Imperial Leather

Overall impression:

If you’re looking for an example of intersectionality — the idea that gender, race, and class are categories that create and reinforce on another — this book is an excellent example of a history where those issues are addressed without losing any of their complexity. I really get what people are saying about them all being hopelessly intertwined and complicated.

It’s also an excellent example of how different history looks when you take a gendered approach to something. It’s not a feminist history — McClintock spends as much time discussing masculinity as she does femininity — but because it focuses on the domestic sphere, it is able to get at women’s experiences in a way that most histories don’t.


McClintock has a problem with binaries and linear, progressive understandings of history.

She hopes to bring gender, class, and race to the forefront of postcolonial scholarship.

I like her contention that you can’t study women’s experience by excluding men’s. You can’t study Black history without considering whites. I think a big problem in the movement to study the other is to do so by excluding what has been the subject of historians for so long — white men — in order to focus on the many Others. Unfortunately, and I think McClintock would agree, this isn’t going to produce an accurate history. You can’t understand femininity without placing it into the context of masculinity. This doesn’t mean you have to focus on the latter, but to not include it because you’re trying to fill in a gap that’s been part of the historical record thus far is shortsighted and inaccurate.

Chapters on Munby:

Munby grew up surrounded by the contradictory conception of Victorian womanhood as embodied by two women; his upper-class mother, unpaid for domestic labor, “physically delicate and adored from afar,” and his nanny, a lower-class woman who was poorly paid for domestic labor. McClintock argues that Munby’s “chief strategy for managing the contradictions… [was] the imperial discourse on race…” (80)

Analyzes Freud’s Oedipal theory in terms of Victorian gender constructions.

Draws parallels between Munby’s practice of seeking out, documenting, and classifying lower-class female working “types” and what imperialists were doing in the empire.

Seeks to tease apart the relationship between “fetishism, domesticity, and empire” in the second chapter through Munby’s longtime relationship with Cullwick, a working class woman who he makes his wife.

To not give Cullwick agency in the story “runs the very real risk of accepting ‘Victorian sexist and classist thinking as an accurate reflection of the social world as it actually was.'” (139-40)
Interesting. We can’t assume that those who have had the dominant voices in the past have been dictating it as it actually was. We have to take into account other sources and read them against the grain to find out the reality of life. 

“Dirt, like all fetishes, thus expresses a crisis in value, for it contradicts the liberal dictum that social wealth is created by the abstract, rational principles of the market and not by labor.” (154)


Really gets at women’s experiences by looking at things that are part of the domestic sphere: soap, cleaning, servants, etc.


What does McClintock mean by “fetish”?

What place does psychoanalysis have in history…?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s