The Wombs of Women

Race, Capital, Feminism

Book Pages: 184 Illustrations: Published: August 2020

Author: Françoise Vergès

Translator: Kaiama L. Glover

Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies, Theory and Philosophy > Feminist Theory

In the 1960s thousands of poor women of color on the (post)colonial French island of Reunion had their pregnancies forcefully terminated by white doctors; the doctors operated under the pretext of performing benign surgeries, for which they sought government compensation. When the scandal broke in 1970, the doctors claimed to have been encouraged to perform these abortions by French politicians who sought to curtail reproduction on the island, even though abortion was illegal in France. In The Wombs of Women—first published in French and appearing here in English for the first time—Françoise Vergès traces the long history of colonial state intervention in black women’s wombs during the slave trade and postslavery imperialism as well as in current birth control politics. She examines the women’s liberation movement in France in the 1960s and 1970s, showing that by choosing to ignore the history of the racialization of women’s wombs, French feminists inevitably ended up defending the rights of white women at the expense of women of color. Ultimately, Vergès demonstrates how the forced abortions on Reunion were manifestations of the legacies of the racialized violence of slavery and colonialism.


“In her wonderful book, Françoise Vergès creates a methodology for teasing out the various strands within which French Republican thought has sustained gender, class, and racial inequality. In doing so, she conceptualizes a new lexicon for postcolonial critique. From the scandal in Reunion to the forms of sovereignty that work within this logic, feminism needs to reconfigure itself if it is to be a force adequate to the future in the face of its previous ignorance. Vergès’s book takes us there.” — Ranjana Khanna, author of Algeria Cuts: Women and Representation, 1830 to the Present

"Verges' book… sets itself as an example of what kind of work is necessary to reveal the coloniality of power which persisted after the formal end of colonization. In other words, this book teaches us the kind of work needed to practice a decolonial feminism, a 'killjoy politics', a counterhegemonic strategy which appears fundamental to understand the genesis of femonationalism. There is a particularly valuable contribution made by the book which promises to become one of the most relevant new acquisitions in decolonial and feminist studies." — Erika Bernacchi, Ethnic and Racial Studies


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Françoise Vergès is an antiracist feminist activist, a public educator, an independent curator, and the cofounder of the collective Decolonize the Arts and of the free and open university Decolonizing the Arts. She is the author of Monsters and Revolutionaries: Colonial Family Romance and Metissage, also published by Duke University Press, and numerous books in French. 

Kaiama L. Glover is Ann Whitney Olin Professor of French and Africana Studies at Barnard College.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface  ix
Translator's Introduction  xiii
Introduction  1
1. The Island of Doctor Moreau  1
2. The Rhetoric of "Impossible Development": Dependency, Repression, and Anticolonial Struggle  29
3. The Wombs of Black Women, Capitalism, and the International Division of Labor  49
4. "The Future Is Elsewhere"  63
5. French Feminist Blindness: Race, Coloniality, Capitalism  89
Conclusion: Repoliticizing Feminism  115
Notes  125
Index  157
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-0941-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0852-1