The white woman's burden: British feminists and the Indian woman, 1865-1915

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Historians of empire and of women have paid scant attention to the fact that British feminism matured during an age of empire, and that British feminists participated in the assumptions of national and racial superiority implicit in their culture. The purpose of this essay is to explore the ways in which modern British feminism was influenced by coming of age during this period of Britain's imperial rule. Josephine Butler's campaign on behalf of Indian women is one example of imperial feminism in action. A review of feminist periodical literature reveals that British feminists constructed the image of a helpless Indian womanhood on whom their own emancipation in the imperial nation state ultimately relied. Thus, in both practice and theory, the Indian woman served as a foil against which British feminists could gauge their own progress. In their quest for liberation and empowerment, Victorian and Edwardian feminists collaborated in the ideological work of empire, reproducing the moral discourse of imperialism and embedding feminist ideology within it.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)295-308
Number of pages14
JournalWomen's Studies International Forum
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1990
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Development
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


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