Contending Masculinities: the Gendered (re) Negotiation of Colonial Hierarchy in the United Nations Debates on Decolonization


Patil, Vrushali. 2009. “Contending Masculinities: the Gendered (re) Negotiation of Colonial Hierarchy in the United Nations Debates on Decolonization.” Theory and Society 38 (2): 195-215.

Author: Vrushali Patil


The emergence of legal decolonization in the mid-twentieth century, as evidenced by the 1960 United Nations Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, is often understood through the lens of race and the disruption of racial hierarchy. If we take seriously the transnational feminist contention that the colonial racial order was also gendered, however, how might this perspective shift our understanding of decolonization? In this article, I explore the debates on decolonization that take place in the UN General Assembly from 1946–1960 that lead to the 1960 Declaration from a transnational feminist perspective to answer this question. Specifically, I use comparative historical and discourse methods of analysis to explore how colonialists and anti-colonialists negotiate the onset of legal decolonization, focusing especially on how colonialist hierarchies of race, culture, and gender are addressed in these debates. I argue that, on the one hand, colonialists rely on a paternalist masculinity to legitimate their rule (i.e., our dependencies require our rule the way a child requires a father). In response, anti-colonialists reply with a resistance masculinity (i.e., “colonialism is emasculating;” “decolonization is necessary for a return of masculine dignity”). I argue that decolonization in the United Nations transpires via contentions among differentially racialized masculinities. Ultimately, a transnational feminist perspective that centers the intersection of race and gender offers a richer analysis than a perspective that examines race alone.

Topics: Coloniality/Post-Coloniality, Feminisms, Gendered Power Relations, Patriarchy, International Law, International Organizations, Race

Year: 2009

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