In 1832, Lea, a twenty-six-year-old slave from the Graaff-Reinet district of Britain's Cape Colony, complained to the assistant protector of slaves that her female owner, Saartjie van der Merwe, had beaten her. Lea claimed that the beating had resulted in her having a miscarriage during the eight days that she walked to town to lay the complaint. Lea was not alone in complaining about violence experienced at the hands of women owners—in Graaff-Reinet it was common. The legislation that enabled Lea to complain attempted to entrench gendered norms and ideas relating to gender roles and violence. Women in Graaff-Reinet, however, had experiences of violence that did not fit comfortably with ideas about the relationships between violence and gender held by colonial officials. This essay explores aspects of this discomfort and calls for further exploration of what such discomfort might mean for normative ideas of patriarchy, masculinities, and femininities.

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