Militarized motherhood: Part 1

On an afternoon in 2006, three years into the US military’s war in Iraq, feminist writer Cynthia Enloe saw an advertisement by the US Defense Department. A late teenage boy is having a discussion with his mother. The boy talks to his mother as if he knows what is best, like the man of the house, which is our patriarchal society defines his gender. The conversation hints that the family cannot afford to go to college. The boy wants to join the military, he tells his skeptical mother this is how he will get into college. But, most importantly, he tells his mother that it is time he becomes a man, and joining the US military will do just this.

In the chapter ‘Feminism and war: stopping militarizers, critiquing power’ Enloe writes about how motherhood is militarized and what this means. Militarized motherhood helps perpetuate a cycle that sends men and boys to war, with their mothers blessing and martyrdom.

This chapter shows how a nation’s militarization is dependent on scripted gender roles for women and men. A nation’s government and its military need to script gender roles in order to make pre-war preparations for the waging of war. Women and girls are expected to be the ‘dutiful daughter,’ ‘the faithful girlfriend,’ and the ‘liberated woman.’ Men and boys are supposed to be manly, however patriarchal scripting defines this, and protectors of their country. The women give the men something to fight for, and the men’s roles in women’s lives give women a reason to exist, in terms of our patriarchal world. Gender roles in pre-war set the stage for wartime. Post-war, romanticized narratives in regards to gender and militarization are passed down for generations, continuing the cycle. In this way, post-war act as pre-war for the next fight.

Enloe notes that women and girls are in the military, however, they make up less than 50% of it. This is attributed to not only gender roles, but the fact the girls are more likely to graduate high school than boys. This could be because boys are more often recruited by military, due to gender roles. Another reason could be the same as why women and girls make up the majority of Western post-secondary students, we know that we have to work harder in order to level the playing field with men, though it is not always as easy as a formal education.

Motherhood as defined by a patriarchal institution is very dependant on gender roles, as we saw with the US Defense Department advertisement. Enloe shares a story about watching a British army recruiter fail to convince a Scottish mother to allow her son to join the British military. The author notes that at the time she did not realize how important a mother’s influence is. The government puts a lot of effort, and funding, into militarizing women in their roles as mothers. Societal values dictate that to be a good mother is to sacrifice one’s son for the greater good of the country. The US Defense Department’s recruiting officials refer to mothers as “influencers.” Influencers also include clergy and guidance counselors. These people are known to have sway over teenage boys, and help them shape their aspirations. Fathers are also in this demographic, but more so for the instillation of scripted values for men, be tough, fight, and protect- be manly.

It costs money to militarize motherhood. Enloe says that the US Defense Department hires and recruits social scientists, probably more than any other American institution. These sociologists, anthropologists, and psychologits pray on a woman’s wanting to be a good mother according to the patriarchal system in which she. Additionally, this department is one of the largest clients of American civil advertising agencies. This is likewise in Canada, Britain, Japan, Australia, and South Africa (p. 259-260). Now that there is no loner conscription in these nations, the military hopes to reach their “influencers” by advertising during times mothers (good mothers and wives, at least) are expected to see, like the afternoon slot the aforementioned advertisement was given: between reruns of Law and Order and Judging Amy, in the afternoon.

As seen with the Scottish mother and the British military recruiter, mothers are not a single entity that supports the military without question. There are attempts being made to break the post-war/pre-war cycle. Enloe points to feminist organizing in Sierra Leone, Rwanda, the Congo, Liberia, Serbia, East Timor, Nepal, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Northern Ireland. Enloe refers to this protest as post-war feminist organizing. This post-war organizing can ensure the same military manipulation of motherhood will not be successful in laying the groundwork for wartime during pre-war.

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