Black women were subjected to primarily, but not limited to, two spurious stereotypes: Jezebel and Mammy, throughout America’s slavery era. And too some extents are still confined to these stereotypical undertones in America today. Each stereotype served, to some extent, to cover up a flawed aspect of the South’s slave system. The Jezebel stereotype attempted to veil the white man’s licentious behavior and sexual violation of black women. More over, the Mammy stereotype was created in an attempt to restore a pure image of domestic morality as a result of the white man’s lascivious behavior. I’d like to talk about how these stereotypes originated and, hopefully, you (the reader) will consider how these stereotypes manifest in today’s society.
The Jezebel stereotype originated from English slave traders. Upon arriving in the African American’s native land, the slave traders noticed the women wore scant clothing. The English, puritanical culture associated revealed skin as a direct manifestation of a woman’s lewdness. Thus, the stereotype was born. However, it should be noted that this ethnocentric failed to consider the hot climate in which they lived.
The Jezebel stereotype was further solidified in Southern society through the horrendous practices of slave owners. First, Deborah White, in her paper “Jezebel and Mammy: The Myth of Female Slavery,” argued that slavery flourished in part because of the increasing fecundity within the African American population. Naturally, a correlation between fecundity and sensuality bolstered this notion of the black woman’s innate promiscuous disposition. However, White argues that white plantation owners employed degrading tactics in order to increase their slave population’s fecundity.
Moreover, this notion between increased fecundity and slave productivity resulted in a high demand for black women who could have many children. In result, slave traders would knead the woman’s stomach on the auction block in order to predict how many children the woman would be able to have. This public display of the black female’s body only bolstered the false notion of a Jezebel. Black women recognized that refusing to allow the auctioneers to violate their bodies would only result in an extenuated punishment.
Additionally, white slave owners would take black women in as mistresses. Many black females would indulge their owner’s sexual desires in order to escape the egregious brutalities and demanding labor that plantation fieldwork entailed. Once again, this apparent “willingness” for black women to accept the role of a the mistress evoked the Jezebel stereotype. However, this interpretation misses the point. Black women accepted the role of the housemistress in order to avoid harsh working conditions and severe punishments. The white plantation owner’s maltreatment of black women resulted in the black woman’s feigned acceptance of her sexual exploitation.
As the Civil War approached, abolitionists highlighted the irony in the white man’s willingness to accept a black woman, whom society deemed inferior, as his concubine. White men invoked the Jezebel stereotype by claiming the black women advanced on them. However, this admission to the white man’s sexual infidelity evoked a crumbling domestic relation between the white man and women. Thus, the Mammy stereotype was born in order to preserve white society’s domestic fidelity.
The Mammy was characterized as a black woman who retained absolute control over the domestic operations. She was generally characterized as overweight and exuberantly kind. The Mammy said to have been treated like a family member, negating the possibility between sexual relations with the white owner.
The Mammy stereotype arose in part because white women felt the necessity to reassert themselves in the Southern society. The Jezebel stereotype exposed a flaw in their ability to control their domestic life. Therefore, the Mammy accepted domestic responsibility so that white women would be able to develop their faculties and assume a nature position of superiority. In this sense, the Mammy stereotype underscores the South’s austere prejudiced overtones.
Similar to black women becoming a white man’s mistress, many black women were grateful to accept the position as a household servant. Household duties, while still demeaning and taxing, were for the most part more appealing than field labor and field punishments. Moreover, house servants were also entitled to better food and living conditions. Thus, black women accepted house service in order to avoid the maltreatment in field labor.