In the novel, Kindred, Butler shows that race is not the only factor in the power hierarchy between white men and black women in the story. Gender plays just as a significant role in power than race. We, the readers, see how white women like Margaret Weylin are seen as inferior to their husbands, who have a public presence in society and can do as they please.
In addition, society expects them to be nothing more than wives and mothers. On the other hand, black women are constantly victimized and treated inhumanly even till the present but in more subtle forms. This is shown with the treatment of 20th century women like Dana who still seemed to be undermined by white men like Kevin, who is shown to reinforce patriarchal values through his treatment of her. Moreover, it is repeatedly shown in the novel that 19th century black women were even more oppressed than their white counterparts as they are deprived of their basic roles as mothers and wives and even indiscriminately raped. Due to their gender and race, black women had their human rights rescinded and were subject to even worse condition than black men. In the novel, when Dana gets back to the present after being away from Rufus for fifteen days, she recounts her horrific experience to Kevin. She states, “You mean you could forgive me for having been raped?” (245).
Dana is in a state of disbelief when Kevin insinuates that he could forgive an intimate act with Rufus if she has been raped by him in the past. This comment reveals Kevin’s naïve understanding of the concept of a woman’s right to control her own life. He seems to be functioning under the assumption that he has the authority to forgive her or not for being raped. This is one of many incidents in which Kevin is shown to be complacent in Dana’s situation and dismisses her experience. Dana had to sacrifice her career as a writer for a position as a slave in the 1800’s when she is unwillingly transported back and forth from the past and present. She is forced into a position of domestic duties such as cooking, cleaning the house and teaching the children, whereas, her husband Kevin is allowed the freedom to roam about the world as an observer from a different century. He has been accepted into a society dominated by white men and as a result, has become racially insensitive towards Dana provided to his position as a white man free from oppression.
In 19th century America, white men had to maintain their power through a system that dehumanizes females and supports males. It may even be possible that Kevin only feigns ignorance in order reap the benefits of this system and avoid any sense of guilt or responsibility he may feel for leaving Dana to carry the burden of her ancestors alone.Although, we see how 20th century men like Kevin still benefit from such a patriarchal and racially oppressive system, the novel largely focuses on the power Rufus has over his female slaves. In the novel, Rufus constantly asserts his racial superiority and abuse over African Americans, specifically females.
For example, he repeatedly sexually abuses Alice without anyone saying anything or stopping him (with the exception of Dana and Isaac) as part of his power and privilege as a white man. Though, Rufus’ demeaning behavior could be a result of his family and society reminding him that his gender and race gives him authority. In the novel, as Dana is forced to work for the Weylins, she begins to notice an unhealthy pattern between Rufus and his mother, Margaret. She states, “I remembered suddenly the way he used to talk to his mother. If he couldn’t get what he wanted from her gently, he stopped being gentle. Why not? She always forgave him” (218). Dana begins to piece together that Margaret’s spoiling Rufus is what influences him to grow up a misogynistic man towards black women. Margaret instilled in Rufus a toxic mindset that makes him believe that women will forgive him immediately after being cruel or violent to them.
Furthermore, his mother, Margaret, isn’t the only one who contributed to this view of the world Rufus has. His father, Tom Weylin reinforces Rufus’ views through his treatment of his own slaves. In the novel, Dana points out the detrimental effects Rufus’ family treatment of black slaves has had on him growing up and contemplates whether she could still save him or not.
She states, “He had spent his life watching his father ignore, even sell the children he had had with black women” (231). Rufus watched his father sell the children he fathered with his black female slaves off for profit as though they but mere investments rather than human beings. Rufus’ environment and home life fueled him to degrade black women into nothing more that toys for his amusement. It is shown constantly throughout the story how manipulative and detrimental Rufus’ worldview has been on himself, Dana and Alice. He subjects both women (mainly Alice) to sexual abuse and psychological manipulation to create what appears to be Stockholm syndrome in these women in order to create an endless cycle of pain and forgiveness. In conclusion, Dana’s experience in Antebellum southern America reveal the racial and gender privilege enjoyed by white men such as Kevin and Rufus which has shown to negatively impacts the lives of both men and the lives of their African American female counterparts.