Ain’t I a Ladie?

Race, sexuality, and early modern women writers

Authored by: Melissa E. Sanchez

Routledge Companion to Women, Sex, and Gender in the Early British Colonial World

Print publication date:  October  2018
Online publication date:  October  2018

Print ISBN: 9781472479945
eBook ISBN: 9781315613772
Adobe ISBN:


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As scholars pursuing woman-of-color feminism and queer-of-color critique have long argued, the pursuit of solidarity along a single axis of identity may actually divert our attention from other forms of injustice. The problem becomes particularly acute when we study women writers from periods in which perceptions of racial and sexual norms were very different from our own. Rather than note or censure their participation in the complex and uneven construction of a white supremacist ideology that privileges fair skin, Christianity, and European heritage, the critical tendency is to accentuate and applaud those rare examples of proto-feminist consciousness that we have. In focusing this essay on precisely those passages in Aemilia Lanyer’s Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum that challenge our connection with past women and that thwart our desire to find precedents for modern challenges to social injustice, I show that Lanyer’s writing is valuable to modern feminism not in spite of its troubling support of a nascent ideology of white power and privilege but because of it. If we confront the dissonance between Lanyer’s calls for women’s equality to men and her assertions of racial and ethnic hierarchy, we are forced to reassess our own loyalties and priorities as feminist critics. The virtuous, Christian, European female community that critics have praised in Lanyer’s work ought not be an aspiration for modern feminists. But it can be a starting point, one that allows us to evaluate our own loyalties as feminists, as well as our own (inevitable) betrayals of the project of radical change toward which we collectively if conflictedly work.

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