In the last three decades, gender has become an indispensable category of analysis in the study of slavery in the Americas, illuminating both the day-to-day lives of enslaved and enslaving peoples and ideas about race and slavery.
While studying gender means much more than studying women, the literature on enslaved women is especially influential, in part because of gender analysis's origins in women's history and in part because of women's central importance in slavery: women and ideas about them shaped slavery from beginning to end. This article discusses the origins of slavery, the gendered division of slave labour, reproduction in slavery, sexuality, enslaved families, black femininity and masculinity, mastery and white gender identities, and politics.
Keywords: slavesenslaved womengender analysisslave labourreproductionsexualityfemininitywhite gender identitypolitics.
Gender analysis has also reconfigured the study of politics, and, as is increasingly clear, studying gender means much more than studying women. Still, the literature on enslaved women is especially influential, in part because of gender analysis's origins in women's history and in part because of women's central importance in slavery: women and ideas about them shaped slavery from beginning to end.
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Barbara Bush and Jennifer Morgan have shown that references to African women seeking sex clinton north carolina exposed breasts dominated European texts, denoting p. Easy parturition, meanwhile, suggested that African women did not share in Eve's curse, and thus that Europeans need not treat Africans as fellow children of Adam and Eve. Europeans also believed that polygamy and female agriculture proved African women's degradation and, correspondingly, the superiority of European culture.
Women seeking sex clinton north carolina many European women performed farm labor, elite Europeans often viewed it as normatively masculine work. Together, African labor patterns, familial organization, and bodies not only made Europeans feel superior but also focused their attention on African women's sexuality and reproductive potential. Gender shaped the laws defining hereditary slavery in both conception and consequence. The legal prescription that an enslaved woman's child was also a slave both ignored children with free mothers and enslaved fathers and essentially erased black paternity in white eyes.
Even before the hereditary principle, gender shaped colonial experiments with race and slavery. African women were known to perform agricultural work in Africa, and they clearly did in Virginia, but English women were not supposed to be in both senses field workers. Virginians thus fumbled toward a legal definition of race through their ideas about women's work.
While gender traced a path toward slavery and race in Virginia, in Georgia, slavery reshaped gender. Georgia's founders expected English women to perform commodity production, as well as domestic work and childrearing. African women in the early colony likewise performed diverse tasks.
Planters across the Americas forced enslaved women and men to perform exhausting work in the fields with little regard for sex. For example, planters typically ased children of both sexes to the trash gang. Because the trash gang also contained elderly, heavily pregnant, and breastfeeding women, time served there helped socialize girls but not boys into adult gender roles.
Moreover, while Caribbean women sometimes drove the second gang, and older women there and in the United States ran the trash gang, women rarely drove the great gangs. This preserved men's privileged access to supervisory and disciplinary labor. Beyond the fields, gender continued to shape work.
Enslaved men occupied almost all occupations that either they or whites considered as skilled. Men were the mechanics, blacksmiths, carpenters, coopers, masons, carters, carriage drivers, sugar makers, boilermen, and furnacemen. The most highly skilled bondsmen enjoyed some prestige and received extra rations and authority over other slaves. Some also enjoyed much greater freedom of movement: an artisan might be hired out and make his own way from job to job.
Women had a smaller range of skilled crafts, like cooking, midwifery, and nursing, and those few conferred less prestige and fewer material rewards on their practitioners than male crafts did upon men, and little or no added mobility. Whites did not consider domestic work—the most common female specialization—as skilled, although house servants sometimes gained privileged access to whites' used clothes and leftover food.
Defining skill as the ability to do women seeking sex clinton north carolina task well, Daina Berry has recently argued that planters did recognize the skills of certain field women, narrowing the perceptual gap between skillful workers and skilled occupations. Overall, however, the older findings of Deborah Gray White, Hilary Beckles, Jacqueline Jones, and Marietta Morrissey, among many others, still hold: women had little access to skilled occupations, and a higher proportion of women than men were field workers.
Historians have sometimes seemed uncertain whether these patterns stemmed from ideas about sexual difference or from sexual differences themselves.
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However, a substantial proportion of enslaved women never had children. If practical factors alone shaped access to skilled work, then some of these women would have been eligible. Their continued exclusion indicates that gender impeded a purely pragmatic response to reproductive biology. The tasks that men and women performed for themselves and their families differed. Typically, women cooked, cleaned, sewed, and washed for their families.
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In the West Indies where slaves had to grow their own provisions, women also performed much of the subsistence horticulture as well. Everywhere, women did most of the childcare. In contrast, men fished, hunted, and made or repaired furniture. They also applied their greater opportunities to earn money or goods to their families' benefit. In the West Indies, many assisted in the provision grounds. Women seeking sex clinton north carolina slaves may have worked too hard to notice whether the neighboring bodies were male or female, we know that slaves' supervisors—white and black—not only noticed but also perceived some individuals as sexually attractive, available, and vulnerable.
Women, not men, were overwhelmingly the targets of drivers' and overseers' sexual opportunism. Only an artificially narrow understanding would remove this aspect of gender relations from considerations of slaves' fieldwork. It is equally important to note that gender is constituted not solely through contrasts between men and women, but also through contrasts among men and among women.
Thus, as long as some women, like slave owning women or enslaved housekeepers, did not perform fieldwork alongside men, enslaved women who did had a distinct gender in relationship to other women. As Richard Steckel's essay in this collection suggests, work on reproduction in slavery begins with demography, which illuminates the reproductive catastrophes of American slavery.
Staggering rates of infant mortality, low fertility, and low fecundity meant that Africans and their descendants in the Caribbean did not experience natural population growth until after slavery, yet those in Barbados, the southern mainland British colonies, and the United States did. Sex ratios are not, however, considered quite so definitive as they once were, in part because of changing information about sex ratios early in slavery, and in part p.
That slave owners used the sex ratio to for low fertility is further reason to be wary of that explanation. It was, quite simply, cheaper and easier to buy new slaves and work them quite literally to death than to rely on childbirth to increase and reproduce the labor force. By the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, colonies across the Caribbean launched amelioration campaigns to fend off abolitionists' attacks and stabilize the slave labor supply.
Giving pregnant and postpartum women a respite from work, improved rations, and other incentives might have improved outcomes for both mothers and children, but slave owners sometimes boasted more than their choices actually warranted. Even after the British closed the Atlantic slave trade, Caribbean planters generally had women seeking sex clinton north carolina more success in extracting field than reproductive labor from their bondswomen.
However, recent work inverts the common view that enslaved women were always workers first, and reproducers second. Jennifer Morgan argues that even though enslaved women's treatment in Barbados and South Carolina impeded both fertility and infant survival, women's reproductive potential shaped planters' ideas about Africans from the very start.
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In their wills, slave owners fantasized about future wealth, bequeathing not just living children and fetuses but also women's reproductive potential itself. Because both slave owners and enslaved women recognized the potential value of reproduction, contestation over reproduction was a constant. While the fact of interracial sexual exploitation has long been acknowledged—having featured largely in abolitionist propaganda, for example—its impact on gender as well as race relations is a topic of relatively recent study.
The overarching claim, however, about the centrality of sexual exploitation to slavery pertains throughout its New World history. Consequently, even sexual acts between slaves could take on the stink of coercion. As Thelma Jennings argued in and as Daina Berry has recently confirmed, when slave owners instructed two slaves to pair off, they coerced both men and women to perform sexual acts not of their own choosing. Freedpeople's own testimony suggests women seeking sex clinton north carolina some bondsmen took full advantage of the privilege.
In its varied forms, sexual coercion did a lot of work for slaveholders: it produced new chattels; it marked all slaves' inferiority; it terrorized enslaved women and many enslaved men; and it humiliated and brainwashed many white women, all in ways that reinforced both gender and racial hierarchy. Even long after the institution ended, fears related to sexuality and race continued to warp gender relations.
Yet while the history of sexuality within slavery is a twisted and ugly story, it was also more than that, even for enslaved women who bore the worst of it. In the Old South, such relationships rarely resulted in tangible advantages for enslaved women and their children. Manumitting one's sexual partner and children was most common in the Spanish West Indies. In the French colonies, planters regularly ignored the Code Noir's requirement that they emancipate their p.
If consent is a difficult topic in the context of slavery, it is arguably even more difficult to speak of sexual pleasure.
Yet neither patriarchal social relations, nor the violent expropriation of labor, nor the classifying of people as things or animals could reserve sexual pleasure for the men of the master class alone. Cynthia Kennedy's attention to enslaved and free people of color's own understandings of marriage—legal or not—similarly hints at intimacies both consensual and pleasurable.
Much as efforts to document sexual pleasure must struggle against the nearly crushing weight of scholarship on sexual abuse, the much older historiography of slave families has long battled against the presumption that improper gender relations all but destroyed the possibility of cohesive families among the enslaved. They argued that women's networks were as important as conjugal ties to slaves, that slave marriages involved comparative equality and complementarity, and that many mothers had to be the primary caretaker because their families lacked a regularly present father at all due to the custom of abroad women seeking sex clinton north carolina.
In the s, scholars of American slave families continued to debate family composition while still rejecting the idea of matriarchy.
Ann Malone argued that in p. Working in Virginia, Brenda Stevenson viewed enslaved women as key elements of families and communities: slave owners' refusal to protect conjugal and paternal ties meant that many slave families were perforce matrifocal.
In this, they echo Caribbeanists who have long noted the importance of West African precedents for both female autonomy and polygamy in shaping gender relations, family dynamics, and household composition. Resistance has been a particularly fruitful area of research in slavery studies, but its relationship to gender is ambiguous. Clearly, certain types of resistance were more common among bondsmen than bondswomen. Men made up a ificantly higher percentage of runaways than did women, women seeking sex clinton north carolina men also figured far more prominently among rebels in both the USA and the Caribbean.
Compounding the problem of understanding gender and resistance is that many more covert forms, like feigning sickness and working slowly, were available to women and men.