Up to the end of the twentieth century the role of women in any society was insignificant and women’s rights were often violated. A number of studies have been dedicated to oppression and humiliation of women which in most of the countries could be traced in the seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth, and, often, during the twentieth century. Together with gender discrimination, racial discrimination was also appalling and widespread. With the establishment of white supremacy black people as well as Asians, Indians and Hispanics stood no chance for surviving in a society and were forced to form separate communities. Some people state that oppression of women was greater than the oppression of black people whereas others keep to a completely opposite point of view. It is necessary to consider and compare the place of white women with the place of Indians and African slaves in American society and culture in order to find out which of these groups had the greatest power in early American history.
To begin with, it is necessary to discuss the role of women in the eighteenth-century British American society. It should be mentioned first of all that men’s and women’s rights were equal but this concerned the woman while she was single. With entering into marriage she automatically lost all her rights: “A feme sole […] could convey property, make a valid contract, sue or be sued, execute a deed, and make a will. Technically, a feme covert could do none of these things without her husband’s consent or participation” (Gundersen and Gampel 116). However, after the husband’s death or in case of remarriage the primary rights were in most of the cases returned to the woman. Striking were also the women’s rights within the family, since, the mother of her children, she had absolutely no control over them legally, and sometimes after the husband’s death she could be denied in guardianship: “The common law gave the husband sole control of his children during his lifetime, and unless he specifically named someone else in his will, the courts gave preference to the mother as guardian on his death” (Gundersen and Gampel 127). All this testifies to the facts that woman’s rights were extremely limited and in all the matters she had to obey implicitly to her husband.
Another point to consider is slavery and black people’s violation of rights in the seventeenth-century British America. The matter was that, despite the slavery which spread over white people as well, black people were still more reserved in their rights and freedoms: “by the middle years of the seventeenth century, everywhere in English America the status of slave, with all that it entailed, became reserved for those of West African ancestry rather than for native Americans or for certain Europeans” (Wood 6). It is evident that black people experienced far stronger oppression than all other enslaved people, since what they suffered from what not only enslavement but racial discrimination as well. In the seventeenth century the situation with discrimination became even more strained and the status of African Americans started to be regarded as much lower that that of white people: “The different slave systems that emerged in seventeenth-century English America were not the products of either racial prejudice or economic ambition alone, but reflected the complex interaction of both these themes” (Wood 8). Thus, black people were deprived of their rights not only due to the enslavement but because of their skin color and ethnicity.
And finally, the role of Indian women in the American society resembles the one of black people’s. They were oppressed not only because of the fact that they were not white but because of their gender as well. Women’s life was all about their domestic work and obeying to their husbands with their “roles in native American society neglected and trivialized by an obsession with male warriors and chiefs” (Calloway 31). Indian women in American society perhaps experienced everything that white women, restricted in rights, and black people, restricted in freedoms, taken together. Just like black women, they had to suffer from race discrimination together with gender discrimination. Their women’s rights were violated within the family but it seems that even more humiliating was the fact that the society was rejecting them.
Taking into consideration everything mentioned above, it can be stated that all three, white women, black people and Indian women had suffered a lot in the period of their oppression. Nevertheless, it seems that women and black people had greater power in the early American history because they had strength to stand up for their rights with black people’s movement for racial equality and women’s emancipation and fighting for equal rights with men. Therefore, due to the ardent fight of women and black people for their rights which ended successfully, the modern world is free from any kind of discrimination with women being able to get education and even occupy high posts in government and black people possessing equal rights with white people.
Wood, B. The Origins of American Slavery: Freedom and Bondage in the English Colonies. Hill and Wang, 1998.
Gundersen,J.R., Gampel, G.V. “The Family in Early American History and Culture”. The William and Mary Quarterly 39.1 (1982): 114-134.
Calloway, C.G. New Directions in American Indian History. University of Oklahoma Press, 1988.