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Did Gender Make A Difference Essay, Research Paper

Did Gender Make a Difference?

Within slavery there were harsh conditions which

Frederick Douglass tries to convey in his biography

“Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.”

Within this narrative he dezribes how men and women

slaves were treated differently by their masters.

Women were abused by their master, physically,

sexually, and mentally, while men were mostly abused

physically and mentally.

Many slave women suffered regular beatings.

Frederick Douglass mentions several different

instances where female slaves who he knew where

beaten regularly. One of Douglass’s first overseers,

Mr. Plummer, would beat Douglass’s aunt on a daily

basis. Mr. Plummer whipped Douglass’s aunt so often

he began a routine, “He would whip her to make her

scream, and whip her to make her hush” (23).

Frederick Douglass also recounted the killing of a

slave girl because she slept through a baby’s cry.

While he was in Baltimore Fredrick Douglass observed

the multiple beating of two young girls across the

street. Douglass says “The girls seldom passed her

without her saying, ‘Move faster, you black gip!’ at

the same time giving them a blow with the cowskin

over the head and shoulders, often drawing the blood”

(49). But women were not the only ones who received

beatings. The men were also physically abused.

Douglass describes two stable men, old Barney and

young Barney, who never know when to expect a

beating from their master, “They never knew when they

were safe from punishment. They were frequently

whipped when least deserving” (32). Douglass

explains one of his own experience’s of the beatings

which he received as a slave. He told us how

“he rushed at me with the fierceness of a

tiger, tore off my clothes, and lashed me

till he had worn out his switches, cutting me

so savagely as to leave the marks visible for

a long time” (70).

Men and women alike were physically abused by their

masters, deserving or not.

Not only did women suffer harsh physical abuse,

they were also sexually abused. Many of the masters

had relations with their female servants. Frederick

Douglass’s own father was white, and it was rumored

that his father was his original master. Douglass

believed the sexual abuse that masters inflicted was

“done too obviously to administer to their own lusts,

and make a gratification of their wicked desires

profitable as well as pleasurable” (21). He believed

female slaves were not only workers for the masters

but also outlets for sexual frustration. Women did

not only endure sexual abuse by their masters, they

also had the responsibility of bearing children to

increase their masters’ wealth. These women were

treated as animals, being bought for child bearing.

Frederick Douglass exemplifies this attitude toward

female slaves through the story of a slave named

Caroline. Douglass stated that her master, Mr. Covey

“bought her, as he said, for a breeder” (72). When

she produced a set of twins, “Mr. Covey seemed to be

highly pleased …. nothing they could do for

Caroline during her confinement was too good, or too

hard to be done” (73). Men did not have the

misfortune to be used for this purpose. Many male

slaves enjoyed the fact that these women were

present. It gave them the chance to relieve their

sexual frustration. Women slaves received this abuse

not only from their masters but also from their

fellow slaves.

Emotional pain was inflicted upon women slaves

through the separation of them from their children.

After only two months the children were sent to an

elderly slave, who could no longer work, to be taken

care of. Then the mother was sent to another farm to

work. Douglass talked about his experiences with his

mother. He told of how she walked seven miles, from

a neighboring farm, just to sit next to him at night

before he fell asleep. He also mentioned the

detachment which he felt after his mothers death. He

states that,

“I was not allowed to be present during her

illness, at her death, or burial. She was

gone long before I knew any thing about it.

Never having enjoyed, to any considerable

extent, her soothing presence, her tender and

watchful care, I received the tidings of her

death with much the same emotions I should

have probably felt at the death of a

stranger” (20-1).

For a mother to walk seven miles and have a

sleepless night to be with her son shows the mental

anguish that she was going through due to the

separation of her and her child. Douglass does not

mention the separation of fathers and children, or

any interest of fathers in their children’s lives.

There was no evidence that male slaves felt

separation anxiety. But both male and female slaves

were mentally abused. They were kept ignorant.

Slaves were uneducated because they were forbidden to

read or write by their masters. Douglass recounts

his own experience of when he began to read. His

mistress was teaching him the alphabet, when his

master found out he stated,

“If you give a nigger an inch, he will take

an ell. A nigger should know nothing but to

obey his master-to do as he is told to do.

Learning will spoil the best nigger in the

world. Now if you teach that nigger

(speaking of myself) how to read, there would

be no keeping him. It would forever unfit

him to be a slave. He would at once become

unmanageable, and of no values to his master”


His mastered had the concept that if a slave was

knowledgeable he would become unmanageable. This a

form of mental abuse because it denied the slaves the

ability to think for themselves, through denying them

the knowledge needed to make important decisions.

The life of a female slave seems to be a little

more trying then that of a male slaves. This is due to

the sexual abuse which the women must endure. Also

brought forth was some trials of slavery which do not

always come to mind, such as separation anxiety,

illiteracy, and sexual abuse. These acts of abuse were

a large part of slavery during its existence. The

types of abuse were present in order to keep the slave

population as slaves, and not a group of people who

think for themselves.

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