Saturday, February 9, 2013

Yet again, I find myself leaving long comments on other people's pages and then reposting them here. It seems kind of vain, but fuck it. I've been meaning to write about this for a while and this is as close as I'm going to get for now. In response to Gynocide: The Holocaust of Women, which is awesome and you should click it.

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“Patriarchy doesn’t simply paint us as ‘less than’ men, it paints us as the enemy and every man as a warrior. ”
Yes. This is something I’ve noticed and have been thinking about lately. A note I wrote in my diary: “*Male egos depend on constantly seeing females as DIFFERENT from them. Meanwhile, women are consumed with the desire to be seen as THE SAME, worthy of his human status.*”
This revelation came about when my best friend told me some of the things her current boyfriend says to her. Basically, he’s a jerk and I hate him. He thinks he’s some sort of “liberal” sensitive guy – who could hold his own with me on a discussion of feminism, of all things – but then he sends her texts about how she’s just screwing him over “like every other woman” and “this is why [he doesn't] trust women.” baaaaaarf. And he complains about how she doesn’t make him feel like “a man” and this hurts his manly feelings. And my friend who is not much of a feminist had the exact same response I did: what the fuck does that even mean and what does it say about our relationship if the idea of being like me, a woman, bums you out?
“Emasculate” is my least favorite word, it’s such a bogus concept! Manhood must be cherished and upheld – the division between manly men and lowly women cannot falter! It’s telling there’s no equivalent term for a woman’s “femininity” being threatened. Femaleness is a tolerated evil, who gives a shit? Femaleness itself is an insult!
Meanwhile, any perceived lapse in ~masculine comportment~ is such a tragedy that an entire word exists to refer to it. Men put SO much stock in upholding masculinity and “manhood” and and the supposed differences between men and women – all while claiming to love women and not be sexist pigs, and no one ever calls them on the fact that what they are REALLY saying is, “I am not like a woman. I am not like one of THOSE.” Women strive for “equality,” ignoring the fact that it is impossible to be “equal” to someone whose entire identity is caught up in being essentially different from you (and thus, historically, ‘better’ than you for that reason).
ANYWAY, I really liked this article.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

What Men Do To Each Other

M's boyfriend C has stopped by. I've been hanging out with her for the afternoon, joking and making faces at her while she's been sticking out her tongue and scrunching her nose and crossing her eyes in my direction, catching up on what we've each been up to in the past twelve hours since we've seen each other - but he's just walked in, just gotten off work, needs to vent. He's always such a party-poop. One of the dudes - S, the guy who 'slept with' M and told everyone about it - works with C and was being a real dick this afternoon. Probably drunk, or at least on something, he had been abusing all of the kitchen staff. C is a pacifist, at least that's what he says.

"He just says that he's gonna punch  me, and I start shaking. Tio took me down to the basement to smoke a bowl, to calm me down. 'cause if I get attacked, I won't fight back. And if it gets so bad that I do fight back, you know, I start reaching for weapons, intent to kill. I mean, it's the kind of thing that lands me in jail. So if someone threatens to attack me, I start to shake." I nod indulgently. I guess I agree with his violence-free/not-really-free-of-violence response to abuse: at least you're not as bad as the abuser, going into the ring planning to maim. But maybe some people deserve to be kicked in the balls. Maybe it's okay to fight back, right from the beginning. And maybe pacifism doesn't do shit for anyone. Maybe it's just a personal solution - and I hate a solution that only helps one person, does not fix things on a broader scale. I'm just glad he isn't violent towards M, that he doesn't get in my face and yell hurtful shit at me. I'm glad that his first impulse, as a male, is not to fuck someone or something up. It is a small blessing.

He starts talking about this guy he knows - older, a next-door neighbor - who hits on him and his barfbag-misogynistic-talentless-ex-friend named, let's say, FRED. It makes him uncomfortable, he says. This guy, this gross old balding man with a severe beer belly will make suggestive comments, brush his hand against a boy's upper arm, lean in close, tell Fred he'll suck his dick free of charge. It weirds C out, these comments. We've joked about it before, this pervy old man who's grossing him out. If I had a nickel for all the times a pervy old man has grossed me out, I'd be fucking rich. I'd buy the White House and turn it into a shelter for disabled dogs, among other things.

Still, I'm not made of stone: I know how it feels to be treated like that, and on a deep level I sympathize with him for that. And maybe I'm just paranoid, but I don't feel that from him. I don't think he realizes that I know what that kind of depersonalization feels like - 'cuz I'm not a guy and as a non-male, I cannot really understand what it's like to suddenly, against my will, be considered inhuman. I am a woman, so I am used to being considered inhuman. Sexual oppression cannot make me lose the humanity no one ever thought I had. I don't think he'd ever say this, but somewhere, deep in his lizard brain, in a secret spot he'd never admit existed, he knows this. He knows it. You can't fucking convince me he doesn't.

Now, he lowers his head - and I know that pose, that 'looking at the ground so I don't have to look at you while I tell you this' pose; I wore it last night while T and I, drinking delicious seasonal pumpkin beer and smoking pot in the cemetery, traded stories about our fucked up childhoods - and says that he's been on the receiving end of  insertion against his will. That he's not gay or bicurious, but he's been with other dudes to some extent. And sometimes it was okay and sometimes...well. He doesn't mind it, if he's on stage and someone calls him a faggot, he'll grab the lead guitarist and give him a passionate kiss. He's walked in on his bassist and drummer making out. He's made out with the occasional hot guy and he doesn't give a shit. But anal sex, to him, is only violent. It's only about pain. It's only about dominance.

And in my head I say, "Well, I'm sure some people must enjoy it - there must be something pleasurable about it. If men, our lords and masters, will do it to each other, if our lords and masters will let others do it to them, there's gotta be something to it." But I don't say it out loud, because I know he wouldn't want to hear my rationalizations of his pain, and really, what do I know about men? And gawd knows there's a big fuckin' nugget of truth in that sentiment. My response is, "Yeah, I always thought it was a big tip-off that there was something wrong with it once it became the new coolest thing for straight guys, you know, to 'get' their girlfriends to 'do anal,' like it's a fucking coup."

You know, if I remember correctly, in Ancient Greece, adulterous men (that is, men who messed with another man's property) were punished by being buggered with a radish. Anal rape as punishment, it has a long history.

The interesting thing about his assertion re: anal sex is that you could say the same thing about vaginal. He never would. He and M like doing it so much; she loves it, loves it, she tells me, even though she constantly worries about pregnancy. Her stomach lurches while we watch Futurama and I say, "Morning sickness. I bet it's an alien baby."
"Don't say that!" she snaps, as if my words could do it to her.

At least with him she uses protection. With the last boyfriend, the douche with crows' feet, she (though I expect it was really he) had a strange aversion to contraception. It was chemicals, he constantly worried about chemicals -- in the water (which he refused to drink from the tap, only bottles), in the lube, in the rubber -- and so she worried about them too. I ran down the list of condom alternatives with her as we sat on her roof drinking a bottle of wine. Diaphragm - no, she'd have to go to a doctor for a fitting, which would be time-consuming. IUD - no, because in a few rare cases you can get pregnant anyway and then the baby's born with a plastic stick in its head or something, better not risk it. Nothing would work for her. A constant fear of pregnancy was preferable, she said so. Preferable to what, I never understood.

Now, I remember reading about the Porn Wars when I was in high school (of my own volition, natch; Feminist Foremothers 101 was not a class offered) and getting my first introduction to Andrea Dworkin, a fat prude with crazy hair who said All Sex Is Rape. That was all anyone said about her, that she thought All Sex Is Rape and, I don't know, she ate newborn kittens for breakfast - she was clearly some sort of demon. All Sex Is Rape. All Sex Is Rape. Internet men and sex-pozzers were enraged by this statement, which for as much as they repeated it you'd think poor Dworkin had it tattooed on her forehead, this thing she never even said. I can't remember exactly how I felt about it, what I thought she meant  by it. I tried to understand. And I still haven't read Intercourse, not yet. But what I got from google and wiki was, in her words: "What I think is that sex must not put women in a subordinate position. It must be reciprocal and not an act of aggression from a man looking only to satisfy himself. That's my point."

Sounded (and still sounds) reasonable, but all I really learned from this 'debate' between Straw Andrea and Male-Identified Feminists was that I could be a feminist, but for the love of gawd, don't be one of those feminists. Better to degrade women, photograph and video tape yourself doing it, jerk off and make a shit-ton of money while you're at it than dare to suggest men are not entitled to female bodies, that male entitlement to "sex" hurts women. It's just applying a Kick Me sign to your own back.

I mention this because C's point about anal sex has brushed up against something deep, something true, and it's so threatening to male sexuality as we understand it that he will never grasp it. It's that special male-blindness I've mentioned before, willful and self-motivated: a product of patriarchy, not dicks and testosterone. And the funny/sad thing is these guys have no idea they're poking out their own eyes. He's uncovered a truth about a certain kind of penetration. I suspect that he was more willing to share his discovery with us because we're girls, deep down in our lizard brains we know the dangers of penetration; I doubt he'd tell any of his guy friends, though maybe I'm wrong. I think they'd call him a loon, a crybaby, an overreactor. If any of them had ever read a book in their lives, they'd probably call him a Dworkin. And if he took his thought to completion (as so few people seem to do), he'd be a Dworkin.

But he doesn't seem to be thinking in terms of rape, much less coming to the conclusion that All Sex Is Rape. C never says the word 'rape' and I don't want to make him use it. I feel bad. I feel terrible, terrible that he went through it.

"And ever since then, it's like gay men see me as fair game. They said I was gay, and I was like, 'no!' but no one cares."
I try to make a joke. I don't want him to feel bad. It's not the best joke. I realize right after I say it, and my heart jumps. Let's try that again.
"Nah, they know you're straight, they just think you're so hot that they have to take whatever chance they can, no matter how miniscule!"
"Yeah, they think I'm fair game!"
He has missed my sarcasm. He's gleaned rationalization from the statement, not bonding.

I decide to stop talking. I could try to connect his experience to mine - that was the intention of the joke, after all - to straight guys treating me like a straight girl - therefore, fair game - and by extension, the experience of all women, but why bother? He thinks he's special for being checked off as "to fuck" by other men, and he's already reached his limit for lite-feminist analysis today. Me, I would love for men to just look at me and know: LESBIAN. HANDS OFF, AVERT YOUR EYES. I guess I could dyke myself out, get a short haircut or wear rainbow suspenders all the time, but that wouldn't solve the problem, all women being public sexual property; it'd just make me more of a target for different reasons. I'm not special for being on that checklist, I'm just a woman.

The maddening thing is that I can tell he thinks, because of my joke, that I don't really get it. A few weeks before, M had told me what he really thought of my 'strong feminist views': firstly, that he figured it rose out of my own 'personal trauma.' I guess that's more or less true: having some sick-fuck man torture me physically and psychologically for months, keeping me a compliant prisoner in my own home, trying to destroy my body and mind before I was even old enough to know what was going on...certainly that gave me some early insight into male power. And surely growing up constantly bombarded with the message that I, as a female, am lesser, stupider, useless, a sex object, weak, erased from history by my own worthlessness, etc - those playground taunts and perfume commercials impacted my psyche, damn straight, and made me realize that there is a definite imbalance of power between the sexes. But he doesn't know any of that 'personal trauma.' I have never told him any of this. So I, bemused, asked her what she meant. What did he think my 'personal trauma' was?

"Oh," she said, rolling her eyes. "That you're a lesbian."
Ha!
"Ha!" I said. Not only is lesbianism possibly the best thing that ever happened to me, but it is a direct result of my feminism, not the cause. How could I ever love a man knowing what men do to women? How could I not love women, knowing they are just like me, knowing that they are not invested mind and soul with conquering me physically, legally, sexually - that we can have a truly egalitarian relationship. Being a lesbian is possibly the least traumatic thing to ever happen to me. Women are fucking amazing.

The other thing he said was that he could hold his own in a conversation about feminism with me - I presume from this that he thinks he could teach me a thing or two about FEMINISM and EQUALITY and shit. Men really do like to think that, don't they?
"I tried to explain to him that you're very well-read on the subject, but..."

But my years of study, the books and books and blogs and blogs I've poured through - the words from women all through time and space that I have soaked in, my whole female life that I have dedicated to understanding and perpetuating and living feminism, are inconsequential compared to his special Male Insight.

Feminism is philosophy, it is a body of theory; and I don't say this because I think feminism should be academic, reserved for a few with the resources to go to college. It's the opposite: feminism is for everybody, feminism is necessary for life. Feminism is the complete opposite of our current reality, our common philosophy (patriarchy). Feminism is the future, and the future is for everyone.  And because it's so completely different, so contrary to contemporary life, it can seem obscure. But you know, women all through time and space have come up with these thoughts; I am confident that all the things our feminist scholars say have been (and are still) thought by millions of women with no public voice, who cannot read, who have not been trained in ~philosophy~, who don't know what the fuck an Andrea Dworkin is. Feminism is the true, simple reality which has been buried by patriarchy, accessible to any woman with a shovel. It's there if you want it.

And men, for the most part, DO NOT WANT IT. Even a man, hoping to shirk his 'male'ness, picking up a shovel and trying to join in is going to be behind the rest of us ladies because he hasn't lived patriarchy like we have. Everyone's been brainwashed by patriarchy, but at least a woman has felt its effects, and so it is easier to unbrainwash oneself: feminism is the process of unbrainwashing. The man not only has to unbrainwash himself, but he has to learn a whole new way of being before he can really understand us and our lives, and it's just a shadow of our experience anyway. This is why I can only laugh bitterly when C says he could hold his own with me in a real feminist discussion, because first off, any feminist discussion I have with him will be elementary. There is a possibility, however slim, that he may be up for intermediate feminist discussion. But there is no fucking way that, if I were to give him a book by Mary Daly, that he'd be able to keep up. Dworkin would shock him. Even my beloved Shulie Firestone, so clear with her thoughts, would flummox him. It would all be incomprehensible to him. I say this confidently, knowing that somewhere out there there are men who understand their writings - but they are rare. He is not one of those rare men. I know him. He's sweet enough. But he's too blind.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

LINK DUMP

Rapists, Beware: Detroit Prosecutor IDs 21 Attackers in ‘Rape Kit’ Investigation
Kym Worthy has identified 21 serial rapists so far in a sweeping investigation that could have national implications. Abigail Pesta reports on the crusade to eliminate the rape-kit backlog. 

The Next Roe v. Wade? An Abortion Controversy in Idaho Inflames Debate
Jennie McCormack was arrested for terminating her pregnancy with an abortion pill. Her case could transform the reproduction wars.

Jim Lehrer: Ask Mitt Romney if He Stands By Mormonism’s Views of Women
Why hasn't Romney been asked if he agrees with his church's treatment of women? Stacey Solie on the weird silence.
(The comment section for this one, of course, is packed with mormons complaining how MEAN this article is.)

Abortion At Sea
A boat will soon dock in Morocco and offer women abortions onboard. Michelle Goldberg talks to the doctor behind an effort to bring safe abortions to nations where they're curtailed.

Syria’s Women Of The Revolution Indispensable To Rebel Fight 
Moving undetected across the front lines, female freedom fighters have become indispensable to the fight.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Monique Wittig, One Is Not Born A Woman (1981)

All italics hers, all boldings and typos mine.
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One Is Not Born A Woman
by Monique Wittig

A materialist feminist approach to women's oppression destroys the idea that women are a "natural group": "a racial group of a special kind, a group perceived as natural, a group of men considered as materially specific in their bodies." What the analysis accomplishes on the level of ideas, practice makes actual at the level of facts: by its very existence, lesbian society destroys the artificial (social) fact constituting women as a "natural group." A lesbian society pragmatically reveals that the division from men of which women have been the object is a political one and shows that we have been ideologically rebuilt into a "natural group." In the case of women, ideology goes far since our bodies as well as our minds are the product of this manipulation. We have been compelled in our bodies and in our minds to correspond, feature by feature, with the idea of nature that has been established for us. Distorted to such an extent that our deformed body is what they call "natural," what is supposed to exist as such before oppression. Distorted to such an extent that in the end oppression seems to be a consequence of this "nature" within our selves (a nature which is only an idea). What a materialist analysis does by reasoning, a lesbian society accomplishes practically: not only is there no natural group "women"  (we lesbians are living proof of it), but as individuals as well we question "woman," which for us, as for Simone de Beauvoir, is only a myth. She said: "One is not born, but becomes a woman. No biological, psychological, or economic fate determines the figure that the human female presents in society: it is civilization as a whole that produces this creature, intermediate between male and eunuch, which is described as feminine."

However, most of the feminists and lesbian-feminists in America and elsewhere still believe that the basis of women's oppression is biological as well as historical. Some of them even claim to find their sources in Simone de Beauvoir. The belief in a mother right and in a "prehistory" when women created civiliation (because of a biological predisposition) while the coarse and brutal men hunted (because of biological disposition) is symmetrical with the biologizing interpretation of history produced up to now by the class of men. It is still the same method of finding in women and men a biological explanation of their division, outside of social facts. For me this could never constitute a lesbian approach to women's oppression, since it assumes that the basis of society or the beginning of society lies in heterosexuality. Matriarchy is no less heterosexual than patriarchy: it is only the sex of the oppressor that changes. Furthermore, not only is this conception still imprisoned in the categories of sex (woman and man), but it holds onto the idea that the capacity to give birth (biology) is what defines a woman. Although practical facts and ways of living contradict this theory in lesbian society, there are lesbians who affirm that "women and men are different species or races (the words are used interchangeably): men are biologically inferior to women; male violence is a biological inevitability..." By doing this, by admitting that there is a "natural" division between women and men, we naturalize history, we assume that "men" and "women" have always existed and will always exist. Not only do we naturalize history, but also consequently we naturalize the social phenomena which express our oppression, making change impossible. For example, instead of seeing giving birth as as forced production, we see it as a "natural," "biological" process, forgetting that in our societies births are planned (demography), forgetting that we ourselves are programmed to produce children, while this is the only social activity "short of war" that presents such a great danger of death. Thus, as long as we will be "unable to abandon by will or impulse a lifelong and centuries-old commitment to childbearing as the female creative act," gaining control of the production of children will mean much more than the mere control of the material means of this production: women will have to abstract themselves from the definition "woman" which is imposed upon them.

A materialist feminist approach shows that what we take for the cause or origin of oppression is in fact only the mark imposed by the oppressor: the "myth of woman," plus its material effects and manifestations in the appropriated consciousness and bodies of women. Thus, this mark does not predate oppression: Colette Guillaumin has shown that before the socioeconomic reality of black slavery, the concept of race did not exist, at least not in its modern meaning, since it was applied to the lineage of families. However, now, race, exactly like sex, is taken as an "immediate given," a "sensible given," "physical features," belonging to a natural order. But what we believe to be a physical and direct perception is only a sophisticated and mythic construction, an "imaginary formation," which reinterprets physical features (in themselves as neutral as any others but marked by the social system) through the network of relationships in which they are perceived. (They are seen as black, therefore they are black; they are seen as women, therefore, they are women. But before they were seen that way, they first had to be made that way.) Lesbians should always remember and acknowledge how "unnatural," compelling, totally oppressive, and destructive being "woman" was for us in the old days before the women's liberation movement. It was a political constraint, and those who resisted it were accused of not being "real" women. But then we were proud of it, since in the accusation there was already something like a shadow of victory: the avowal by the oppressor that "woman" is not something that goes without saying, since to be one, one has to be a "real" one. We were at the same time accused of wanting to be men. Today this double accusation has been taken up again with enthusiasm in the context of the women's liberation movement by some feminists and also, alas, by some lesbians whose political goal seems somehow to be becoming more and more "feminine." To refuse to be a woman, however, does not mean that one has to become a man. Besides, if we take as an example the perfect "butch," the classic example of which provokes the most horror, whom Proust would have called a woman/man, how is her alienation different from that of someone who wants to become a woman? Tweedledum and Tweedledee. At least for a woman, wanting to become a man proves that she has escaped her initial programming. But even if she would like to, with all her strength, she cannot become a man. For becoming a man would demand from a woman not only a man's external appearance but his consciousness as well, that is, the consciousness of one who disposes by right of at least two "natural" slaves during his life span. This is impossible, and one feature of lesbian oppression consists precisely of making women out of reach for us, since women belong to men. Thus a lesbian has to be something else, a not-woman, a not-man, a product of society, not a product of nature, for there is no nature in society.

The refusal to become (or to remain) heterosexual always meant to refuse to become a man or a woman, consciously or not. For a lesbian this goes further than the refusal of the role "woman." It is the refusal of the economic, ideological, and political power of a man. This, we lesbians, and nonlesbians as well, knew before the beginning of the lesbian and feminist movement. However, as Andrea Dworkin emphasizes, many lesbians recently "have increasingly tried to transform the very ideology that has enslaved us into a dynamic, religious, psychologically compelling celebration of female biological potential." Thus, some avenues of the feminist and lesbian movement lead us back to the myth of woman which was created by men especially for us, and with it we sink back into a natural group. Having stood up to fight for a sexless society, we now find ourselves entrapped in the familiar deadlock of "woman is wonderful." Simone de Beauvoir underlined particularly the false consciousness which consists of selecting among the features of the myth (that women are different from men) those which look good and using them as a definition for women. What the concept "woman is wonderful" accomplishes is that it retains for defining women the best features (best according to whom?) which oppression has granted us, and it does not radically question the categories "man" and "woman," which are political categories and not natural givens. It puts us in a position of fighting within the class "women" not as the other classes do, for the disappearance of our class, but for the defense of "woman" and its re-enforcement. It leads us to develop with complacency "new" theories about our specificity: thus, we call our passivity "nonviolence," when the main and emergent point for us is to fight our passivity (our fear, rather, a justified one). The ambiguity of the term "feminist" sums up the whole situation. What does "feminist" mean? Feminist is formed with the word "femme," "woman," and means: someone who fights for women. For many of us it means someone who fights for women as a class and for the disappearance of this class. For many others it means someone who fights for woman and her defense -- for the myth, then, and its re-enforcement. But why was the word "feminist" chosen if it retains the least ambiguity? We chose to call ourselves "feminists" ten years ago, not in order to support or reenforce the myth of woman, nor to identify ourselves with the oppressor's definition of us, but rather to affirm that our movement had a history and to emphasize the political link with the old feminist movement.

It is, then, this movement that we can put in question for the meaning that it gave to feminism. It so happens that feminism in the last century could never resolve its contradictions on the subject of nature/culture, woman/society. Women started to fight for themselves as a group and rightly considered that they shared common features as a result of oppression. But for them these features were natural and biological rather than social. They went so far as to adopt the Darwinist theory of evolution. They did not believe like Darwin, however, "that women were less evolved than men, but they did believe that male and female natures had diverged in the course of evolutionary development and that society at large reflected this polarization." "The failure of early feminism was that it only attacked the Darwinist charge of female inferiority, while accepting the foundations of this charge -- namely, the view of woman as 'unique.'" [ed. note: both of these quotes are from Rosalind Rosenberg, "In Search of Women's Nature," Feminist Studies 3, no.1/2 (1975): 144. I have neglected to include most of Wittig's notes and citations because I'm lazy, but if you really want to know where something comes from, ask and I'll see what I can do.] And finally it was women scholars -- and not feminists -- who scientifically destroyed this theory. But the early feminists had failed to regard history as a dynamic process which develops from conflicts of interests. Furthermore, they still believed as men do that the cause (origin) of their oppression lay within themselves. And therefore after some astonishing victories the feminists of this first front found themselves at an impasse out of a lack of reasons to fight. They upheld the illogical principle of "equality in difference," an idea now being born again They fell back into the trap which threatens us once again: the myth of woman.

Thus it is our historical task, and only ours, to define what we call oppression in materialist terms, to make it evident that women are a class, which is to say that the category "woman" as well as the category "man" are political and economic categories not eternal ones. Our fight aims to suppress men as a class, not through a genocidal, but a political struggle. Once the class of "men" disappears, "women" as a class will disappear as well, for there are no slaves without masters. Our first task, it seems, is to always thoroughly dissociate "women" (the class within which we fight) and "woman," the myth. For "woman" does not exist for us: it is only an imaginary formation, while "women" is the product of a social relationship. We felt this strongly when everywhere we refused to be called a "woman's liberation movement." Furthermore, we have to destroy the myth inside and outside ourselves. "Woman" is not each one of us, but the political and ideological formation which negates "women" (the product of a relation of exploitation). "Woman" is there to confuse us, to hide the reality "women." In order to be aware of being a class and to become a class we first have to kill the myth of "woman" including its most seductive aspects (I think about Virginia Woolf when she said the first task of a woman writer is to kill "the angel in the house"). But to become a class we do not have to suppress our individual selves, and since no individual can be reduced to her/his oppression we are also confronted with the historical necessity of constituting ourselves as the individual subjects of our history as well. I believe this is the reason why all these attempts at "new" definitions of woman are blossoming now. What is at stake (and of course not only for women) is an individual definition as well as a class definition. For once one has acknowledged oppression, one needs to know and experience the fact that one can constitute oneself as a subject (as opposed to an object of oppression), that one can become someone in spite of oppression, that one has one's own identity. There is no possible fight for someone deprived of an identity, no internal motivation for fighting, since, although I can fight only with others, first I fight for myself.

The question of the individual subject is historically a difficult one for everybody. Marxism, the last avatar of materialism, the science which has politically formed us, does not want to hear anything about a "subject." Marxism has rejected the transcendental subject, the subject as constitutive of knowledge, the "pure" consciousness. All that thinks per se, before all experience, has ended up in the garbage can of history, because it claimed to exist outside matter, prior to matter, and needed God, spirit, or soul to exist in such a way.  This is what is called "idealism." As for individuals, they are only the product of social relations, therefore their consciousness can only be "alienated." (Marx, in The German Ideology, says precisely that individuals of the dominating class are also alienated, although they are the direct producers of the ideas that alienate the classes oppressed by them. But since they draw visible advantages from their own alienation they can bear it without too much suffering.) There exists such a thing as class consciousness, but a consciousness which does not refer to a particular subject, except as participating in general conditions of exploitation at the same time as the other subjects of their class, all sharing the same consciousness. As for the practical class problems -- outside of the class problems as traditionally defined -- that one could encounter (for example, sexual problems), they were considered "bourgeois" problems that would disappear with the final victory of the class struggle. "Individualistic," "subjectivist," "petit bourgeois," these were the labels given to any person who had shown problems which could not be reduced to the "class struggle" itself.

Thus Marxism has denied the members of oppressed classes the attribute of being a subject. In doing this, Marxism, because of the ideological and political power this "revolutionary science" immediately exercised upon the workers' movement and all other political groups, has prevented all categories of oppressed peoples from constituting themselves historically as subjects (subjects of their struggle, for example). This means that the "masses" did not fight for themselves but for the party or its organizations. And when economic transformation took place (end of private property, constitution of the socialist state), no revolutionary change took place within the new society, because they people themselves did not change.

For women, Marxism had two results. It prevented them from being aware that they are a class and therefore from constituting themselves as a class for a very long time, by leaving the relation "women/men" outside of the social order, by turning it into a natural relation, doubtless for Marxists the only one, along with the relation of mothers to children, to be seen this way, and by hiding the class conflict between men and women behind a natural division of labor (The German Ideology). This concerns the theoretical (ideological) level. On the practical level, Lenin, the party, all the communist parties up to now, including all the most radical political groups, have always reacted to any attempt on the part of women to reflect and form groups based on their own class problem with an accusation of divisiveness.  By uniting, we women are dividing the strength of the people. This means that for the Marxists women belong either to the bourgeois class or the proletariat class, in other words, to the men of these classes. In addition, Marxist theory does not allow women any more than other classes of oppressed people to constitute themselves as historical subjects, because Marxism does not take into account the fact that a class also consists of individuals one by one. Class consciousness is not enough. We must try to understand philosophically (politically) these concepts of "subject" and "class consciousness" and how they work in relation to our history. When we discover that women are the objects of oppression and appropriation, at the very moment that we become able to perceive this, we become subjects in the sense of cognitive subjects, through an operation of abstraction. Consciousness of oppression is not only a reaction to (fight against) oppression. It is also the whole conceptual reevaluation of the social world, its whole reorganization with new concepts, from the point of view of oppression. It is what I would call the science of oppression created by the oppressed. This operation of understanding reality has to be undertaken by every one of us: call it a subjective, cognitive practice. The movement back and forth between the levels of reality (the conceptual reality and the material reality of oppression, which are both social realities) is accomplished through language.

It is we who historically must undertake the task of defining the individual subject in materialist terms. This certainly seems to be an impossibility since materialism and subjectivity have always been mutually exclusive. Nevertheless, and rather than despairing of ever understanding, we must recognize the need to reach subjectivity in the abandonment of many of us to the myth of "woman" (the myth of woman being only a snare that holds us up). This real necessity for everyone to exist as an individual, as well as a member of a class, is perhaps the first condition for the accomplishment of a revolution, without which there can be no real fight or transformation. But the opposite is also true; without class and class consciousness there are no real subjects, only alienated individuals. For women to answer the question of the individual subject in materialist terms is first to show, as the lesbians and feminists did, that supposedly "subjective," "individual," "private" problems are in fact social problems, class problems; that sexuality is not for women an individual and subjective expression, but a social institution of violence. But once we have shown that the so-called personal problems are in fact class problems, we will still be left with the question of the subject of each singular woman -- not the myth, but each one of us. At this point, let us say that a new personal and subjective definition for all humankind can only be found beyond the categories of sex (woman and man) and that the advent of individual subjects demands first destroying the categories of sex, ending the use of them, and rejecting all sciences which still use these categories as their fundamentals (practically all social sciences).

To destroy "woman" does not mean that we aim, short of physical destruction, to destroy lesbianism simultaneously with the categories of sex, because lesbianism provides for the moment the only social form in which we can live freely. Lesbian is the only concept I know of which is beyond the categories of sex (woman and man), because the designated subject (lesbian) is not a woman, either economically, or politically, or ideologically. For what makes a woman is a specific social relation to a man, a relation that we have previously called servitude, a relation which implies personal and physical obligation as well as economic obligation ("forced residence," domestic corvée, conjugal duties, unlimited production of children, etc.), a relation which lesbians escape by refusing to become or to stay heterosexual. We are escapees from our class in the same way as the American runaway slaves were when escaping slavery and becoming free. For us this is an absolute necessity; our survival demands that we contribute all our strength to the destruction of the class of women within which men appropriate women. This can be accomplished only by the destruction of heterosexuality as a social system which is based on the oppression of women by men and which produces the doctrine of the difference between the sexes to justify this oppression.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

More fun with the etymological dictonary!

stag (n.) Look up stag at Dictionary.com
late 12c., probably from O.E. *stagga "stag," from P.Gmc. *stag- (see sting). The Old Norse equivalent was used of male foxes, tomcats and dragons and the Germanic root word perhaps originally meant "male animal in its prime." Meaning "pertaining to or composed of males only" (stag party) is American English slang from 1848. Stag film "pornographic movie" is attested from 1968.
 
Medea Look up Medea at Dictionary.com
famous sorceress, daughter of the king of Colchis, from L. Medea, from Gk. Medeia, lit. "cunning," related to medos "counsel, plan, device, cunning," medein "to protect, rule over," from PIE root *med- "to measure, limit, consider" (see meditation).
 
wife (n.) Look up wife at Dictionary.com
O.E. wif "woman," from P.Gmc. *wiban (cf. O.S., O.Fris. wif, O.N. vif, Dan., Swed. viv, M.Du., Du. wijf, O.H.G. wib, Ger. Weib), of uncertain origin. Du. wijf now means, in slang, "girl, babe," having softened somewhat from earlier sense of "bitch."

Some proposed PIE roots include *weip- "to twist, turn, wrap," perhaps with sense of "veiled person" (see vibrate); or *ghwibh-, a proposed root meaning "shame," also "pudenda," but the only examples of it are wife and Tocharian (a lost IE language of central Asia) kwipe, kip "female pudenda."

The modern sense of "female spouse" began as a specialized sense in Old English; the general sense of "woman" is preserved in midwife, old wives' tale, etc. Middle English sense of "mistress of a household" survives in housewife; and later restricted sense of "tradeswoman of humble rank" in fishwife. Wife-swapping is attested from 1954.
 
slut Look up slut at Dictionary.com
c.1400, "a dirty, slovenly, or untidy woman," probably cognate with dialectal Ger. Schlutt "slovenly woman," dialectal Swed. slata "idle woman, slut," and Du. slodder "slut," but the ultimate origin is doubtful. Chaucer uses sluttish (late 14c.) in reference to the appearance of an untidy man. Also "a kitchen maid, a drudge" (mid-15c.; hard pieces in a bread loaf from imperfect kneading were called slut's pennies, 18c.). Meaning "woman of loose character, bold hussy" is attested from mid-15c.; playful use of the word, without implication of loose morals, is attested from 1660s.
Our little girl Susan is a most admirable slut, and pleases us mightily. [Pepys, diary, Feb. 21, 1664]
Sometimes used 19c. as a euphemism for bitch to describe a female dog. There is a group of North Sea Germanic words in sl- that mean "sloppy," and also "slovenly woman," and that tend to evolve toward "woman of loose morals" (cf. slattern, also English dial. slummock "a dirty, untidy, or slovenly person," 1861; M.Du. slore "a sluttish woman").
 
 
whore (n.) Look up whore at Dictionary.com
O.E. hore "prostitute, harlot," from P.Gmc. *khoraz (fem. *khoron-) "one who desires" (cf. O.N. hora "adulteress," Dan. hore, Swed. hora, Du. hoer, O.H.G. huora "whore;" in Gothic only in the masc. hors "adulterer, fornicator," also as a verb, horinon "commit adultery"), from PIE *qar-, a base that has produced words in other languages for "lover" (cf. L. carus "dear;" O.Ir. cara "friend;" O.Pers. kama "desire;" Skt. Kama, name of the Hindu god of love, kamah "love, desire," the first element in Kama Sutra).

Whore itself is perhaps a Germanic euphemism for a word that has not survived. Some equivalent words in other languages also derive from sources not originally pejorative, e.g. perhaps O.Fr. pute, perhaps lit. "girl," fem. of V.L. *puttus (but perhaps rather from L. putidus "stinking;" see poontang). Welsh putain "whore" is from French, probably via Middle English. Cf. also Bohemian nevestka, dim. of nevesta "bride." And Du. deern, Ger. dirne originally "girl, lass, wench." Among other languages, Gk. porne "prostitute" is related to pernemi "sell," with an original notion, probably of a female slave sold for prostitution; L. meretrix is lit. "one who earns wages" (source of Ir. mertrech, O.E. miltestre "whore, prostitute").

The vulgar Roman word was scortum, lit. "skin, hide." Another term was lupa, lit. "she-wolf" (preserved in Sp. loba, It. lupa, Fr. louve; see wolf). And of course there was prostituta, lit. "placed in front," thus "publicly exposed," from the fem. pp. of prostituere (see prostitute). Another O.N. term was skækja, which yielded Dan. skøge, Swed. sköka; probably from M.L.G. schoke, which is perhaps from schode "foreskin of a horse's penis," perhaps with the sense of "skin" (cf. L. scortum) or perhaps via an intermediary sense of "vagina." Sp. ramera, Port. ramiera are from fem. form of ramero "young bird of prey," lit. "little branch," from ramo "branch." Breton gast is cognate with Welsh gast "bitch," of uncertain origin. Cf. also strumpet, harlot.

O.C.S. ljubodejica is from ljuby dejati "fornicate," a compound from ljuby "love" + dejati "put, perform." Rus. bljad "whore" derives from O.C.S. bladinica, from bladu "fornication." Pol. nierządnica is lit. "disorderly woman." Skt. vecya is a derivation of veca- "house, dwelling," especially "house of ill-repute, brothel." Another term, pumccali, means lit. "one who runs after men." Avestan jahika is lit. "woman," but only of evil creatures; another term is kunairi, from pejorative prefix ku- + nairi "woman." The wh- spelling became current 16c. A general term of abuse from at least 13c. Whore of Babylon is from Rev. xvii:1, 5, etc.
 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

"Of Arms, Breasts, and Amazons" by Bruce Lincoln

Excerpt from chapter 16 of Bruce Lincoln's Death, War, and Sacrifice, "Debreasting, Disarming, Beheading: Some Sacrificial Practices of the Scyths and Amazons." It's a short section titled "Of Arms, Breasts and Amazons." It starts right after the introductory paragraphs which need not be transcribed. Any typos are, regrettably, my own.
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Of Arms, Breasts, and Amazons
There is a great deal more that could be said here, but I would prefer not to get bogged down in talking about theories of sacrifice, theories of theories of sacrifice, or theories of theories. Rather, let me forego such a meta-discourse in favor of more directly engaging the relevant primary sources, beginning somewhat arbitrarily with chapter 17 of the Hippocratic treatise, which provides the earliest and most thorough explanation that we have of how and why it was that the Amazons [ed. note: "Amazon" possibly comes from Greek, and literally means "without breast;" this etymology, however, is considered spurious.] were supposed to have acquired their characteristic physical mark:
These women have no right breast, for in their infancy their mothers take a bronze instrument that is constructed for this very purpose, and after making it red-hot, they place it on the [daughter's] right breast  and cauterize it so that its growth is destroyed, and it surrenders all its strength and fullness to the right shoulder and arm. [italics his]

Although it is often said elsewhere that this debreasting was done so that in maturity Amazons might be able to draw bowstrings unimpeded across their chests, the passage I have quoted offers a different explanation, one that is less narrowly pragmatic in character. For it is said that they cauterize the breast -- and we will have to return and consider why this particular method of debreasting was specified -- "so that its growth is destroyed, and it surrenders [ekdidonai] all its strength and fullness to the right shoulder and arm." A breast is thus negated for the benefit of the arm, a soft  bodily member for one that is hard, and one that is weak, nurturant, and sustaining of life for one that is strong, martial, and -- in martial contexts -- a bringer of death. [ed. note: damn, are you getting a Mary Daly vibe from this dichotomy? Biophilic values vs. Necrophilic values. Mary Daly was a right-on woman.] In short, a member that is considered to be categorically female is sacrificed to  augment the power of one that is similarly regarded as categorically male (see figure 16.1).
Figure 16.1: Symbolic association in the Amazons' mastectomies, as described in the Hippocratic treatise On Airs, Waters, Places, ch, 17.
To the set of binary oppositions that is assembled under the master categories of the breast and the arm there is one more pair that should also be added, for it is absolutely central to the broader concerns of this Hippocratic text, for all that it may strike us as initially opaque. This is the contrast of the moist and the dry, and in order to appreciate its significance for the materials we have been considering, a bit of background is necessary.

The treatise On Airs, Waters, and Places is an early work of medical ecology, explicitly devoted to demonstrating that a region's climate shapes the bodies and characters of its residents in the same manner that it shapes the topography itself. At a not-so-very subtextual level, however, this is advanced less as a general theoretical proposition than -- in the wake of Greek victories in the Persian wars -- as the practical basis for comparing Europeans and Asians (under which category were included all non-Europeans), to the general detriment of the latter. [Ed. note: nota bene that the Amazons were in many sources considered to be from Asia Minor.] To this end, the text poses the argument that the greater variability of their seasons makes Europeans hardier, more energetic, wilder, and more warlike than Asians, while conversely the greater uniformity of their climate makes Asians milder, gentler, more beautiful, and also more torpid than their European counterparts. Going further, the text observes that Asians are not all alike, and proceeds to subcategorize them according to whether their climates are marked by consistent heat and dryness, as in the case of Egyptians and Libyans, or by an equally consistent cold and moisture, as in that of the Scythians, who "breath[e] a moist, thick air and drink water from snow and frosts," and therefore have bodies that are "thick, fleshy, jointless, moist and slack, and their bowels are the moistest of all bowels" (On Airs, Waters, and Places, 19). This system of contrasts, as graphed below in figure 16.2, thus identifies the Scythians as that people who are, by virtue of their climate, the moistest of all Asians, which is to say the weakest of the weak, and flabbiest of the mild.
Figure 16.2: Classification of the world's peoples in the Hippocratic treatise On Airs, Waters, and Places

If the text sees nature as having made Scythians weak, it also notes that they developed certain techniques for rectifying this unfortunate condition. As chapter 20 of the Hippocratic treatise tells us:
You will find that the majority of the Scythians...have been cauterized on the shoulders, arms, wrists, breasts, hips, and loins, for no reason other than the moistness and the softness of their bodies. For they are not able to draw their bows, or to throw their javelins from the shoulder due to their moistness and enervation. But as soon as they cauterize, most of the moisture in the joints is dried up and their bodies become more sinewy, better nourished, and very well knit.
The weakness of the Scythians was thus traced to a bodily moistness that was itself seen as a product of the climate in which they lived, and this moistness was therefore treated -- cured -- with fire. In contrast, the weakness and moistness of the Amazons was located less in their environment (they being recent immigrants to the north) than in their gender. For like women everywhere, Amazons lactate, something which permitted this text (and others like it) to argue that as a portion of female bodies -- the breast -- is given over to moisture, females are therefore inherently softer, weaker, and more phlegmatic than men. Unlike other women, however, the Amazons were said to have treated one of their breasts in the same way that Scythians treated much of their bodies, cauterizing it in order to dry up its inherent moisture. Cauterization may thus be understood as medico-physiological practice that was informed by a set of cosmological theories: theories in which, moreover, a racist and patriarchal position was thoroughly embedded. Obviously, one recoils at even the imaginary use of red-hot bronze to negate breasts in favor of arms, but equally offensive -- and even more insidious -- is the use of purportedly "scientific" discourse to advance the project of negating not just the moist in favor of the dry, but also the female in favor of the male, the Asian in favor of the European, and the weak in favor of the strong.

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I read this passage to my friend today as we met up to read Plato (for financial reasons, she's not in school this semester, so I'm going over my classroom reading with her so she doesn't fall behind...really, people need to make a statue of me in honor of my greatness and generosity!) and drink tea and discuss her paganism (for the record: I'm a complete and utter atheist, but I appreciate and am very interested in her worship of/experiences with gods, many of whom are Greek) and feminism (among other things, her sister is happily caught in The Mommy Trap, playing nursemaid to her useless fiance's child as he plays the distant "patriarch who controls everything, makes her do everything" without heeding T's advice to get away while she still can. "It drives me nuts, and my mom just keeps encouraging her." Her illustrative story: they all went out to dinner, and the kid started acting up. Suddenly, the father was nowhere to be found. "Where'd he go?" T asked, and her sister said, "Oh, it embarrasses him when the baby starts crying in public, so he went away." T rolled her eyes and said, "Next time that happens, I'm just gonna grab that baby and walk over and plop it it his lap. 'This is YOURS!'"), and weird movies and dreams. As I read it, she groaned and rolled her eyes and snorted at all the right times, and for the billionth time, I was grateful to have a feminist friend well-versed in the Classics who cares about this kind of shit.




Monday, September 17, 2012

James Marion Sims - Father Butcher by Wendy Brinker

Here is a truncated version of a terrifying article posted in the comments of a gendertrender post regarding the "Father" of gynecology, reposted here in hopes that it will get on more people's radars. Gee, talk about a patriarchal hero: racist to the core, necrophilic in the extreme, absolutely useless and not at all ashamed of it. Written by Wendy Brinker, full and original text here.
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Acting primarily as a plantation physician, Sims became known for operations on clubfeet, cleft palates and crossed eyes. He began to treat enslaved babies suffering from what he called "trismus nascentium,” now known as neonatal tetanus. Tetanus originates in horse manure, and it’s probable the proximity of  the slave quarters to the horse stables was the direct cause of the high rate of tetanus in enslaved babies. In an article published by Sims on the subject, he comes to quite another conclusion that offers us a glimpse into his personal views. "Whenever there are poverty, and filth, and laziness, or where the intellectual capacity is cramped, the moral and social feelings blunted, there it will be oftener found. Wealth, a cultivated intellect, a refined mind, an affectionate heart, are comparatively exempt from the ravages of this unmercifully fatal malady. But expose this class to the same physical causes, and they become equal sufferers with the first." Since he attributed the cause of the disease to the moral weakness of the enslaved Africans, he never suggested the need to improve their living conditions.

Sims also argued that the movement of the skull bones during a protracted birth contributed to trismus. Clearly designating patients by class and race, Sims began to exercise his freedom to experiment on the enslaved infants. He took custody of them and with a shoemaker's awl, a pointed tool used for making holes in leather, tried to pry the bones of their skulls into proper alignment. According to his published articles, this procedure was only practiced on enslaved African babies. Because he "owned" these poor, innocent children, he had free access to their bodies for autopsies, which he usually performed immediately after death. Sims routinely blamed "slave mothers and nurses for infant suffering, especially through their ignorance."

Enslaved African midwives were numerous throughout the South. For hundreds of years, childbirth was not considered a "sickness" and for the most part, physicians did not attend births. But in the mid-nineteenth century, the attitude of the white male medical practitioners towards midwifery was changing. Male-dominated medicine was now challenging female-governed childbirth. The African midwife’s spiritual traditions and knowledge of rituals and herbs handed down orally through generations earned her honor and respect among the enslaved. Just as the Southern physician was at the core of his social web, the midwife enjoyed the equivalent status. This could have fueled the white master's need to remove them from positions of prominence. The early obstetricians chose to exclude midwives from their research and utterly dismissed their collective knowledge. Reminiscent of witch-hunts, persecution of midwives by white males was beginning to play out again on southern plantations.

Women were pivotal in slavery’s very definition. Enslavement was perpetuated through the status of the mother. If she was a slave, so were her children. They were frequently the objects of aggressive sexual rapes from those who held power over them. The economy of slavery imposed the role of "breeder" on these women and their ability to reproduce was equated with their worth as property. They never received enhanced diets or lower workloads while pregnant and often endured great hardships during childbirth. Reasons for prolonged labor among African women were probably related to their diet. In a relatively high percentage of Africans, dairy products not only fail to yield calcium in digestion, but can also cause sickness. Calcium deficiencies during childhood often result in rickets. This condition isn't fatal, however it causes skeletal deformities, among them a contracted pelvis that would result in a prolonged delivery. Not surprisingly, a condition known as vesico-vaginal fistulas, or vaginal tears, was prevalent among enslaved women.

One spring afternoon in 1845, Sims was summoned to the Westcott plantation about a mile out of Montgomery. A young, enslaved woman named Anarcha, one of seventy-five Africans held captive there, had been in labor for three days without delivering. Sims tried to aid the birth by applying forceps to the impacted head of the fetus. He recalled having little experience using the instrument. The baby was born - no record if it lived or died - and the mother sustained several fistulas, resulting in incontinence. It is unclear whether Sims inflicted the damage himself while using the unfamiliar forceps or they occurred as a result of the prolonged birth. Several days after Anarcha delivered, she was sent to Sims in hopes he could repair the damage. Sims found her condition repugnant. Her value diminished considerably, and Sims obliged to her master, he attempted to repair Anarcha's badly damaged body.

Sims showed an uncommon willingness to break cultural barriers in his treatment of female disorders. Most physicians in the Victorian period shunned the impropriety of visually examining a woman internally. They generally relied on the use of touch as a more genteel method. Earlier in his career, Sims treated a female patient who had been thrown off a pony. He placed her on her hands and knees and fashioned a crude tool from a pewter spoon to expand the walls of the vagina. This spoon was the first prototype for the speculum, now called the Sims speculum. The patient's relief was immediate, since the change in air pressure successfully relocated her uterus to its proper position. Sims described the moment as if he had a spiritual epiphany. "I cannot, nor is it needful for me to describe, my emotions when the air rushed in and dilated the vagina to its greatest capacity whereby its whole surface was seen at one view, for the first time by any mortal man." His success with this single procedure now convinced Sims he could find a surgical remedy for vesico-vaginal fistulas. Finally, he could make a name for himself.

Eager to devote the rest of his life to this condition, he built a crude sixteen-bed hospital in his backyard. To aid him in his experiments, he fashioned over 71 surgical instruments. Sims sent for as many cases as he could find. Plantation owners were happy to turn their incontinent, damaged female slaves over to Sims for experimentation. They were of little use to their masters in their present condition. Between January 1846 and June 1849, he experimented surgically on as many as eleven patients at one time. Two enslaved women in addition to Anarcha - Betsy and Lucy - were also young women who contracted fistulas giving birth for the first time. Together, these three women endured repeated operations and were patients of Sims for the duration of the hospital's existence. Anarcha is believed to have undergone over thirty operations.

Sims subscribed to a commonly held belief that Africans had a specific physiological tolerance for pain, unknown by whites. He never felt the need to anesthetize his black patients in Montgomery. The white women, who came to him after the surgery was an accepted form of treatment, were unable to withstand the same operation without anesthesia according to Sims. While he never administered anesthesia during the experiments, he did include opium in his postoperative treatment. Opium kept the patients still, aiding the healing process, and Sims found the accompanying constipation a necessity in the aftermath of surgery. He also emphasized giving the patient minimal food and water for a two-week period after surgery.

In the first months of the original surgeries, Sims would invite his colleagues to witness the operations. As the number of operations grew and the failures mounted, Sims soon found himself operating alone. The hospital was "off limits" to Sims’ family so he had to rely on the assistance of the enslaved victims themselves. After a couple of years of repeated surgeries and failures, his wife's brother, Dr. Rush Jones from the neighboring county of Lowndes, implored him to stop his experiments. "We have watched you, and sympathized with you; but your friends here have seen that of late you are doing too much work, and that you are breaking down. And, besides, I must tell you frankly that with your young and growing family, it is unjust to them to continue in this way, and carry on this series of experiments." Sims replied, "I am going on … to the end. It matters not what it costs, if it costs me my life." To those close to Sims, it appeared his preoccupation with the experiments had become an obsession.

Sims had been suturing the vaginal tears with materials common to that era, mostly silk and catgut, which absorbed bodily fluid. This caused inflammation around the wounds, promoting horrible infections that would never heal. It is unclear what prompted Sims to have his jeweler fashion some fine silver wire for suturing wounds. He used it on one of Anarcha's fistulas at the base of her bladder. Days later, when Sims found no infection, he declared that silver sutures were the key to mending vesico-vaginal fistulas. He quickly utilized the metal sutures on all of his captives and claimed to have cured them all, but there is no outside evidence to support his claim.  He declared, "I had made, perhaps, one of the most important discoveries of the age for the relief of suffering humanity." Sims never recorded if he was able to heal Anarcha of her other fistulas and to this day, physicians debate the type of suture to use in the operation, although the condition is rarely seen anymore. Sims' success remains unsubstantiated by all medical standards.

In the fall of 1849, Sims was stricken with an intestinal illness and spent several years moving from place to place in search of relief. In 1853, he moved to the cooler climate of New York. While Sims maintained a strong commitment to the morality of owning slaves and held a strong allegiance to the South, he began to revise and moderate his tone for the different political climate he found on Madison Avenue. Sims evaded the issue of slavery and race and never admitted publicly that he experimented on patients who did not own their own bodies. In his use of woodcuts accompanying his lectures, he portrayed his earlier female patients as white. Now that he chose to practice among white women of the upper and middle classes, he stated of his surgeries, "I though only of relieving the loveliest of all God's creation." It seems he'd forgotten his distaste for Anarcha, Betsy and Lucy and all of the other enslaved women he had mutilated or killed over the years.

J. Marion Sims went on to convince a group of philanthropic women of the old New York's elite class that his motives were sincere and his methods proven. He garnered enough enthusiasm and financial support to set up a woman's charity hospital in May of 1855. Sims was once again in business to perform his operations, this time, on poor Irish immigrant women. He is honored with a statue on the corner of 103rd Street and Fifth Avenue for his contributions. He traveled extensively to Europe and enjoyed the reputation of being a famous American doctor. While abroad in 1863, he was asked to examine Empress Eugenie of France. This is how the inscription came to read, "treating alike empress and slave," although he employed very different methods of treatment depending on the patient's social status. He faithfully sent money to support the confederacy, but never returned to the south. He died in New York in 1883.

The success of J. Marion Sims as "the father of gynecology" in the United States solely resulted from the personal sacrifices of the enslaved African women he experimented on from 1845 to 1849. Had they not been his property, giving him carte blanche to cut them open and sew them back up as he saw fit, he could never have devised the surgical technique that brought him international recognition. He never expressed any interest in the cause of vesico-vaginal fistulas or in the health of the women themselves. Nor did he concern himself with the extent of recovery made by the patients. And never did he express moral uncertainty over keeping women captive for the expressed purpose of painful surgical experimentation.

Undeniably, nineteenth century medical practices were crude and painful, but Sims' contemporaries felt him unnecessarily cruel. Since it was illegal for enslaved Africans to read or write, an offense punishable by death, Anarcha, Betsy and Lucy left no account of their ordeal. We can only imagine what they endured at the hands of Sims. All over the world, Sims has been honored and memorialized with statues and plaques. Buildings, hospitals, foundations, schools and streets bare his name. While it is impossible to negate the historical context of his racial, class and gender biases, shouldn't we agree to apply some basic standard of humanity to those we choose to honor?

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A few notes:
1. Sims is famous for innovating a specifically vaginal speculum, but of course speculi were in use in ancient times, at least among the Greeks and Romans. Speculum specimens have been found in Pompeii, and my Women in Antiquity professor brought in a model of one to pass around. All ten or so women, and the two dudes, regarded it with unmasked horror.
2. I assume most of the radfemblogosphere is aware of the continuing horror of post-birth fistulas, but if not, here's a link to that charity everyone else always links to: The Fistula Foundation. If you've got cash to spare, it sounds like a mighty worthy cause!