should use our feminist curiosity to explore. I’m sure you can think of other spaces in which women are challenged to take on a more masculine presentation in order to be able to preserve power.

So a main point she made was that female soldiers feel the need to sometimes be more violent than their male counterparts. While her focus was on American women in the Abu Gharib and Guantanamo, this can be seen in other parts of the world as well. actually did a story about the nation with the highest ratio of women to men, Israel. What they found was that Israeli women soldiers tend to be more violent towards Palestinian civilians than men.

“According to one soldier, “A female combat soldier needs to prove more … a female soldier who beats up others is a serious fighter … when I arrived there was another female there with me … everyone spoke of how impressive she is because she humiliates Arabs without any problem.”’

I think this is right on with what Enloe talks about when she talks about female soldiers becoming masculinized. So very obviously, this is not just a United States issue, but rather one that occurs in most if not all militaries that include women in their ranks.

So does this mean that we should not allow women into militaries for fear that they might become masculinized? Definitely not. The obvious problem is that women are not taken seriously if they do not conform to this male perpetrated stereotype that soldiers have to be masculine. So as Enloe points out in the book, the military’s big questions is how can we admit women into this male dominated space (the military) without making her masculinized while also keeping the military from becoming feminized?

My answer to that would be, maybe we need a little feminization up in there.

I think we need to be less scared of what a feminized version of the military might look like, because obviously our own military is infatuated with doing nothing but dominating other countries, and specifically the people within those countries (think about the prisoners of war  and the many civilians who are raped by American soldiers). But, as Enloe states:

“In a patriarchal culture – in rich countries and poor countries, in countries with diverse cultural traditions – any person, group, or activity that can be feminized risks losing his or her (or its) influence, authority, and even self-respect. So long as any culture remains patriarchal, then, feminization can be wielded as an instrument of intimidation. -Enloe 96

So on that note, chapter 6 talks about the way in which the violence enacted in militaries becomes a fashion statement, and how we perpetuate this violence by wearing things such as camouflage or khaki. Why do we feel the need to dress up as the people who systematically rape civilians and torture prisoners? In what way is this “cool”? I’ve always wondered why camouflage was so big, long before I realized the alarming rate at which soldiers rape civilian women or kill innocent people, but then again I was raised to be skeptical of the military. So that might have something to do with it. I think this fashion came out somewhere in the middle of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and has continued since. People have seen wearing camo as a form of patriotism and supporting our troops, which is why is has gained so much popularity.


I seriously do not understand a culture in which we idealize military strength and masculinization so much. What kind of image are you giving off when you wear these kind of things? And what does that say about the society that we live in? It may seem trivial to be so hung up on what the current fashion trends are, or what people are wearing but when media is telling us that what we need to wear is clothes that accept and perpetuate masculinized violence, then I think we need to look at that very seriously. It furthers the idea in society that the military is an institution that should be idealized, rather than trivialized.

So obviously, this talk about military fashion was part of a bigger discussion Enloe was having about demilitarization, because camo as a fashion statement shows just how militarized our whole society has become. When we don’t question a six-year-old wanting to look like someone in a hyper-masculinized institution, we aren’t questioning the ways in which masculinity and militarism and globalization influence our lives. I think we need to implore a feminist curiousity into everyday life, and not ignore the things that may seem trivial to us, such as fashion statements.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Michellw
    Sep 13, 2012 @ 09:04:04

    Interested in theses heels how much?


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