Inspiring Thursday: Cynthia Enloe

“Becoming a feminist didn’t mean I always knew the answer; becoming a feminist for me meant that I had very pointed questions to ask that I had spent years not asking. And, when you have better questions to ask, your thinking gets better.”

Cynthia Holden Enloe was born in July 1938 in New York (USA). She holds an M.A. and a Ph.D. in political science from the University of California Berkeley.

She is currently the Research Professor in the Department of International Development, Community and Environment at Clark University in Massachusetts. Her brilliant career took her to exotic places with Fulbrights in Malaysia (where she completed her dissertation) and Guyana, guest professorships in Japan, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, along with lectures in Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Germany, Portugal, Chile, Vietnam, Korea, Colombia, Bosnia, Turkey, Brazil and universities across the USA.

What is interesting is that Enloe´s work did not begin with feminism but revolved around racial and ethnic issues.

“I didn’t ask feminist questions about politics until after my PhD [nor] even after I’d published six books. I also wasn’t asking feminist questions in the first courses I was teaching. It took friends to push me towards feminist questions and to make me more engaged with feminist activism; this was in the mid-1970s (…) Once you start asking questions that you’ve never asked before, you can’t stop asking them. You begin to say to yourself: “Oh my gosh, I can’t understand policing, I can’t understand the garment industry, I can’t understand elections unless I ask feminist questions” (Van der Ploeg, 2016).

Later on, Enloe´s thought provoking work on gender delved into the interplay of gendered politics in both national and international arenas with a special focus on women´s labor in globalized factories and how women´s emotional and physical labor has been used to support many government´s war waging policies.

In a recent interview in 2016, Enloe said that being a feminist improved the way she taught, the way she thought, and the way she wrote. She is more aware of the omnipresent power and dynamics of inequality.

“If the study of masculinities is not done with an interest in the workings of sexism, the workings of patriarchy, and the workings of femininities, then what you have in fact is just men’s studies. It’s just a newly fashioned form of what we’ve had in academia forever. So, to do serious work on masculinities, there has to be an explicit feminist curiosity about the lives of women. To claim that making a serious effort to understand the complex workings of women’s and girls’ lives is not political–that’s sexist” (Van der Ploeg, 2016).

Amongst her 15 publications, her most popular works are: Maneuvers: The International Politics of Militarizing Women´s Lives (2000), The Curious Feminist (2004), Bananas, Beaches and Bases (2014), Globalization and Militarism: Feminists Make the Link (2016) and with her latest called The Big Push: Exposing and Challenging Persistent Patriarchy (2017).

She was awarded the International Studies Association´s Susan Strange Award in 2007, the Susan B. Northcutt Award in 2008 and the Peace and Justice Studies Association´s Howard Zinn Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010. She was also selected in 2017 to be an Honoree named on the Gender Justice Legacy Wall installed in the International Crimes Court of The Hague. Enloe has served as Chair of Political Science and Director of Women´s Studies and other honorary positions throughout her career at Clark University. She was also awarded Honorary Doctorates by prestigious universities such as Union College (2005), the University of London´s school of Oriental and African Studies (2009), Connecticut (2010), the University of Lund in Sweden (2012).

Written by Claire Davis, WAVE Intern


“10th Anniversary Interview – Cynthia Enloe.” E,

“Cynthia Enloe.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 26 Oct. 2019,

“Faculty Biography.” Cynthia Enloe Ph.D. | Faculty | Clark University,

Ploeg, Sea-Jay Van der, et al. “BPR Interviews: Cynthia Enloe.” Brown Political Review, 17 Dec. 2016,