“When a woman says no to a man, she subliminally looks death in the face. Men have not only more physical strength—and the threat of that strength is always there, consciously or unconsciously—but in today’s society of inequality, men usually have more status and power than women. If women learn not to be afraid of death in all its forms, they will not hesitate appropriately to say no and stand firm. If men learn not to be afraid of death, they will not feel castrated or threatened when women oppose them.”
Maggie Ross, Pillars of Flame, Harper & Row, 1988, Page133
When Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson made love was she being sexually abused? The Episcopal Church would say she was. Under the influence of its primary insurance company, the church has notified clergy that dating parishioners can be sexual abuse. A number of older clergy laughed and said something like, “I dated Hilda in my first parish. It didn’t please the other girls’ mothers much. But most parishioners seemed to enjoy romance in their midst. We got married 39 years ago. It’s been good.” Nowadays it is sexual abuse to have intercourse with someone who is under you. Hey, don’t laugh. We’re talking hierarchy not Khama Sutra. (Another time we’ll take a look at hierarchy, a mental illness like colonialism.)
A college professor who sleeps with his student is committing sexual abuse. A manager at MacDonald’s is guilty of sexual abuse for sleeping with an employee. A wet behind the ears young priest is sexually abusing a parishioner if they sleep together – no matter if she begged him to do it. The priest, the manager and the professor have some authority over the parishioner, the employee, the student. Therefore the women cannot give full, free consent. And so, when Thomas Jefferson slept with his slave, Sally Hemings, this was sexual abuse, as defined by the Church Insurance Company.
Jefferson had authority over Sally Hemings. He owned 100% of her, like the chair he sat in or the porkchop he ate for dinner. When he died she may have been given her freedom while other slaves were sold to pay his massive debts. She had no freedom until it was given to her. This teenager may have enjoyed, desired, appreciated, begged to have intercourse with him. I doubt she could say, “Not tonight, Mr. Jefferson.” That makes it abuse.
OK, try this on for size.
Can an American husband have intercourse with his wife without committing sexual abuse? Stupid question? Consider this. Every American woman is economically beneath every American man. Sure, Sally’s modern sisters are not owned. However, their incomes are reported to be 25% less than any man for the same work. If a wife decides to leaves her man’s bed and become a single woman again, she will earn 25% less than a man. As the only care giver for the children from their nights together, she will raise her kids with 25% less money. She and her children will have 25% less food, clothing, medicine, education, housing — you name it. And in retirement it will get worse. Women understand this. Men generally don’t. That is the nature of hierarchy. (And colonialism.) The higher one is the less one understands.
Sure, an American woman is not a slave like Sally. She is only one fourth a slave. Maybe one eighth? One sixteenth? She doesn’t have to be freed, as Sally may have been, or sold like the other slaves and perhaps Sally’s children to pay for the French wine her sexual partner enjoyed. However, patient reader, can we say that the American wife is 100% free today? In our strange economy, is a woman really able to give full and free consent to her husband? Without blaming men or women or dogs or cats or God or Thomas Jefferson (Thank God for Thomas Jefferson!) – without any thought of blame – can anyone say that every woman is as free as any man to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? She is any man’s equal if she has an independent income and a room of her own. Only then.
What do you think?
George Swanson, May 19, 2006
Some Sources: Sally Hemings: