Bowen, Barbara. 1999. “Aemilia Lanyer and the Invention of White Womanhood” in Maids and Mistresses, Cousins and Queens: Women’s Alliances in Early Modern England edited by Susan Frye & Karen Robertson. Oxford University Press, New York. ISBN 0-19-511735-2
Bowen, Barbara. “Aemilia Lanyer and the Invention of White Womanhood”
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This article examines early origins of the default understanding of “woman” as racially specific (i.e., white women). This is viewed through the lens of early 17th century author Aemelia Lanyer that explores the concept of “womanhood” as a social rather than individual identity defined to some extent by who that identity excludes. Specifically including racialized exclusions as experienced by the author via her own Italian and Jewish heritage (identities that were racialized in Early Modern England).
[Lanyer’s life, work, and context are complex and deeply fascinating—too much so to go into here.]
Lanyer is interesting not only for her family background and her complex connections within the English court, but for her ground-breaking position as a published female poet, and for the ways in which she reframed the themes and narratives of her culture from a non-dominant perspective. In particular from the perspective of a woman arguing for her right to have intellectual value, and who worked to create a network of female patronage for her work.
Although the analysis of the racial aspects of Lanyer’s work is detailed and interesting, it’s hard to sum up concisely, so I’m simply going to say check it out if you’re interested.