The Slave Woman

Song: My Skin is Black

Although slavery is bad for males and females, it seems to be particularly worse off for females. Slavery was a huge part of the American identity because it has shaped how our country created racism. An article by Jennifer Hallam describes exactly how these women slaves suffered in their role of motherhood:

Of course, the burdens, physical as well as psychological, that came with childbearing were enormous for enslaved women. Expected to put the needs of the master and his family before her own children, the slave mother on a large plantation returned to the fields soon after giving birth, leaving her child to be raised by others. On a smaller farm, the slave’s mothering responsibilities were simply added on top of her usual duties. For the love of their children, slave mothers often chose to stay in bondage, while their male counterparts attempted escape. The female slave was, moreover, faced with the prospect of being forced into sexual relationships for the purposes of reproduction. Perhaps more harrowing, she might be witness to her daughters suffering the same fate. (Hallam 1)

Not only are these women robbed of the right to be a mother and role model for their children; they are robbed of sexuality and romance as well. Many of these enslaved mother’s would put their life in danger and go to dangerous means, in order to keep their children from being sold, or separated from them. Hallam describes just how much these women put their lives at risk for their children, as any mother would:

They put their responsibilities for their children before their own safety and freedom, provided for children not their own, and gave love even to those babies born from violence. For their experience and knowledge as caregivers, elderly women were among the most revered slaves on Southern plantations. (Hallam 2).

Many of the enslaved women’s children were products of rape from their white slave owners. Regardless of this fact, these women loved their children, cared for their children, and fought for their children. The strength of these enslaved women is tremendous.

Hallam, Jennifer. “Slavery and the Making of America . The Slave Experience: Men,

Women & Gender | PBS.” PBS: Public Broadcasting Service. Web. 13 Dec. 2011. <http://www.pbs.org/wnet/slavery/experience/gender/history2.html>.

To ignore or disregard the way slavery exploited, damaged, and mistreated female slaves and their sexuality is to fail to present an accurate portrayal of black enslavement in America. Gender inequality positioned African American women in different, and, often times, more difficult situations than African American men. Perhaps the most harrowing aspect of this inequality was the treatment of the black woman’s body. Known to her slave masters as a sexual object or breeder, the black woman’s body was preyed upon and exploited.

In The Black Female Body:A Photographic History Deborah Willis discusses the way photography has objectified and sexualized the black female body. She questions, “How do we tackle the difficult question of what constitutes black female subjectivity? Where does agency lie when the body in question has been defined and manipulated by Eurocentric, masculine, and hegemonic cultures”? (43) Willis goes into an in depth analysis of the way black women’s bodies have been manipulated and falsely depicted through the art of photography. The black woman, she states, is either depicted as “sexual, sexless, natural, and prenatural, or industrious and impertinent” (23). Willis notes that this type of exploitation creates a “visual colonization” (24), an imposition of black female sexuality.

Academic Source: Willis, Deborah, and Carla Williams. The Black Female Body:A Photographic
History . USA: Temple University Press, 2002. Print.

In Skin Deep, Spirit Strong: The Black Female Body in American Culture, Kimberly Wallace-Sanders focuses on the ways the black body was mutilated and experimented on. She discusses James Marion Sims, also known as the father of gynecology, and the questionable testings and experiments he performed on female slaves without anesthesia. She writes, “Sims held the belief that Africans had a greater tolerance for pain, unknown by whites”(54). Often Sims colleagues would visit to watch these experiments. Female slaves endured bodily mutilations, violence, and excruciating pain. Many lost their children during childbirth experiments as well.

Academic Source:Wallace-Sanders, Kimberly. Skin Deep, Spirit Strong: The Black Female Body in
American Culture. USA: University of Michigan Press, 2002. Print.

Links:

The Sojourner Truth, “Ain’t I A Woman”

http://www.feminist.com/resources/artspeech/genwom/sojour.htm

The Slave Auction

Works Cited

Truth, Sojourner. “”AIN’T I A WOMAN?” BY SOJOURNER TRUTH.” Feminist.com.

Web. 13 Dec. 2011.             <http://www.feminist.com/resources/artspeech/genwom/sojour.htm>.

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