Our Favorite Feminist Books: Bananas, Beaches, and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics

Feminism isn’t a static philosophy, meant to stay safely in the confines of our minds.  It’s one that demands growth, accountability, and action.  And the best way to expand your feminist know how?  Reading!

We’re kicking off a new series highlighting some of our very favorite feminist books that will fuel your brain with tools for action.  The books that will be featured have stood the test of time to prove their information both invaluable and eye opening.  We start with my personal favorite feminist book: Bananas, Beaches, and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics.

In a system where women are often acknowledged only as symbols, objects of policy, or pieces in a larger political game, Cynthia Enloe peels back the gendered layers of international politics in Bananas, Beaches, and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics to reset a collective understanding of women as global actors.  Far beyond seemingly limited roles, the unveiling of women’s stories provides key insights into the complex and multilayered international world of politics and economics. Throughout the book she tackles themes of tourism, nationalism, militarism, consumerism, diplomacy, and domestic work.

Arguably one of the most significant feminist books on international relations, Enloe upends the conventionally narrow analytical approach to international relations in favor of a feminist methodology, exemplifying how women’s lives and politics are inherently and closely connected.  Using a transnational feminist approach and remaining attentive to race and class, Enloe sheds light on narratives that are all too often rendered invisible.  Her complication of international relations through a gendered lens connects the local and the global in a fresh and dynamic way.  She asks the reader to be genuinely curious about the lives of women, and to utilize this intrigue as a means to question existing power structures by unpacking the employment and production of masculinity and femininity as means to a very particular end. 

One is often complicit in creating the very world that one finds so dismaying.

Enloe’s ultimate goal is not just to make the personal political, but to make the personal international and the international personal.  At the beginning of Bananas, Beaches and Bases, Enloe explicitly asks the reader to see themselves as an actor in a global world, rather than someone to be acted upon.  She then challenges that this adaptation of the actor role leads to the discovery that “one is often complicit in creating the very world that one finds so dismaying.” (35)  Throughout the book, Enloe works to provide the reader with the tools of feminist analysis so they may continue the line of gendered inquiry beyond the pages of Bananas, Beaches and Bases and into their personal lives, actively challenging such complicity. 

A feminist analysis of international politics is not only compelling, but indispensable.

Throughout Bananas, Beaches and Bases, Enloe manages a delicate balance of speaking to an international arena while mostly avoiding the tendency to fall into generalizations.  While her feminist analysis stands the test of over twenty years, some of Enloe’s examples can seem dated, despite the updates added in the second edition.  Certainly we must acknowledge the difficulty in writing a book on international politics, in which the landscape of a global political economy can change overnight.  However, her sophisticated and accessible writing, inclusion of an intersectional analysis, and general feminist know-how leave little to critique.  As Enloe paints the local into the larger global picture, it becomes clear that the every day actions of women, actions that might seem simply social, or even private, are decidedly politically charged.  Furthermore, to assume that women are the objects of policy and not actors in their own right can leave an analysis of international politics lacking, one that might connect the dots, but which will ultimately miscalculate existing power structures.  It is for this reason that a feminist analysis of international politics is not only compelling, but indispensable.  


Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics.  Cynthia Enloe, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2014. pp. 461 ISBN: 9780520279995


Marissa Conway is the founder and CEO of FFP.  Follow her on Twitter: @marissakconway


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