Lines of Color, Sex, and Service: Sexual Coercion in the Early Republic by Sharon Block

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Women In America

“Lines of Color, Sex, and Service: Sexual Coercion in the Early Republic” by Sharon Block is based on two women who were mistreated by their masters. Rachel Davis, a white woman, was a servant to William and Becky Cress when she was 14-years-old. Harriet Jacobs, an enslaved black woman, was a slave in James and Mary Norcom’s household. When the women reached ages 15 and 16, both their masters made sexual overtures to them, in which the women had to try and over power.

Becky Cress, William’s wife and Mary Norcom, James’ wife were women who could not control their husband’s actions. Since both Becky and Mary suspected that their husbands were having a sexual relationship with their servant, they insisted that the servant left the house immediately. Even though Rachel and Harriet were removed from their master’s household, their masters continued to visit them at their new home trying to have sex with them. When Mary had Harriet sleep with her so her husband could not and so she could “protect” Harriet, Harriet said, “she whispered in my ear, as though it was her husband who was speaking to me, and listened to hear what I would answer.” (140) When Mary confronted her husband about the issue, he did not stop his sexual overtures. After Becky heard William trying to kiss Rachel in the cellar, Rachel said, “she had caught him & he wd deceive her no longer, but William denied any wrongdoing and Becky left in tears. These verbal confrontations apparently did not alter William’s behavior; he continued to force himself sexually upon Rachel.” (140) These two wives show that they had no power over their husband. They confronted their husbands about the situation and all they did was deny their behaviors, which lead to Becky and Mary not undertaking any actions to put their husband’s sexual overtures to an end. If Becky and Mary really wanted their husband’s sexual relationship with their servant to end, why didn’t they remove their husband from the...
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