The cultural turn shifted focus from how colonization and slavery produced material inequalities between the mainly white West and the non-white ‘rest’ to attempts to understand the gendered production of colonized or racialized subjects. Stuart Hall (1997) has provided a useful framework for considering this production, drawing on new approaches to colonization. One of the most influential works to break with materialist explanations was Frantz Fanon’s (1967) account of the psychological damage inflicted on colonized non-white peoples. In The Wretched of the Earth he makes a grim assessment of the psychological effects of colonization on the colonized. He argues that colonization destroyed indigenous peoples not simply through physical violence and/or material deprivation, but because they learnt to believe that white was better. Colonized peoples internalized the hatred and fear of blackness that the dominant white settlers promulgated. Despite the political independence many former colonies had achieved by the twentieth century, he argues that this legacy of psychological damage has meant continued tribal warfare and political instability in many former colonies — in Africa especially. However, Fanon does not specifically talk about the effects of colonization on gender relations. Hall’s framework can be used to help correct this lack of attention to gender. I will deal with this framework in reverse order: from primitivism, to exoticization, to sexualization, because the latter then leads into debates about how colonization discursively produced gender.

Hall (1997) argues that one of the major pillars of colonial discourse is a belief in primitivism, which entailed seeing gender relations amongst non-white peoples as backward. White colonizers justified their actions by labelling indigenous peoples as primitive: meaning uncivilized and lacking in culture. Blackness was reduced to a natural and therefore unchanging essence. Such ideas allowed white people to see themselves as civilizers, bringing progress to ‘backward’ peoples. But primitivism failed to recognize the often complex sociocultural and political systems

that operated amongst non-white peoples. In terms of gender, an important part of the colonial mission was to instill, especially in the women, what were regarded as the ‘proper’ or even ‘natural’ gender roles. Victorian notions of passive, obedient womanhood were imposed on indigenous women and they were cajoled and sometimes compelled to accept new standards of domestic arrangements, dress and behaviour (Woollacott, 2006: 97).The established gender roles and expectations of non-white cultures were usually remade within the colonial context. Colonial powers imposed their own ideas about appropriate ‘feminine’ behaviour and about gendered divisions of labour. This was not always an improvement and assumptions that white women were more liber­ated were not always justified (Etienne and Leacock, 1980). For exam­ple, there has been considerable debate about whether pre-colonial African societies would be better described as matriarchal ‘in the sense of female rule, female transmission of property and descent, and man being the mobile element in marriage and sexual union’ (Amadiune, 2005: 85). However it is perhaps not as simple as matriarchal rather than patriarchal. A focus on motherhood existed alongside patriarchal ideolo­gies about descent and another more matriarchal ideology related to the original ownership of land and to natural fertility (Amadiune, 2005).Yet judgements about the status of women in non-white cultures were made based on, often misplaced, European assessments of what was important in a society (Smith, 1999).

A second key to understanding colonial discourse and its effects on gender is to examine the processes of exoticization involved in mark­ing difference. In elaborating on these processes Stuart Hall (1997) relies largely on the well-known arguments of Edward Said (1978). Said focuses on the exoticization fundamental to orientalism. Orientalism is the construction of the ‘Orient’through processes of power/knowledge. Said argues that the West creates the Orient and those within it as ‘other’ to itself in order to maintain a sense of superiority. The West is portrayed as rational, the Orient as irrational; and so on. The Oriental is presented as utterly different, as exotic. Said’s work on orientalism is certainly one of the earliest and most influential statements of this kind of position, his book Orientalism being first published in 1978 and aspects of these ideas having appeared in article form earlier in the Seventies. However, as already noted feminist analysis of colonialism was also underway in the early 1970s.

Feminist work noted that exoticization of ‘other’ women and men has not inevitably equated ‘exotic’ with beautiful, and thus colonization and slavery have raised particular problems for how to be ‘feminine’ and black (hooks, 1981). The problem is that images of proper femininity have been based mostly on white, middle class Western women. For many non-white women there is a constant battle to maintain self-worth

within a world that judges them in relation to white notions of beauty and femininity. Much of Afro-American Toni Morrison’s fiction deals with this as tragedy, especially her book The Bluest Eye (1999/1970). One of the central black women characters in this book believes that if only she was beautiful in white blue-eyed terms then she would be treated well and her sufferings would end:

Each night without fail, she prayed for blue eyes. Fervently, for a year she had prayed. Although somewhat discouraged, she was not without hope.

To have something as wonderful as that happen would take a long, long time. Thrown in this way, into the blinding conviction that only a miracle could relieve her, she would never know her beauty. She would only see what there was to see: the eyes of other people. (p. 35)

Blue eyes are symbolic of whiteness and the value placed on it that marks black women out within racial hierarchies. Yet paradoxically their differ­ence, while it might be experienced as lack of beauty, is maintained through the exploitative titillation associated with blackness as otherness (Hall, 1997; hooks, 1992).

Non-white subjects have been racialized through reference to their primitive and exotic difference, a difference that has often been sexual – ized in controlling ways. This is not the case everywhere; for example, the story of white treatment of indigenous Australians is perhaps more one of dehumanization than sexualization. Meanwhile, men of African origin have tended to be stereotyped as super masculine and African women as ‘primitive’ and promiscuous; thus non-white peoples have been sexually objectified via white fantasies (Hall, 1997; see, hooks, 1992). What this can mean for black people’s loss of independence and ability to self-define is often represented through the tale of Sartjie Baartman, known to her Victorian contemporaries as the Hottentot Venus. Taken from her homeland and displayed in Europe because she was an example of her people’s tendency to have enlarged buttocks and genitalia, this woman’s story epitomizes a prurient racism which makes black women into objects of white sexual curiosity and exploitation. Hall (1997) himself uses this story and I do not wish to repeat it in detail here. Similar stories can be told of the sexual objectification of many non-European women. Jaqui Sutton Beets (1997) for example describes the ways in which Maori women have been represented as exotic and sexually available in postcards since the nineteenth century. They are portrayed as dusky maidens, but those chosen conform most closely to western standards of beauty. The ‘native’ settings in which they are placed are aimed to convey a ‘natural’, unrestrained sexuality — displayed for the enjoyment of the European male. Beets argues that such images transfer the guilt of the white male viewer onto the indigenous woman, equate colonial possession of land with sexual possession of its women, and

serve as a kind of reminder that Maori — and other indigenous men — are not in a position aggressively to protect their women. Those women are shown as being trophies for the ‘victors’ in the colonial struggle: white men. These women are ‘other’, represented in ways calculated to sell to white men, and they illustrate the ways of thinking that are crucial in structuring gender relations in contexts of racism.

If the Orient (which specifically refers to Asia and the Middle East) is broadly conceived as anything ‘other’ to white Western societies, then there are variations in the meanings attached to black women and men. They have been portrayed as exotic and promiscuous. However there is an ambivalence (see Bhabha, 1994) in the way non-white subjects are gendered. Said (1978) maintains that Orientalism feminizes Arab men; however Hall (1997) notes that men of African descent tend to be seen as hyper-masculine. African, Afro-American and Afro-Caribbean women tend to be seen — as Baartman was — as sexually aggressive; while ‘Oriental’ women are represented as passively erotic. These stereotypes tell us more about white Western attitudes to sex/gender and sexuality than they do about the peoples they supposedly describe. Black and brown people have not merely been passive victims of these processes, but have struggled and resisted (Lewis, 1996). Nevertheless colonial encounters reshaped the ways in which gender operated, and colonization was a highly gendered process.

Colonists were typically portrayed as heroic male adventurers heading off to tame ‘savages’ who were rendered as effeminate in comparison (Mills, 1998; Sinha, 1995; Woollacott, 2006). This may seem a little contradictory, but colonial discourses did not make a lot of sense; they were highly contradictory. Sara Mills (1998) points out that the notion of an exotic sexuality was important in the domination of new peoples and new lands. Typically colonies were seen as sexual playgrounds for men, who exploited women and young boys, sometimes violently. This was mirrored in contemporary representations of colonial invasion as a raping of virgin land (McLintock, 1995). There was also sexual danger thought to arise from being in close contact with ‘natives’. Guarding the purity of white (colonial) women was used as a justification for colonialism generally and for some of the violent repressions of local rebellion (McLintock, 1995;Woollacott, 2006).The white woman stands for racial and sexual purity. Fear of racial degeneration is part of the obsessive nineteenth century categorization of race. Such racial categori­zations linger, and it has been an ongoing challenge for non-white peoples to remake positive conceptions of self within a world still saturated with racism. This is partly why post-colonial scholars are interested in issues of subjectivity and agency.

Many feminist post-colonial theorists are concerned with notions of subjectivity, and in particular with rethinking indigenous women’s

agency in terms of how they negotiate the subject positions available to them. Woollacott (2006: 104—21) notes that women were important in resisting and overthrowing colonization through anti-colonial and nationalist struggles. There were also more ‘everyday’ and individualized instances of resistance. For example, it is possible to try to understand sati, the historical Hindu practice of burning widows on their husband’s funeral pyre, without condoning it. Women might have ‘chosen’ or felt forced to die. These decisions were made within a context where there were limited options available to widows for maintaining themselves and the shame of not dying with their husband would make family assistance unlikely. Nevertheless some women did choose to live, and this is often neglected (Mills, 1998: 104). The gendered practices of non-white peoples need to be understood within the context of their own views and understandings of the world, and of the social and material condi­tions in which they live. The failure of most scholars, including white feminists, to produce such understandings of non-white women has been criticized.

Writers such as Chandra Mohanty (1991) argue that feminists have made women who are not white or from the First World invisible. She suggests that this has been done through a process of othering. She pro­poses that Third World women are understood through the following series of oppositions:


Third World







In control


Mohanty suggests that assumptions that there is a group called women who are all oppressed is based on seeing Western women’s experiences as the norm and universal. This makes Third World women’s specific oppres­sion invisible or represents it as homogeneous. It is therefore important to explicitly address that diversity. The situation of women in the Sudan is different from that of women in Egypt, or in Mexico. And in Mexico there will be vast differences between the life chances and experiences of rural peasant women and wealthy urban women. Mohanty’s point is that such differences have largely been ignored. Watch the television news, for example, and you are likely to get the impression that all Third

World women are starving and usually traumatized by some recent natural disaster or war. While it is important to recognize the inequalities which produce hunger, wars, and make natural disasters so difficult to deal with in the developing world, such pictures represent Third World women as eternal victims. It is important to remember that there are many women living comfortably in peaceful villages, towns and cities throughout Africa, Asia, Central and South America. It is also important to consider processes of decolonization in assessing current formations of ‘race’/ethnicity and gender.