The experience of Empire: the cultural turn and the impact of imperialism on the periphery

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The restoration of women to historical visibility: work and gender

Indigenous women were involved in work such as subsistence agriculture, domestic and sexual services.
The integration of colonies into the world caused many men to migrate in search of paid work; greater responsibility was placed in women to continue subsistence agriculture. Sometimes women became economic migrants, but this tended to be discouraged. In India, female migration was often a response to family rejection. In contrast, male migration was a strategy for family survival and family ties were retained.
In urban areas, the colonial state offered economic opportunities for women. A local study in Kenya has demonstrated how Nairobi prostitutes were able to save money in order to buy houses or support other family members. In the 1920s, Northern Rhodesian mining companies encouraged women and families to live in mining compounds which opened up economic opportunities such as beer brewing and selling food. The mobility of women in Northern Rhodesian upset many traditional chiefs who were allies of the British authorities. Regulations were put in place to limit such mobility; women were then required to possess a marriage certificate. Laws against adultery and divorce were enacted and limits placed on female earning potential.

Gender and nationalism

Some women joined female organisations such as the All-India Women’s Conference in India. However female support for nationalist movements meant women had to sacrifice the interests of their sex in favour of those of their nation. For example, women in India did not feel able to criticise nationalist conceptions of womanhood because this would have supported British views about Indian backwardness and uncivilised habits.
The ‘mother figure’ was often used as a symbol in nationalist movements, for example Gandhi. In the 1920s it was Muslim men rather than the colonial state that became the biggest threat to Hindu womanhood.

British conceptions of indigenous males: effeminate Bengalis and martial races

Bengalis were considered to be effeminate and were often compared to the ‘martial’ races such as the Sikhs. The Raj recruited its soldiers primarily from the warrior peoples of the north and northwest.

The ‘myth of the destructive female’

Margaret Strobel was keen to reverse the trend of women contributing to the ‘deterioration of the relationship between the European administrator and those he governed’. They challenged the term ‘myth of the destructive female’ which was a belief of European women in the colonies had contributed to the loss of Empire. According to this interpretation, European women were the custodians of British moral virtues and dominated the domestic sphere which heightened the relations between the British and their colonial subjects.
European women disapproved of European men taking indigenous concubines or wives.
The introduction of European women caused jealousy between white men and black


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