In the eighteenth and seventeenth centuries, the female slaves were outnumbered by the male slaves which resulted in the two groups having different experiences. Between 1730 and 1750 there was a large number of African women who were imported and turned into slaves in the colonies. In the United States the manner in which the slaves were treated varied by place and time whereby the treatment was generally degrading and brutal. Slaves faced different forms of punishment such as beating, mutilation, shackling, whipping or imprisonment. The punishment was mainly as a result of perceived infractions or even response to disobedience. The women faced different types of mistreatment during the slavery period. The enslaved black women faced sexism as well as racism.
The Treatment of Women Slaves
The treatment of women slaves was inhumane and harsh. The women suffered physical abuse during work and outside work since it was allowed by the government. The women were overworked while in the plantations whereby they suffered punishments such as shootings, brandings or even floggings. Flogging was used to describe the average whipping or lashing one was supposed to receive for misbehaving. Pregnant women still faced the brutality and were not considered to be a barrier to receiving the punishment. The slave masters introduced methods that were devised to administer lashing on the pregnant women without harming the baby. To continue with the lashings a hole that was big enough for the woman's stomach would be dug. For example, a man named Harding described an incident in which a woman contributed to a minor rebellion of other men, and he said: "The woman was hoisted up by the thumbs, whipped and slashed using a knife in the presence of other slaves till she died." Most of the women who were victims of forced labor suffered from different forms of coercion from their recruiters as a way of preventing them to leave or escape. Some of the ways included threatening them that their wages which were due would not get paid or even their wages would get withheld (Lincoln 57).
Sexual Abuse and Rape
The mistreatment of women slaves included sexual abuse and rape. The sexual abuse of slaves was rooted partially in the historic southern culture as they viewed the women who were enslaved as property regardless of whether black or white. Most of the female slaves were used to fulfill the sexual needs of their masters against their will and therefore had to face the risk of sexual exploitation, abuse, and oppression. Some of the slaves died while resisting the sexual attacks while others fought against the attacks which left them physically as well as psychologically hurt. The systematic rape of the women slaves was analogous to the concept of medieval which made them believe that the rapes were a deliberate effort by the masters to extinguish women resistance and make them have a status which was as low as that of animals (Mill 108). The women were manipulated by their masters into high risks situations since they had no control over what they did or where they went. For example, the women would be forced to sleep in the bedroom of their masters or a dark field so that they could be readily available whenever they are needed for service. This caused hatred and tension between the mistress of the house and the slave since in most cases the masters were already bound in matrimony. Racially mixed children also resulted from these relations. John Thompson is an author who discusses the master-slave sexual relations explicitly whereby he said, "Consequences of resistance mainly came in the form of physical beatings, and therefore most of the slave women ended up being concubines to their masters". Women were more likely to be subjected to excessive physical abuse as compared to the men. Just as Frederick Douglass wrote, "He who is whipped oftenest, who is whipped easiest." The slave women had no right to charge their perpetrators with rape since their bodies legally belonged to their owners, unlike the white women who were not slaves.
No Access to Information and Education for Women Slaves
The other mistreatment that the women slaves faced was a denial of to access information and education. To eliminate the exposure of women slaves to the outside world which would result in them being rebellious they were restricted from acquiring education. There was fear that if the women acquired the education, they would become literate and end up learning about the abolitionist movement.
The enslaved women were also denied the opportunity to have access to medical facilities. Their masters and mistresses would not allow them to visit a medical facility and therefore the quality of medical care that they received was uncertain. The women were forced to use some herbal remedies as a form of family planning. Most of the slaves depended on African remedies and adapted them to North American plants.
Mistreatment in Family
The women in slavery were also mistreated in that their families could be broken up at any time without even a warning. Slavery did not recognize the sanctity of marriage. Wives were not allowed to reside in the same place with their husbands or even in the same neighborhood in case their master relocated to a different location. The women were forced to raise their children largely on their own due to the threats of having their children or sold. In the United States for example there were mothers and their children who lived in caves that they had dug 7 feet underground for the sake of protecting their children while others gave birth while in those caves and continued to stay there for their safety (Lincoln 145).
The main work of the women who had been enslaved was working as domestics whereby they were supposed to provide services to their masters or the families of overseers. Despite their work appearing as being more easier as compared to the slaves who were working in the plantations in some ways it not since everything that they did was scrutinized closely and constantly by their mistresses and masters and at any time they could be called for service. The privacy of the slave women was far less as compared to the slaves who worked in the fields since they were being monitored closely (Mill, 35).
In conclusion, the enslaved women faced and endured different forms of mistreatment from their masters. The African American slave women had to endure the practice and threat of sexual exploitation. They were used as sexual instruments by their masters since slaves were considered to be part of the property that an owner of their master owned and therefore the master had the right to use whatever they owned in whichever way they wanted. The women faced different forms physical mistreatment such as flogging and lashing. The enslaved women could have their families broken up any time without their conscious. The women were also threatened to have their children sold which resulted in the women having to live in hideout places to protect their children. They were also denied to have access to information and medical care.
Hammad, Suleiman Ibrahim Abualbasher. Anti-Slavery Rhetoric in English Poetry from 1780 to 1865. Diss. University of Bahri, 1865.
Lincoln, Young Abraham. "Lincoln 1809 to 1854." (1863).
Mill, John Stuart. The subjection of women. Vol. 1. Transaction Publishers, 1869.
Snethen, Worthington Garrettson. The Black Code of the District of Columbia, in Force
September 1st, 1848. A. & F. Anti-Slavery Society, 1848.
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