Chapter 6: The Intimately Oppressed
In the Zuni tribes of the Southwest, for instance, extended families- large clans-were based on the woman, whose husband came to live with her family. It was assumed that women owned the houses, and the fields belonged to the clans, and the women had equal rights to what was produced. A woman was more secure, because she was with her own family, and she could divorce the man when she wanted to, keeping their property. 2.
The conditions under which white settlers came to America created various situations for women. Where the first settlements consisted almost entirely of men, women were imported as sex slaves, childbearers, companions. In 1619, the year that the first black slaves came to Virginia, ninety women arrived at Jamestown on one ship: "Agreeable persons, young and incorrupt... sold with their own consent to settlers as wives, the price to be the cost of their own transportation." 3.
Sexual abuse of masters against servant girls became commonplace. The court records of Virginia and other colonies show masters brought into court for this, so we can assume that these were especially flagrant cases; there must have been many more instances never brought to public light. 4.
Whatever horrors can be imagined in the transport of black slaves to America must be multiplied for black women, who were often one-third of the cargo. Slave traders reported: I saw pregnant women give birth to babies while chained to corpses which our drunken overseers had not removed... . packed spoon-fashion they often gave birth to children in the scalding perspiration from the human cargo. ... On board the ship was a young negro woman chained to the deck, who had lost her senses soon after she was purchased and taken on board. 5.
Those who lived, sharing the work of building a life in the wilderness with their men, were often given a special respect because they were so badly needed. And when men died, women often took up the men's work as...
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