October 22, 2004

Female Slaves or Sexual Hostages?

I have learned quite a bit about slavery from these readings. I remember learning about slavery in school but I wasn't as impacted by that information as I have been by these readings. As a woman, it is difficult for me to imagine what it must have been like for the female slaves - who had the choice of either submitting to their masters or enduring cruel punishments. It is also difficult to think about what they must have went through as mothers to watch their children being beaten or sold, having no idea what their fate would be. The impact of slavery on women was basically that they had no control over their own bodies. I include white women in this because after reading how common physical abuse was in the marriages of many slave owners, I doubt if women were permitted to deny their husbands if they wanted sex. Slave women also had no choice in the matter, even more than white women. For the few who did manage to avoid the actual physical act, they were still sexually harassed and often subjected to terrible punishments for their opposition. It is horrifying to think of being forced to share your body in the most intimate and personal way with the master who considers you less than a human being - and treats you not even as well as animals were treated. For the children that were often produced from these unions, there was no hope for an easy life. Despite the fact that their fathers were white, and many of them wealthy, they were completely denied. The sexuality of white women and black male slaves was also affected. In many of the readings the authors talked about the jealous mistresses, and I can understand why they would be jealous. Their husbands were being satisfied by women (inferior women at that) who could not turn them down. I am sure many women witnessed female slaves bearing their husband's offspring. For black male slaves, some of whom were married to the female slaves being constantly violated, they were literally powerless against their white masters and were forced to stand by and witness the abuse of their families. The white man ruled. He pretty much got whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, and that sometimes included children. Not a good time to be black, a woman or a child.

Posted by DeniseHaralson at October 22, 2004 08:51 AM

This is actually a general comment/question directed to all of Spurlock's posters and the Man himself. I'm assuming that since you are posting to his blog that comments from the World Wide Peanut Gallery are welcome.
I have been reading the posts concerning slavery and its legacy on sexual relations and attitudes that continue to this day. I don't know what materials you have been reading that result in your posts but I am curious if there are any southerners in the class, and what their responses are to these readings, both comparing what they have been taught to the readings you are doing now as Ms. Haralson comments on, and what lasting legacy they may observe or experience, if at all, that would be relevant to the class.

Posted by: ambrose at October 22, 2004 11:03 PM

This is also directed to ambrose. To satisfy "Ambrose's" curiosity--I am a southerner. My father having been raised in Georgia and my mother from Maryland. The area where I am from is very southern, and I know that historically that my family had slaves. Nonetheless, I think how dreadful the life of a slave woman could have been, and even the life of a white woman. Let's add victorian sexuality to the picture of white male-female relations and it is clear why (in the south) men could have been seen as morally degenerative. They were having illicit affairs with their slaves. Men could not control themselves, that is to say, they were morally inhibited. This illustrates a better picture as to the moral superiority of women in victorian sexuality. Furthermore, I sometimes wonder about the position of female slaves in the context of a plantation. I wonder if there were female slaves who thought that if they were going to have any children at all, it mind as well be with the master so that their future generations had status. This isn't to perpetuate an argument that slave women wanted to have sexual relationships with their masters, but because of their bondage and oppressed status they could see it as an escape route from slavery either for themselves or their children.

Posted by: Justin Norris at October 25, 2004 03:37 PM

I have no doubt that anyone could answer anything but slavery is bad. What I am wondering is more hte lasting effects of this system on sexual relationships or rules of engagement today, if you will, and if any southerners in the class, you included, could comment on whether their experience or observations of life in the south illustrates this.
I've wondered sometimes as I am a transplant to the south (having lived in Kentucky and now Mississippi), if there is not some sort of collective Shame that is still shared there, but not a shame that causes apologies but rather a self-loathing, and this self-loathing results in anger and projection. "You make me hate me just by being so I hate you."

Posted by: Ambrose at October 28, 2004 12:55 AM

As always, Jen has asked some probing questions. I grew up in an extended southern family, though not in the south. As I said in class, there are many successful Spurlocks who are black. I claim them as kin. I don't feel like I can respond to the Ambrose insight, however--it's too deep for my experience. What I've seen in my family, and what I take from my reading of history, is a longstanding sense of fear and resentment on the part of white southerners toward the descendants of slaves. It is as if anything gained by a black person was taken from a white person, from me personally. I think I understood this as a youngster, but I don't understand it now. Strangely, though, it seems to have become a general view among many white people, north and south. Well, this is about to become political.

Posted by: Blue Monkey at October 28, 2004 10:46 PM
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