In her Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacobs presents the disproportionate burden that enslaved women must bear as a recurring theme. Significant aspects of their disadvantages include sexual abuse, losing their children, and advantages that enslaved men may accrue.
Sexual abuse figures prominently in Jacobs’s evaluation of slavery as more damaging to enslaved women than to enslaved men. Through Jacobs’s general observations as well as portrayals of specific men, such as Dr. Flint, she conveys sexual abuse, including rape and physical violence, as a standard component of enslaved women’s lives—often beginning when they are girls. Being considered property, enslaved adult women have no legal recourse against the slaveholders’ sexual abuse. They also often endured the mistress’s jealousy and mistreatment.
Such involuntary sexual activity frequently results in pregnancy, but the children belong not to their mother but to the slaveholder. A very painful aspect of slavery for women is the forced removal of their children. They might be removed from their mother but stay on the same property, but often the children are sold away.
Jacobs positively values the Christian faith, and sees enslaved men’s access to Biblical teachings as an advantage they have over enslaved women. She also finds shortcomings in the extent to which some enslaved men fail to protect their relatives or partners, but also acknowledges the associated dangers of taking such action.