In connection to Jeremy Benthem’s architectural plan for a Panopticon in prisons, which would allow all inmates to be seen from a central pillar, Anne McClintock discusses the theoretical trope of panoptical time as it relates to discourse on the gendered dynamics of colonization. Employing panoptical time as a tool to further explain the gendered forces of colonization, McClintock describes it as “the image of global history consumed – at a glance – in a single spectacle from a point of privileged invisibility.”[i] When eighteenth century scientific standard needed a visual model to illustrate evolutionary progress as a measurable spectacle, the evolutionary family Tree of Man transpired. Equally important, this tree was attended by a second image: the Family of Man. In this image, progress is illustrated under the form of the family where the complete chronological history of human development can be understood at a glance.
Thus, McClintock explains that with regard to these images and viewing human development through the lens of a Panopticon, time was not just secularized but it was domesticated. What is more, the unification of tree and family into the Family Tree of Man offered scientific racism a gendered view of racial progress. Most importantly, the Family Tree depicts evolutionary time as one without women. It is a disavowal, containing only men, arranged as a linear band of solo males rising toward the apogee of the individual. In this way, the Family Tree and the idea of racial progress- as a way to legitimize colonization by the white European male who is the apogee of progress- was gendered from the very beginning. Viewing history through a panoptic lens only reinforces the gendered dynamics of colonization, as it leaves women invisible as historical agents. Ultimately, then, observing historical progress as an evolving family reduces women to the realm of nature. It places the faculty to consume an entire global reality in the hands of the powerful, which in the case of colonization was the white European male.
[i] Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest (London: Routledge, 1995), 37.