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Why I love Cynthia Enloe

One of the first moments I felt intellectually at home here unfolded in the early fall at an event featuring  Cynthia Enloe and Nadine Puechguirbal. Both are women I admire tremendously for their contribution to our understanding of gender-based violence, the intersection of gender and conflict, feminism, and the complexities of peace-building. The combination of these women’s demeanor and life experience, accomplishments and compassion lit a fire inside me that has propelled me forward in my own study of topics as heart-wrenching as sexual violence and as necessary as understanding militarized masculinities.

Tonight, in preparation for a research paper on sexual abuses committed by UN peacekeepers, I stumbled upon the following quote by Cynthia Enloe in an afterword to a special issue of International Peacekeeping on the gender dimensions of peace operations. I have met her once, gorged on her words hundreds of times, and been moved by her and her work every time. I will let her do the talking, in part because my own words are starved of creativity in favor of precision these days, and in part because reading this makes me come alive. Coming alive sparks a contagious urge to share the sentiment.

In Enloe’s words [emphasis mine]:
“What is that required intellectual combination? Outrage and patience.
Outrage is imperative. Outrage does make many of us uncomfortable. Yet outrage is a necessary energizer. Not feeling outrage, allowing oneself to slip into a bureaucratized distancing – for instance, reducing acts of gang rape to ‘GBV’ – will not enable one to stay focused, to do all the work to carry out the next round of arduous field interviews, to remain engaged over the long haul, to stay conscious of what is at stake.
And outrage, I think, is generated by continually imagining what it is like to experience the extreme unfairness, acute desperation and outright violence that so many women and girls have experienced while living in war zones, in refugee camps and in what are deceptively called ‘post-war’ societies.”


“Yet outrage isn’t enough. As Sue Willett and her thoughtful contributors here have shown us, one has to transform one’s energizing outrage into a particular sort of stamina. Be outraged in a way that spurs you on to read page after tedious page of UN peacekeeping operation mandates, page after dense page of Peacebuilding Commission reports. Be outraged in a way that makes you pay closest attention to the uninspiring discussion at field mission meetings, that keeps you wide awake at soporific gatherings of donors, that sharpens your listening between the lines when blue-helmeted colonels talk to blue-helmeted sergeants.”


If you cannot access the full text of her remarks behind the paywall, leave a comment and I will email you the PDF file. Contagious inspiration is meant to be shared.

Yours — in footnotes and energizing outrage,


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