Women in Colonial or Slave Times Were Treated Worse Than Men Essay
Slavery is an abhorred term in modern society, associated with the brutality, horror and mistreatment that many faced in past era. To many American people, slavery is perceived to be an African thing- something that only occurred in Africa. However, many are the stories we hear of the treatment that our very own American people faced in colonial times. Thus, slavery did not just happen in Africa, but also occurred in America, and its origin in America dates back to 1619 with the introduction of the first captured Africans by the Dutch. These Africans were brought to America to provide labor that was very much needed in the production of lucrative crops such as tobacco. Slavery became a common practice in the American colonies in the colonial periods, and the African-American slaves aided in the building of the economic foundations of the nation. Unfortunately, slavery came with its own evil, and these colonial times saw the degradation, brutality, lack of freedom and mistreatment that the slaves faced at the hands of their masters. Slavery did not know gender, as both men and women alike were subjected to the same treatment. Both were subjected to grueling labor, were mercilessly whipped, denied their basic human rights, and in general were viewed as property by their masters. Despite these common factors, women received the harshest form of treatment, as they were raped, subjected to sexual abuse, and in general faced even more physical and mental degradation. This paper will look into how these women were treated worse in the colonial periods.
Rape and sexual abuse became rampant in the colonial period, and thus it became more of a norm, an occurrence that the female slaves became used. Women were objectified, and were seen as objects to satisfy the sexual needs of their masters. In the opinion of the white men, the white women were seen as pure and modest to certain degrees of prudishness, and thus the black women were perceived to be hypersexual, becoming the objects of the white men’s fantasy. As a result, the women became the objects of the white men’s sexual pursuits in which case some led to rape. In contrast to black men who were punished with castration when accused of rape, white men walked about in freedom, for they had no fear of punishment for raping the women.
The sexual abuse of the female slaves had partial roots in the patriarchal southern culture, in which women, black or white were treated as property. Though there were some white slaves who were also raped, racial discrimination was rampant, and majority of those who were raped were black women. Children, mostly young girls were not spared, and were continually subjected to rampant sexual abuse by the masters, and masters’ children. Their lack of control in whatever they did or wherever they went only fuelled the abuse, for many could be manipulated into risky situations. For instance, some were forced into dark plantations, or forced to sleep in the masters’ bedrooms to be available for service. Thus, their bodies were perceived to belong to their owners, to be used against their free will to the satisfaction of the owners. Unfortunately, they had to suffer in silence for they could not defend themselves as defense meant punishment from the master, and they would face the wrath of the masters’ wives. Additionally, the objectification of women was rampant as the masters engaged in sexual relations with them to ensure they would breed more slaves. Thus, to enhance their wealth, the masters got the female slaves pregnant to ensure continuity of slavery hence more labor in the farms. As a result, they saw this as a form of reducing costs in purchase of human labor, and these women’s children took their mother’s status, and born into slavery.
Women were also not exempted from the hard labor that was meted on the men. An overwhelming majority of the enslaved women usually labored at tasks that were typically a reserve of the men. Thus, it was uncommon to see women cutting trees, building canals, as well as planting and harvesting in the fields. Unlike men who were restricted to more male-dominated roles, the women were also subjected to working in the masters’ households, and thus many faced double amounts of work compared to men. Many worked as servants in their masters’ houses, where they served as cooks, gardeners, as well as taking care of the masters’ children. The working conditions were always harsh, and many would toil from morning to night with little rest, if any. Thus, their treatment was harsher as they were subjected to more roles, given the society’s stereotype that women are supposed to be “in the kitchen” and do duties pertaining to cooking, washing, and other household chores.
The treatment women received especially black women was not from the male masters entirely. In many cases, they received even worse treatment from the wives of the masters, who blamed them for their husbands’ irresponsible sexual encounters with the slaves. Thus, to mete out their revenge for their husbands’ actions and for even having children with these African slaves, many white women beat the female slaves with brutality. Mary Prince, a former slave in the colonial period, gave an example of this form of treatment in her narrative. In her narrative of her experience, she states that her master was a fearful woman who rained blows on her face. From her experience, she got to know the difference between the smart of a rope and the cow-skin, which were applied to her body in beating. She describes her mistress as a savage to the slaves, who treated the slaves with brutality. Harriet Jacobs also tells of her tale in Incidents of a Slave Girl, where she recounts of the brutal treatment that the slave owners’ wives meted on the enslaved women as retaliation for their husbands’ sexual interactions with the enslaved women. She states that her mistress was untouched by the beatings that the slaves received, and she would sit and watch as the slaves were mercilessly beaten with blood trickling from the strokes of the lashes that were used. She also recounts how her mistress would spit on the utensils used for cooking so that the cook and her children would not scrap on the remains of the food.
Punishment formed an important part of slavery. Just like men, the enslaved women also received the most severe forms of punishment from their masters in the plantations. To many masters, the use of force was seen as appropriate to motivate the enslaved to work even harder, to establish discipline and order. Being whipped, mutilated or being subjected to solitary confinement thus, would punish the women. Pregnant women were no exception, and to mete out their punishment, the slave masters would dig holes big enough for the women’s stomachs to lie in and then proceed with the lashings. Thus, they faced even more humiliation, and this form of punishment only added to the degradation that the women were subjected.
Childbirth was a challenge to all women in the colonial period, but even more so for the enslaved women. Unlike the white women, the enslaved black women did not receive any form of prenatal care, and in fact, many continued to engage in hard labor until they gave birth. As a result, hard labor many succumbed to death after the child’s birth, and cases of stillbirths and abortions were on the rise. For those who were lucky enough to give birth, they were still expected to resume their duties without any rest period. Education of the girl-child was also unheard of in the colonial period. The fact that they were slaves added to the fact that they were seen as objects who did not need any form of education, but rather were to perform the duties mandated. Many were subjected to household chores and their children were meant to bear the same fate.
The colonial period indeed saw the mistreatment of women to levels higher than those that were subjected to men. From the lack of freedom to the sexual abuse that they were constantly faced with, women were a minority in society, and viewed as objects that could be traded and abused at the will of their masters. The hard labor that they endured in the harsh conditions only added to their plight, and their voice was stifled by the male-dominated society. Their husbands, who were fellow slaves, could not come to their defense as they too were subjected to inhumane treatment that left many dead. Thus, the slavery in the colonial period saw a darkness that cannot be measured, and though it was abolished, the memory of the mistreatments that many endured still remained etched in their lives. Some women like Harriet Jacobs and Mary Prince lived to tell their stories, and their tales saw the rise of women fighting for their rights in society. Even in modern day, women, more so women of color, continue to campaign for their rights, and try to abolish the stereotype that society holds in regards to women of color and racism in general. Stories have been told of the treatment that the slaves faced in colonial times, but many did not highlight the treatment that women in particular faced, given the fact that we live in a chauvinistic society. However, future generations should be more aware of the suffering that these women went through, and should not disregard the inhumanity that they also faced. Though slavery was abolished, modern society continues to see the degradation of women in various areas of the world, where women are still subjected to and sold to prostitution. Society should strive to stop this, and the treatment that women faced in colonial period should serve as a basis from which society should work on changing this form of treatment. Women should not be seen as objects, but rather should be afforded equal rights, and in general, slavery in whichever form it may take, should come to a complete end.