Gendering Modernity: Black Feminist Perspectives

The Making of the Modern World - Lecture 4

Lecturer: Dr Lisa Palmer, Stephen Lawrence Research Centre

Nov. 30, 2020

In the making of modernity, questions of gender and sexuality constitute the very structures of power by which modernity is produced, organised and understood. Equally, it is not possible to talk about the gendering of modernity without also showing how these structures of power are inherently racialised. To illustrate these points, this session will examine the social category of ‘womanhood’ through Sojourner Truth's speech, ‘Ain’t I a woman?’ in order to trace the figure of the enslaved African woman and her labour within the making of the modern world. Hortense Spillers’ concept of the ‘ungendering’ of African women under conditions of enslavement will be engaged along with Oyèrónkè Oyěwúmi’s arguments on the imposition of colonial western gender categories in Yorubaland. The aim here is to provide some illustrations of the ways gender and racialisation are explicitly bound to colonial world making in ways that continue to have an imprint onto the contemporary lives of Black women.



  • Examine the significance of racial categories and processes of racialisation to our understanding of gender and modernity?
  • How does Hortense Spillers’ concept of ‘ungendering’ help us to critique universal and historical categories of gender and womanhood?
  • To what extent do historical and colonial processes of gendering and racialization continue to impact the contemporary lives of Black women in the context of the #SayHerName movement?
  • Consider Oyèrónkè Oyěwúmi's argument that womanhood is a colonial construct in order to explore the possibilities of refusing gender categories?