Exploitation of Enslaved Black Women
We often hear the phrase, “this country was built on the backs of slave labor”. Correction, this country was built off the exploitation of the black body, particularly the enslaved black woman’s body. For example, Saartjie Baartman1 was a twenty year old woman from Cape Town, South Africa who was kidnapped and sexually exploited all over Europe. She was naked and caged, put on display in an animalistic nature, whipped and forced to entertain white spectators who labelled her the Hottentot Venus. Baartman was objectified as a source of entertainment; her body carried the stereotypical perception of the overly sexualized black female because of her dissimilar shape and curves compared to those of white women. The corruption of the enslaved African woman and justification of sexual abuse can be connected to the exploitation of Baartman, and how it symbolizes easy access and the sexual marginalization of black women. In this paper I will argue that the bodies of enslaved women were sexually exploitable for the purpose of labor, reproduction, and pleasure under the institution of plantation slavery. I will analyze the ways in which black women’s bodies functioned as a part of the general labor force—within the fields and the house—as well as the ways that their bodies were used to repopulate the workforce. That said, this essay is meant to show how the bodies of black women functioned as both producers and reproducers. Moreover, the central purpose of this paper is to examine the ways in which enslaved black women’s body became socially and economically exploitable. In America the social constructions have placed women into the domestic role of caring for the home and the children, while men usually tended to outside work and provided for the family. In contrast to European societies; West African societies valued women’s work outside of the home, the female role included cultivating and tending to the crops as well as taking care of the home and its occupants. Within the institution of slavery, genderfication did not exist. It was profitable to exploit women as if they were men there were no gender lines drawn.2 African women took on the role of the domestic, Phoebe Banks a former slave from Muskogee, Oklahoma recalls her mother’s role growing up, “Mother was the house girl--- cooking, waiting on tables, cleaning the house, spinning the yarn, knitting some of the winter clothes, taking care of the mistress girl, washing the clothes—yes she was always busy and worked mighty hard all time.”3 Women also served as field hands, and were expected to work alongside the men as providers of wealth to the economy of the slaveholding class. In the Morgan reading, a contemporary out of Georgia states, “in the planting and cultivation of fields the daily task of a good negro woman was exactly the same as that of a man”.4 Enslaved women were expected to cultivate their portion of the crop by all means and under any circumstance. The body of a women differed from that of a man, within the labor of a women reproduction was also consider her duty. Enslaved women were not ‘mothers’, rather they were ‘breeders’ and looked at as instruments to ensure the growth of the slave population.5 The ability to reproduce was one of if not the most important role of an enslaved woman during this period. Through pregnancy a field hand was still required to perform daily in the fields. Slave owners paid no heed to the needs of their human property, “women who had sucking children suffered much from their breast becoming full of milk, the infants being left at home; they therefore could not keep up with the other hands: I have seen the overseer beat them with raw hide so that the blood and milk flew mingled from their breast”.6 Enslaved women were not shown greater compassion, or treated with less cruelty than their male counterparts.7
The exploitation of enslaved women rendered the black women masculine and...
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