Slavery

Author : bellastenberg
Publish Date : 2020-07-30


Slavery

Slavery remains one of the cruelest periods in humanity’s history. It caused many people’s deaths, destroyed families, and led to destitution. However, the fates of male and female slaves are rather different. Men and women used altered ways of resisting slavery; in particular, females manipulated their reproductive abilities.

Harriet Ann Jacobs described the inhuman conditions of slave life in an autobiographical story Incidents in the Life of Slave Girl. The difficulties she faced while being a slave were similar to those experienced by other enslaved women. Additionally, living conditions of male slaves were significantly different from the existence of female ones. Kenneth Morgan in his article Slave Women and Reproduction in Jamaica described British African-Caribbean females’ lives and drew attention to the fact that almost all of them had problems with creating a self- reproducing population. In the late 18th century, half of the slaves on sugar plantations of Jamaica were women. Harsh working conditions and dietary inadequacies which included epidemiological factors such as infectious diseases caused stillbirth and premature birth. Additionally, Harriet Jacobs described sexual harassment by her master Dr. Flint. Nevertheless, her refusal to obey and the protest against slavery resulted in the birth of two children not fathered by Dr. Flint. Jacobs wrote: “The influences of slavery had had the same effect on me that they had on other young girls”. She wrote that these effects “had made her prematurely knowing, concerning the evil ways of the world”. The young woman deliberately calculated her actions as a method of fighting against slavery, but Jamaican females used reproduction as resistance to the oppression in a different way.

The lives of male slaves were rather easier than those of enslaved women. Frederick Douglass and Olaudah Equiano were enslaved men who described their life experiences in books. Douglass stated about his life as a slave that: “Crying for joy, and singing for joy, were alike uncommon to me while in the jaws of slavery”. He described the conditions of slave life, the unpunished murder of a slave and constant beating. Later, Frederick Douglass supported the Anti-Slavery Convention and fought for the abolition of slavery as a public person. Equiano became a free African American citizen earlier than Douglass, and he also struggled against slavery as a famous writer. Still, neither of these men was a victim of sexual crimes unlike the enslaved women.

Enslaved women manipulated their reproduction as a way of fighting against slavery. They used infusions and different herbs for contraceptive purposes, and such plants as Aloe as abortifacients. Moreover, they consciously avoided pregnancy and took actions to terminate it including abortion and even infanticide. Therefore, female slaves played the main role in birth control and decided the fetus and the newborns’ fates. The hard work on sugar plantations, physical punishment, and poor nutrition caused infringements of menstrual cycle and a high level of spontaneous miscarriages and stillbirths not only in Jamaica, but also on cotton plantations of the Antebellum South. Schwartz writes: “Early in the 19th century, slaveholders looked to both heaven and Earth for answers to why childless women had not given birth.” Additionally, enslaved women’s lax morals resulted in prostitution, promiscuity and sexually transmitted diseases including syphilis, which, in turn, led to numerous stillbirths and miscarriages. It was an additional way for the women to control the reproductive function that remained the main form of protest against oppression.

In conclusion, male and female slaves had different ways of resisting slavery. The females suffered from the same difficult condition complicated by additional gender discrimination. Hence, enslaved women executed control over their reproductive system as the protest against oppression.

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Category :education
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