Teaching the differences among women from a historical perspective. Rethinking race and gender as social categories

Tessie Liu*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Fully acknowledging the diversity of women's experience begins with understanding how the differences among women are constructed relationally in specific social processes. This essay suggests, through an analysis of the historical roots of social classification systems, that institutionalized racism is a form of sexism. Scholars must move beyond understanding racism as purely an outgrowth of irrational prejudices and begin to think of race as a widespread principle of social organization. Race as a social category relies on biological metaphors of common substance to mark boundaries of privilege and entitlement. Thus, European societies before colonial contact with others were already racially stratified societies divided by lineage and bloodlines but not by skin color. The centrality of reproduction in this definition of race allows us to see why racial categories are predicated upon control of women and sexuality. Racial thinking, however, does not view all women as the same, but divides women by experience and by assigned function within the same social order. Through an analysis of race, we gain insight into the structural underpinnings of why women's experiences differ but also why such differences are implicated in each other.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)265-276
Number of pages12
JournalWomen's Studies International Forum
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 1 1991

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Development
  • Sociology and Political Science


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