«The Solidarity Encounter Between Indigenous Women and White Women in a Contemporary Canadian Context by Carol Lynne D’Arcangelis A thesis submitted ...»
To summarize, I draw on postcolonial feminist scholars such as Yeğenoğlu (1998) to situate my analysis of the solidarity encounter in relation to the historical production of the white settler woman/feminist subject as the superior helper of the inferior/colonized Other woman. I then apply Ahmed’s (2000) notions of stranger fetishism and proximity to evaluate more precisely how gendered colonial subjectivity operates in the solidarity encounter. I consider if and how the desire for proximity may be operating in/as the solidarity encounter. In effect, I use Ahmed’s (2000) theory about the techniques of proximity—e.g., calls for friendship; the acquisition of knowledge of the Other; and the promise of self-discovery or transformation—as a methodology for revealing more precisely how the desire for proximity as a set of discursive techniques works in settler colonial encounters to reproduce the gendered settler colonial subject. In sum, I combine the insights of Indigenous/feminist scholars such as Moreton-Robinson (2000) with those of Ahmed (2000) to consider the extent to which white women in the solidarity encounter exhibit and struggle with the impulse to reinstantiate ourselves as modern liberal subjects.
In the next several chapters, I hope to convey the “messiness” of intersubjective relations in the solidarity encounter between Indigenous women and white women in a Canadian context. Even as I identify some prevailing tensions in that encounter, I recognize these intersubjective relations to be layered, ever-changing and ultimately defiant of neat theoretical description.
I do not dedicate discreet sections per se to these literatures, but rather structure the chapter according to topics of inquiry. I do not draw heavily on critical whiteness studies in this theoretical framework, primarily because much of this literature does not explicitly take up colonialism as a central category of analysis. However, in my analysis (Chapter 6 in particular), I refer to the ideas of select critical whiteness theorists that are relevant to my work.
Following Thobani (2007), I use the term “Euro-Canadian” to include all white women living in (what would become) Canada who originally hailed from a European country, often Great Britain in the case of Canada.
Following Clare Midgley (2007), I am mindful of using an anachronism when labeling anyone a feminist prior to the late nineteenth century. For her part, Midgley (2007) carefully considers the difficulty of “coming up with a definition of feminism that does justice to its diversity across time, across cultures and even at a particular time and in a particular place” (p. 7). Following Midgley, I use the term feminist rather broadly to refer to women activists who “held a range of positions on the ‘woman question’” and undertook a “variety of forms of activism through which women collectively asserted their agency and power” (p. 8) throughout the extended colonial period.
See Nancy Cott (1987) and Karen Offen (2000) for more about the term proto-feminist.
Yeğenoğlu (1998) builds on the “many studies” that have revealed “the interlocking relation between the political rationality of colonial power and modernity.... As Sartre notes, this relationship was more than a mere historical or conjectural coincidence: the formation of universal humanism’s ideal is predicated upon a racist gesture, for, in order to be able to proclaim its humanity, the West needed to create its others as slaves and monsters” (p. 95).
Colonial modernity has acquired wide usage across disciplines, though I cannot provide an exhaustive account of the term here. In discussing Chinese feminism, Tani Barlow (2004) uses it to highlight that “by the nineteenth and twentieth centuries most of the vast plane of the earth’s surface had been colonized or partly colonized, and because of this spatial extension of the colonial project, colonial knowledge circulated through the colonial capitals” (p. 88).
While Gregory’s (2004) work focuses on the colonial realities of Afghanistan, Palestine and Iraq, he situates these realities within broader global power relations.
For Sangeeta Ray (2009), this critique is still valid: “Feminist postcolonial practice was and is a subdivision of postcolonial studies in general... The idea that gender should undergird all of one’s critical assumptions was assumed [at a recent Modern Languages Association session] to be passé, even retrograde” (p. 11).
A contribution of postcolonial, post-structuralist and feminist theories has been to reveal the “binary logic of imperialism [as] a development of that tendency of Western thought in general to see the world in terms of binary opposites. A simple distinction between centre-margin; colonizer-colonized; metropolis/empire; civilized/primitive represents very efficiently the violent hierarchy on which imperialism is based and which it actively perpetuates” (Ashcroft, Griffiths, & Tiffin, 2000, p. 24).
Referencing the need to moderate the overuse of binary oppositions to avoid their reification (and concomitant
relations of domination) as well as to reveal power differentials amongst colonizers, L. T. Smith (1999) writes:
“These two categories are not just a simple opposition but consist of several relations, some more clearly oppositional than others.... The binary of colonizer/colonized does not take into account, for example, the development of different layerings which have occurred within each group and across the two groups” (p. 27).
Sylvia Van Kirk (1980) explores the importance and relative power of Aboriginal women in the Canadian furtrade. Building on that, Rutherdale and Pickle’s (2005) edited collection shows “that, far from being invisible, without agency or voice, Aboriginal women in Canada expressed their responses to colonization in ways that centred on the body, from dress to performativity” (p. 5). See also Carter, Erickson, Roome and Smith (2005).
See Johnston and Lawson (2000) for a concise discussion of settler colonialism, the settler subject and the uses to which settler postcolonial theory has been put.
See Colin G. Calloway (2008) for a discussion of the ways in which many formerly disenfranchised Scottish Highlanders came to enjoy white privilege and its material benefits after, in some cases, having been forcibly relocated to North America during Britain’s colonial expansion. See also Thobani (2007) on the “exaltation as preferred races” (p. 83, emphasis in the original) of otherwise non-desirable settlers, i.e., the integration of white women and the working classes into the Canadian nation on the basis of race.
Affirming just this point, Stoler (1995) brings up Foucault’s four “bourgeois objects of knowledge” (the masturbating child, hysterical woman, Malthusian couple and perverse adult) to ask: “Did any of these [European] figures exist as objects of knowledge and discourse in the nineteenth century without a racially erotic counterpoint, without reference to the libidinal energies of the savage, the primitive, the colonized—reference points of difference, critique, and desire?” (pp. 6–7).
On this same note, Loomba (2005) points to McClintock’s notion of the “porno-tropics,” which refers to the connection between the construction of non-Europeans, particularly women, as sexually deviant or “libidinally excessive and sexually uncontrolled” (p. 131) and European imperialist desire in its multiple dimensions.
See Carter, Erickson, Roome and Smith (2005); Erickson (2005); Pickles and Rutherdale (2005); and Roome (2005) for detailed historical analyses of the ways in which white women were simultaneously constituted as both colonizer and colonized in Canadian colonial processes.
Loomba (2005) points to the staying power of this fear: “The spectre of miscegenation most graphically brings together anxieties about female sexuality and racial purity, and, as colonial contacts widen and deepen, it increasingly haunts European and Euro-American culture” (p. 134).
McClintock (1995) defines the cult of domesticity as an ideological tool for the consolidation of the middle class and separation of private and public spheres in eighteenth century Britain and its colonies: “The cult of domesticity was crucial in helping to fashion the identity of a large class of people (hitherto disunited) with clear affiliations, distinct boundaries and separate values—organized around the presiding domestic values of monogamy, thrift, order, accumulation, classification, quantification and regulation—the values of liberal rationality through which the disunited middling classes fashioned the appearance of a unified class identity” (pp. 167–168).
As domesticating agents in need of domestication, white women were an “important colonial index” (Perry, 2001, p. 188) of success; as such, they, particularly single, working-class white women, were the objects of significant surveillance in the colonies. And, as Ware (1992) notes in her study of the historical construction of Western white femininity, “in any colony, the degree to which white women were protected [read regulated] from the fear of sexual assault was a good indication of the level of security [or lack thereof] felt by colonial authorities” (p. 38). She cites two “major rebellions”—one in India (1857) and the other in Jamaica (1865)—by colonized populations, which would have set off a wave of panic “reverberating across the colonies” (pp. 38–39), including Canada. In Gender and Empire, Angela Woollacott (2006) writes, “Taken together, the narratives of interracial sexual assault that characterized these crises reveal a remarkable shift in imperial gender ideologies towards racialized notions of white feminine virtue and colonized men’s barbarity. They show how racialized narratives of sex and gender lay at the core of imperial politics, and how they were invoked to explain the appropriation of land from indigenous peoples in white-settler colonies as well as extreme measures of reprisal in colonies of rule” (p. 8).
Woollacott (2006) reminds us of the materiality of the circulation of these gendered and racialized narratives throughout the British Empire.
See Loomba (2005) for an overview of the ways in which colonial discourse advanced “equivalencies...
between women, blacks, the lower classes, animals, madness and homosexuality” (p. 135).
I am specifically thinking of cultural, critical whiteness, development, Indigenous feminist and postcolonial feminist studies. This cross-disciplinary scholarship includes, but is by no means limited to, the works of Renée Bergland (2000), Denise da Silva (2007), Richard Dyer (1997), María Josefina Saldaña-Portillo (2003), Pratt (2008), Ann Stoler (1995) and Yeğenoğlu (1998).
I do not mean to imply that only white women were involved in feminist movement (leaving aside questions of self-identification and term usage). Rather, my focus is on a particular group of women—white women—who became self-consciously involved in women’s struggles.
In examining the role of white European women as cultural agents in nineteenth century Britain, Lewis (1996) concludes, “As I had feared, the dynamics of imperial discourse could not but enter and structure their work—even if their relationship to some racialized ideologies was self-consciously oppositional” (p. 3). She concludes, imperial ideologies had “pervasive effects... on female subjects and their particular, gendered, interpellation into imperial discourse” (Lewis, 1996, p. 14). Loomba (2005) similarly notes: “While white women played important roles in the abolition of slavery and in initiating colonial reform, even these progressive roles were often premised on the idea of a racial hierarchy” (p. 144).
Valverde (1992) notes that some feminist intellectuals critiqued aspects of Social Darwinism. They “participated in the debate about who was responsible for degeneration and who was to take a leadership role in ‘regeneration,’ elaborating complex theories of women and evolution countering the misogynist assumptions of male-stream evolutionists” (p. 8).
Ware (1992) cites white women’s roles in anti-lynching campaigns in nineteenth-century Britain and the cases of two British feminists (Ackroyd and Butler) as examples. According to Lewis (1996), Josephine Butler endorsed the “proto-feminist concern for ‘native’ women... frequently structured by the same assumptions of white superiority and civilization (Indian women are more oppressed by their backward menfolk and must be liberated by their more advanced white sisters) that drove imperial policy” (p. 22). Annette Ackroyd also believed in the primacy of gender over class or race, but came to distinguish herself from Butler by her intense, racist dislike of Indian men and Indian culture: “Her sympathy continued to lie with Indian women, but she was convinced that they were victims of a form of enslavement which British rule seemed powerless to disrupt” (Ware, 1992, p. 147). McClintock (1995) discusses a third example, South African white feminist Olive Schreiner (1855–1920): “All too often, Schreiner’s views on Africans are blemished by condescension and a patronizing pity” (p. 294).
For example, as Grewal (1996) notes in relation to English suffragists, for these women, “the stereotype of women’s seclusion in the Middle East and Asia suggested the need for women to be employed, vote for their rights, and participate in public, and not merely domestic, matters. The evils of purdah, the harem, and sati, so obsessively described by English travelers and so much a part of Orientalist knowledge, were seen as an example of not giving women the vote and as the result of a despotism that denied freedom to women” (p. 82).
Grewal (1996) explores the discursive function of the harem in enabling British “female subject formation”: