Beyond all the horrible treatments that slaves received, enslaved women also had to go through master-slave relationships.
Women were not just only bought to do housework or labor in the fields, many times they were purchased for male pleasure and reproduction. “Enslaved women were being forced to comply with sexual advances by their masters on a very regular basis” (Sonnen 1). The consequences of resistance often came in the form of physical beatings. This wasn’t always the case, even that it was very rare there are examples that show ordinary master-slave relationships, where enslaved women were treated differently. This being said, we can ask a very important question, ” To what extent did the master-slave relationship effect paternalism in the Antebellum South?Before the Civil War, paternalism in Southern United States was a concept used to justify the legitimacy of slavery.
Through paternalism women could argue for slavery within the gendered structure of their society. Paternalism presented an un-threatening maternal argument to advocate for something that gave women a very masculine sense of the agency in their homes and society. There have been many times where Southern women that were against slavery, would claim to be the mother figures for their slaves; they would help the slaves by giving them a shelter, food and allowing them to have a better life than if they were off on their own. In a way or another doing this women felt as they were the protectors of their slaves.This was that idea of the paternalism in the Antebellum South, is the thought to treat them as if they were children. So masters and slave owners would say that being a slave was a good thing as you would have the life’s necessities. Slavery was a big economic supporter of people that had slaves and those who didn’t in the antebellum South.
The lives of the slaveholders depended on the slaves and slaves were exploited and that way they could benefit from their white masters. Historian Eugene Genovese re-examined the slave- master relationship decades ago. He also agreed with past historians and came to the conclusion that slavery was a cruel institution that treated the slaves unfairly.
However, Genovese believed that extreme forms of mistreatment were minor. Genovese introduced slave-owner “paternalism,” not a good, painless, or benign slavery, but a slavery in which masters took a personal interest in the lives of their slaves(Cole 1). He believes that paternalism “brought black and white people together and bonded them into one person with elements of affection and intimacy.
So this relationship helped this idea of paternalism and proved that slaves and masters could get along and they should.Genovese also states that for the slaveholders, paternalism meant duties within which the master had a duty to provide for his people and treat them with humanity. Through paternalism women could argue for slavery within the gendered structure of their society. Many planters were possessive in regards to their property through the slave economy. “Paternalism not only spared these planters from having to justify an oppressive system of force, intimidation, and ceaseless struggle, but it cast all responsibility for that reality elsewhere”(Cole 169). Genovese made this point when he suggested that masters and slaves related to each other within the framework of paternalism. The master-slave relationship was not entirely the conscious creation of paternalistic slaveholders or resistant slaves.
On the contrary, the structures of that relationship shaped the ways in which both might act paternalistically or capitalistically, accommodatingly or rebelliously. Both master and slave, whether through contest or through concession, acted within structural/ systemic boundaries and by so doing they tended to perpetuate the status quo. It is worth considering what slave owners interested in increasing their holdings might have done as alternatives to encouraging family formation. They might have forced men and women into sexual relations. Or they might have regularly and systematically raped women. They might then have taken the children away from mothers and into their own care, somehow feeding them, perhaps with a corps of wet nurses.
This is how abolitionists often portrayed slavery, and although such things did happen, they happened rarely and not systematically. Such business would have been impractical due to the energy required to force such conditions on people and socially unacceptable for paternalistic white men. And there was an easier way.
Masters who wished to raise more slaves could cooperate with enslaved women. If they considered themselves humane or paternalistic, this approach would have been especially appealing, further encouraging what practice taught them-that the family setting was the best means for raising people. Slave families were not the result of the masters’ salutary neglect. Genovese has not shown how slaves either benefited from the ideology of paternalism or acceded to these “mutual obligations” that were necessary for the impractical system to operate. Paternalism was an ideal system in which slaves were to be treated fairly and as human beings, and the way that the majority of masters treated their slaves does not reflect this mindset. Masters exerted their superiority over their slaves through physical and psychological means. They whipped slaves for various and often-insignificant reasons, branded them to reaffirm their domination over them, and sometimes had their ears cut off if they disobey direct orders.
Slaveholders also constantly looked for ways to trim the costs of feeding their slaves and threatened to sell them if they did not produce enough for their masters. The concerted efforts of Southerners to hide these less attractive features of their slave society caused an almost total censorship of information in local publications about the more hideous aspects of slavery(Cole 6). This makes Genovese’s argument for the practice of paternalism that much more doubtful, simply because there are so few sources besides slave narratives to rely upon for accurate details of slavery. These frequent acts of resistance helped spread a sense of moral and spiritual autonomy among the slaves – something that paternalism failed to do because it was not practiced by many Southern slaveholders..
Genovese asserts that paternalism demanded protection for blacks “in a strange and hostile white world. The problem is that blacks were not offered this protection at all because they were everyday victims of white cruelty and exploitation.