The "militarization of women" is taking place outside of war zones, the keynote speaker for the Conference on Military Culture and Gender declared Thursday evening at the University at Buffalo.
Many advances in women's rights have been achieved only by persuading Congress that it's a matter of national security, said Cynthia Enloe, research professor of international development and women's studies at Clark University in Worcester, Mass.
The author of "Does Khaki Become You?" and "Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics" addressed 100 people in the Screening Room of the UB Center for the Arts.
"I want to watch the introduction of camouflage to Gap Kids," Enloe quipped. "Militarization takes place outside of war zones -- namely, the Gap camouflage."
But her subject wasn't clothing. Militarism, in her words, is "a process, step by little step by big step by catastrophic step, by which any institution slowly becomes more and more dependent on militarized values. Anything can become militarized -- by being seen as valuable only if it serves militarized goals."
Enloe argues that more and more aspects of American society are dependent for their legitimacy on their perceived military value, in an age of American military intervention and the growing role of women in the military.
"You can militarize the empowerment of women and their emancipation," she said, "by arguing that it's good for national security."
Enloe recalled how this was exploited by her mentor, Carolyn B. Craft, who was director of the Women in the Military Project of the Women's Research & Education Institute in Washington, D.C., in the early 1980s.
"To get Congress interested in sexual harassment of women in the military," Enloe said, Craft persuaded the House Armed Services Committee that "allowing sexual harassment to be rampant and unchallenged was a threat to national security and military readiness."
Craft also argued that domestic violence in military families should be investigated, on grounds that "dysfunctional families would result in unready soldiers," Enloe recalled.
The notion that women's lives don't matter for themselves "is enormously dangerous," she said. "It gives rise to a militarized notion of national well-being."
The conference, sponsored by the Baldy Center for Law & Social Policy, continues in the Screening Room today with a forum on "Women on Active Duty" at 9 a.m., "Women Military Veterans" at 10:45 a.m. and "Armed Conflict and the Human Rights of Women" at 1:30 p.m.