Eighteenth Century

Mary Prince vs. Olaudah Equiano: Gender Specific Slavery and the Respective Effects on Their Plights

An important distinction between Prince and Equiano’s plights is that the former was not able to share her experiences as easily as the latter. Specifically, the way the job of telling one’s story is not equally open to all genders due to the differences in education and opportunities. Although Equiano was uniquely successful in that he learned numerous skills and was able to market goods to buy his freedom, Mary had less of a chance to reach the same success. In fact, even when she had enough money to buy her freedom, the Woods kept coming up with bogus and deceitful reasons about why they should not set her free.

Both emotionally and physically, these differences in opportunity had an extremely negative effect on Mary. For example,  the first time Mr. Wood gave Mary a note and told her to find another owner, it was an emotionally detrimental trick since, in reality, he never meant to sell her, “but did this to please his wife and to frighten me” (23). Furthermore, after she found a new owner, Mr. Wood not only denied the sale, but also whipped Mary the next day, which shows how the Woods intentionally restricted her opportunities with emotional and physical violence.

In regards to the issue of gender within slavery, an example of the differences is the format of Prince and Equiano’s narratives. Specifically, Mary has a much smaller role in her publication because her narrative is framed within Mr. Pringle’s Preface and Supplement, and the length of the two’s contributions are similar; hers is thirty-one pages while his is twenty-seven pages. Furthermore, Prince’s story is related to us through a third-party who transcribed and proofread her verbal narrative, and even though Mr. Pringle insists that “Mary’s exact expressions and peculiar phraseology” was retained, he includes an important qualifier: “as far as was practicable” (1). Now, after reading the opening letters as well as the Supplement, I have no doubt that Mr. Pringle had the best intentions for Mary; however, it is still important to realize that Mary did not actually author her own story, which automatically means some things could have been altered without her knowledge.

Salt working was a job that was open to both genders, like Mary and Sarah, and all ages “whether they were young or old” (18, 15). Additionally, Mary’s domestic jobs were gender specific because it was custom for women to work in the house and women slaves were considered more controllable, predictable, and less of a physical threat than men slaves were. Moreover, wet nursing was her most deeply gendered job since it is impossible for men to breast feed a baby (4, 9).


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