chapter  9
22 Pages

Women’s Mission to Empire

The scramble of European nations in the nineteenth century to createempires around the world, had a major impact upon women’s experiences, their social movements, and upon women’s identity. Historians of gender and imperialism have demonstrated that the colonial experience is a site where we can observe the interactions between cultures centring on gender, race and class. From the perspective of women’s history, the imperial possessions of the dominant European powers present us with spaces where women found opportunities as members of a race considered to be superior, but where they also experienced constraints as members of a supposed inferior sex. The experiences of the British in the Caribbean, India and Africa, the French in North and West Africa and South Asia, the Dutch in the East Indies and the Germans in South-West Africa, provide a rich canvas for an examination of the ways in which ideas about gender and race at home were played out in a foreign setting. Women, as McLintock makes plain, were not ‘the hapless onlookers of empire’, marginal characters in a landscape populated by real men; rather they were ‘ambiguously complicit both as colonisers and colonised, privileged and restricted, acted upon and acting.’1