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Ar'n't I a Woman?: Female Slaves in the Plantation South

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  1,164 ratings  ·  48 reviews
Living with the dual burdens of racism and sexism, slave women in the plantation South assumed roles within the family and community that contrasted sharply with traditional female roles in the larger American society. This new edition of Ar'n't I a Woman? reviews and updates the scholarship on slave women and the slave family, exploring new ways of understanding the ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published February 17th 1999 by W. W. Norton Company (first published January 1st 1985)
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 ·  1,164 ratings  ·  48 reviews

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This book is a very good look at the life of female slaves. Furthermore, White links some of the sterotypes and history of the time to views of black women in the media and society today. This is a must read for any feminist or historian.
I hated this book. I devoured this book. I respect the writer Deborah Gray White (African-American) for touching on delicate subjects related to the sexualization/de-sexualization of black women, the generation of black slaves in what was too often temporary or unwanted relationships. Some marriages lasted for decades at the whim or ability of the slave master whose crops were subject to droughts and whose plantation (or farm) was broken up after his death. All these things I knew. I chose to to ...more
Elia Princess of Starfall
Oct 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
“Slavery is terrible for men: but it is far more terrible for women.”
Linda Brent, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.


In the days of Antebellum America, when slavery ruled over the plantations, the farms, the classical manors and, of course, the inhabitants, there arose concerns about the growing threat of abolition, the mounting strength of the Free North and how to justify slavery in the best light. From such worries, there lay a particular anxiety; the position of the enslaved black woman
Apr 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
Visiting a friend born in Mississippi recently, I once again heard that odd myth of the white Southerner, that slavery produced some genuine relationships between master or mistress and slave. My friend insisted that the act of owning another human being by itself destroys any pretense at relationship. Yes, his sister agreed, some terrible things happened, but there were cases of genuine relationship. It is a puzzling thing to me, this latter-day need to justify the unjustifiable, to defend the ...more
"Slavery women suffered from the malevolence that flowed from both racism and sexism.

They were dragged from Africa against their will because they were black, Because they were black and slave they lost their rights, and under penalty of death and the whip, worked for someone else's profit. As black slave women they were used sexually; they shouldered the dangerous burden of childbirth, the laborious chores of child care and domestic work, and they were tied to the plantation with less chance
Major contention of this work is that black slave women in the American south "were not submissive, subordinate, or prudish and that they were not expected to be so." She attacks the black power generation of the 1960s and 70s which put black slave woman in her place to retrieve the black man from "Samboism". She attempts to demonstrate that black slave families were characterized by an admirable equality of the sexes. She is insistent that "slave women has a high degree of sex consciousness and ...more
Sa Schmidt
Jan 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It was a very interesting read. It wasnt eye opening to me because I knew it was bad and they were on a regular basis raped, tortured and dehumanized by slave owners. I was glad I read it though. Then it went and talked about some of the plantation families like the Balls and Chestnuts and a few of our u. s. presidents who owned them. That Ball plantation I had heard was really a bad place, some of their living relatives today sit ashamed of their ancestors. It's a worthy read to know the truth.
Aug 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Really informative book that does an in-depth analysis of the varied experiences of black women in the South during and shortly after slavery. I learned a lot, but my only complaint is that sometimes I felt like the past was romanticized a bit. Also, the author discusses marriage between slaves without noting until almost the end of the book that those marriages weren't legally recognized.
Jun 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This was the kind of book that made me search eagerly through the footnotes and endnotes and propelled me on to find the original sources. The anecdotes are so chilling and intriguing that one can't help but follow the information trail back to the beginning. The scholarship is incredibly solid--not that I ever called it into doubt--and White's eloquence in telling the stories of women oppressed by generations of Americans would tug on the heartstrings of any normal human being in the 21st ...more
Cheri Joy
Jul 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A ground breaking and fascinating work. Very readable and thought provoking. Apart from being a valuable discussion of Black American women’s history, it provides a strong argument for intersectionality. Really glad I’ve re-read this.

Thanks to my ex-in-laws, Jo and Joe for the gift of this book many years ago.
Dec 09, 2019 added it
So, with these books, I tend not to rate because its subjective. I did think it was very interesting but I did wish there was more information of life before slavery to truly understand the life that was taken away from them.
Laura Horn
Feb 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
I had to read this for one of my history classes at Ole Miss. This book opened my eyes more to how women were treated in the south, especially slave women, and the obstacles these women overcame during slavery as well as after slavery ended.
Regina Leslie
Aug 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book was an INCREDIBLE read! Very, very, very enlightening and informative!! Definitely a book I will share with others.
Sadie Wright
Dec 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent read

Good book. Not too long or overwhelming but packed with information. Explains well the transition of women in family groups from West Africa, to slavery, to freedom.
Sep 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book is an indepth study about how female slaves in South America resiliently fighted for their motherhood, femininity, love, and freedom despite so many tragedies, biases, myths, and crimes implemented upon them by slave owners; so that in the end female slaves "could answer a confident "yes" to the persistent question: "Ar'n't I a Woman?"

Sometimes I feel that the information is repetitive and the author's voice is slightly biased, reflecting the fact that the author is a black female.
Sep 19, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: anyone interested in US history, race, or gender issues.
I read this for my US Women's History class and enjoyed it. Though of course sad and even heartbreaking in places, it does a fantastic job of tracing the history of slavery in the US, explaining the differences in female & male experiences of slavery, examining why women have been left out of most histories of slavery, and contrasting the myths & realities regarding the subject. White gives an interesting treatment of the intersecting oppressions faced by black women and how their status ...more
The work suffers from being the first of its kind. It is too broad and makes too big of generalizations or comparisons between time periods or geographic locations at points. However, it sets forth clear arguments for how female slaves experienced slavery differently than men and experienced gender differently than white women. It also works to strongly establish slave women as women, not the mannish stereotypes that they become associated with. A quick read and very accessible to undergraduates ...more
May 05, 2010 rated it really liked it
Powerful and true story of the devastating experiences of female slaves in the south immediately prior to and after the civil war. Does its best to bring the truth to light and dispels several enduring myths and stereotypes previously held by white southerners (and northerners in many cases) at that time about the nature of female slaves. Very depressing stuff, but its a time and place in our history everyone should be aware of.
Feb 06, 2009 rated it it was amazing
What a great book. I read it for African American Family in the U.S. class and it just opened our eyes to everything that happened. It is definitely a woman's book and barely mentions the man's work ethic. It shows how strong, compassionate and comforting women were in Pre-Civil War era. It kept my attention throughout the whole book and i know i will read it again. Such a heartbreaking, but easy read.
Ireland Fuller
The author states this book began as a doctorial thesis. It reads like a thesis; dry and academic. This is not a book easily read for enjoyment. However I do recommend it in the reference library for historians, women and African-American histroy buffs and for those interested in Civil War era history.
Apr 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is the most important book I've ever read. In the 18 years since I read it, no other work of nonfiction has had such a lasting impact on the way I understand the world.

Gray-White's devotion to her subjects is clear in the way she allows them to tell their own stories -- of both the suffering imposed by slavery and their individual responses to it.

Nov 02, 2014 rated it it was ok
I've been reading this book off & on & in between other books I've had. It's
not a novel, it's more of a fact-filled book of the history of female slaves.
Reading it can be very difficult. A sad & hard life made worse by the inhumane
treatment they received at the hands of land owners & other whites.
J. Michelle
Jul 02, 2009 rated it really liked it
This book was assigned for my African American Women in US History class in undergrad years ago. I decided to pick it up and dive deeper into the book and finally read from cover to cover. This is a great piece of work and I really appreciated reading more about the lives and struggles of female slaves and the anecdotes from actual emancipated slaves had a significant impact.
Sam Retton
Mar 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
An easy read, but well-organized and academic. I can see why this book is assigned to college students so often, given that it is so introductory yet still interesting and informative for students who may have more experience with concepts like the Mammy/Jezebel dichotomy or the gender dynamics of the slave-era South.
Aug 11, 2015 rated it liked it
I finally gave up on this book. It is well researched and much of it, both facts and oral histories, are extremely interesting. However, there came a point where there were so many facts and statistics that I found myself reading and re-reading because my mind had drifted elsewhere. It would be a great reference book for someone doing research on this worthwhile and astounding history.
My professor referred to this book as a classic, and I am in absolute agreement with her. White does an amazing job of writing a book that is clear and understandable but also academic. The themes are neither lost among a barrage of historical facts nor repeated ad nauseum, I really enjoyed reading this for class, and that's not something I can say for all of my assignments.
Ashley Hietpas
Slavery, obviously, a hard topic, but it's so incredibly important to understand as an American. I've read a few other slave narratives tales in the past year or so, but nothing as in depth as this, or that allowed me to see the direct parallels from then to now.
Fatima E.
Feb 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
very informative and important. addresses the issue of intersectionality between womanhood and blackness as a double oppresion. many of the descriptions were heartbreaking and horrific but neccessary.
Nov 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing
A must read for any American woman. This book gives so much insight into the psyche and history of the relationship of Black and White women.

Slavery in America was not glorious nor Romantic... I am certain Kara Walker has read this one!
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