Differences in the Experience with Slavery for Men and Women

*Facts based off of information in my personal notes from my HST 247 African American History class that I took at DePaul University in 2019.

Slavery in the United States was racist, there is simply no denying that fact; however, as if enslaving human beings based off the color of one’s skin was not inhumane and unjust enough, slave owners sought to invoke treacherous punishments on slaves based off their genders. Slavery was aimed to make the enslaved feel that blackness was a shameful quality, but the minds behind slavery were darker than just racism. The gendering of slavery intertwined with the blatant racism created an intersection filled with hate, pain, suffering, and pure ignorance of morality. Both women and men endured separate, yet also the same, hells in a world where their voices were silenced.

 Women faced certain challenges that men did not see as often because of the objectification that the women faced from the slave owners. The literature piece, Ar’n’t I a Woman?, addresses several problems that women faced, and most of these problems stemmed from socially constructed archetypes that were developed. One of these archetypes was that of “Jezebel” (White 29). This archetype was made so that black women would be viewed as promiscuous, intensely sexual beings. The origination of this image was produced when the whites first encountered black women in Africa (White 29). Not only did this stand as a negative label, the Jezebel archetype had direct influence on the African American women’s lives. Since society viewed black women as overly sexual beings, when women were raped by slave owners, the rape was excused (White 32). Black women were thought to have no purity, whereas white women were pure women who deserved complete respect. An escaped slave, Christopher Nichols, recalled that a master that he had would take women and throw them over a bench and rape that woman in front of everyone (White 33). The men would not show any mercy and overpower any woman that he wanted to. The men would whip the women and rape them in front of their mothers and fathers and if the women resisted, further punishment was had (White 35).

The sexual objectification of women was an experience that many women faced, and slave owners would use the sexuality of women in an advantageous way. Slave owners would rape women in order to increase the number of slaves on the plantation, because the children would take the status of the women. One instance in history was the case of Celia. Celia was a young girl who suffered from intense sexual abuse from her owner. Eventually Celia grew tired of the treatment she faced from her owner and killed him. This case was brought to court and the rape was recognized, but it was not found illegal because the court felt that Celia, as a black woman, had no purity to be taken away. Celia fit into the Jezebel archetype and the actions that were proceeded in court supported the archetype. Even though Jezebel was promiscuous and sexy, she was not worthy of the same life as a white woman. Jezebel may not have been whipped and put to field work, but she was living a horrid reality that was filled with rape, hate, oppression, and violence.

While some women were being shamed for sexuality, other women were having their sexuality taken away. It was the socially constructed archetype of the “Mammy” that did this (White 46). The Mammy archetype represented a loving and caring black woman that had no interest in any sexual activity. This woman cared heavily for the slave owners’ children but was still viewed as a slave. This Mammy was held to high expectations and was relied on to perform several tasks, in good time, regardless of any constraints. Mammy was the prized house-slave and was seen to be worthy and reliable (White 47). Susan Eppes, a slave owner, would converse with her Mammy every day and viewed her Mammy as a sort of children’s keeper (White 47). Mammy was thought to be very well respected, which in turn, made some believe that maybe slavery was not as bad as it seemed. No matter how much respect a slave owner could have for a slave, that person was still supporting the brutal system of slavery. Even though Mammy was this woman who could do it all, her value when compared to a white woman was nonexistent. Mammy was capable and did work efficiently, but Mammy was still not viewed to be as worthy as a white woman and was nonetheless property of the slave owners. The women who faced this label were made to think that the “respect” received from the owners was a good way to live and that they were lucky to be out of the field and away from the lashes of the whip.

While women were being sexualized by the slave owners, men were facing unimaginable punishments. Men felt that they were powerless because the whites would take sexual advantage of their wives, daughters, and mothers, but the men could not do anything to stop the terror (Black 100). In the African culture, a man is expected to care for his family, but under slavery this notion was nonexistent. Henry Bibb wrote a slave narrative and spoke on the several brutalities that he suffered. He, and other enslaved men, felt that a man had a right to his wife and a right to his children, but the slave owners stripped black men of those rights (Black 111). This narrative was completely honest, and he was up front with everything that he felt and experienced. He said that, “I must be a slave for life—suffer under the lash or die.” (Black 103). This was the reality for several slaves, especially those following the first-generation slaves. When a slave was born into slavery, the only life that was known was one of oppression, hate, and pain—there seemed to be no way out, except for death. Bibb suffered intense violence during his time at the Whitfield Plantation, especially when he had a failed attempt to escape. He recalled in his narrative that, “My clothing was ripped off and I was compelled to lie on the ground…four stakes were driven in the ground, to which my hands and feet were tied (Black 105).” He was then lashed from head to foot repeatedly, almost to death. Bibbs was unable to work for several days and was separated from his family for the rest of his time on the plantation. Bibbs held back the rage to retaliate, because fighting back meant death and he refused to face death (Black 106). This is what made male slaves feel emasculated and powerless, they had to be brutally abused in front of their peers and family, but there was nothing that could be done to stop it. His pride was stripped off him and beaten away with each lash and flog that he faced.

Sometimes slaves would fight back, such as the actions of Solomon Northup. Unlike Bibbs, Northup was born a free man and was captured and brought into slavery. This ignited a different type of anger within that Bibbs did not have. Northup brought a lot of insight to the truth of how brutal slavery was. He recalled that, “Twenty-five [lashes] are deemed a mere brush, inflicted, for instance…when a branch is broken in the field… (Black 108).” This recollection goes to show that slaves—men for the most part—would face brutal punishments even for the slightest of mistakes, like a broken branch. Even no mistakes could lead to punishment if the slave owner felt like it. The day that Northup decided to fight back and stand up to his slave owner, is a day that he regrets. He pushed his slave owner down, seized his whip, and struck him repeatedly (Black 109). The reason that he regrets this is because he knew that severe punishment would come, in fact, his slave owner attempted to hang him, but decided to stop so that Northup could live a life of increased fear and more pain.

This is only a pebble in an entire mountain of history. I encourage everyone to read history from certified, credible sources and to deepen your knowledge on subjects that weren’t taught enough in secondary school, or high school. This concerns all histories and subjects, not just that of the United States and slavery. History is very important and much of the present can be explained by history. Education is a gift and knowledge is power.

Texts Used:

Dismantling Black Manhood: Daniel P. Black

Out of the House of Bondage-The Transformation of the Plantation Household: Thavolia Glymph

Ar’n’t I a Woman? Female Slaves in the Plantation South: Deborah Gray White

           

Sharing is Caring

Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

For the most part we tend to be very private and personal beings. Yes, there are the select few who share the personal details of their lives on a daily basis with people on the intense database that is the internet, but that is only a small portion of society…and even those people have their real secrets that aren’t shared with many. While keeping things to ourselves is oftentimes viewed as the “right thing to do,” is it really all that important? Think back to a hard time in your life. It could be anything. Didn’t you feel better after sharing your experience with someone? Maybe the person you shared with even went through a similar experience and you felt a sense of comfort and unity. We are all living this crazy ass thing called life together, so why not fight the struggles and celebrate the victories as one, collective family?

Now, I am not saying that you need to go up to every stranger you see and nail them with a five-hour life-story; all I am saying is that every once in a while, when you feel that familiar weight on your shoulders…open up to someone. It can be a close friend, a new friend, or a family member. Find someone that you trust and let them in. It doesn’t even have to be a physical person. Find a forum online, find a chat group, or even start your own blog. Releasing all that lies inside you, whether it is bad or good, is healthy and helps promote growth in various ways in the self. Share your success story to inspire others and share the scary stories that you hide deep within your soul to let others know that they are not alone. Think of all of the people who have posted videos of themselves online sharing their experiences with trauma that only inspired others to share their stories too, creating an entire database of love, support, and connection. The more that we share, the more that we will realize that we are not as alone in this world as we think we are. Consider the #MeToo Movement that was born within the past several years and Brave Miss World. For decades people felt alone, trapped, and most likely victimized by their experience with sexual assault. But as people began to stand up and tell the world of their experience, it banded an entire community of people together and they started to realize that they are not victims, but survivors. Think of all of the public speakers and social media influencers that have shared their stories of survival through racism, sexism, abuse, bullying, and every life experience under the moon. Their sharing wasn’t done under the impression that no other person has experienced something similar to what they have; their sharing was done in order to create that oh-so-wonderful feeling of unity between those in society.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

A sense of community and a sense of unity is one thing that, as humans, we need to survive. Everyone wants to find “their people,” but how can we do that if we shelter ourselves? Yes, sharing parts of ourselves is scary because sometimes people come into our lives and we share the deepest parts of ourselves with them and then they just leave. But that is part of life, baby, and it is neither a failure nor a loss on your part–it is a victory and a lesson. Opening up takes immense courage and if you choose to do that and the person leaves, then look in the mirror and tell yourself, “I tried and that makes me fucking amazing.” The thing about life is that not everyone that enters it is meant to stay. Sometimes the ones that leave get to leave without getting a chance to know us; but, other times the ones that leave seem to walk away with a little too much of us. As unfortunate as it may feel, always remember that you are constantly growing and changing. That person may have gotten to know the person that you were while they were in your life, but that person will never know the person you have become without them–and let me tell you that that person will always be so much better than the first.

Opening up is a sign of great strength and a beautiful display of vulnerability, but one should most certainly be cautious with whom they share their souls with. If the situation arises where you do miss a red flag or the red flag is hidden by pseudo-green flags by an ultimate manipulator, then remind yourself that it is OKAY. People are capable of a great deal of love and kindness, but people also have deep capability of deception and abuse. Sometimes we trust the wrong people because we couldn’t see through their mask, but please remember that just because you were manipulated by a manipulator does not mean you are neither foolish nor weak…it means that you are human. Take what happened as a lesson, however you may shape that lesson, and use it for your growth. You are capable of so much more than you could ever imagine. Don’t forget to open up and share at your own pace too. There is no set time it should take you to “get over something” or be ready to move on. Everyone handles everything differently and handle your ‘baggage’ at a rate that is healthy for you.

The next time that you feel you shoulders hunching over with that familiar pain and you feel your chest ache in that way that can hardly be explained, find someone you trust or find any type of outlet and release that energy. Who knows, maybe that energy may be caught by someone else and transformed into something good for their soul. Every once in a while, share.

Always remember that you will be forever worthy of abundance, joy, bliss and love.