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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

The book, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl published in 1861, tells the story of the struggle of Harriet Jones herself. From the beginning of her life in 1813 in Edenton, North Carolina to how she maneuvered through multiple slave owners, and the injustices she faced. Having to grow up by yourself after your parents pass at such a young age, while also having a younger brother to take care of as well as raise yourself, just goes to show that even from a young age, Ms. Jones was a very strong woman. When living with her mother’s mistress, she was able to be educated which many slaves at the time couldn’t even think of as a possibility. After the mistress’s passing, Harriet’s life took a turn for the worse when she went to live in the home of a man who would continue to sexually abuse her. She allowed herself to have an affair with her white neighbor to try to lead that to disgust her owner enough to sell her off, but it unfortunately back fired on her. She was finally able to trick her way into escaping, because she did not want her children to be susceptible to the same kind of unfair treatment she went through. After years of hiding out in an attic she’s able to escape to New York to try to be with her daughter, and that seemed to go well for some time because she was also able to find a job with a kinder family than most. Her previous owner followed her North and continued to try to pursue her, as well as endanger her children to be enslaved once again, which leads Harriet to escape to Boston. The Fugitive Slave Act passed during this time which made Harriet even more vulnerable to kidnapping and re-enslavement. When her previous slave owner passes away, his relatives try to make a claim on Harriet, but fortunate for her, her current employer bought her freedom, even though she was unwilling to be bought and sold again. After all was said and done, Harriet volunteered in the freedmen’s relief movement, by passing out food and supplies to blacks who escaped slavery or war. Eventually she also returned north to run a boarding house for colored Harvard faculty and students. Harriet Jones is a very resilient woman and her story and perseverance is inspiring.

Blog Post 14: Final Reflection

The most impactful readings to me this semester were Judith Butler: Gender Trouble, José Esteban Muñoz: Disidentifications, and Toni Morrison: Playing in the Dark. All three readings offered very different perspectives and approaches on identity. Butler taught me about gender being a construct and a performance which is used to reinforce the power of the patriarchy. Muñoz taught me a lot about navigating the world of dominant heteronormativity and finding a safe but comfortable place in it. Morrison challenged me to think about the context of identity and how identities relate to and affect each other. I have learned so much this semester. I think a major element that I would add to my former definition of feminism is an emphasis on never mimicking the oppressor in order to gain power. That strategy perpetuates the systemic oppression in place and is not an effective method to empowering others. 

Blog Post 4: Watch a Movie…

“Ted Bundy: Falling for a Killer” 

There are many documentaries on infamous serial killer, Ted Bundy, but I chose to watch this particular documentary because it is told exclusively from the perspectives of women. This story is about the women who knew TB, the women who survived an attack by him, and the loved ones affected by his horrendous attacks. I was immediately drawn to this documentary because it takes the attention and power away from this singular male and gives it to the women he affected. Bundy was a master manipulator so every woman in this documentary was a survivor to some capacity. There are also several women who speak up against Bundy who survived his attacks and this documentary gives the survivors a voice. It is not sensationalizing at all, it is heart wrenching and gives faces to the numbers of women he hurt or killed. If you want to be a consumer of this type of content then you have to look at the pain. The two primary narrators of this documentary are Liz Kendall- TB’s long term girlfriend- and her daughter Molly Kendall. They exhibit so much strength, bravery, and grace as they articulately tell the story of their experiences. Bundy broke so many women, but these two did not let him break them. 

This documentary relates to WGST in many, many ways. Bundy’s attacks took place during the major feminist movement and culture wars of the 70’s. Bundy’s hatred for women grew and was fueled by the feminist movement and the increased power women were obtaining. This was the time when women were fighting hard for abortion rights and ERA, among many other things. The documentary shows footage of women being interviewed and standing up for what they believe in and men mocking them, scoffing at them, and harassing them while they’re being interviewed. They maintain such grace and dignity despite these childish behaviors— they won’t be humiliated. Women were gaining traction and power and many men were infuriated by this— including Bundy. Bundy is someone who always needed to be in control, especially over the women in his life. He had the upper hand in his relationship with Liz because he made her feel that she was incredibly inferior to him. This allowed him to control her and manipulate her into conforming to more “polished” standards of feminine beauty. He controlled what she wore and how she presented herself. 

The amount of misogyny, arrogance, toxic masculinity, and horrendous entitlement exhibited by men during this time is evident in many facets of the documentary. Female officers who worked on the missing person’s cases describe how all male officers would dismiss cases of missing women by assuming that they ran away with their boyfriends or were having a “hard time of the month.” They describe how male officers strategically and openly bullied female officers so that they would quit. This female officer describes that her male colleagues decided to go easier on her when they realized she was better with handling cases involving children or female victims.  

Bundy felt entitled to take whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted. He knew he could charm his way into getting anything, but if that failed, he just took it anyway. He started out by stealing tons of retail items and bragging about it. Soon after this, he began to steal so much more from the lives of others. He was never looking for consent from women— he could have easily gotten it. He was looking to conquer and control these women. As women in general were gaining power and feeling empowered, he needed to take that away. 

Bundy was so arrogant and cocky that he even abducted two women from a very crowded beach in the middle of the day after walking around and introducing himself to many people— using his real name. Unfortunately, he was correct to assume that authorities would never find him responsible. He slipped through the cracks with his charm, even when there were witness drawings that looked like him and they had his name! People couldn’t believe that “a man like that” could be capable of such heinous crimes. Liz even reported him to the police and the detective dismissed her and forgot who she was when she followed up. 

The women in this documentary have come a long way in their healing process, but they carry so much guilt for the crimes that this man committed. They offer so much empathy and compassion in their words. Bundy just sought to control, conquer, and hurt women. He specifically targeted well educated women. One quote that really stuck with me was a mother of one of Bundy’s victims who said “he didn’t do one positive thing for this world and he killed so many young women who would have.”

Blog Post 6: Oral History

So I actually didn’t end up having ANYONE to interview for this. I reached out to the few people I know who could have helped but nothing panned out.

I don’t know how to still receive credit for this. But here’s a link to a podcast episode with Rebecca Solnit that I really enjoyed. It is extremely relevant as it is about our country’s response to natural disasters in the past. It touches upon racism in the face of natural disasters… For example: white people spreading fear of looting and rioting and how that just perpetuates racism. It talks about racism in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. It talks about how to be more unified in the wake of a crisis or disaster. It talks about moments of unity that have happened in this context throughout history… It is about so much more and it’s really good and super relevant to our current situation. Give it a listen!

Blog Post 10: Culture Wars

“In poll after poll in the decade, overwhelming majorities of women said they needed equal pay and equal job opportunities, they needed an Equal Rights Amendment, they needed the right to an abortion without government interference, they needed a federal law guaranteeing maternity leave, they needed decent child care services. T h ey have none of these. So how exactly have we “won” the war for women’s rights?”- Susan Faludi

Culture wars are when differing values result in a conflict between social groups. Abortion rights, gay marriage, an Equal Rights Amendment all are highly controversial issues that fall into this category. All of these issues also directly relate to feminism as each one directly relates to gender. For example: the pro-choice vs. pro-life fight is directly about whether or not women should have the right to make decisions about their own bodies. People who are pro-life do not value that freedom for women to have agency over their bodies or the bodies of women/mothers themselves in the same way people who are pro-choice do.

Blog Post 11: Judith Butler

Judith Butler is talking about gender as a performance, rather than an identity. She believes gender can be thought of as something we do (all day every day), not who we are. She questions why our bodies are assumed to have an identity. She suggests that there is no gender behind the way we behave but, rather, our behavior is what stabilizes gender identities. She thinks that gender is a social construct and even the term “woman” comes with an assumed universality of oppression for all women– ignoring race, class, sexuality, etc.

In a general sense, I agree that gender is a social construct and a performance. I feel like my existence is a gender performance– even if the goal of that performance is to reject gender expectations and heteronormativity. Elements of this performance include what I wear every day, the tone and pitch of my voice, the way I walk, all of my mannerisms, the way I assert myself, etc etc etc. I feel most aware of my gender performance when at work (a restaurant manager) or when I enter a space that has only men present. I feel consistently aware of the way I present myself in that I want to be true to who I am but I often feel like I have to be aware of how I am being perceived.

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