Engendering whiteness

White women and colonialism in Barbados and North Carolina, 1627–1865

Author: Cecily Jones

Whiteness, as a lived experience, is both gendered and racialised. This book seeks to understand the overlapping imbrication of whiteness in shaping the diverse material realities of women of European origin. The analysis pertains to the English-speaking slave-based societies of the Caribbean island of Barbados, and North Carolina in the American South. The book represents a comparative analysis of the complex interweaving of race, gender, social class and sexuality in defining the contours of white women's lives during the era of slavery. Despite their gendered subordination, their social location within the dominant white group afforded all white women a range of privileges, shaping these women's social identities and material realities. Conscious of the imperative to secure the racial loyalty of poor whites in order to assure its own security in the event of black uprisings, elite society attempted to harness the physical resources of the poor whites. The alienation of married women from property rights was rooted in and reinforced by the prevailing ideology of female economic dependence on men. White Barbadian women's proprietary rights as slave-owners were upheld in the law courts, even the poorest slaveholding white women could take recourse to the law to protect their property. White women's access to property was determined primarily by their marital status. The book reveals the strategies deployed by elite and poor white women in these societies to resist their gendered subordination, challenge the constraints that restricted their lives to the private domestic sphere, secure independent livelihoods and create meaningful existences.

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