- Gender and Empire
Angela Woollacott's book is the latest offering from Palgrave's Gender and History series, edited by Amanda Capern and Louella McCarthy. Gender and Empire sets out, like other monographs in the series, to be a general introduction to recent scholarship—in this case, of the role of gender, sex, and sexuality in the writing of the history of the British Empire. It is not only a useful point of departure for students, however, but also a critical review of interest to more seasoned hands. Neither novice nor initiate will be disappointed with a work that is as comprehensive in its historiographical survey as it is thought provoking in its arguments on the future role of gender in an analysis of British imperialism.
The book comprises six chapters and a contextualizing introduction and conclusion. The substantive chapters run in chronological order from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries, but each also deals with a separate theme. Chapter 1 examines women in systems of unfree labor—slavery, convict settlements, and indentured work. It compares the experiences of women in all three arenas and argues that not only did metropolitan views pervade these parts of the empire but that gendered and racialized roles were also constructed and exported between parts of the empire and indeed back to the metropole. Mary Wollstonecraft's portrayal of middle-class women as slaves in A Vindication of the Rights of Women is provided as an example of how gender and sexual relations in the colonies affected the outlook of those in the metropole. Woollacott argues that by examining "these various but overlapping imperial systems" (31) historians can understand that not only economic and political forces but also gender and sexual ones characterized imperial structures.
Chapter 2 tackles interracial sexual assault through the lens of, first, the Indian "Mutiny" and, second, the suppression of a black uprising in 1865 Jamaica. Just as Anglo-Indian writers darkly portrayed the acts visited upon [End Page 368] white women in the mutiny as "a fate worse than death," in Jamaica Governor Eyre justified his declaration of martial law and the killing of hundreds of black and mixed-race protestors on the grounds that white women were threatened with violent sexual assault during riots and disturbances (46–50). Condemned by some, including John Stuart Mill, Eyre was lauded by others who cited the Indian Mutiny as an example of what would have awaited white women had action not been taken. Thus, for Woollacott, these two events symbolize and demonstrate the manner in which attitudes and fears surrounding race and sexual assault justified and determined the repressive actions of British imperial authorities. Furthermore, such events were reported in and around Britain's imperial possessions, generating attitudes about race and sex at the periphery.
Having hinted at changing conceptions of masculinity previously, Woollacott tackles them explicitly in the third chapter, "Masculinities, Imperial Adventuring, and War." Unsurprisingly, this chapter, which deals with subject matter largely eschewed by scholars, draws upon primary material and, equally unsurprising given Woollacott's self-expressed postcolonial approach, upon diaries and literary works to provide insights to the construction of nineteenth- and twentieth-century masculinity. It is argued that the opportunities offered by exploration and imperial crises, for example, the Boer War, were engaged with by men as a result of certain expectations surrounding what it was to be masculine.
Chapter 4 examines both masculinities and femininities in the empire in order to demonstrate how gender constructions regulated the relationship between colonial administrations (the colonizers) and the colonized. Notions of work appropriate to men and women and to different races placed the colonized into situations in which their lives (and opportunities) were controlled and restricted by the gender constructions of the colonizers. Colonized men labored but could not expect to become much more than laborers, while colonized women engaged in domestic work. Woollacott argues that the universality of this state of affairs cut across the empire and provided common and fertile ground upon which anticolonial movements could be established. Such movements are examined in...