By Meaghan Morin
Dr. Cynthia Enloe, a professor at Clark University and an internationally recognized expert on women and the military, visited Elizabethtown College in March as part of the celebration of Women’s History Month. The night’s discussion focused on the topic of “Women, the Iraq War, and the Militarization of American Culture.”
Pressure on Military Wives
In her discussion, Dr. Enloe talked about the pressures put on civilians, particularly women who have husbands serving in the military. One woman’s story that Enloe focused on in particular was Kim Gorski, the wife a man serving in Iraq.
“Kim was seen as having the same rank as her husband, so while he was gone, the Defense Department called on her to take on a leadership role,” Enloe said. “The U.S. Government keeps track of military wives, and puts tremendous pressure on them to suppress their feelings on the war and remain supporters of the troops and U.S. policy.”
Because of her husband’s leadership position, the government expected Gorski to continue his role by acting as a mentor, guide, morale booster, and problem solver to the wives and girlfriends of the men currently serving under her husband.
Due to the overwhelming responsibility required of her and the time consuming job of emotionally supporting the other women, Gorski quit her job as a realtor, and became a full-time unpaid employee of the government.
According to Enloe, military planners are nervous of military wives like Gorski. “These women vote and have a big stake in government foreign policy and stand to lose a lot. They’re not bound by the same codes of censorship as their husbands and can talk about their opinions openly in the media.”
However, enormous pressure is put on Gorski, and other military wives, by the government and their families, to speak only positively on the war and governmental policies. Any comments not in support of the war that are made public could negatively affect their husband’s military careers. Therefore many military wives learn to be strong and suppress negative feelings in support of their families.
“It’s hard for these women to be full citizens. Full citizens have the ability to think for themselves and express themselves publicly, but for these women it’s extremely difficult to do so,” said Enloe.
About Dr. Enloe
At the discussion, Enloe also spoke about how she first became focused on women’s issues and the military. “Many of my friends were becoming feminists. They talked about Adrienne Rich, a well known feminist, and I imagined that my first book would come out and Adrienne would find it and see that women weren’t discussed.”
It turns out that Enloe unknowingly did discuss women in her book about ethnic and racial politics in the military throughout the world. Although Enloe currently teaches at Clark University and is involved in women and gender issues, it wasn’t until students at the university, gathered all of the women faculty members together in the 1970s and insisted that they start holding women and gender study courses.
Enloe’s presentation was sponsored by the Women and Gender Studies program at Elizabethtown College and was made possible by support from the Center for Global Citizenship, the Leffler Fund, the Department of Political Science, and Pi Sigma Alpha, the Political Science Honorary Society.