Thursday, August 20, 2009

Whenever I hear the words "Thomas Jefferson",

this is what comes to my mind, too:

Thomas Jefferson: The Face of a Rapist, by Renee, Feministe. Emphases mine.

Americans look at Thomas Jefferson and see the one of the authors of the Declaration of Independence, a statesman, a former president and one of the founding fathers,’ however; when I look at him, I see the face of a rapist. When Jefferson first met Sally Hemings, his slave through inheritance, she would have been no more than 15 or 16 years old. It is rumoured that when she returned from France with him, that she was already pregnant with his child.

[ . . . ]

No matter how many times Black women have angrily contested the use of the term love affair between Hemings and Jefferson, it continues to be the most common descriptor by those who believe the DNA evidence. This assumes that Hemings actually had the power to deny Jefferson sexual access, or that Jefferson had a right to Sally’s body for the purposes of sexual gratification. Both suppositions are erroneous. Due to the patriarchal nature of gender relations, many men believe that they exist with the right to access women’s bodies and that is specifically grounded in the power imbalance between the genders. If we can acknowledge in a modern context that a power imbalance exists between men and women, how much more likely is it that this same imbalance existed between Jefferson and Hemings?

Some may look back at Jefferson and simply claim that he was a man of his time and that he should not be judged outside of historical context, however; in my mind a rapist is a rapist. What he did at the time may not have been considered a violation due to current race and gender relations, however; today we can correctly name his actions. Sally did not have the power to consent to his advances even if she was so inclined; this simple fact must be affirmed not only to honour the memory of Hemings but to change the social understanding that Black women’s bodies are unrapeable. We are not naturally licentious whores who exist to fulfill the sexual fantasies of depraved racist men. We are women that must be accorded the right to control over our bodies without punishment for any decisions we make in that regard.

And yet, Mr. Jefferson has a memorial in my nation's capital. (So does his fellow slave-owner and noted tax-evader George Washington.) This is despite the fact that Meredith Simons at the controversial site Double XX does not think we in the United States live in a rape culture, mainly because she doesn't seem to know anyone who has been raped.

I have never owned anyone, assaulted anyone, or started a war with Great Britain. Yet where is my national monument?



angryyoungwoman said...

God, really, she's never known anyone who's been raped? I have, maybe, two friends who haven't been sexually abused or raped. Or they just might not have told me yet. She must be living her life with her eyes closed.

Asian Americanist said...

You'd probably get a monument if you wrote one of the most consequential documents in US history.

I do wonder about "Due to the patriarchal nature of gender relations, many men believe that they exist with the right to access women’s bodies and that is specifically grounded in the power imbalance between the genders."

I'd like to see the statistics on this. Does she mean more than half with the use of "many" or does she get away with not having to actually support that claim because she uses a vague term instead of giving a percentage?

Bianca Reagan said...

ayw, it is sad.

AA, regarding "one of the most consequential documents in US history", I'm working on it. :) Also, I do agree with her statement about "the patriarchal nature of gender relations". I don't know how anyone could refute that we in the United States--and across the world--live in a patriarchal society, when every branch of our government and almost every major corporation, including every media conglomerate, is heavily dominated by (white) men. That fact, along with the nation's and world's history of centuries of discrimination against women, should suffice when stating that gender relations are defined by a patriarchy.

Asian Americanist said...

I never claimed that the US wasn't patriarchal, however she follows up with "many men believe that they exist with the right to access women’s bodies."

That's a different claim altogether, and one that's not really backed up.

John Erganian said...

I admit that I am not well-versed in the history of TJ and SH's "relationship."

I understand your point that, based on the nature of the slave relationship, she could not refuse him and that makes him a rapist.

But I wonder, could she choose to be with him? I mean, despite not being able to refuse him, would your analysis allow that a slave woman could pursue or encourage or otherwise make possible a relationship with her master?

I'm not sure what I think, but it's clear you've done more thinking about this so I thought I'd ask ;-)

Bianca Reagan said...

AA, this is true. The claim is not backed up, even though it is a truth that I hold as self-evident. But not about you personally.

John, the problem with that concept is that the relationship between slave and master is inherently unbalanced. The concept was broached in Kindred by Octavia Butler. When you are owned by another person, it is difficult to have a normal, functional relationship with anyone, because you have no freedom. Your choices are limited and twisted. Therefore, a slave "choosing" to enter a relationship with a master is not equivalent to two free people engaging in a relationship. For some reason, I keep thinking of Céline Dion marrying her manager René Angélil whom she first met when she was 12 and he was 38.