Women Studies

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Institutionof Learning

Section1:The Colonial Period

Impactof colonization on gender roles

Colonizationby the western civilizations was an imperialist practice or policythat involved the acquisition of political, economic and socialcontrol over another territory either wholly or partially. Thispractice is mainly done through settlers, and it results in massiveexploitation of the occupied territories’ resources Steinmetz(2016). The Western powers were the main perpetrators of this policy.The British Empire acquired colonies in the Americas, Africa, andAustralia among others. The impact of this imperialist dominance ofother territories had lasting effects that are felt even in thecontemporary world. This paper analyzes the effects of colonizationon gender roles in the British occupied territories in the 17thcentury.

Duringthe pre-colonial period, gender roles were more defined in thesociety. Men were the heads of their families and the community. Theyoffered advice, protection and provided for the community as a whole.On the other hand, women played a complementary role to men. Theytook care of families, did domestically oriented functions andbearing children was deemed their most important role. However,during and after colonization in the 17th century, these rolesdrastically changed in the British colonies. Men lost their status asheads of their communities, and they were reduced to slaves orsoldiers. They started working on settler farms as mistreated andforced laborers while consequently leaving their families behind.They became property to be sold in markets to the highest bidders orwere drafted into wars, not their own as illustrated by Mays (2004)in the Elizabeth Sprigs letter.

Onthe other hand, women’s roles were also disrupted. Due to landalienation, they no longer did the farming they were accustomed toand domestic patriarchy intensified. Most women were also forced totake care of their families as sole breadwinners due to the absenceof their men. However, colonization also helped reverse pre-colonialpractices that were oppressive to women in some British colonies likeIndia. This change in roles is explained in our primary documents. Practices such as female infanticide, polygamy and child marriagewhich were supported by Hinduism and Islam in India were replaced bymore women –friendly customs advocated for by British Christianity.

Section: The Early National Period.

Waysin which the American Revolution resulted in a temporary expansion ofroles for women

TheAmerican Revolution was a period of unprecedented political upheavalsbetween 1765 and 1783. During this time, the thirteen Britishcolonies in America expressed their refusal to submit to theimperialist control of the King of Britain and his parliament. Thisrevolution led to the founding of the independent state of the U.S.A(United States of America). Most historians in their publications andother documents have given credit of the war heroics to mostly men,the likes of George Washington. However, as it is depicted in thefeature film Mary Silliman’s War (1994), history seems to haveforgotten the fact that the women equally played a major role. Thefilm presents the revolution from the perspective of a civilian, awoman, Mary Silliman. The role of women is effectively characterizedby Mary, who is ultimately drawn into the events of the revolutionarywar. To obtain her husband’s release who is imprisoned as aconsequence of the war, she resolves to act in ways uncommon to womenwhile at the same time dealing with daily domestic concerns. Marydepicts the role of women as active fighters during the war. Apartfrom managing the households while their men were away fighting,women also helped to fight the British rule by boycotting theirtextiles. They provided for their people by continuing their longtradition of weaving and spurning their clothes. They did thisthrough the Homespun movement. They also bought American productslike tea at the expense of British ones to avoid taxation. Women’sorganizations, such as the Ladies Association in Philadelphia, alsoplayed a crucial role in the war. It is through these organizationsthat the women presented their grievances as a common voice. Thisscenario is well depicted in Mary’s film when she uses theseorganizations to petition, solicit help and lobby governors, theCouncil and the Connecticut Assembly for her husband’s release. Other women played the role of financiers while others joined thearmy disguised as men. Other temporary roles that the women playedduring the revolution included marching in parades, attendingCongress sessions and political rally participations.

Section3: Visual Culture in the 19th Century.


Theconcept of ‘Republican Motherhood’ was a term coined in the 20thcentury. It was a term used to represent an attitude towards the roleof women that emerged in the United States during the pre-revolutionand post-revolution eras. The Copley family portrait was a paintingby James Peale, of his family in 1975. The painting depicted thebelief that women should uphold and maintain the ideologies ofrepublicanism. Their role was to pass these republican values to thenext generations. The ‘republican mother’ was seen as thecustodian of societal values and virtues. She was tasked with theresponsibility of endorsing and defending the moral obligation of herhusband and her children. In the history of feminism, the period thatwas characterized by this concept of republican motherhood isdifficult to categorize. On the other hand, however, this termreinforced the role of women in the domestic sphere separate from theoutside and the more public manly world. This led to theencouragement and investment in women’ education and therecognition of their importance and dignity in the societal settingduring this period.

Asmore emphasis was placed on republicanism, the women helped inpromoting these values as they raised the next generation. Childrenwere taught the need to value patriotism and the honor of sacrificingpersonal needs for the greater needs of the country. The Republicanmothers did this by encouraging their sons, to pursue political rolesand liberty. On the other hand, their daughters were taught how toperpetuate their spheres in the next generations domestically. Theywere taught how to be Republicans just like their mothers beforethem. During this period, even religion promoted this idea ofrepublican motherhood, which was seen as the right path for the womento take. Republican motherhood was significant in the changes thatoccurred in how gender roles were defined in the U.S during thisperiod. Traditionally, the moral inferiority of women to men washighly emphasized. This inferiority was more defined in the areas ofreligion and sexuality. However, as the end of the 18th centuryapproached, the modest and pure natures of women were recognized.This brought about the view that they could be responsible forpromoting republicanism and Christian values in their children. Theirrole in education changed as they could now be educated and scholarlyopportunities were made available to them. Republican motherhood wasseen as a uniting principle that brought together state and family.Successful republics were equated to virtuous family settings. As aresult, by the 19th century, women were regarded as the supervisorsand educators of American ethical values and morals.

Section4: From Abolition to Women’s Rights

Emergenceof a movement for women’s rights out of the anti-slavery movement

Theadvent of a women’s rights movement out of the anti-slaverymovement happened during the antebellum period. This was a turbulenttime. Sklar (2000), provides an illustration of the 1980s women’sactivities in the abolitionist cause. This cause was inspired by thereligious awakening that was sweeping the nation at the time.

Theabolitionist cause was a movement that was intended to end slavery inthe United States. During this period, the country rode on the beliefthat ‘all men were created equal.’ Tensions grew betweenabolitionists and slaves on one end and slave owners on the other.These tensions ultimately resulted in the American civil war.

Thehigh levels of slavery and the tensions caused by the anti-slaverymovements, coupled with the belief of all men being equal became theconditions that existed and worked together to make the developmentof a women’s right movement highly possible during that time asillustrated by Sklar (2000). Since their activities were highlycriticized at the time, some of them were gradually pushed towardsadvocating for women’s rights.

First,they had to defend their freedom of speech. Two women wereparticularly vocal in this aspect. They were Angelina and SarahGrimke, daughters of a slave-owner. They advocated for “notthe cause of slaves only, but the cause of woman as a responsiblemoral being.”(Sklar, 2000).

Asthe women’s movement collided with the slave abolishment cause,some male abolitionists thought that the situation would diffuse theoutrage over slavery. However, the women led by Sarah Grimke foughtback, and this resulted in the articulation of an independent women’srights movement at the start of the 1840s.

Gradually,there was the separation of the women’s movement from theabolitionist cause in the 1850s. This, therefore, resulted in theemergence and growth of an independent movement advocating forwomen’s rights out of the existing anti-slavery movement.


Mays,D. A. (2004). Womenin early America: Struggle, survival, and freedom in a new world. Santa Barbara (Calif.: ABC-CLIO.

Sklar,K. K. (2000). Women`s Rights Emerges Within the Antislavery Movement,1830-1870 a Brief History with Documents.

Steinmetz,G. (2016). Colonialism, Modern, and Race. TheWiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Race, Ethnicity, and Nationalism.