Sharon Block, Rape and Sexual Power in Early America

Introduction

A notion that has held into the minds of many for generations, probably since time immemorial, is the belief that men are the stronger sex while women are their weaker counterparts. This notion has for so long encouraged a trend that has not only been mean and wicked but also has led to the loss of dignity for many, especially to women, who have been the main victims of this mediocrity. This has mainly been demonstrated in many ways in which men and women have been viewed differently, offered different positions and responsibilities in society, and also been expected to carry out duties differently. The biggest problem has been the definition of their sexuality since in most cases women have been undermined and taken advantage of in society (Block 3-15).

Rape is the act of forcibly attaining sexual satisfaction or engaging in a sexual act with an individual against their will. In most cases, women have been the main victims of sexual harassment and exploitation especially due to the position and the perspective in which the society gave them as well as the power and protection the society gave to men. This had been an awful situation that had engulfed early America in such a manner that though the acts remained high in the society, it is not many of those cases where justice was served, especially since men always went unscathed in many ways. It has been defined as the “unlawful and carnal knowledge of a woman by force and against her will” (Block, p. 2).

This study seeks to compare two different groups and their exposure to sexual harassment as well as the response of society to the issue of rape against men who conducted these acts. The two groups that will be considered in the study include the married, wealthy, white women and the young, unmarried, African-American women.

It is evident that different groups in society always faced different situations and experiences after sexual harassment consistent with their positions and status quo. The culture, community beliefs, and systems as well as the perception of the society concerning sexual power between the men and women have been considered so as to observe the actual happenings of early America.

Cultural Environment

The married, wealthy, white women lived within a society that adored and respected them. They usually had positions within the society either in the societal governance or in an organization and sometimes they had their own businesses within which they hired workers. This group of people was viewed as the strongest group of women in the society since they had influence through their positions and money and hence their wishes were usually fulfilled no matter the cost. These groups, however, were not fully immune to sexual harassment from men, including their own husbands, their workers, workmates, and in most cases they were assaulted during attacks by thieves and robbers.

If such cases of rape occurred to this group of women, then the women always had a feeling of loss of self-worth and dignity, sexual infections, complications in their sexuality, and many other implications of rape. Usually, in case these women underwent such an experience, then they usually chose for punishment to their assailants and this was usually through seeking the intervention of the court. In such a case, such a woman would usually have some connections with those in authority and the main decision-makers such as judges and juries especially due to their positions within the society as well as their wealth. Such women, therefore, were able to take action and forward their cases to the court. Through their influence and with enough evidence of rape, such women were in most cases able to win against their assailants and hence the men involved usually ended up being imprisoned due to their actions. On the other hand, such women always sought to gain back their dignity and their general position in the society and such a win against their assailants was a major step in providing them satisfaction so they usually did not lose their positions in the community (Block, pp. 61-67).

On the other side of the community were the young, unmarried African-American girls who also fell into victimization by men in different ways. Since the girls were usually unprotected physically and were also young and beautiful, they were always in danger of men taking advantage of them. The problem is that these women were characterized by poverty and hard labor as stipulated by the economy of the land. In case of rape cases in the society aimed towards these girls, they were usually left helpless since they did not have any influence whatsoever. In most cases, the community believed that such an act was not to be taken seriously, and hence they ended up getting no justice. Also, their attempt to sue their assailants ended up being dismissed usually due to the fact that the women were not able to provide enough evidence against their assailants. Also, efforts to solve the problem in a smaller circle like the community leadership or religious governance usually ended up not being taken seriously or lacking enough evidence hence got dismissed and the woman went without justice.

The culture had hence accepted and condoned the norm and so, for a woman to succeed against a man in rape claims, then she would need to provide so much evidence and at least have some financial influence in the society.

Protection from the Community

The community usually dealt with the two groups of women which were different in terms of the way it offered them protection. For the rich, white women, society viewed any act of sexual harassment against them as being a lack of respect and one that could result in loss of dignity for the women. Therefore, provided the women gave evidence of their claims, then they had their way in the courts and so their assailants were usually arrested and imprisoned for such an act. This was usually so even in cases of sexual mistreatment by their husbands. Since the women were wealthy, they always felt a sense of independence and so they could be able to sue anyone who came their way (Block, pp. 73-75).

However, the young African-American women who also needed protection from society never got any and usually were exposed to the risk of rape yet with no capacity to carry out a case in court neither for the society to listen to their issues. These ones who were so prone to the issue hence went with no protection and in fact, their assailants were viewed as normal people and usually went unpunished. The saddest fact was that they usually were not able to prove their cases against the indicated people since they lacked the resources to attend medical tests after rape as well as carry out other required activities before the court hearings are made.

It was hence evident that the society had a place for the whites and the wealthy and it was common for those involved in decision-making and in law enforcement to protect them and their interests. This was so first because the women were whites, natives of the country. Also, these women were wealthy and so due to their wealth and their connections with those in positions that mattered, they were able to obtain adequate protection from those in such positions. However, since the African-Americans were viewed as immigrants who basically did not deserve protection from those responsible for public protection, they always went without justice. Also, they did not have any connections to the wealthy and the decision-makers as well as law enforcers and hence they did not gain any protection from the community.

Sexual Power in the Society

Through their experiences in early America, the two categories of women learned different things about sexual power in society. Basically, all women learned that men were the stronger sex and that men were almost naturally shielded from any claims of sexual harassment, especially through rape cases. Therefore, it was natural for women to submit to their husbands no matter how he looked like or what he was doing as a source of provisions for his family. The women also learned the need for them to act clearly so as to be able to obtain enough evidence that would help them during court proceedings (Block, pp. 107-112).

There are also some lessons that wealthy white women learned from their experiences in early America. It was clear that for their interests to be embraced and also for them to be considered among the sexually powerful, there was a need for them to utilize their money and resources so as to be awarded the services rendered unto them. Hence, to the wealthy, sexual power was only possible for the wealthy irrespective of their gender and they would hence be allowed to be considered as sexually powerful irrespective of their gender.

However, the young, unmarried African-American women learned different things from their experience in early America. First, they learned that without wealth and connections in high places, it was almost impossible for them to be offered protection from the community, and also, they needed a lot of information so that she could succeed in any court proceedings against her assailant. These women also learned that there was a high level of racism where women native to the land were offered protection by the community while immigrants did not obtain any such protection.

Conclusions

Early America was characterized by different behavioral practices that were actually partisan in their applicability. Women were exposed to the risk of rape and sexual coercion. Unfortunately, the community did not protect women from that risk in a general manner but rather they gave protection only in the lines of race, wealth and category.

References

Block, Sharon. Rape and Sexual Power in Early America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006.