Our Joan of Arc
Our Joan of Arc
Women, Gender, and Authority in the Harmony Division of the UNIA
This chapter uses the Jamaican Garveyite weekly New Negro Voice to examine gender dynamics and gender politics in the Harmony Division of the Universal Negro Improvement Association in the early 1940s. While the UNIA promoted patriarchal structure and binary gender roles, the pages of the New Negro Voice and the meetings of the Harmony Division also provided space for alternative visions of gender roles and critiques of women’s subordination by both female and male Garveyites who valued women’s broader activities outside the home, argued that women’s full equality was pivotal to the future of the race, and praised Jamaican women’s political leadership. Similarly, alongside images of the nurturing, caretaking “race mother” or patriarchal “race man,” the sources highlight other means of status-claiming within the organization that were more gender-neutral, based on a member’s militarism, sense of justice, their level of commitment to the organization, etc. These principles allowed women like Maymie L.T. de Mena Aiken to exercise considerable authority at Liberty Hall and beyond. The complexity of these dynamics are explored in an examination of the debate over birth control, which split the leadership of the Harmony Division among rigid gender lines and tested the flexibility of Garvey’s ideology.
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