Closer to Freedom: Enslaved Women & Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South
by Stephanie M.H. Camp
Stephanie Camp’s text, Closer to Freedom: Enslaved Women & Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South explores many themes regarding the ways in which bondwomen resisted both their slave owners and the institution of slavery itself. In the introduction, she outlines two major arguments that underlie her project. The first it trying to dispel to binaries created within in the history of slave resistance that tend to ignore,which tended to focus on public forms such as running away and rebellion and pass over the agency of women displaying power in their own ways (3-4). For enslaved women, they could exert some autonomy over the body and home, privately taking away absolute power from their masters (4). She also aims to show the differences between individuals and the collective whole, and everyday resistance versus mass movements (9). Additionally, Camp explores the physical spaces or the “geography of containment” that bounded slaves to the land but also the ways in which they created “rival geography,” a much more subtle type of resisting the total control of the plantation owners or overseers (7). Yet, the introduction is most compelling when she contextualizes her findings as being limited to her narrow focus, which it of the body and the home (9). She acknowledges that her sources are less than perfect and that she does not even attempt to cover all types of female slave resistance (7).
As Taylor stated, I also found this to be different perspective from what I have learned (although my knowledge of this era is also quite limited). However, from reading other histories focused on gender, Camp successfully explores the differences in the expression of resistance between men and women. She discussed how women were perceived to be less of a threat, so they were not allowed to leave the plantation (31). I thought this example was particularly interesting, as it was a female slaveholder that granted permission to only her male bondsmen (31-32). Although males were strictly overseed, women’s physical bodies were more heavily contained to the boundaries of the plantation. Camp also highlights the extra burden placed on women in the home. They were not only policed by the plantation owners and supervisors, but also by their gender roles and were required to provide even after their long and backbreaking hours on the field (32). Camp, referring to this as the “second shift,” demonstrates how women constantly being demanded of by their obligation to the plantation and the home.
Another form of resistance Camp emphasized was partaking in leisure activities. As mentioned above, women were limited in their ability to separate from the plantation even temporarily. Thus, in order to participate, they would have to sneak away (75). The parties themselves were illicit, making the women’s presence even more dangerous and daring (75). At these parties, they would use their bodies, such as dancing, to express their freedom, even if it was short-term (75). In particular, I found the evidence about female violence very interesting. She recounts an example about Jane and Lucy getting into a fight, and how these spaces allowed for women to express their frustrations that they could not on the planation (77-78). Camps’ analysis of more subversive and subtle forms of resistance works to restore power and humanity to people who were thought of as commodities in a way that does not make me pity them (although their conditions were deplorable and nothing I have ever or wish to experience) but identify with them.