When black women were brought from Africa to the New World as slave laborers, their value was determined by their ability to work as well as their potential to bear children, who by law would become the enslaved property of the mother's master. In Laboring Women: Reproduction and Gender in New World Slavery, Jennifer L. Morgan examines for the first time how African women's labor in both senses became intertwined in the English colonies. Beginning with the ideological foundations of racial slavery in early modern Europe, Laboring Women traverses the Atlantic, exploring the social and cultural lives of women in West Africa, slaveowners' expectations for reproductive labor, and women's lives as workers and mothers under colonial slavery.
Challenging conventional wisdom, Morgan reveals how expectations regarding gender and reproduction were central to racial ideologies, the organization of slave labor, and the nature of slave community and resistance. Taking into consideration the heritage of Africans prior to enslavement and the cultural logic of values and practices recreated under the duress of slavery, she examines how women's gender identity was defined by their shared experiences as agricultural laborers and mothers, and shows how, given these distinctions, their situation differed considerably from that of enslaved men. Telling her story through the arc of African women's actual lives—from West Africa, to the experience of the Middle Passage, to life on the plantations—she offers a thoughtful look at the ways women's reproductive experience shaped their roles in communities and helped them resist some of the more egregious effects of slave life.
Presenting a highly original, theoretically grounded view of reproduction and labor as the twin pillars of female exploitation in slavery, Laboring Women is a distinctive contribution to the literature of slavery and the history of women.
About the Author
Jennifer L. Morgan teaches history and women's and gender studies at Rutgers University, New Brunswick.
Table of Contents
1. "Some Could Suckle over Their Shoulder": Male Travelers, Female Bodies, and the Gendering of Racial Ideology
2. "The Number of Women Doeth Much Disparayes the Whole Cargoe": The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and West African Gender Roles
3. "The Breedings Shall Goe with Their Mothers": Gender and Evolving Practices of Slaveownership in the English American Colonies
4. "Hannah and Hir Children": Reproduction and Creolization Among Enslaved Women
5. "Women's Sweat": Gender and Agricultural Labor in the Atlantic World
6. "Deluders and Seducers of Each Other": Gender and the Changing Nature of Resistance
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
As Jennifer L. Morgan herself declares, one of the purposes of her historical study, Laboring Women, is ¿to look at women¿s lives across time and space, to grapple with the ways in which ideologies of race and gender under English colonialism contributed to a set of common experiences for enslaved women that interrupt the specificities of place.¿ (2) Laboring Women is masterfully woven as both a critique of the system of slavery that was engrained in American society as a staple to Henry Clay¿s American System, as well as acting as an analysis of the role of women across historical time periods and geographic borders. Morgan¿s study also explores the interestingly intersecting issues of sexuality and savagery, which are revealed as having been considered complimentary characteristics in colonial times. Her effective examination of the slave trade, which included not only persecution based on race, but based on sex as well, forces us to acknowledge the frightening truths of a terror from times past, as well as question how modern society views and deals with race and sex relations. Early on in her work, Morgan obviates the extent to which white, western European males degraded women of color. One example refers to a man who points out that ¿Negroes have been suspected of Bestiality and, while maintaining the ruse of scholarly distance, suggested that evidence would tempt one to suspect the fact. The evidence lay mostly in apes¿ resemblance to humans but was bolstered by the Ignorance and Stupidity [of black women unable] to guide or control lust.¿ (41) Maybe the most disturbing fact regarding this stereotype is that ¿abolitionists and anti-abolitionists alike accepted the connections between race and black women¿s monstrous fecund bodies.¿(41) Thus it was not only the self-proclaimed bigots and sexist males of colonial times that advanced false generalizations regarding sexuality, race, and sexual appetite, but the general population as a whole, including those who openly opposed slavery. Such widespread acceptance of racial profiling not only reveals the extent to which black women had to cope with discrimination and persecution, and how far we, as a society and a species, have come with regard to race, but also how, as such issues still exist today, we must continue to fight against racism and sexism in contemporary culture as well. One aspect of the slave trade that Morgan cleverly emphasizes is the value of female slaves not only as producers, but as reproducers as well. As noted in Morgan¿s second chapter, ¿The inheritability of slavery depended upon the biological capacity of African mothers and father to pass their social identity as enslaveable ¿ marked as it was on their skin ¿ onto the bodies of their children.¿ (56) Herein it is taken for granted that the slaves will have children, thus converting a plantation for growing crops into a breeding ground of racism and slavery. In fact, very often slave-owners would not just rely on nature to take its course and instead would ¿couple men and women, name them husband and wife, and foresee their own future in the bellies of enslaved workers.¿ (105) In this way, just as kings seek to pass on their kingdom to their children, the slave-owners, the monarchs of the American plantations, sought to pass on their property (and their property¿s offspring) to their children, thus propagating the hatred and ignorance of a slave society. Even amongst an enslaved people, the development of a distinct and common culture seems inevitable within any group of people that are juxtaposed for an extended period of time, but such culture creation was particularly difficult amongst the enslaved Africans of America and the Caribbean. A cause of this difficulty in acculturation that the enslaved populations dealt with comes from the diversity of those being enslaved, as well as the constant influx of new slaves of different backgrounds and experiences, even within the slave worl