Female Slavery

Slavery Still Exists - SSE

Slavery Still Exists - SSE (Photo credit: Wolfram Burner)

History 17A – United States History (Spring 2007)

Female Slavery

[Students and professors, please read.]

1. How was female slavery “more terrible” than male slavery?

Slave women and girls were not shackled in the holds of slave ships, but were on the quarter deck, making them accessible to seamen who would molest them.  They were subjected to public humiliation when they were inspected for their child-bearing capacity before being bought.  Part of their sexual exploitation included pressure to procreate.  Their pregnancies and the needs of their children chained them to the plantation and made them unlikely to run away to freedom, but if they left children in slavery, their freedom from physical pain paled in comparison to their mental anguish.  However, most slave women stayed put, because they were unfamiliar with anything outside the plantation.  Many white male slaveholders gave females a choice:  submit sexually or be sold to work on the worst plantation.  Hard plantation labor may have contributed to sterility and miscarriages, and so may have birth control and abortion motivated by, among other human reasons, not wanting to raise children who would become slaves for profit.

2. How did Jefferson justify the rape of slave women?

On page 30 it is disgusting to hear that Thomas Jefferson said the orangutan preferred “the black woman over those of his own species.”  There is no other mention of Thomas Jefferson that I can recall.  I don’t see a connection between his statement and an attempt to justify the rape of slave women, unless his statement was meant to represent black women as sexual animals.  He didn’t say anything about white men justifiably taking advantage of black women on account of this.

3. What purposes did the Jezebel and Mammy stereotypes serve?

The Jezebel stereotype served the purpose of justifying white male advances toward and exploitation of female slaves.  It excused white men having sexual relations with black females, and the resulting mixed-race offspring.  But, it caused fears surrounding moral degeneration, “mongrelization” and a woman’s emasculating sexual powers, fears calmed by the Mammy stereotype.  The Mammy stereotype helped to sooth the consciences of slaveholders defending attacks from abolitionists that slavery had morally degraded the south, and also served as the model of both the ideal slave and the ideal Victorian woman from the perspective of a white male slaveholder.

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