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

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  1,007 Ratings  ·  42 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 inter ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published February 17th 1999 by W. W. Norton Company (first published 1985)
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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 a
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 th
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
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 centu ...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.
Regina Leslie
Aug 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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. Sti
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.
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.
Matthew Gleason
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.
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.
Sep 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
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.
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.
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.
May 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is a very accessible and fast read that does a great a job of explaining the lived experiences of slave women in the U.S. using first person accounts. It's also one of the more human-centered portrayals of slavery that I have ever read.
Joanna Hamadeh
Feb 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sociology
I read this book in one day. It is fascinating and engrossing. I am certain I will be revisiting it and rereading it many more times for reference and deeper understanding. It should be required reading for any class on the subject of American History, Race, or Women's studies.
Apr 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
Excellent social history on the obscure lives of women in slavery. Truly gives perspective on what it is like to be a slave compounded with the challenge of being oppressed as both a wife and a slave of the deep south.
May 05, 2010 rated it really liked it
Amazing. Read the newer edition as it includes an interesting discussion of the title, which while originally believed to have been taken from Sojourner Truth, was actually from a quote written by a Northern (white) abolitionist and attributed to Truth.
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!
Sep 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Very grateful I picked up the 2nd edition with the revised introduction.
Completely dispelled any lingering romanticized perceptions of slavery.
Cried my way through Chapter 6.
Charlie Rose
This is one of the first books looking at slave women's lives. Very interesting.
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50 book challenge : Beginning 1 1 May 02, 2018 07:37PM  
  • Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs: Gender, Race, and Power in Colonial Virginia
  • Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of the Old South
  • City of Women: Sex and Class in New York, 1789-1860
  • Gender and Jim Crow: Women and the Politics of White Supremacy in North Carolina, 1896-1920
  • Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market
  • To 'Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women's Lives and Labors After the Civil War
  • Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow: Black Women, Work, and the Family from Slavery to the Present
  • Fighting for American Manhood: How Gender Politics Provoked the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars
  • Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America
  • Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England, 1650-1750
  • Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War
  • Scraping By: Wage Labor, Slavery, and Survival in Early Baltimore
  • A Nation Under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration
  • Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the-Century New York
  • Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery
  • From Front Porch to Back Seat: Courtship in Twentieth-Century America
  • Sexual Revolution in Early America
  • What Comes Naturally: Miscegenation Law and the Making of Race in America

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