U.S. Military Personnel and Families Abroad

Gender, Sexuality, Race, and Power in the U.S. Military’s Relations with Foreign Nations and Local Inhabitants during Wartime

Authored by: Donna Alvah

The Routledge History of Gender, War, and the U.S. Military

Print publication date:  August  2017
Online publication date:  August  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138902985
eBook ISBN: 9781315697185
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter surveys historical scholarship that explores gender, sexuality, and military families with regard to the U.S. military and its relations with foreign countries, including their inhabitants. Such scholarship took root in the 1980s, in feminist political scientist Cynthia Enloe’s pioneering analysis of interconnections among gender and sexuality, the military, and international relations. She questioned assumptions about soldiers and their sexual relationships with women—for example, that militaries and prostitutes “naturally” go together—and argued that such relationships are shaped by politics and have political implications. 1 In 1990, Emily Rosenberg, a diplomatic historian, built on Joan Wallach Scott’s now well-known insights about gender as a category of historical analysis (published only a year earlier) to contemplate how ideas about gender might have influenced foreign policies and wars. 2 Despite the disinclination of some historians of U.S. foreign relations and the U.S. military—sub-fields dominated by men—to consider ideas about gender and sexuality as influential in diplomacy and fundamental for understanding U.S. military power abroad, Enloe and Rosenberg’s ground-breaking insights inspired historians to follow their leads, and they continue to do so. There are now many fascinating analyses that attend to gender and sexuality in the dynamics of the U.S. military abroad. They persuasively illustrate that intimate and other types of interpersonal encounters between people in occupied and host countries and U.S. military personnel and their families should be considered a form of foreign relations that sometimes advanced and sustained, and other times created difficulties for, the U.S. military and U.S. power abroad.

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