To what extent did gender relations in the South shape the ideology of slavery?

To what extent did gender relations in the South shape the ideology of slavery?

Gender relation refers to how men and women interact with one another. Gender relations are mainly influenced by religion, culture, or other ways of thinking that are acceptable in the community. A good example can be illustrated in Christianity where a woman is supposed to be the helper of a man. On the other hand, slavery is an act where individuals are owned by others. Slaves are controlled and are forced to work for their masters. For instance, slavery was witnessed where Africans were taken to work in the white farms by force during colonial periods. Therefore, in this context, our focus will be on the contribution that was made by gender relations in the South and the effect it had in the shaping of slavery.

In the South, slavery defined and illustrated the characteristics of a woman. Furthermore, most things such as culture, economy, politics, and the spiritual belief were all built on slavery (Armstrong Undergraduate Journal of History, 2019). The person’s status was determined by race and gender. For example, a white male slave was at the top while black female slaves were at the bottom. Through the ownership of slaves, there was an elevation of status in both genders whereby white women mostly were viewed as superior and with great power. This resulted in white women accepting the need for having slaves. Looking at the gender structure of the people in the South, there were two separate spheres. The public sphere was for men since it involved things such as corruption that they could strongly handle. On the other hand, the private sphere belonged to women. This implied that women were to provide moral support to their men. Through this, one concludes that women were biologically weak and not fit for manual labor and thus, had no power.

With the coming of slaves in the South, there was the development of a housewife in the domestic sphere. It was mostly practiced by the southern plantation mistresses who were free from the manual labor that was related to domestic chores. This allowed the white women to spend much time with their husbands and children (Barbara Jeanne 99). Apart from this, women also played an important role when it came to the development of the family’s social status and domestic relief image. Therefore, this made white women highly placed when it came to social status in the South. Through this, we find that white women were able to raise their status in society since they were able to relieve themselves from domestic chores. This, therefore, changed the ideology of slavery since slaves were viewed as a source of power among women. What is expected of a normal woman in the South is to deal with domestic chores, although slavery brought in the sense of power. This is because white women did not only rule others but also enslaved men who were given to them as gifts.

Nonetheless, they owned slaves. This implies that they had the power to punish them in case they did not act as they were directed. This made women feel that they had power in the system. They exercised the power they were given by their men to ensure their homestead was modified.

Apart from that, there was the case of paternalism. This is where there is a restriction of freedom and responsibility to the people that are subordinate or depend on you (Shi, David & George). The paternalistic structure of life affected southern women since it made them feel that the acquisition of slaves gave them power. Through this, men were not only the head of the family but also heads of their slaves. This made a man be a father figure in the community and treated the slave population as any father would do to his family. Most white men did not view themselves as ruthless masters but caring and passionate individuals who had slaves’ interest at heart. Paternalism did not only have an effect on the masculine ruling structure but also on women as the vital component of a structure in relation to the purchase of slaves. In the case of men, they had a view of domestic relieve when it came to the purchasing of slaves. This is because their women were part of the symbol of status. Therefore,the more a woman had the stereotype of a southern mistress, the more reputation her man acquired. This shaped slavery in that, most men had to acquire slaves to be helping out their wives who would, in turn, improve their status in society. More so, this led to an increase in the acquisition of slaves. The ideology of wanting to acquire status led to the quest for more slaves.

Most men in the South as we have seen were strong, resilient, and unemotional. This made them capable of handling the southern sphere. This means that they were superior as compared to their white women. However, in the case of handling slaves, it was different. This is because a white woman would brutally punish a slave as his man could do. This implies that the issue of violence towards slaves was portrayed equally in both genders (Hall & Gwendolyn 437). Most forms of punishment that were done by both white men and women on their slaves were whipping. Therefore, whatever treatment a white man did to his slave, a woman could do the same. This brought in the sense of equality among white men and women in the South. This allowed women to exercise power and be able to command both male and female slaves and this made them feel equal to men.One can conclude that slavery in the South was meant to bring a sense of equality between white men and women since they all had control over slaves.

In the South, many plantations were usually used to grow food. In these farms, labor was required in the growing of crops, taking care of them as well as harvesting.Some of the crops that were grown included sugar, rice, corn, and cotton. Therefore, the main aim of slaves was to provide the required labor in these farms and assist mistresses in every work that was supposed to be done (Clinton, 1982). All men, women, and children who were captured as slaves worked in plantations. The owner of the farm would decide when children were going to start working. This helped farm owners to increase their wealth through the production of more crops because labor from slaves was cheap. These plantations were managed by mistresses who were viewed as helpers to their husbands. They aided in increasing their owner’s wealth by making them well-known in the society of whites. It is at this point that the ideology of slavery as a source of labor among the people of the South came in.

Another thing is where the southern women viewed themselves with greater morals than those in the north. This is because there were individuals in the north who had a factory system that treated its people worse than slaves themselves (Jackman, 1994). Northern people allowed children to start working early than expected. This was unfair because heavy tasks interfered with the growth of children. Moreover, the act violated the rights of such children. Having a good view of southern mistresses’ slavery allows them to evade the incident of toiling on the farm since slaves did most of the work under their supervision. Apart from that, most of the blacks benefited from this since they evaded the working conditions of the North that were harsh. This, therefore, resulted in the shaping of the ideology of slavery as a rescue part for the blacks since even if they had to work, they did not have to do it in a harsh environment (Shi, David & George, 2016).

Slavery can also be viewed as a part of masculinity among women in the South. Generally, a woman is supposed to be provided for and taken care of by his husband. That is, the husband should be the provider of his family. With the introduction of slaves, women were given the responsibility of looking after them. They had to ensure their necessities were taken care of so that they could offer better services in the plantations.For instance, they would love, provide shelterand food to the slaves so that they could have a better life. This allowed white women to have a mother figure towards slaves. This brought about the issue of civilization because mistresses spent most of their time looking after their husband’s property. Civilization comes in where most of the slaves were exposed to Christianity and grown past their barbaric behavior in the southern plantation(Armstrong Undergraduate Journal of History, 2019). Through this, one can say that slavery was one of the ways through which women exercised their productivity. This is because women were aware of their husband’s wealth and they worked hard to multiply it.

From what has been discussed above, one can conclude that slavery was adopted with the main aim of raising the economy of whites. However, with gender relation, the purpose of slavery was to give a white woman some sense of power. That is, to give her control of her home. It is through slavery in the South that people noticed that there is equality between white men and women. This allowed white men to treat their wives as their equals since they could all control their slaves as they desired. Apart from that, it also gave women a place in society since the plantation mistresses experienced respect from other people. This was not the case for an individual who did not have slaves. Therefore, gender relations in the South shaped the ideology of slavery that was witnessed in the area.




Works Cited

“Armstrong Undergraduate Journal Of History.” Armstrong.Edu, 2019,

Clinton, Catherine. The Plantation Mistress: Woman’s World in the Old South. Pantheon, 1982.

Fields, Barbara Jeanne. “Slavery, race, and ideology in the United States of America.” New Left Review 181.1 (1990): 95-118.

Hall, Gwendolyn Midlo. “Slavery and African ethnicities in the Americas: restoring the links.” The Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology 11.2 (2006): 436-438.

Jackman, Mary R. The velvet glove: Paternalism and conflict in gender, class, and race relations. Univ of California Press, 1994.

Shi, David E., and George Brown Tindall. America: A narrative history. WW Norton & Company, 2016.


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