Evolutionary Thought, Gender and Race

  • Jeannette King


If degeneration was linked with the breakdown of gender boundaries, it was equally linked with the breakdown of the barriers between races. The science of evolution envisaged the nineteenth-century white male as its peak, looking down on women as a less evolved form of life, and looking back at the past as a lower stage of development. This European male observer similarly looked both down and back on what were perceived as more ‘primitive’ races. Although Darwin himself ultimately refuted concepts of racial purity, his model of development, differentiating between racial types, suggested different stages in human evolution, and contributed to the idea that ‘lower’ races belonged to a state of perpetual childhood similar to that occupied by women. ‘Bushmen’ and ‘Hottentots’, for instance, central to debates about racial groups in Africa, were thus seen to belong to the childhood of man. The similarities between this discourse of race and Victorian gender discourse indicate the common ideological function that they served.


White Woman Black Woman Female Body Black Female Black Race 
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Copyright information

© Jeannette King 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jeannette King
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of EnglishUniversity of AberdeenUK

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