The life of nineteenth century African American women was marred by an unfortunate social practice called slavery. While such unjust living condition affected both men and women, the harmful impact was more on women. This is because in the context of slavery, it was the women who suffered worse and the ones who were subjected to more damaging treatment than men. Coupled with race-related burdens, it was slavery and all its harmful manifestations which forced women to perform roles inside their homes and within the society that definitely opposed their supposedly conventional roles in an ideal American community.
Simply put, it is their being a woman that determined and played a more important role in their lives than being an African American. This is because it was their very gender which caused them to become slaves and to experience other sex-related injustices. Therefore, it is ironic that while being a woman was supposed to protect the African American women from slavery and to provide them with dignity, it was specifically their womanhood that made their lives miserable and painful — as explained and illustrated by Deborah Gray White in her book, “Ar’n’t I a Woman? : Female Slaves in the Plantation South. ”
In challenging the stereotypes concerning African-American women, the book creates a bigger and more in-depth representation of the real existence of women. That is, it was not only their race or their being African-American that made them as work and sex slaves, but it was more their being women that caused them to suffer. Through the exploration and analysis made by the author on the daily ways of life, jobs, as well as roles and relationships within the family and society of 19th century women, the book allows the readers to realize that being a woman has a great significance in the kind of life that they experienced.
Female Slavery White, through the book, presents that it was being a woman that played a more relevant function in the life of 19th century African-American women. This is the premise explained and emphasized in the book as it effectively provides an analysis of the overdue existence of women slavery. In fact, the title itself is a clear reflection of the underlying meaning that the kind of living experienced by the female population in the Plantation South was rooted in the fact that they were female. The shortened statement “Ar’n’t I a Woman?
” actually signifies a kind of objection as to how and why women were subjected to slavery considering they are important members of a society which is supposed to take care of them, protect them, and assure them of their rights. With slavery however, it unfortunately turned out otherwise as it was their very sense of being a woman that was considered to be the reason why they were made into slaves. This is because their being a woman indicated their susceptibility to slavery and other forms of inhumane treatment, which thereby affected the manner in which they struggled and eventually survived.
Most importantly, female slavery emerged because they were seen and regarded as one whose sexual and employment rights may be violated. This explanation is justified in the book when the author concludes that “Slave women were the only women in America who were sexually exploited with impunity, stripped and whipped with a lash, and worked like oxen” (White 162). Thus, they were made into slaves and were sexually abused not because they were African American, but because they were African American women. Not Protected
While White’s book depicts a general representation of 19th century African American women in the light of their race and gender, personal experiences became the foundation of the concept that it was the reality of being a woman that created a stronger impact in their lives. This was due to the fact that female slaves, as illustrated by the characters of the sexually abused “Jezebel” and loyal slave “Mammy,” showed how their womanhood caused them to be utterly neglected and abused by the society, particularly by the men.
As White stresses: “… only slave women were so totally unprotected by men or by law… women had their womanhood so totally denied” (162). Further, it was through the demeaning stereotyping of black women that the personalities in the book practically came alive. This is because they supposedly represented the apparent promiscuous persona and conduct of African-American women which, in turn, served as a justification for their slavery, discrimination, and sexual abuse in the hands of both black and white men and the community in general.
The stereotyping or negative characterization of “Jezebel” and “Mammy” aggravated the already unguarded condition of being a woman. This is shown by how “Jezebel” supposedly manifested a natural sensuality and sexual drive that it became inevitable for slave owners to sexually abuse the “lustful” women slaves (White 36). Both characters affirmed that being a woman led one to be susceptible to slavery and sexual abuse. Such was the condition as their respective womanhood created a notion that black women were forced to domestic slavery and into becoming sex objects.
Most of all, their being female did not protect them from any kind of violation because their gender or stature in the society made them as mere human properties particularly created for their masters’ desires such as sexual satisfaction and forced labor. Conclusion The blatant and unacceptable realities presented in the book “Ar’n’t I a Woman” by Deborah Gray White only confirm the idea that it was the fact that they were female that brought much suffering and misfortunes into the lives of 19th century African American women.
More than this however, “Ar’n’t I a Woman” also presents an unlikely condition that being a woman during a period when slavery existed had its rewarding side. This is because despite the abuses, it was their optimistic sense of being a woman that enabled them to create strong personal relationships and female groups within the society. Work Cited White, Deborah Gray. Ar’n’t I a Woman? : Female Slaves in the Plantation South. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. , 1985.