Sample History Paper on Depiction of the Oppression of White Women by Men in Society


The American society has not always been known for the fair treatment of women in the early years. One who is not well-versed with the American history may be deceived by the current status quo in which women have similar rights to those of men. To have an accurate view of how the situation used to be, it is only logical to turn to movies whose setting is in the early years to make this determination. Two of these movies are Titanic and 12 Years a Slave. The selected movies are arguably distinct in their main themes. While Titanic is the story of two lovers who found each other on a ship while coming to America, 12 Years a Slave is the story of a black man who was mistaken for a slave. Despite these differences, there are undertones giving viewers an opportunity to critique the treatment of white women in 1800s and early 1900s.  This paper seeks to examine the welfare of white women as it used to be in the quoted timeframe with respect to 12 Years a Slave and Titanic.

Playing Insignificant Economic Roles

Firstly, the economic roles that white women played in the 1800s and early 1900s were minimal. In 12 Years a Slave, Mistress Epps does not seem to have any definite economic role in her husband’s business. She is pictured only sitting around the house and sending slaves around to carry out chores. Because of her position as the mistress, she could not even partake in domestic chores such as cooking and cleaning. She spent her life looking unhappy because she played no significant economic roles to actualize her potential (Wilderson III 138). Some analysts have argued that this idleness contributed to their husbands further mistreating them. Additionally, it gave them the motivation to be angry at slaves, who despite their woeful conditions, at least had something constructive to do. In the contemporary world, women hold significant economic roles in government and in the private sector. It is as a result of their emancipation that came after the period encapsulated in the quoted movie.

Similarly, Titanic depicts women as playing an insignificant role in the economic prosperity of their homes. The story alludes that after the death of Ruth’s husband, who was Rose’s father, they found life so difficult economically. They would struggle to make ends meet. When Ruth found out about Cal’s interest in Rose, she did not hesitate because she knew that he was rich (Piccirillo 22). The desire to cling on to a man for economic benefits explains her resilience to have Rose forcefully marry Cal. In the movie, Ruth explains to her daughter Rose why she should accept to marry Cal. She says, “Your father left us nothing but a legacy of bad debts hidden by a good name. That name is the only card we have to play. I don’t understand you. It is a fine match with Hockley, it will ensure our survival.” She clearly did not believe that women could rise to take up economic roles such as those held by men.

High Moral Expectations on Women

Women were also subjected to high moral expectations relative to men. The movie 12 Years a Slave depicts Mistress Epps as a woman who was expected to remain virtuous amid grave moral atrocities committed against her. Her husband was openly cheating on her with slaves but she was expected to maintain her fidelity. It was not even optional for her to consider sleeping with male slaves because such an action would have led to her divorce (Ware 83). Her plea suggesting that her husband sends away Patsey falls on deaf ears. Even in this situation, she was still expected to be happy about everything and not to persecute Patsey. It was as if it was wrong for Mistress Epps to complain about anything that her husband would do even when it was immoral. The morality of white women was tied to their acceptance of their husbands’ desires and conduct. It is quite deviant from the contemporary understanding of morality among white women, which is not significantly different from that of men.

The movie Titanic also attests to the fact that the moral expectations of white women were higher relative to those of white men. While on the table dining with other first-class passengers, Rose pulls out a cigarette and begins to smoke it. Her mother finds this conduct off-putting and so does her fiancé Cal. The latter reaches out, takes the cigarette from Rose’s mouth, and rudely puts it out. In several scenes, men are seen smoking freely but there is no clear depiction of any woman doing the same (Piccirillo 141). Men could be seen drunk and disorderly on the ship, and it was a normal phenomenon. Such freedom and luxury was not accorded to women as they could take alcohol only to a certain extent.

Male Absolute Dominance over Women in Marriage

From the movie 12 Years a Slave, married white women seem to be helpless when it comes to taming their husbands’ sexual desires. They were not expected to protest when their men slept with slave girls because it was not in their place to do so. They were supposed to remain silent as they get abused in their marital homes. For example, Mistress Epps is seen to be disgruntled by her husband’s sexual desire for a slave girl. Despite this fact being clear to her, she finds no courage to speak up to her husband about how it makes her feel. Instead, Miss Epps chooses to take out her frustrations on Patsey, the slave girl for who her husband had feelings (Ware 55). It is possible that her frustrations were borne of the fact that she looked at herself as equal to Patsey in front of her husband despite Patsey being her slave. The movie is a clear demonstration of how white women suffered under the patriarchal system.

Titanic equally gives the viewer an idea of how women faired under the patriarchal system. Rose DeWitt is affianced to Cal Hockley. Her fiancé is not comfortable with Rose mingling with Jack, a man who had rescued Rose from falling off the ship. Cal goes to all lengths to limit the interaction between the two, but eventually fails. Many analysts argue that his insecurities are part of what led Rose to fall in love with Jack. Rose was not free when she was affianced to Cal because her freedom was curbed (Piccirillo 30). She could not speak her mind when she was in the presence of Cal. She was expected to honor him absolutely and without questioning his authority. At some point, Cal yells at Rose saying, “So you will honor me, as a wife is required to honor her husband! I will not be made out a fool! Is this in any way unclear?” If Rose was subjected to such treatment even before she was married, one would wonder how the treatment would be when they would eventually settle down. The movie therefore denotes the atrocities that white women endured in the hands of their male counterparts especially in marriages.


This paper has undertaken a review of two movies namely 12 Years a Slave and Titanic to examine the theme of white women’s oppression in the 1800s and early 1900s. While they are works of fiction, the two movies come from a background of intensive research to ensure the historical accuracy of the reported events. Findings suggest that women were unfairly treated by their male counterparts especially in marriages. Specifically, they played insignificant roles in the economy, men had high moral expectations of them, and men domineered over them in marriage. It is an indication that the current status quo has come a long way and can be considered as an achievement for white women. While they were not treated as slaves, they were still subjugated as their rights were not similar to those of men. In a way, one could argue that white women were enslaved to the social norms that were demeaning to them. It would seem that the emancipation of women was a phenomenon that came in the late in the 20th Century as evidenced by the institutionalization of Title IX and other forms of women rights activism.


Works Cited

Piccirillo, R. A. “Raising Titanic: The World of Communication & the Creation of One of the World’s Most Succesful Films.” Inquiries Journal 2.3 (2010): 1-30. Web.

Ware, V. Beyond the pale: White women, racism, and history. New York, NY: Verso Books, 2015. Print.

Wilderson III, F. B. (2015). “Social Death and Narrative Aporia in 12 Years a Slave.” Black Camera: An International Film Journal (The New Series