Cynthia Enloe: Are You Complicit in Patriarchy?


Emily Morang

Cynthia Enloe: “Be curious, don’t be the most feminist person in the group, and have a tool kit of responses.”

Sarah Reinbrecht, Scarlet Staff

On Oct. 5, Clarkies gathered in Johnson Auditorium to hear Cynthia Enloe speak for her third and final time this fall. She lectured about complacency in the patriarchy, a problem she related back to various institutions, countries, and individuals.  

After a brief introduction from Clark Professor Kristen Williams, the director of the Women’s and Gender Studies program, Enloe encouraged the audience to spell out the word patriarchy, showing enthusiasm that would continue throughout the lecture.

With various statistics written on the board behind her, she then explained that patriarchy is a concept. Just like any concept, it highlights patterns in occurrences that seem random. Further, she argued that ideas like sexism, misogyny, sexual harassment and related ideas fall under the overall concept of patriarchy.  

Enloe went on to explain that patriarchy is a “dynamic web…of beliefs, values, and relationships.” To understand patriarchy, one must either acquire a variety of skills, or preferably join together with other skillful people. The patriarchy needs to be mapped, she explained. To successfully do that, every topic needs to be “opened up” and put through a gender analysis.

She also discussed the “privileging of certain kinds of masculinities,” and how the relationship between the various types of masculinities contributes to the continuation of the patriarchy.  

Enloe then turned to the board behind her and explained the significance of the statistics on how many monuments in the United States and the United Kingdom depict women. Statues are erected to show someone’s value, and erecting statues primarily of men indicates men are valued over women; this normalizes the patriarchy, as these statues make it part of the valued landscape.  

Focusing on Clark, Enloe described instances when women within Clark’s administration and faculty experienced sexual assault. The instance Enloe discussed occurred decades ago and reminded the audience that sexual harassment in the workplace is not always recognized. The women at Clark University had to work with a team of women not affiliated with the university to help bring attention to the problems at Clark as well as to sexual harassment as a general problem in the workplace.  

Enloe then moved onto her primary idea of complacency, something she views as contributing to the sustaining of the patriarchy. She acknowledged the various types of complacencies, as well as the danger in assuming behavior is simply natural. She then offered her audience advice which goes beyond fighting complacency in the patriarchy: be curious, don’t be the most feminist person in the group, and have a tool kit of responses.

The talk concluded with Enloe asking audience members how they have responded to acts of sexism. Many women spoke about responding to catcalls; many also spoke about the concerns they have with responding to catcalls, thus highlighting the difficulty in trying to not be complacent. Enloe then asked the audience to think about complacency within their own families, as well as organizations they are interested in, and what they can do to combat that complacency.  

Professor Amy Richter, an audience member, enjoyed not only the lecture but also Enloe’s recurring presence at Clark University.

“I always think it’s such a remarkable thing that she continues to come back…She travels so extensively, and she always comes back to Clark.”

Enloe has previously lectured at Clark and will return next fall for another lecture series. Richter was also impressed with Enloe’s ability to teach “in and out of the classroom,” as Enloe not only lectures but continues to interact with her former students, providing them with resources to keep them thinking and learning.  

Photo caption (for front): Cynthia Enloe: “Be curious, don’t be the most feminist person in the group, and have a tool kit of responses.” Photo by Emily Monahan Morang.