The Anglo-Boer Wars: The British and the Afrikaners by Michael Barthorp

By Michael Barthorp

Hardcover e-book with dirt jacket, now not depicted, is an background of the Boer Wars. Many illustrations. writer is Michael Barthorp.

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Women, unlike men, possessed the capacity to cultivate life within their bellies or wombs. It was this capacity that situated women’s councils as the ritual guardians of the land’s fecundity and young women’s fertility. Within households, senior men exerted substantial control over women and girls as well as junior men and boys by commanding deference, acting as family spokespersons and guardians within the wider community, and presiding over most transactions involving land and livestock. Men’s councils similarly commanded the authority to make and enforce decisions on a wide range of issues that affected both men and women.

The colonial politics of the womb conflated concerns about improving women’s status with efforts to encourage population growth and expand the availability of cheap labor. It also conflated sexuality with reproduction. More so than either the black peril scares or efforts to stop concubinage, campaigns aimed at ending female excision and promoting hospital births left little room for considering sex as something distinct from procreation. These campaigns located intimate relations as key to the survival and prosperity of “tribes,” the Kenya colony, and the British empire.

On the one hand, it allowed for a wide range of women, from the conservative Duchess of Atholl to women’s rights advocate Eleanor Rathbone, to support a prohibition. On the other, it limited their condemnation to the “major” form, as the “minor” form was not found to produce scar tissue that could lead to complications during childbirth. Like Protestant missionaries, women activists only obliquely addressed the potential sexual consequences of the procedure. According to Pedersen, these women lacked a “forthright (and anatomically explicit) public rhetoric” through which to define the clitoris as a sexual organ; the reproductive framing of excision prevailed because it was easier to defend women as mothers than as sexual beings.

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