Shoes Like A Chastity Belt

Knee High Birth Control

With the current state of affairs — i.e. republicans trying to defund Planned Parenthood, it seems these Knee High Converse shoes might become affordable birth control. (Yes, even at $60+ they are a one-time purchase.) Since, even with the zipper, it takes a good 15-20 minutes to get them on or off (my 14 year old timed herself and tells me so), greatly delaying the removal of the unfortunately popular skinny jeans, jeggings, etc. (which are so tight they must be completely removed), these shoes might just be as good as a chastity belt.

Image via.

PS These shoes come in more than just black; in case you’d like your birth control to match more of your wardrobe.

No More Wire Hangers, Ever!

I’m invoking the name and memory of Joan Crawford to make a plea for those of you in the US to take action against those who would force women to face the wire hangers of the past.

You must realize that the wealthy will always send their sisters, daughters, wives and girlfriends to other places for safe, legal abortions — even while they seek to deny the rest of us the rights to such “padded hangers.” So even if an abortion is against your morality, if it’s not a choice you could make, recognize the rights each of us has to make our own choices — safe choices which allow for the right to have future children, rather than render ourselves infertile (or worse) by seeking alternatives.

The women are already here, already have rights. Let each woman choose. If you believe it is against God’s will, then let him hand down the decree; you don’t get to play God in the name of preventing others from doing so.

Take action today.

Help Stop the “Stupak on Steroid” Agenda and Sign The Petition to stop the GOP war on women’s health.

The Law’s Long Arm (Vote!)

Some people will tell you it’s more important that you vote than who you vote for; I’m not one of those people. But I don’t have a lot of time to perfect this post. So here’s the quick version.

If you have a uterus (or care about anyone who does) you can’t possibly vote for those who cry “Keep government out of my business!” and then sticks their hands in your vagina. No regulation for corporations, less involvement in the boardroom — but more restrictions in the bedroom?! *snort*

Don’t fall for the Republicans or the Tea Party; vote Democrat.

In this time when fear and intolerance are rampant, people are knee-jerk reacting into some sort of fundamentalism that has nothing to do with fairness, equality or even common sense; the jerks want to control you & your health — especially your female body — to regulate the white male hetero wealthy powerbase of our country.

It’s about eugenics, people. Are you going to vote for that?

Don’t fall for the fears and lies; do vote Democrat.

The rich can access safe reproductive health care, including abortions; the rich can access any health care they wish, including treatments made available by the very genetics and stem cell work they wish to prohibit here. They are not limited — they have the means to travel to and pay for whatever services they wish for themselves or their families.

But not you. You are inflicted with “the poverty” which makes you inferior, and if you vote based on their fearful manipulation of you, then you are like sheep headed to the slaughter.

Don’t let them herd you; be heard and vote Democrat.

Obama and the dems have done more in less than two years than any other administration. Sure, things aren’t where we want them to be, but, as every mother knows, it takes longer to clean up the mess than it does to make it. Want proof? Drop or spill a glass of milk — and then clean it up; it took 8 years to spill this milk, so stop crying and be willing to spend a lot longer cleaning it up.

Vote for the Democrats.

Don’t Tell Me I Give Feminism A Bad Name

In her post, Phony Feminists and Super Bowl Commercials, Karen Townsend says that the “outdated, outmoded, out of touch [with the] feminist movement” females who’ve “loudly bellowed” in a “snit” that CBS — a network which has blocked other advocacy groups from such an opportunity — would give a radically anti-choice group like Focus on the Family a platform to expose its extreme agenda to millions of people have “hijacked a perfectly good movement have brought shame to those of us who are feminists.”

They have given the term a bad name.

What was the snit about? CBS allowed the showing of a message ad, not allowed before in Super Bowl time. The message? A pro-life testamony given by the mother of widely known college quarterback, Tim Tebow. The silliness of the brouhaha was evident, once the audience actually saw the commercials. Not only were they so benign that if you were not paying attention you may not have realized what the message was-

I hate to interrupt Townsend, but as this is writing, not speaking, and it’s easier to read if I respond to points as they occur, I will interject. Spelling errors aside (it’s “testimony,” not “testamony”), it’s not wise to label something as a “brouhaha” or “benign” when your evidence is that the message isn’t discernible to those who are not paying attention; “not realized” is the definition of not paying attention, and inattentiveness is quite often a danger to one’s health. The only “silliness” here is that her last statement completely refutes the former statement.

Townsend continues:

…now they are complaining that one of the ads promotes violence against women. Why? Because in one of the ads – they were run in a bit of a story line – Tebow appears to tackle his mother and then she bounces right back up. Obviously done in a campy kind of humor, the loud in the feminist movement have been reduced to whining over a non-act. There was nothing to their concern over a pro-life message ad, so they had to do something to attempt to save face.

They are shameful and not at all effective.

Personally, as a subscriber to several “feminist” and/or pro-life newsletters, I didn’t read any such commentary regarding the campy tackle violence. And Townsend didn’t link to any such statements, let alone from any organizations. (I’m sure I could Google for such things — but then this conversation would veer off-course.) But I can tell you that personally, my ire over the ad aside, I am a feminist with a sense of humor who did see the mother-son tackle as “campy.” And I’m a survivor of domestic violence and other violent acts directed at me because I am a woman. Many feminists have a sense of humor. Even about “touchy” issues.

Townsend says those of us who were offended by the ad — or, more specifically, the hate group which sponsored the ad being allowed to spew its tainted philosophy while other groups are not allowed to use the network’s time and powerful audicne pull for their messages — are “shameful and not at all effective.” That’s a two-pronged argument; with neither prong supported.

To stand up for what we believe in, to point out unethical practices — especially those which will limit our message, is not shameful. (The misogynistic, unhealthy, fear-based, hate-filled, discriminatory, and down-right mean “focus on the family” that the Focus on the Family organization has is what is shameful. That organization is unmistakably not only anti-choice, but anti-birth-control and anti-sex-education, as well as anti-gay.)

Since Townsend did not define what “effectiveness” would be, it’s difficult to debate her. Obviously the campaign to motivate CBS to reject the commercial was unsuccessful. But such a “brouhaha” has also helped expose the lies in the ad. And overall the “loud bellowing” has done what Palin et all do for the far right: motivated the base. Hardly ineffective.

Townsend continues:

Sad, really. Many women who have come before all of us worked very hard to make the lives of us better today. We stand on their shoulders. These women make a mockery out of serious women everywhere.

Despite my early mention of a sense of humor, I am indeed a serious woman. A woman, even a feminist, can possess both traits.

And I thank the women and men who came before me, working to ensure that both myself and Townsend would have the right to be heard, among other things.

Unlike Townsend, I believe in a woman’s fundamental right to control her own body. I also believe in a woman’s fundamental right to control her own soul. So if, in the act of controlling her own body, she uses birth control or aborts a fetus or otherwise exercises a legal right which is revealed in some afterlife to have been a sin against a god, I trust her to handle that too.

I would just agree to disagree, but how can Townsend or anyone else say that feminists such as myself “have given the term a bad name” when they themselves seek to limit the rights, the equality, of women?

Seeking prohibition on female autonomy, free will, and health is not “feminism.”

Townsend finishes her post with this parting shot which exposes her ignorance of the actual issue at hand:

Hey, did I miss all the outrage by the loud over the Go-Daddy commercials? Now, those are demeaning to women.

The point of our “snit” was not the demeaning sexual message, or even the message of anti-choice; it was the unethical practices of CBS. First to allow such advocacy on the network when other ads from other organizations with a different point of view or agenda are not allowed. Second to allow false advertising.

Such unethical practices should offend everyone, especially those in a capitalistic society, where the free hand of the market is supposed to dictate fair play; if an organization has the funds for the ad, they ought to be able to buy it. Or, if the network’s policy is slanted or assists a specific agenda, it out to be stated clearly so that the consumer can make a clear choice about consumption — surely that’s one choice you can agree to.

Related video (or read Davis Fleetwood’s response to the Tim Tebow SuperBowl Ad):

Corsets Are Too Sexy?

While I do not suggest that women should whittle away our waists as we while away our days in the constriction of too-tightly-laced corsets, I do believe there is good reason to at least examine the claims and assertions made about corsets by the 19th century medical community and the suffrage movement.

But if the medial claims weren’t true, if they were as exaggerated as the corseted female form, why?

french-corset-humorWhile many state that Victorian fashions for women were used as a means of control (and admiration through objectification) of women in a male dominated society, there is evidence to the contrary. In fact, many in 19th century, responding to fears of poverty and moral decay brought about by the Industrial Revolution’s over-crowding of cities, cried in outrage over the corset — but they saw the corset as impure and promoting impure behaviors among women (ever responsible for all of societies ills).

Victorian phrenologist Orson S. Fowler, an American, warned that wearing a corset excited dangerous “amative desires” by pressing blood to bowels. In Intemperance and Tightlacing, he argues that this made blood become “impure and corrupt,” caused “disease to the brain,” and inevitably led to “impure feelings” as “weak-minded” ladies were, obviously, easily prey to temptation. Illustrations mocking the too-trusting, if not cuckolded, husband conveyed such possibilities.

Perceived as (and raised to be) innocent, Victorian women on pedestals were void of any “animal feelings” such as sexual love, but this “special nature” made her a trusting, giving and warm person which, combined with her lack of intellect, made her not only prey to sexual seduction, but once introduced to such ‘sins’ she would be insatiable.

Such views of women convinced Victorian professionals that corset wearing led to such sins as hyper-sexuality and masturbation. In A Textbook on Sex Education (London, 1918), Walter Gallichen wrote:

The early wearing of stays is said to cause precocious sexuality. When it is known that a degenerate cult of tight corset wearers exists in England with a journal devoted to their craze between tightlacing and sex hyperaesthesia [heightened feeling] seems to be well established.

Ahh, so now the corset wasn’t just about seducing men, but ourselves. We were deemed dangerous dames because, poor things that we are, we’re too weak to resist sexual desires. We’d easily fall for any man, any time, any where. Worse yet, what if we opted to masturbate?! Men, as always, feared our ability to make choices. (In truth, what need do multiple-orgasmic creatures have for inconsiderate three-huffs-and-puffs-to-climax lovers who seek to control us?)

So, just how would you stop a corset-wearing woman from screwing around and diddling herself? Well, you get her out of that corset by any means possible — including scaring the crap out of her with exaggerated (or completely falsified) science.

According to this article on the brothers Lucien C. and I. DeVer Warner, founders of Warner Brothers (now Warnaco) knew the power of medical alignment selling foundation garments:

It took a couple of doctors to sell women on the idea that “rearranging” the human body via the old-fashioned corset was not practical. Doctors Lucien C. and I. DeVer Warner put their heads together and came up with a corset to fit a woman’s body, unlike other Victorian undergarments which “tied” her in.

They weren’t the first to sell corsets with doctor names, but they were among the first in the U.S. to push the “new” corsets; I’m sure it was made all that much easier (and profitable) with medical science telling those frightening anecdotal stories of death by too-restrictive corset.

Just where did the feminists fit into all of this? Well, that’s for part three.

Stupak Amendment To Penalize & Impoverish Women & Children

One of the sins of the recently House passed health care plan is that it denies poor women access to the constitutionally protected right to abortion, thus screwing with their right to self-determination. From the National Organization for Women:

The Stupak Amendment goes far beyond the abusive Hyde Amendment, which has denied federal funding of abortion since 1976. The Stupak Amendment, if incorporated into the final version of health insurance reform legislation, will:

  • Prevent women receiving tax subsidies from using their own money to purchase private insurance that covers abortion;
  • Prevent women participating in the public health insurance exchange, administered by private insurance companies, from using 100 percent of their own money to purchase private insurance that covers abortion;
  • Prevent low-income women from accessing abortion entirely, in many cases.

If that’s all you needed to hear, then contact your representative now (and, if you’re so inclined and able, join &/or donate to NOW too).

If you need a little more convincing, I present to you bits of what I wrote last year for Poverty Blog Action Day:

Years ago, when I lived in Wisconsin, I ran a single mother support group. One of the issues that reared its ugly head was the matter of choice and poverty; specifically as it related to those receiving government assistance.

“Welfare” is a dirty word, loaded with connotations about “laziness”, “sexual promiscuity”, “race”, “stupidity” — and “evil manipulation”. As a white woman on welfare at the time I’d seen it first hand. It was horrifically ugly. …But none more offensive to me than the matter of what happens to a woman on welfare who becomes pregnant.

At that time anyway (I have not bothered to see if this still exists in Wisconsin, but *do* know that it still exists in other states), a woman on welfare usually received health insurance through the state. It was the same insurance state employees had — but with one special, dirty, caveat: women on welfare did not have the right to choice.

Women on welfare were not allowed abortion services/coverage.

State employees would have them covered, but not the poor, lazy, sexually promiscuous welfare women.

Why? Because women on welfare lack the moral fiber to make such decisions.

Further angering me, is the fact that the media, and Tommy Thompson, went on & on about how the fine people of the state of Wisconsin were tired of paying for the free-loading welfare queens. They bitched about having to pay for someone else’s brats. They bitched we didn’t work enough. But mainly they bitched about how we got filthy rich off the system, sucking at the state’s teat as we popped out more & more babies for the extra $17 a month.

OK, I can no longer swear it was exactly $17 — but I did do the math at the time and the ‘extra’ amount didn’t even cover diapers (which, by the way, are like condoms and cannot be purchased with food stamps).

But in any case, and despite ‘everyone’ wanting us off welfare, women on welfare were not allowed abortions unless they themselves came up with the $300-$700 the procedure cost. When you can’t afford what you have, how are you supposed to come up with that amount cash? From the guy? :snort: Are you serious? The whole welfare system, and the majority of our society, does not hold men accountable for such things as a woman’s pregnancy. While you debate, insist, demand and cry, the fetus grows… And your window of a safe procedure closes.

Now, if you can’t afford the abortion, imagine how well you do supporting another child.

It’s poverty by entrapment.

Just when you might see light at the end of a day care required tunnel, just when you might have thought you could turn this corner and be the next Horatio Alger story, you realize you’re back where you started. No. You’re back where you started minus 100 steps.

And ‘society’ isn’t just requiring mothers to sacrifice themselves for a new child, but to sacrifice their other children as well.

While uppity citizens like to deny the realities of what happens to a woman in this country when she ‘finds herself pregnant’ and condemn her to her scarlet letters (an ‘A’ for adultery and a ‘W’ for welfare), the fact remains that the woman who finds herself pregnant is at the mercy of their wickedness. While religious groups like to scream that they won’t pay for the ‘murder of an unborn innocent’, they do so for government workers.

Poverty is more than an economic line, it’s a barrier to choice. And what’s worse, at the root of all this evil is the false preaching & mean-spirited perpetuation of the stereotype that all poor women are dumb, loose, and morally bankrupt.

No one can pretend they do not know the realties of being pregnant here in the US. No one can feign ignorance to the ties between parenting and poverty. Yet they willingly turn their blind-eyes, let moral-deafness protect their delicate ears, and continue to abuse the poor women and families of this country.

If you don’t believe me, how about some facts from experts?

Co-authors Elizabeth Oltmans Ananat, Jonathan Gruber, Phillip Levine, and Douglas Staiger can show you the importance of the phenomenon of selection (meaning how, on average, children’s outcomes may have improved because they were more likely to be born into a household in which they were wanted) in Abortion and Selection. From the digest at the National Bureau of Economic Research:

Taken together with earlier research results, the authors’ findings suggest that the improved living circumstances experienced by children born after the legalization of abortion had a lasting impact on their lifelong prospects. Children who were “born unwanted” prior to the legalization of abortion not only grew up in more disadvantaged households, but also grew up to be more disadvantaged as adults. This conclusion is in line with a broad literature documenting the intergenerational correlation in income and showing that adverse living circumstances as a child are associated with poorer outcomes as an adult.

So, if you can’t support women and their original sin, I’ll use the cry conservatives do, “Think of the children!” — and by that, I mean the millions here, not the children-in-waiting called fetuses. You do this by admitting women — all women, including the poor — have the right to self-determination and the constitutionally protected right to abortion. These are the very things the Stupak Amendment strips away.

Cheap Thrills Thursday: Of Storks In My Collection & Contraception

shoo-vintage-stork-postcardA few months ago, a gentleman contacted me about one of the items in my “vintage stork” collection. The antique postcard, postmarked 1908, depicts a couple shoo-ing away a baby-delivering stork; the gentleman was James M. Edmonson, Ph.D., Chief Curator of the Dittrick Medical History Center and Museum at the Case Western Reserve University; and he was asking if I could get him a larger high resolution scan of the postcard for inclusion in a new gallery the museum was working on.

Could I? Would I? Um, this is exactly the sort of stuff that floats my boat! Not only is my object connecting me with others, with history, but the gallery is for Virtue, Vice, and Contraband: A History of Contraception in America — a new exhibit at the Dittrick Medical History Center and Museum that examines 200 years of the history of contraception in the United States.

So, naturally I did whatever I could to get the chief curator the graphic. And here it is, on the left-hand side of the display designed by guest curator Jimmy Wilkinson Meyer from The College of Wooster:

history-of-contracption-percy-skuy-collection-at-dittrick

The exhibit (launched September 17, with Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz, author of Rereading Sex: Battles over Sexual Knowledge and Suppression in the 19th Century America, at the Zverina Lecture), depicts the social and cultural climate that influenced birth control decisions in this country, says James Edmonson, chief curator at the Dittrick:

The exhibit reveals a longstanding ignorance of essential facts of human conception. For example, that a woman’s ovulation time was not discovered until the 1930s by two doctors, Kyusaku Ogino in Japan and Hermann Knaus in Austria. Before and after this finding, desperate women went to great length to prevent pregnancies. The exhibit explores less well known (and dangerous) methods such as douching with Lysol or eating poisonous herbs like pennyroyal, as well as conventional means such as the IUD or the Pill.

“A remarkable body of literature was available to assist newly married couples and others,” says Edmonson. “These books were not displayed publicly, on the coffee table, but hidden in a private place.”

He cites examples such as Charles Knowlton’s Fruits of Philosophy, or the Private Companion of Young Married People (1832) and the popular 18th century book on anatomy, reproduction, and childbirth, Aristotle’s Masterpiece.

In addition to literature, the exhibit draws upon and incorporates the vast collection of contraception devices donated to the university in 2005 by Percy Skuy. The Canadian collector had amassed the world’s largest collections of such devices over the course of four decades.

The exhibit starts in the early 1800s, before Anthony Comstock, lobbied Congress to pass the Comstock Act of 1873, responding to what he viewed as a moral decline after the Civil War.

“It was a watershed year. The Comstock Act made it illegal to sell contraceptives or literature about contraception through the mail,” says Edmonson.

While Congress legally barred contraception, a black market for such products and literature flourished. Comstock went undercover to search out and turn in violators of his law in his crusade to stamp out what he defined as smut and obscenity.

In the early 20th century, women’s advocate Margaret Sanger opened a birth control clinic and research institute, flaunting the Comstock Law. Eventually her efforts evolved into the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

The exhibition highlights some ancient methods of birth control and presents information about the influence of religion on contraception.

“We wanted to have a multi-faceted look at the topic of contraception,” Edmonson says.

Future plans are to expand this exhibit with a companion book, a kiosk where additional information can be accessed on the birth control collection, and an extensive online site available worldwide.

I love that my old postcard is hanging out with Margaret Sanger — well, it does that here at home, but now it’s part of the larger public story. And that’s cool.

Now I must get myself to Cleveland, Ohio to see it!

The Incredible Art Of Tamar Stone

The following fascinating artworks are the creation of artist Tamar Stone, who uses art to “tell the stories of women’s lives that have been constricted by their various situations throughout history.”

curvatures-altered-artist-book-by-tamar-stone

he-said-she-said-bed-book-by-tamar-stone

he-said-she-said-bed-artists-book-by-tamar-stone

Tamar’s work is inspired by her own experiences, including spending her teen years a la Lisa Kudrow in Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion wearing a back brace to correct Scoliosis, which not only amplified the usual adolescent feelings of isolation and body insecurities but developed in Tamar an increased sensitivity to “correction” and the need to fit in. The result is artwork which explores women’s lives. And yours truly getting a crush on the artist.

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dolls-inside-gracefulness-of-motion-is-delightful-altered-artists-book-by-tamar-stone

In her corset books, not only the moments in which issues of appearance, self esteem and assimilation captured — but the methods and mechanics by which physical restrictions, voluntarily or involuntarily, have literally shaped women are examined.

societies-corset-book-by-tamar-stone

societys-corset-altered-art-book-by-tamar-stone

pages-inside-societys-corset-artists-book-by-tamar-stone

In her bed books, the intimate and intricate institution of beds throughout history are scrutinized, from the primary female domestic associations to the primal sexual and biological connotations, with readers being asked to unmake miniature beds in order to see what lies beneath the neat covers — and then remake the rumpled beds, neatly hiding the secrets again.

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bottom-sheet-of-tamar-stone-a-very-safe-place-bed-book

Charmed and fascinated, I gushingly asked Tamar for an interview — I figured she’d understand my elation. She did.

…Well, at least she agreed to the interview (who knows if she really understands my girlie crush?)

Tamar, I’m in lurve, deeply and seriously, with the corset and bed books. Do you sell them? Keep them? Are they in museums or what?

Thanks so much for loving the artists books! My dealer, Priscilla Juvelis, sells them for me — or at least tries to. In this economy, the few people who have been collecting them haven’t and won’t buy anything this year, and the universities that have collected my work in the past are also not spending any money. They cost somewhere between $5,000 – $6,000 each, being that they are one of a kind etc.

At this point, it takes a few years to make each book (corset and bed) from doing all the research/reading of historical text, and then putting it together into a “story line.” I then make a paper dummy of the corset books to figure out how it will all look (that’s right, I put those corsets on a copier machine and glue stick and scotch tape them together). Somehow “seeing” them in this manner and working with my hands helps me think about how/what I want to say — before I get on a computer to start creating Photoshop files etc.

inside-artist-tamar-stones-workspace-corset-books

I work with a person who does machine embroidery and who is much better sewer than I am. (I figure, if I expect someone to pay for the work — it should be the best technical work that I can afford and that I expect my projects to look like. I get kind of picky in that way, and my sewing skills are pretty spastic actually, so I’m happy to employ a professional.)

artist-tamar-stone-studio

Anyway, because it takes so long for each piece, by the time they are finished I really just want to get them out of my hands and into Priscilla’s so she can try to sell them. I don’t actually make a lot of money off of the projects, just enough to turn it around into a new project. Which is why I have to keep my day job of coordinating business meetings, although as a freelancer, this year has been terrible and the reality is that I may have to take some sort of full time job to start paying the bills — and that would really cut back on the art time… But such is life.

tamar-stone-artist-studio

Did you have any formal training?

I went to art school, but I majored in photography and minored in graphic design. I just took one book making class at Pratt Institute in the mid-80’s, but it taught me that I was not cut out for any kind of “formal” book making. I didn’t have the patience to even use a bone folder! My final project for that class was a plastic book I sewed together with things stuffed inside the pages to make overlapping ideas… Even back then…

When did you begin creating your art books? Who &/or what inspired you to begin — and what was your first piece?

Around the mid- 1990’s I started my first “limb” book, your/my… insecurities are my limbs, while working at a job I really didn’t like, but it had a great copy machine and I decided I should try to get something out of the job for me as I felt so disconnected from the work.

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So my book about “limbs” is really trying to figure out how to piece myself back together in a way — using overlapping images and text.

Since I didn’t know what I was doing, I was using Xeroxes, a glue stick, and an Exacto blade. I laid out the pages so I could get two pages on an 8 1/2 x 11 inch page when I copied them, and then just cut the page in 1/2 to get the two pages.

to-exert-as-oneself-artist-book-by-tamar-stone

The next piece, To Exert…as oneself, takes that idea further using black & white and color in the images — and the buckle straps that hold the book together were actually made by the man, Alfred Chin, who had made my Milwaukee Brace back in the 1970’s. It was very special for me to be able to find him again and involve him in my art work.

OK, not to continually crush-on the talent — but how cool is it that she got back in-touch with the guy who made her (probably-hated) back brace to have him make hinges for her artwork?!  I’m totally crushing on Tamar Stone; there’s more to come! While you’re waiting for the next installment, check out Tamar’s website and what’s for sale.

My Summer of ’79

At 15, I was straddling the simple romantic fantasies of girlhood by day — and the hormonal induced sweaty-pink-bit-manipulations by night.

By day, I still played with Barbie & her friends. Still playing with Barbies was not something I advertised; I didn’t invite my girlfriends over to play with me. Like my nocturnal activities, this was the solo-play of self-discovery.

Playing with Barbie was like warm comfort food; I understood the rules and romance in playland, even if I didn’t understand the ways of the boys around me who had suddenly started reacting to my well-beyond-just-budding breasts.

But at night, I got hot and sweaty for Andy Gibb — via his posters on my walls.

angy-gibb-posterEspecially that poster of Andy with his dark blue satin baseball jacket worn open to expose what I could only then (and now) best describe as a tree of hair — with a trunk that went down past the navel to what I could only then bear to imagine as another system of hair at the root… Leading to that something that beefed-up his tight satin pants. And that magnificent mane of hair on his head, ahhh... it still works.

But before I begin to get lost in teenage masturbation fantasies, let’s just say that solo-play was far more productive in terms of my nighttime studies; learning the ins-and-outs of myself, physically & emotionally, was easier than figuring out interpersonal play by myself. But I did learn much about me.

At 15, I knew the score — or at least what scoring was — even if I wasn’t ready for it. At least not with a boy. If I was going to give in — and I wasn’t sure I was — it would be with a man who knew what he was doing.

Since I was an avid reader, Barbie wasn’t my only form of entertainment. (Nor was masturbation — quit trying to get me off the subject!) As an avid reader with a voracious appetite for books, my parents let me read freely from anything on the bookshelves at home and at the library. I hadn’t needed my parents’ permission for any reading material since what, I was 6, 7? I read what I wanted, and asked questions when I needed to.

For example, when I was about 10 I read a mystery book which presented a mystery it hadn’t intended. I forget the title and author, but the passage went like this: “and then he threw the flaming faggot into the fire.” Since the only definition for ‘faggot’ I knew was the same for ‘gay’ and ‘queer’ (hey folks, it was 1974, and folks were ‘out’ in theory even if I didn’t know anyone personally); I was at a loss. How could a man who was alone throw another man into a fire? And if there was someone around, why hadn’t he been mentioned earlier? Shouldn’t there have been some sort of exchange or motive? Was it just bad writing?

Book in hand, I approached my mother, showed her the passage and asked for help. How she kept a straight face (no pun intended) while explaining that ‘faggot’ was an English word for cigarette, I’ll never know… But I do know that not only had she helped me with my vocabulary but I helped her by letting her know what I knew. That’s what parenting is all about, yes?

So, flash forward five years to me at 15 again. I dragged myself away from Andy Gibb’s gaze, left Babs alone (that’s not a euphemism; I refer again to the classic fashion doll), and look for a book on my parents’ book shelf.

summer-of-42-coverA title caught my eye, The Summer of ’42 — something about it was familiar. I remembered vaguely the book making news… Something about sex & banning the book… Hmm, I thought, I hope it’s not as dumb as Catcher in the Rye. (That book did nothing for me, sorry.) But curiosity won, and I took Summer of ’42 to my room and read it.

The book was well-written, but it was from the point of view of a boy, which I found faintly disinteresting. A group of boys who want to get laid, gee, that was news to a 15 year old girl with big boobs. But I hung with it (to date, I’ve only quit reading 3 books — I’m a girl who believes in commitment), and I learned a few things.

Like Hermie’s date with Aggie. Hermie thinks he’s getting lucky by touching her breast — a deformed breast lacking any nipple — only to discover later that he’d been fondling and groping her shoulder. (Hey, Andy Gibb would never, ever, have made that mistake!) This only confirmed my belief that boys were stupid. They were in such a rush, they missed pretty basic stuff. Idiots.

But at the end of the book, the cumulative lessons learned left me once again surprised: I’d read another banned book that left me wondering why it would need to be banned. Frankly, I still am.

Sure, Hermie (an under-age boy) has sex with an older (adult) woman; but it’s depressing. It’s not erotic. Nor is it abusive or crude. In fact, it scared me about my fantasies about Mr. Gibb. I mean Hermie was in love, head over heels in love — ga-ga — and after what he thinks is such a beautiful moment, this woman cries and leaves him. Sure, she was vulnerable with her husband’s death and all, but clearly, she didn’t want some kid. Ouch. And hey, Hermie’s got feelings! Who knew boys had feelings?

This was not some sex-filled-romp of adolescence. This was not some titillating erotic entertainment piece. This was heartbreaking. Even at 15, a never-been-kissed-by-a-boy girl, I recognized the agony of misplaced virginity. I knew that a first time, a first love, a first f***, was sacred. This wasn’t some fodder for a solo-f***-fest, some sensationalized erotic entertainment — far from it. It was a warning. Not only were young boys not practiced enough to find a boob, but they were immature enough to not know they should protect their hearts. While I felt that I would fare better in the groping department, I knew I was likely as lame in matters of the heart.

Not long after, Barbie was put away and didn’t see sunlight until we had a garage sale. I had mastered what I needed to know: romance was a fickle bitch, boys could indeed be hurt too, and romance could be as plastic — as one-sided — as a fashion doll.

I still masturbated to images of Andy, but I no longer romanticized meeting him after a concert and that he’d fall in love with me. It was just sex — just sex in my mind. And it was safer for me at that time to leave it at that. Too bad Hermie hadn’t been that self aware, hadn’t protected himself… And no wonder the older woman who should have known better, but was so affected by her own broken heart she couldn’t think straight, left town asap.

I grew up quite a bit reading Summer of ’42, and I likely saved myself some pain. I’m not saying I mad no mistakes; my life is a character-building exercise. But I made less mistakes, less painful ones. I have Herman Raucher to thank for that. And my parents — for they let me read.

Just last week I asked my mom if she knew that I had read Summer of ’42; yes, she had. I asked her if she was, well, creeped out by it. Her reply? “No. You always came to us if you had questions. …It was a sad story, wasn’t it?”

Yeah mom, it was sad. Sadder still to know that some kids weren’t allowed to read it. Thank you, mom and dad, for being good parents.

banned books Epilogue: Some kids and adults are still not allowed to read or view Summer of ’42 because it has been banned from their libraries. Or they’ve been told to avoid such ‘horrible’ works. I can’t speak for the film, but if you get a chance, read Summer of ’42. It might be too late to save yourself from past mistakes, but it’s never too late to learn something.

Read it this week, Banned Books Week, buy Banned Books Week merch, blog about it and read what others have to say — and celebrate your freedom to read.

Did Margaret Sanger Sell Dainty Maid Outfits?

First my disclaimer: I sadly do not own this old advertisement & instructions for the “Dainty Maid Outfit” (douche bag, antiseptic powder, and syringe); I found it while searching at the Library of Congress for photos of Margaret Sanger for the eugenics post.

complete-dainty-maid-outfit-ad

The reason I didn’t include it then & want to discuss it now is two-fold.

One, there’s some confusion over Sanger’s connection to the item.

While the LoC notes that this paper, published between 1900 and 1930, was part of Sanger’s collection, saying, “Like many of her contemporaries, she retained all kinds of printed matter accumulated during her career, including pamphlets like this one relating to women’s gynecological health and hygiene,” it’s not entirely clear that this is the end of the antique ephemera’s story.

In 2006, the Margaret Sanger Papers Project (MSPP) reported this (links added by moi):

In his recent book, Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book (New York, 2004), author Gerard Jones highlights the role played by the poet and editor Harold Hersey in the pulp publishing industry. Hersey, one of Sanger’s lovers in the late 1910s, later wrote an unpublished biography of Sanger. He worked closely with Sanger in the early days of the Birth Control Review. “We didn’t only sell magazines,” Jones quotes Hersey as saying, “but also razor blades and other items.” “The ‘other items’,” Jones explains, “were contraceptives. Sanger was not only a proponent of birth control but a mail-order dealer, with her own line of condoms, diaphragms, and ‘Dainty Maid’ douche kits.” That is new information to us. Sanger was always extremely careful never to associate with the commercial trade of contraceptives. Her opponents often accused her of profiting from her cause, but there has never been a shred of evidence she received money for selling birth control or taking part in a mail order business – under or above ground. It is possible that one distributor of the Review, Eastern News, used its sales network to send illegal publications, condoms and liquor around the country, but most likely Sanger had no knowledge of it. For his sources, Jones cites Hersey’s autobiography, Pulpwood Editor, which does not mention the mail order venture, and unspecified collected material by Michael Feldman, a researcher on the comic book business. Thanks to Professor Ed Shannon for bringing this one to our attention.

However, there was a 2007 release The New Pulpwood Editor also. And, despite claims to Hersey’s “unpublished biography” of Sanger, others claim to have a copy. All of which not only further confuses things in terms of what source was used, but leaves the accuracy of Hersey too far down the pecking list at this point to even verify it.

But regardless of the characters involved & their individual characters regarding telling tales (& proper documentation of sources), how can the MSPP claim Sanger’s ignorance to The Dainty Maid Outfit when the LoC has it — and in their Margaret Sanger collection (Papers of Margaret Sanger, container 252) yet?

The second reason I brought this vintage female hygiene ad up separately should be apparent: researching is not for the timid, not the easily exhausted.

If this was a product Sanger offered via mail order, then perhaps The Dainty Maid was more than a cleansing douche… Contraceptive products, illegal at the time, were sometimes sold with the word “French” used as a secret code to communicate the “illicit” purposes of the product; either to wash away sperm post-coitus or perhaps even the “antiseptic powder” was even a spermicide.

If You’re Forced To Have A Baby, Don’t Throw It Out With The Bathwater (Or, Of Margaret Sanger & Eugenics)

margaret-sanger-1927In Margaret Sanger in Context, Tracey McCormick defends the vilified Margaret Sanger. Sanger, who founded Planned Parenthood and advocated for planned parenting & birth control before women even had the right to vote, is often misquoted or quoted out of context.

McCormick takes up defense of Sanger against New Jersey Congressman Christopher Smith’s quoting of Sanger from Sanger’s book, Woman and the New Race (1920): “The most merciful things a family does for one of its infant members is to kill it.”

This is McCormick’s response:

The line in question comes from Chapter 5, “The Wickedness of Creating Large Families.” Upon closer inspection, we see that Congressman Smith has left out the word “large” before family.

…But what if we read the entire paragraph or even the whole chapter?

…Apparently she hated miner families. Excessive childbirth in these families caused ill health in mothers, financial hardship to fathers, and I’ll quote directly for its effect on the children: “In the United States, some 300,000 children under one year of age die each twelve months. Approximately ninety per cent of these deaths are directly or indirectly due to malnutrition, to other diseased conditions resulting from poverty, or to excessive childbearing by the mother.

To demonstrate her hate, Sanger provides us mortality statistics of miner children, quotes a study by Arthur Geissler, which was later cited by Dr. Alfred Ploetz before the First International Eugenic Congress. (Eugenics is a scary word; if we took it out of context we’d realize that that’s what Hitler was up to. And if we practiced some really sloppy thinking, we’d say Sanger = Hitler. But we’re much smarter than that.)

To return to the statistics of children surviving through their first year. The first five children of these large miner families had about a 75% survival rate. The sixth-, seventh- and eighth-born approach a 70% survival rate. The eighth and ninth, about a 65% chance. The tenth, 60%; the eleventh, 50%; and the twelfth, 40%.

Five sentences later, Sanger drops her bomb: “The most merciful thing that the large family does to one of its infant members is to kill it.”

I didn’t know the woman personally, but I don’t think Sanger was a proponent of infanticide: I think she was trying to say and do something about the infant mortality rate. But you shouldn’t believe me. This is, after all, nothing more than a 750-word soundbite.

For context, you can read the entire chapter here.

For more-more context, the entire book, Woman and the New Race, is available here.

If you have four hours to spare, you can watch the entire hearing, “New Beginnings: Foreign Policy Priorities in the Obama Administration,” here. (Thanks, C-Span!)

Then, you’ll have context of Sanger and her relationship to “New Beginnings.

I applaud McCormick for taking up the fight here — both in terms of Sanger specifically and the issue of context in general. But one thing is missing from this conversation: The subject of eugenics itself.

The word “eugenics” has become an ugly thing, and rightfully so; but it too has its own context which must be understood. Understanding the context & origins of eugenics is key not only to understanding Sanger (and others), but its lessons are the epitome of the cornerstone of studying history: So that we do not repeat it.

Eugenics should not be simply or only equated with racism or even a scientific excuse for racism; that fine institution, racism, had already been in long practice. Eugenics has been around since the dawn of man; ancient societies, of all races, practiced infanticide for such purposes and Plato advocated that human reproduction should be monitored and controlled by the state. At the root of eugenics is a drive to improve human genetic qualities, better sustain the species, which includes everything from prenatal care for mothers to euthanasia.

But, yeah; racism sure was a part of eugenics for many.

American eugenics, as we speak of it here (referring to movements and social policies), was born in a post Civil War world where rapid growth of industrialization (including the increased mechanization of agriculture) created the first major migration away from farms, including former slaves. At the dawn of the Industrial Revolution there were a plethora of problems from such rapid urban growth. Cities were unable to keep up with the increasing populations; the exploitation of labor created militant labor organizations; swings in prices bankrupted many businesses — all of this led, in 1873, to a series of depressions which occurred roughly every decade through the early 1900s.

The depressions further fueled labor & over population issues, which were then additionally burdened by huge waves of immigrants (especially from southern and eastern Europe), which peaked just before World War I (and again after the war too). Then, as today, many Americans began to resent immigrants “stealing” their jobs, their housing, and even their spots in charity programs.

At first, “the poor” and the social & economic problems were, philosophically and physically (via social work, charity organizations, churches, etc.), addressed by Social Darwinism, the application (if not perversion) of Charles Darwin’s biological theory. While Darwin himself did not extend his theories to either social or economic levels, many educated people believed that “survival of the fittest” applied to (and therefore could be used to explain as well as manipulate) social and economic inequalities. But the irony was that the wealthy & powerful, “the fittest,” were endangered. Not only were the working class and the poverty stricken organizing themselves against the wealthy, but a declining birthrate among the captains of industry meant that the lower classes were out-reproducing them too.

Enter progressivism.

Progressive reformers believe(d) in the increased role of government to manage & plan for economic and social issues. Beneath working for the passage of legislation advancing the rights of the newly freed slaves; the establishment of labor unions, child-labor protections, & minimum wage laws; conservation of natural resources; direct elections in primaries, fairer taxation, & control of lobbyists; legislation to control monopolies, banking reform, & trust-busting; and working for women’s suffrage, lay science. (And a managerial class of educated experts capable of long-range planning.)

It didn’t take much for progressive reformers to convert inventive Americans to a strong faith in science as the way to address the problems plaguing the country. This opened the door, using the new science of genetics to spawn an even newer science of social engineering — eugenics. If genetics held the key to such things as alcoholism, criminality, “feeble-mindedness,” and poverty, eugenicists argued, society, who paid a high price caring for such individuals and their issues, should invest in the knowledge & planning to ensure a better genetic America.

poor-men-hold-signs-given-to-them-by-eugenics-supporters-on-wall-street-1915

Some went as far as to say that sterilization of one “defective” adult could save society thousands of dollars over future generations. So when researchers became interested in the heritability of such illnesses as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression, the findings of their studies were used by the eugenics movement as proof of its legitimacy, prompting state laws prohibiting marriages for and forced sterilization of the mentally ill in order to prevent the “passing on” of mental illness to the next generation. (These laws were upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court as recently as 1927 and were not abolished until the mid-20th century.)

1567-marriages-fit-and-unfit

Now remember the afore mentioned context; not only were social & economic issues a matter of The Haves & The Have Nots, but great tension arose from the fears of going from the former to the latter. The power of labor unions & the rise of the American socialist party combined with world events such as the successful Bolshevik Revolution, increased these fears, inspiring the wealthy to support eugenics. As today, funding for research & media meant that the wealthy could steer, if not actually dictate, the work of eugenicists. The repugnance for class struggles and political radicalism certainly figured into eugenics, resulting in selective immigration restriction.

1247-forgery-and-fraud-rankings-of-native-whites-of-foreign-parentage

In short, eugenics put such a focus on defective genes, individuals, and ethnic groups that it removed the focus from all the problems of the structure of American society itself. And the copious amounts of “scientific evidence” for eugenics being the rational and efficient plan for a harmonious future allowed the wealthiest in society to feel justified in blaming & controlling the victims.

I won’t go so far as to say that Margret Sanger was only philosophically identified with eugenics from the point of view of individual families using birth control to combat their economic & societal problems; there’s too much evidence that Sanger was into eugenics far deeper (& dirtier) than that. (While her work with The Negro Project & her acceptance of invitations to speak to women in the KKK remain controversial, there’s no arguing that Sanger was an eugenicist, including a proponent of using immigration laws to keep out those with “objectionable traits”.) I’m not even saying we should forgive & forget Sanger’s association eugenics because it gave us birth control. I’m saying we have to look at the context of the times — societal issues & individual concerns, education & prevailing science, fears & beliefs. And it’s clear that for a century, from the mid-1800’s through the mid-1900’s, eugenics was a huge part of the culture. So I think we should if not forgive, then at least not entirely condemn; but we certainly should not forget — not to be kind, but to see… To not dismiss. As Garland E. Allen wrote:

The problem with demonizing the older American eugenicists (many of whom thought they were taking the most modern, scientific and progressive approach to social problems) is that we distance ourselves from them and so can easily fall prey to our own biases today.

Margaret Sanger was not perfect. But looking at her life & work in context we are able to admire what is valid and also learn to accept the warnings we must heed about what is not valid.

Why We Vilify Single Moms

When I was in college I was a single parent. Finding myself struggling personally with the demands of continuing education and single parenting (a special needs child too yet) was challenging enough; but this was at the time that Tommy Thompson was governor & he made bashing single moms & welfare a public sport. (Yeah, some of us fought back; like the Welfare Warriors.)

It was incomprehensible how those of us left with children were not only held accountable while biological dads walked away Scott-free, but were to blame for all of society’s ills. Even those who raised children alone by design & without public assistance were vilified, a la Murphy Brown. It wasn’t just moral outrage (though that did & does exist); it wasn’t an ignorance — these were educated people saddling us with unrealistic responsibilities and ludicrous outcomes. We were being scapegoated with such an intensity that it must be hiding a deep fear of some sort… Was it simply another way to display the classic fear & hatred of “female,” or was there more?

It got me thinking: Certainly being a single parent had never been easy, but had it ever been easier? At least from a societal point of view?

A classmate & friend, another single mother herself (shout-out to Vicki Davidson, if she can hear me!), decided to investigate. What we found would later be presented at one of those extra-curricular brown-nosing events (in the history department, which didn’t help with any of our majors; but we did, I will say, impress the department staff with work that, I quote, “was at or above masters work”).

What we discovered, was that the vilification of women having (&/or raising) babies out of wedlock dated back to Victorian times. This may not surprise many who would attach such times to the origins of our currently held morality — but it wasn’t (at least entirely) Queen Victoria’s morality that had done the deed & made single mothers dirty; it was mainly a byproduct of the Industrial Revolution.

Before the Industrial Revolution, children had great value in farming; any additional mouths you have to feed come with additional, literal, farm hands. Mom, dad, older siblings still did their work as they watched the littler ones; little ones automatically observed the work and therefore received on-the-job training under the auspices of childcare. Large families meant there was no need to hire help — and mom & dad were assured someone would be there to care for them as they aged.

This, more than church-hurled slurs about paganism, is the more practical reason why when Mr. or Mrs. Farmer wandered down to the next farm for a roll in the hay, no one worried about an illegitimate child. Why fuss about Mrs. Farmer being knocked up by a neighboring farmer when it’s just more farm hands? Especially when you spotted proof of your own afternoon delight working at a neighbor’s farm. (It was not uncommon for casual acknowledgment of such situations; no rows ensued, unless someone wanted those little hands for their own farms. And it begs for some research regarding jokes about the farmer’s daughters.)

But the rapid growth of industry, including the increased mechanization of agriculture, created the first major migration away from farms to cities and changed everything.

dores-poor-of-london

Among the many problems with such rapid urbanization comes the devaluation of children. Children are not only less desirable industrial workers (especially after childhood labor reform acts), but they also become an economic drain; more mouths to feed, but no automatic work hands.

As Nicole Lemieux wrote:

From 1861 through 1885, several Acts were instituted which significantly affected the working-class mother. The first of these Acts was the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act. According to Carol Smart, in her essay “Disruptive Bodies and Unruly Sex: The Regulation of Reproduction and Sexuality in the Nineteenth Century,” this was established to deal with “rape, procuring, carnal knowledge, abortion, concealment of birth and exposing children to danger” (13). Throughout the nineteenth century, incidents of infanticide were continually on the rise, in large part because little was done to convict the guilty party. Violent acts by desperate working-class women resulted in a movement to put more emphasis on holding someone, namely the mother, responsible for these deaths came to a head with the passing of the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act. As working-class women oftentimes found themselves financially challenged, they would accordingly find themselves financially unable to support their children (Smart 17). Women who gave birth to illegitimate children found themselves in a particularly questionable situation. On the one hand, if a woman kept the baby, she would likely be unable to properly provide for it; however, if she concealed her pregnancy and abandoned the child, she would be held liable, with the potential of being sentenced to hang, regardless of whether the baby was born alive or dead (Smart 16). Women who had children out of wedlock, who were unable to financially support their children had to face the difficult decision whether to keep the child or turn the infant over to another’s care, thus avoiding the repercussions of being found guilty of infanticide.

But what of the children?

Those visions you may have of beautiful Victorian cherub-children, the history which boasts of Victorian times “finally” bringing about children’s toys & a time “when children could finally be children,” these are not representative of most children. The average child in Victorian times was trapped the poverty, grime & disease of the Industrial Revolution — just as their parents were. The juxtaposition of the images isn’t graphic fantasy; there were two worlds. (Just as there were two worlds in terms of Victorian morals & sexuality; but that is for another time.)

birthday-holiday-greeting-victorian victorian-child

The wealthy children may have found themselves clean, well dressed & with plenty of playtime on their hands, but most rural children spend their time hungry & packed in one room with 3-9 siblings & their parents or working as hard as their parents to ensure the family’s survival. And those were the lucky ones. Some went to prison — yes, children went to prison for their crimes, and some were even hung for them.

12-year-old-boy-victorian-prison-record

Disease & injury at work, along with other conditions of urban poverty, did leave some children orphaned; and with no family nearby, or none willing & able to take them in, there became the street urchins of Oliver Twist tales. However, orphans were not the only urchins running the streets.

vistorian-street-children-called-street-arabsAlong with orphans, there were abandoned children & children of the homeless living on the streets. The streets were littered with trash & children (including some children who were there just trying to help their families eek out a living). These children were often called “street Arabs,” an ethnic slur for nomadic activities that weren’t understood.

To care for the orphaned & stray children, the Victorians built many large orphanages (along with lunatic asylums and infirmaries to house, if not care for, those unable to work, and workhouses).

Once built, orphanages housed more then orphaned & abandoned children. Poor mothers and fathers negotiated with institutions to place their children there temporarily, for assistance to overcome short-term family and economic crises. These children were called the “ins and outs” or “casual children” because of there frequent short stays at institutions.

As you can imagine, what with all the popular “fallen woman” & prostitution stories from this time, a large number of casual children came from single parent households. Not all single parents were unwed or even single mothers. Some single parent situations were created by deaths, of course, but it was also not that uncommon for one parent to be institutionalized, put in a dreaded workhouse, or in prison; leaving the other parent to fend for themselves and the children alone. But single mothers were among the majority of those who used the orphanages as temporary shelter for their children or abandoned them there entirely. Some even used the institutions as a sort of childcare; placing their children there while they went to work as live-in maids etc., visiting the children on days off.

Whether these buildings were public works or run by private charities, at some point people began to stand up and ask themselves, “Why am I paying to support someone else’s child?”

Great pains were taken to interrogate mothers & the children themselves to ascertain the name of the father, so that he could be held accountable. This meant financially responsible — but not in payments or support of any kind to the child or the mother herself; no, responsibility was only a matter of repaying the state or institution, or claiming the child so that the father’s household supported the child. In cases of wealthy fathers, women were sometimes paid not to name them, lest wives or potential wives would use the current morality to dismiss the marriage or diminish (shame) them socially. (This is the start of many of those fantasies of a wealthy parent who will come for a child & rescue them.)

More then simple resentment at having to part with money though, the was another moral issue: Poverty.

workhouse-womenPoverty was seen as a character defect; not a circumstance. The poor were poor because they were vagrants, drunkards, morally bankrupt prostitutes, etc., and when it came to their children it wasn’t only that no one wanted to fork over their money to feed a little hungry mouth they did not create, it was a mistrust of the irresponsibility involved.

Because it’s always been easier to vilify victims than to address the problematic social structure.

The most offensive & objectionable children the charitable organizations & social institutions served were the casual children who went back & forth between decent orphanages and “no good” poor parents. These children were commonly referred to as sources of “evil,” suggestive of their status as disease carriers & corruptors of morality (including alleged sexual knowledge), infecting the innocent & redeemable orphaned & abandoned children. It was the attitudes about these casual children which actually infected the general society with a sense of distrust about orphanages.

orphaned-street-childrenTo combat societal distrust, reformers & social workers began PR campaigns to paint all the children in orphanages as orphans and strays. This may have begun simply to improve the images of orphanages & garner funds, to distance the children themselves from the sins of their pauper parents, but in many cases the positive spin shifted to advocating legislation.

Attempts were made by so-called social reformers to do away with casual children by removing their parents from the picture, making them into situational orphans, often using legal maneuvers & legislation to prevent pauper parents from having rights to their children. Such removal of parental rights was, understandably, feared even more than being sent to the workhouses and argued against. But the legislation was pushed hard by many. One of the reformers, Florence Hill, put it this way, “Parents who have cast the burden of their children on the State should not be free to interrupt their being made good citizens, for evil purposes of their own.”

But in their quest to increase charity and government aid to children, such reformers cast the poor not only in a poor light but cast them even further away from the Victorian social body. The poor became even more disenfranchised, more vilified.

victorian_mother_and_childAnd this, my friends, is why single mothers continue to be scapegoated today. The poor continue to be judged as possessing character defects, children remain an economic drain — or “investment” if you prefer (so much money in before you might expect any return), and society doesn’t want to help with either the investment in those children or take a serious look at the very structure of society which in all actuality creates the poverty in the first place.

This is made worse for single mothers who continue (despite scientific knowledge to the contrary) to be blamed for bringing their children into this world. Ironically, the very women we blame for (further) impoverishing themselves by having children have the least access to family planning, are the most restricted regarding exercising their rights to their own bodies, and continue to be courted by religious & “moral majority” groups who judge, condemn, & ostracize them.

History repeats, continues, if we do not learn from it.

I’m A Little Late To The National Cleavage Day Party

I didn’t know that there was/is such a thing as National Cleavage Day. If it weren’t for Denise‘s post about it at BlogHer, I still wouldn’t know about it. And if I had somehow stumbled into the Wiki page about NCD, I would have thought it was something Steven Colbert had directed his Colbert Nation minions into creating. (Seeing “corporate sponsor” Wonderbra’s page on NCD wouldn’t have helped either; the power of Colbert is boundless.)

But I’m not only late to the party — I’m a National Cleavage Day party pooper too.

Now it may surprise you that I’m not really a fan of National Cleavage Day. You’re likely thinking that as a collector of smut, not to mention the owner of a rack that would require the jaws of life not to make cleavage, I’d be in favor of a day which celebrates cleavage. But I’m not.

Call me jaded by the decades of leers & drool, accuse me of being exhausted and annoyed from the countless times of having to hold strong chiseled male jaws in my hand and tilt them, like that of a small child, so that their owners may speak to my face and not my breasts; I am. But really, do we need to encourage men to stare at women’s breasts?

Oh, sure, if you’re at a bar or club or other place where you are participating in and exploiting nature’s call to preserve the species, by all means, show it off. And I’ll admit that while those days of hunting-til-he-catches-me are over for me, I’m not above bringing out The Girls to remind me, myself, and hubby that I’m a sexy desirable woman — all the leers, drool and jaw tilting keep any need for Cialis at bay. But I don’t display ’em at WalMart. Or because a corporate sponsor told me to.

But a day for cleavage watching? Like a Take Your Boobs To Work Day? A Shake Your Boobs At Work Day? Or Super Casual (& Smutty) Friday? Puh-leeez.

I’ll guarantee you that the girls (lower case here because we’re now talking about a group of young females, not my breasts) who participate in this “holiday” are “third wave feminists” who think that proffering crevice, tit or ass (via whale-tails etc.), is akin to rolling down one’s stockings: an advance for female equality. Only, see, we don’t allow men to show pecs and gluts in public either — and that means we don’t see their cracks between such flesh in the workplace either, hun. That’s equality.

If I sound like a crotchety old anti-porn feminist, know I’m not. (If you want proof, I’ll send it.) But I just get so frustrated with the lack of class. Leave a little mystery, damnit. And save the intimate visuals of intimate spaces for intimate times & intimate places.

And as for you, Wonderbra, shame, shame, shame on you.

If Wikipedia is to be believed, the “corporate sponsorship” is intended to be as uplifting as the Wonderbras:

According to Samantha Paterson, the brand manager for Wonderbra, the National Cleavage Day is started according to a design to solemnize women’s independence and power in all facets of life, from their careers to their relationships to their own destiny.[1] Anita Meiring, public relations consultant for Wonderbra, explained the event, “It is a day for women to realise that their cleavage is something unique and that they should be proud of it”.[4] Paterson explained “It gives women a chance to be beautiful and glow in the furtive, yet appreciative, glances their cleavage evokes from men”.[1] She also explained “It gives men a legitimate reason to stare at boobs”.

Just how does one “solemnize women’s independence and power in all facets of life” by proffering exposed breast? And hey, Meiring, I completely realize that my cleavage is “unique” and I am “proud of it” — but I know (at least) two things that apparently you don’t.

One, this ain’t Utopia, sister; women who expose themselves in public are seen as “asking for it” and that puts us in danger twice (first for being assaulted, and then at the mercy of a court who holds us and our mode of dress responsible for male actions).

Two, my pride isn’t dependent upon flashing it to prove it to you, to leering men, or to anyone/everyone else. Confidence just is.

Quietly just is.

And that’s the way I like it, especially in public.

I’m not asking for the burka, baby; just some rational acceptance of public decency as reflective of both no need to push my privates into public spaces and people’s faces and my desire to not see every body part others are proud of. That’s what manners are all about, making people feel comfortable. Can ya dig?

In reality Wonderbra is pimping: they’ve created a faux holiday through which they can use sexism to profit off of the display of female bodies — selling women and sexist misogynistic fantasies under the guise of pride.

The final nail in National Cleavage Day’s coffin is the fact that Cosmo supports it. Again, from the suspicious Wiki page:

Vanessa Raphaely, editor of the Cosmopolitan, argued the NCD is not intended to objectify women, but to celebrate in a fun manner.[4]

Cosmo hasn’t been accurate about women’s rights & male responsibilities since the 60’s — if then. So pooh on that.

It is sexy to feel like you are in control of your beautiful bodies, ladies, but the realities are that even here in the US of A we women are not in control of our own bodies — but we are somehow responsible for male reactions to our bodies and, in cases of rape (for rape is all about rage & power, not lust & sex), we are somehow responsible for that too. And when women are harassed and abused for busting with pride and showing off their cleavage, you know what will happen.

Oh, it’s a mess out there, Virginia. And while I’d like to let you boldly go forth, displaying your confidence laden cleavage, I know better.