In spite of French colonial prescriptions against interracial sex, sexual exchanges across the colonizer/colonized (white/black) divide occurred across the French empire in twentieth century colonial Africa and resulted in a population of thousands of métis individuals. This paper traces constructions of racialized models of womanhood by exploring the education and cloistering of métisses girls in Catholic schools across French-speaking Africa in the colonial twentieth century. Male leaders of métis organizations, colonial officials, and Catholic missionaries worried particularly about la jeune fille métisse (the young mixed-race woman) as facing a path of prostitution with white men. Housed in orphanage-schools run by French nuns, taught rudimentary writing and arithmetic, and trained in domestic arts, métisses girls were to be molded as modest, educated, and nonsexualized women poised for monogamous marriages with African men. Yet, métisses girls forwarded counter-representations of métisses womanhood and social and biological reproduction in African societies. Analyzing oral histories, colonial and missionary documents, and photographs, the paper explores the intersectionality of race, gender, and sexuality. The paper argues that métisses constructed meanings of racialized and gendered identities in relation to “whiteness,” but also engaged and articulated conceptualizations of “blackness” within the French empire.
Rachel Jean-Baptiste is Assistant Professor in the Department of History, University of Chicago. Publications : ‘A Free Town:’ Marriage, Sex, and Urban Life in Twentieth Century Libreville, Gabon (Ohio University Press, forthcoming) ; “L’Eurafricain: Motherhood, Women’s Sexuality, and the Configuration of Métis Identity in Francophone Africa, 1945-1960,” Journal of the History of Sexuality, 2011, in press ; “ ‘A Black Girl Should Not be With A White Man’: African Women and Interracial Sex in Colonial Gabon, c. 1914-1960.” Journal of Women’s History, vol. 22, Issue 3, 2010, in press ; “‘These Laws Should Be Made By Us’: Customary Marriage Law, Codification And Political Authority in Twentieth-Century Colonial Gabon,” Journal of African History, vol. 49, Issue 02, July 2008, p. 217-240.