This blog post is going to be be a little anecdotal and is a little bit long, so please bear with me. : )
I did not expect for a passage in ‘Burmese Days’ which made me laugh out loud would lead to my being aware of my own participation in patriarchal misogyny. The passage I’m referring to is the one where we talk about the effects of U Po Kyin’s letter to Mrs Lackersteen:
“U Po Kyin had touched Mrs Lackersteen’s weak spot. To her mind the words ‘sedition’, ‘Nationalism’, ‘rebellion’, ‘Home Rule’, conveyed one thing and one only, and that was a picture of herself being raped by a procession of jet-black coolies with rolling white eyeballs. It was a thought that kept her awake at night sometimes.” (137-8)
To me the passage was funny because the description of her vividly imaginative fear revealed Mrs Lackersteen’s secret desire for the native other. So I turned to a friend who’d read the novel, pointed to the passage and said “You know she wants it.’ Unexpectedly, my friend didn’t get me, and replied with ‘That’s what rapists always say you know.’
Thinking back on the misunderstanding a few days later, I suddenly realised that in some sense it wasn’t really a misunderstanding at all. This is because after having read Ann Stoler’s ‘Sexual Affronts and Racial Frontiers’, where she talks more about who (European) women were designated the roles of ‘protectors’ of racial and ethnic morality, and a lot of them took it upon themselves. This is perhaps why in ‘A Passage To India’ it was said that the memsahibs behaved more racist than the sahibs.
If female sexuality (as Stoler says) was the means of policing and maintaining differences between the ethnic identities of the coloniser and colonised – and by extension, the former’s right to rule over the latter – the fact that ‘sedition’ and ‘Nationalism’ was interpreted as a danger to her sexuality is not that surprising anymore. In some sense, it is patriarchy that is to blame for Mrs Lackersteen’s fear, and thus in the same way that patriarchal dominance and misogyny is responsible for violence against women to this day, my joke – ‘you know she wants it’ – really reveals my own culpability with patriarchal ideology, despite my own professions to feminism. I am glad for this chance to self-examine that literature has provided.