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Arianne Moody Professor Ankrum Eng 101  13 December 2017 Exploitation and Objectification of Female Slaves Throughout American history, the oppression of African Americans has been evident. During the period of slavery, many slaves wrote accounts about the horrors they experienced during inspection
of their bodies- the prodding, poking, searching fingers of potential
buyers, the invasive fetishism of the white “gaze,” the probing of the
mouth, eyes and other body parts” (Stupp 68).
Female slaves in the antebellum South were objectified and sexually
exploited by their white master’s obsessions and were a tool with
disregard for their human qualities (Loughnan 187). Objectification led
to the dehumanization of female slaves often reducing them to nothing
more than a body to use, consume, and as a tool for pleasure (Loughnan
200).   Dehumanization
and objectification are often experienced together and leave horrific
and detrimental impressions on a person. Objectification occurs when we
perceive a person as an object or tool that is instrumental in
satisfying a goal. Slave women became a target of the white man’s desire
and were often seen as a sexual object which they could dominate (Stupp
69). Often in this process, the person becomes dehumanized when the
perpetrator acknowledges only goal-relevant attributes and neglects all
other human characteristics of the victim.   In
the pursuit of a goal, individuality and humanity are often stripped
from the person when the sole focus is on the instrumental use of their
body. Martha Nussbaum describes seven aspects of objectification which
occur when we treat a person as a “something” rather than a
“someone:”    The first is “instrumentality, which implies the objectified is treated as a tool for meeting the needs of the objectifier;
ownership and fungibility occur when the objectified is seen as
something that can be owned, traded or exchanged; violability refers to
the lack of integrity making it permissible to hurt or destroy the
objectified; the denial of autonomy and subjectivity strip the
objectified of free will and personal experience; finally, inertness
takes away the agency of the objectified (qtd. in Loughnan 186).   These aspects all contributed to the various ways female slaves were dehumanized and exploited.  Dehumanization
can take many forms; however, animalistic and mechanistic forms are
evident in the treatment of slaves. Animalistic dehumanization,
described by Haslam, is the denial of the human traits which distinguish
individuals from animals. Slaves were often treated like livestock
which led to a continuous cycle of neglect, punishment, and inhumane
treatment. Many female slaves were mated like “livestock in order to
increase the quantity of the work force” (qtd. in Jennings 49). Women
were subjects at the hands of their barbaric and selfish masters who had
no concern for their well-being. Mechanistic dehumanization is
described as the denial of core human nature characteristics, such as
emotion, flexibility, and creativeness (Jennings 49). The objectified is
seen as a machine to do a job or accomplish a task. This is
demonstrated when the person is seen only to satisfy a sexual goal. Both
types of dehumanization play a pertinent role in the objectification
and exploitation of female slaves.   In the movie 12 Years a Slave,
Patsy is seen as an object of desire by Epps her master. She is
sexually objectified because of her instrumentality in his pursuit of
his sexual goal (Loughnan 198).  Epps’s wife notices his “sexualized
gaze” which targets Patsy and throws a glass container at Patsy’s head because of the way her husband was looking at her
(Loughnan 190). Later in the movie, Patsy must succumb to the sexual
desires of Epps. The “sexualized gaze” that looks at certain body parts
sexually objectifies female slaves in order for them to be used to
fulfill a sexual desire (Loughnan 179). Female slaves were often called
bondwomen and used for the sole purpose of reproduction to increase the
slave population. Linda Brent, a bondwoman, stated, “slavery is terrible
for men but far worse for women. Female bondage was regarded as worse
than male bondage because the female slave was both a woman and a slave
in the patriarchal regime where males and females were unequal, whether
black or white” (qtd. Jennings 45).  Female slaves were not only
subjected to male domination by their masters but also had to bear
children, work the same jobs and perform in the same quantity as the
men.  From
the start of adolescence, female slaves were subject to their master’s
yearning for them to reproduce. The continuous reproduction of slaves
meant profits for the slave owners. When a female, who is enslaved,
gives birth to a child that child automatically becomes a slave. Slave
owners forced females to continuously give birth to children because it
was cheaper to raise a slave than it was to buy them (Jennings 46).
Slaveholders considered bondwomen as an economic asset and required them
to have as many children as possible in the shortest amount of time.
The rapid production of children is often referred to as “slave
breeding” (Jennings 48). This was strictly an economic ploy for an
increase in profit either by expanding the operation or as a result of
the sale. A master would force a male and female slave to have sexual
relations if he believed they would produce strong, healthy offspring.
This type of sexual exploitation caused both physical and mental anguish
and humiliation (Jennings 49). Good breeders often received rewards
such as spared whippings or a reduction in the workload for the
continuous reproduction of children.  The
dehumanizing effect of the physical abuse pregnant women and other
female slaves endured was incomprehensible. Overseers and drivers were
often responsible for overworking and brutally punishing pregnant women,
sometimes even killing the unborn child and the slave. Female slaves
were often whipped for working too slowly or for falling behind in their
work. “Driven by impulse, masters in a fit of anger also punished
pregnant women without ever thinking of the dangerous consequences for
them and their unborn children. ” (Jennings 56). When punished, the
pregnant slave is “compelled to lie down over a hole made to receive her
and is flogged with the whip, or beat with a paddle, which has holes in
it” (Davis 88). This method was used on pregnant women in attempts to
keep the unborn child from being harmed. However, the overseers beat the
women relentlessly sometimes leading to the death of both the mother
and the unborn child (Jennings 57). The lack of consideration for both
the pregnant slave and her child led to tragic consequences. Many
children became sickly and often died as a result of improper care
(Jennings 59). Since bondwomen were pressured into having many children,
they were often further exploited by being deprived of the proper means
to raise a healthy child and the necessary medical care to take care of
herself during the pregnancy.  Women
not only had household chores but they were also expected to do the
same work as the men in the fields. They were required to do heavy and
physically demanding work while pregnant.  Bondwomen complained of
improper treatment and neglect during childbirth and the pregnancy
period (Jennings 55). The desire for profits caused the slave owners to
force every bit of work out of the female slaves and expected them to
reproduce as quickly as possible. Expectant mothers often worked in the
fields until they experienced labor pains. Babies were frequently born
in the fields because owners were more concerned with turning a profit
than the health and safety of mother and child.   Undoubtedly,
female slaves experienced both mental and physical agony at the hands
of their white masters. Succumbing to sexual desires of their owners,
women were humiliated and victims of unfathomable exploitation. Sexual
exploitation was one of the most insidious ways slave owners asserted
their dominance over their slaves, as it removed a slave’s right to have
control over her own body.  The legal tenets allowed the legal rape and
sexual exploitation of thousands of female slaves during this time in
American history. 

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