Imagining the black body: race, gender and gynaecology in late colonial Australia

Lisa Featherstone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article will consider intersections between race, gender and imperialism in Australia in the late colonial period, through an exploration of medical attitudes towards bodies. It will examine the rhetorical construction of Indigenous women in gynaecology and obstetrics, in particular the sexualisation of black female bodies as libidinous, wanton and barbaric. It will also consider the clinical treatment of Maori and Islander women received at the hands of Australian doctors well versed in theories of race and degeneration. The article will suggest that the construction of the ‘savage’ black women was an essential counterpoint to ideals of white maternity and reproduction. Yet, at the same time, Australia’s own Indigenous women were largely absent from medical discourse. The Aboriginal woman and mother was so marginalised within Australian medicine that she was rendered invisible, subsumed into the parallel racialised conceptions of a generic, barbaric black female body and the ideal, white maternal body.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)86-96
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 2006


  • race
  • gender
  • medicine
  • gynaecology
  • obstetrics


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