Colonization and slavery
If we are to really understand inequalities of ‘race’ and how they relate to gender then it is crucial to know about colonization, which is a process by which an invading people impose their economic and political structures and their cultural beliefs upon the indigenous people. The material changes consequent from economic colonization have been vast. There is not a precise date for the beginning of the European expansionist trading and settling activities that eventually constituted colonialism. Nor is it certain whether racial hierarchies followed from, or caused, the establishment of slavery at an international level. However, a key moment was in the late sixteenth century when Portuguese and Dutch companies set up sugar plantations in Brazil before production shifted to the West Indies from the 1660s. The importation of African labour to work as slaves made the plantations especially profitable. That encouraged later colonists to follow this precedent when in need of labour to work the vast areas of land they were opening up to cultivation. Slavery in the south of the former British colony of America arguably emerged under such circumstances (Thomas, 1997).
Feminist writers such as Angela Davis (1971) and bell hooks (for example, 1981) have noted the importance of understanding the experiences of women slaves in order to analyze current inequities around ‘race’ and gender. Hooks (1981:15—49) argues that though women slaves were valued as breeders of more slaves this does not mean they were treated better than their men. A crucial difference between men and women’s experiences of slavery was that, for women, their sexuality was exploited as well as their labour. A variety of practices constituted this exploitation, including rape. Rape was used by white masters to degrade and humiliate black women and sometimes these women were also vulnerable to rape and abuse from black male slaves. Sexist views of women as temptresses and racist beliefs that black women were promiscuous made contemporaries likely to blame black women. Black women themselves began to challenge white ideals of delicate womanhood that excluded their experience as strong survivors who were certainly not chivalrously protected by (white) men. Such histories, as both hooks (1981: 51—86) and Davis (1971) point out, are not over and done with but still inform the ongoing devaluation of black women. The slave past may have effects not only for those whose forebears were slaves, but also for other women of colour.
Slavery has had particularly pernicious effects, but other forms of unfree labour have also been important in gendering particular ethnic
groups. Among poor white Europeans indentured labour was common, where a worker’s passage to the New World was paid, but they were bonded to their employer until they repaid the debt — with interest (Fogleman, 1998). Indian and Caribbean men were also taken to Australia under such systems, which given that male labourers were favoured, left gender imbalanced settler populations (Duffield and Bradley, 1997;Woollacott, 2006; Summers, 1975). Convict labour was also crucial, especially in Australia, but distinctions were made between white women convicts, still thought feminine, and black women slaves expected to labour like men (Woollacott, 2006). However, not all colonization involved slavery or other unfree labour. While the exploitation of slave and other bonded labour allowed raw materials to be profitably produced and extracted in much of the new world, changing conditions in the old world prompted further colonial expansion, to new territories and taking new forms.
The various European empires that developed were diverse and shifting, but each did have a certain cohesion in terms of the highly ‘raced’ and gendered solutions they appeared to offer to some of the old world’s social as well as economic problems (Woollacott, 2006). As Britain and then other European nations industrialized from the eighteenth century onwards, a whole range of new needs and problems began to emerge within those rapidly changing societies. Urban overcrowding and the need for raw materials and land, combined with ideas about the superiority of the white European ‘race’, were key factors in promoting territorial expansion. Britain, having a slight head start in the Industrial Revolution, became foremost in acquiring and settling territories across the world and making use of their resources. Indian cotton, tea and spices flowed into Britain, as did South African diamonds and other mineral treasures (Wilson, 2003). In addition to the resources and markets new territories could provide, they also promised a way of relieving social unrest at ‘home’, thought to arise largely from overcrowding and the resulting poor conditions. Britain was perhaps most ‘creative’ in this respect, using Australia as a prison where not only criminals but the poor, desperate and undesirable could be sent — often for the commission of small offences (Duffield and Bradley, 1997; Summers, 1975). Yet the British government also began to encourage and assist non-criminal emigration to the outposts of its empire and women were encouraged to go to ‘civilize’ the initial overwhelmingly male settler populations (see for example, MacDonald, 1990; Summers, 1975). In the nineteenth century large numbers of English, Scots and Irish left in the hope of finding a better life in Canada, Australia, British Africa and New Zealand. Each wave of immigration had an impact upon indigenous populations and in some cases (Canada, Australia and New Zealand) the white population rapidly began to outnumber the original inhabitants. In other regions, especially Africa, white settlers from various European nations achieved dominance despite being in the minority.
White women were complicit in colonial domination, but also removed from colonial power (for example, Ware, 1992).Although some tried to resist some of the more violent aspects of colonization, it is difficult to write about their experiences without making indigenous women even more invisible (Haggis, 2001; 1990). An analysis of white identities as ‘racial’ is important (Bonnett, 2000; Lewis and Mills, 2003: 7), but this needs to be undertaken within a framework which takes whiteness to be a global phenomenon which was intrinsic to colonization and the onset of modernity (Bonnett, 2000).White women’s often ambiguous position in relation to colonization is clearer if colonial power relations are not over-simplified. Some writers have controversially argued that colonies were often seen as costly responsibilities, rather than as simply treasure chests waiting to be exploited (Ferguson, 2004). Certainly in some cases Britain was somewhat reluctant to accept the responsibilities and difficulties of governing far off populations (see, for example, King, 2003), having had bad experiences with America and in the ‘scramble for Africa’ (Pakenham, 1990). Given that Europeans were often exploiting distant territories without the expense of governing them, it is possible to see why they may have been reluctant officially to adopt new lands. It is also possible to see that formal colonization could bring some stability and benefits, compared to the unrestrained exploitation and lawlessness that characterized many early European pre-colonial settlements (Ferguson, 2004). However, colonization fundamentally initiated a process that — in both intended and unintended ways — robbed indigenous peoples of full control over themselves and their affairs. And colonization not only made the colonies, it also made the imperial nations (Woollacott, 2006). Current ‘race’ and gender relations have to be understood with these colonial histories in mind.
Mona Etienne and Eleanor Leacock (1980) argue that colonization did not always clearly bring patterns of gender relations more egalitarian than those existing in the indigenous population. Colonization, and its effects on the ‘racing’ of gender, need to be seen as an ongoing process with usually rather blurred beginnings and complex effects. Western ideas and practices often began to have an impact on indignenous people’s gender relations before colonization became firmly established, and most anthropologists have looked at those gender relations within a colonial context. In other words some of the ways indigenous men and women related may have already changed under colonial influence, and indeed were not ‘pure’ and unchanging before white settlers arrived. Colonization also created new ‘raced’ and gendered relations between nations, not just within them. Colonies were connected, and people and ideas circulated within particular empires (Lester, 2002) — with administrators and the military shifting, for example, from Africa to Australia to New Zealand; from New Caledonia to Quebec. Current inequalities of gender and race, wherever they may be, therefore need to be understood in relation to the historical legacy of colonialism. I begin by focusing on economics-based explanations of the linkages between race and gender inequalities, then shift to those which place more emphasis on culture.