Black and White Women of the Old South


Minrose Gwin?s book, Black and White Women of the Old South, argues that history has problems with objectiveness. Her book brings to life interesting interpretations on the view of the women of the old south and chattel slavery in historical American fiction and autobiography. Gwin?s main arguments discussed how the white women of the south in no way wanted to display any kind of compassion for a fellow woman of African descent. Gwin described the "sisterhood" between black and white women as a "violent connection"(pg 4). Not only that, Gwin?s book discusses the idea that for most of the eighteenth and nineteenth century, a black woman usually got subjected to displacement of sexual and mental frustration of white women. Gwin discusses how these black women, because of the sexual and mental abuse, felt looked down on more by whites and therefore reduced to even a lower level than that of white women?s status of being a woman. .
A southern white female slave owner only saw black women as another slave, or worse. White women needed to do this in order to keep themselves from feeling that they were of higher status than every one else except for their husband. White women as, Gwin describes, always proved that they had complete control and black women needed to bow to them. Gwin?s book discusses that the white male slave owners brought this onto the black women on the plantation. They would rape black women, and then instead of the white women dealing with their husbands. They would go after the black women only since the wives had no power over the husbands, but they maintained total control of the slaves, the white women would attack the black women and make their lives very diffucult. The white women would make sure that the black women understood that the white women completely hated the black women for being raped and wanted only pain for the them. This is how the black women of that time got the stereotypes of being very sexual beings and hated by there oppressors. You can see evidence of this when Gwin discussed the realities of such hatred in the book Absalom, Absalom by William Faulkner. The main character, Clytie, sexual assaults by her male master upsets her because she doesn?t desire to be involved with him, but her female master feels that she should be punished for it. So the white female slave owner beats her and abuses her as much as possible. The passage goes on to show how rape, gets Clytie labeled as a whore.
The book discussed how one of the principle reasons as to how the white woman or mistress and the black women got along, depends on whether or not the slave women appeared to threaten the social status of the women. When the white men tried to rape the black women it made the white women socially look like nothing more than a slave. This made the white women feel forced to prove to the black women that power still remained in the white woman?s corner regardless of the master?s sexual desires. The mistresses made sure that the slave women understood that they valued less than any white women, for the main reason that the white woman had true power as long as the main wanted her. An example of this that I read would be when a white woman outwardly expressed that she worried mainly about her loss of power, not actually about marriage. Saphire, a fictional character that Gwin analyzes, says "...mainly concerned with her power... she views her husbands affections for a slave as an undercutting of her power over him in their relationship which. As the husband himself describes as, what makes her the master and him the miller." (pg 133) The slave that caused this upset usually received many beatings and unnecessary overworking of the slave. At the time, this treatment was not unheard of and needed, the white slave owners used it as an example to show all slaves that they were not worth the air they breath except in the fields.
And even those who were not involved were treated as sub-human and found that life remained hard for them. Gwin describes the black communications with their oppressors as a surrogate mother and her children that need