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Cynthia Enloe, 'Maneuvers. The International Politics of Militarising Women's Lives'

University of California Press, 2000. 418 pp

Here's the short review – read this book! And just in case you need more persuasion, here are some reasons why.

Cynthia Enloe has probably been the most consistent analyst of gender and militarism over the past decade; the scope of her analysis is wide-ranging, yet her argument is focused and powerful; and unlike many other writers, she really does address gender, rather than merely documenting women's experience.

Though the subjects of each chapter – the mothers buying a can of Star Wars soup, the “camp followers”, the prostitutes, the raped women, the model military wives, the nurses and the female soldiers – are women, her analysis focuses on the power and policies of militarism which construct the gendered spaces these women inhabit.

If there is one weakness – and I'm reluctant to advance any real criticisms – Enloe's survey is focused, for the most part, on the US military. Perhaps reflective of its role as a superpower, but more probably because the bulk of work on militarism – on which she freely draws (Maneuvers is a book worth having for the bibliography alone) – is US based. Though the work done by women elsewhere is included in Enloe's exploration, perhaps this volume will inspire case studies of other and different manifestations of militarism. The strength of her analysis lies in her ability to take on other relationships of power and examine the intersections between militarism, power and, for example, race, class and sexuality, and examine how such relationships operate at all levels.

Though the book explores militarism's control of women's lives, women do not figure solely as victims of militarised politics and policies. Enloe's vision – as well as necessarily acknowledging that militarism has often enabled and empowered women as active participants – also draws on the wealth of women's challenges to the politics and practices of the military, documenting the complexity of women's relationships to militarism.

In her concluding chapter, Enloe – almost certainly the foremost analyst of gender and militarism of our generation – pays her debt to Virginia Woolf, who in Three Guineas, written in 1938, so clearly articulated women's complicity in militarism and militarised masculinity. (If you haven't read Three Guineas, make that your next purchase.) Yet here Enloe has succeeded in amplifying Woolf's message that militarism doesn't just exist in the obvious places, but can “transform the meaning and use of people.... priveleg[ing] masculinity by manipulating the meanings of both femininity and masculinity”.

For Enloe militarism is not a simple and automatic process, but a complex construction of dependencies and values in which we are all complicit. But, for Enloe, that which can be militarised can also be demilitarised, and in her closing pages she poses five fundamental questions for feminists who seek to challenge militarism without becoming complicit in the very institution they seek to criticise. If you want to know the questions (never mind the answers!), then you have to read the book.