Ar’n’t I a Woman by Deborah Gray White, and Plantation Mistresses by Catherine Clinton

Monograph Paper

From historical times, women have been at the center of attention for one reason or another. This monograph paper examines two women-based studies dealing with historical women issues. The two books analyzed here are, Ar’n’t I a Woman by Deborah Gray White, and Plantation Mistresses, by Catherine Clinton. The two books talk of women suffering; however, the women in Deborah White’s book suffered and faced more challenges and difficulties than those in Clinton’s book.

Ar’n’t I a Woman

In the history of slavery, especially North American slavery, a particular group of people suffered the greatest deplorable situations and that is African-American slave women. Despite this group standing out courtesy to its great suffering, many historians chose to focus on their male counterparts who did not suffer greatly as the women did. This fact might have led Deborah White to come up with this masterpiece.

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To cap it, Deborah makes it clear that, “men played the dominant role in slave society…Most recently light has finally begun to be shed on women. Emphasis of recent literature on slavery has been on negating Samboism” (White 21-22). The thesis revolves around exploring the female slavery, bringing to light the challenges that these people went through at the same time demystifying long held flawed notions that society has come to accept about female slavery.

From the flawed notion that women were out to get a lover, everyone down looked women. White posits that, “Slavery is terrible for men: but it is far more terrible for women” (White 62). Women slaves did a lot of work just like any other slave; moreover, they had to face the challenge of bearing children, facing overcoming biting challenges that come with motherhood.

Bearing children was not a choice as many people think; no, it was a requirement from the masters so that there would be sustainable labor force throughout. Moreover, there was the ever present challenge of sexual abuse as White indicates that, “From the very beginning of a woman’s enslavement she had to cope with sexual abuse, abuse made legitimate by the conventional wisdom that black women were promiscuous Jezebels” (White 89).

As girls entered their teenage, they had to stay close to their mothers and other women to learn how to handle issues in slavery world. By late teenage, one was expected to give birth and if she could not bear children due to one reason or the other, she would be sold to other slave owners.

Barrenness destroys the ego of a woman; however, in addition to her broken and shattered personality, a barren woman had to face the challenge of living away from her relatives. This was more than brutality; it was suicidal. By robbing a barren woman, what she had; that is, a family to lean on, was tantamount to terminating her life.

A typical woman had to work in the fields like her male counterpart, cook, and take care of her family. Additionally, she had to protect her family because the husbands could not become defensive for fear of victimization on grounds of rebellion. It is unbelievable that women had to work even whilst pregnant.

White posits that, “They were the only women in America who were sexually exploited with impunity, stripped and whipped with a lash, and worked like oxen” (White 132). Despite these challenges, these women still endured to see the light of abolishment of slave trade as the Civil war commenced.

Plantation Mistresses

This masterpiece serves as a link between the blemished notions about southern white women and the reality or at least logical explanation of how these people were. Clinton focuses on elite women, married to plantation and slave owners in the South. Despite the fact, that many people assumed that these women lived good life by virtue of being wives of slave owners, Clinton posits that, “These women were merely prisoners in disguise” (Clinton 109). They encountered the abomination of slavery sometimes suffering like slaves.

These women lived isolated and restricted lives; they could not study as they were expected to remain back home to look after children and manage homes. Theirs was a life full of untold loneliness and probably this is what led many to laudanum addiction.

However indirectly, slavery affected these women as Clinton posits that, “Patriarchy was the bedrock upon which the slave society was founded, and slavery exaggerated the pattern of subjugation that patriarchy had established” (Clinton 6). This implies that women were there to be seen not to be heard and this amounted to slavery.

They lost their ability to make decisions concerning their lives. This “ensured that a woman remained as securely bound to the land as her husband’s other property…Every woman was an island, isolated unto herself” (Clinton 179). Clinton’s argument is that plantation mistresses remained incapacitated dupes of the mythos of their culture and finesse that plantation owners developed.


These two groups of women suffered oppression and had to deal with different challenges. However, Women in Deborah White’s work suffered greater challenges and difficulties than women in Catherine Clinton’s work. The fact that the former were slaves whilst the former were wives to slave owners qualifies this conclusion supporting the thesis at the beginning of the paper that, the women in Deborah White’s book suffered and faced more challenges and difficulties than those in Clinton’s book.

Works Cited

Clinton, Catherine. “The Plantation Mistress: Woman’s World in the Old South.” New York: Pantheon Books, 1982.

White, Deborah. “Ar’n’t I a Woman?: Female Slaves in the Plantation South.” New York: W.W. Norton & Co. Inc. 1999.


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