This is a true story, not fiction. It happened to my mother and to me. I’m putting it here because it’s a story with multiple characters and a complicated plot and I can’t fit it neatly into Twitter. Also it’s after 11 pm and I’m tired. But here goes.
On June 6, 1944, D-Day, my parents were both working in the defense industry as aeronautical engineers in the Chicago area, and living in a 38 foot trailer in a former apple orchard now trailer park some miles from where they worked. That night, hearing on the radio that the D-Day landings were still going on, they had sex. I was told nothing about the sex except that I was conceived on D-Day night (which was probably already June 7 in Normandy, but they were in Illinois.) Fast forward eight-ten-twelve weeks. My mother found out she was pregnant (back then, no instant pregnancy tests. It took a lot longer and a rabbit’s death.) She had lost pregnancies before, several times, full term stillbirths. Four boys. She’d been told it would pose a danger to her health to get pregnant again but…D-Day. So she was very happy. She came home to tell my father, and he had something to tell her…he had gotten another woman pregnant, and he wanted a divorce so that he could marry the other woman and make the other woman’s child legitimate. (The Irony Bunny shows up here: the other woman*wasn’t* pregnant but thought she was. Or wanted to marry. You can forget about her, though I can’t help wondering. Blonde, redhead, brunette?)
My mother pointed out that she and my father were already married, had been married for some years, and that she was pregnant herself…and if she gave him a divorce, then *her* child (me, that is) would be illegitimate. At the time, that was a bigger deal than it may be legally now; being illegitimate was a tough thing to be (I had a friend in college who was.) A child had to be born in the marriage not just conceived in the marriage to be legitimate on the birth certificate. My father was angry with her. She was more stunned than angry, at least at first. His next demand was that she get an abortion–then illegal except in certain cases. She’d lost the other pregnancies, he said. She refused.
My father was, himself, the product of a “broken home”; his mother had divorced his father, although my father had known him through part of his childhood (his father was killed in a trolley accident.) My father’s mother treasured her son, indulged her son, and thought he should have whatever he wanted. Including an unobstructed path to a second marriage, if that’s what he wanted. My parents went to see her and she sided with her son. When my mother refused, because she was pregnant with a legitimate child of the marriage…my father’s mother, my paternal grandmother, tried to push my mother down a steep flight of stairs to cause her to have a miscarriage. So that her grandchild, me, would die. My mother was always adamant that my father didn’t do the pushing, and I believe her. But my father had been violent with my mother at least once before, early in their marriage. My father continued to argue with her badger her, to get the illegal abortion and let him marry the other woman. I don’t know what the defining moment was. But sometime in the fall or early winter, she invited someone she knew to come with her, a woman she’d met several years earlier, and she packed her clothes in the car and took off for south Texas, where her family lived.
No interstates in those days. Wartime. Gasoline rationing. Food rationing. Today it’s 1437 miles, using mostly interstates, with an estimated drive time of 22 hours. Back then the roads ran through the middle of every town or city, speed limits were more variable, and the modern route I get on Google Maps is not the one she took (they came through Oklahoma.) I’m not sure how long it took. She didn’t have a map–her companion asked how she was going to find her way and my mother said Texas is big, we’ll run into it and then from there it’s south to San Antonio and south again from there. So it was more miles for her, probably well over 1500. Once she was in Texas, she’d know all the road signs. Some days later they reached her father’s place near Donna, which after bleak wartime Chicago felt, she said, like paradise. Fruit coming ripe on the citrus trees, winter vegetables coming up in the fields, cabbages, carrots, onions, warm sun, flowers everywhere, rationing much less evident because it was mostly farm country and across the border was Mexico. She was safe from my father and whatever he’d done that sent her on a hasty road trip.
She stayed there through the pregnancy and gave birth on my birthday (of course) in spring. She had a C-section because the baby (me, again) was in a transverse lie…crosswise, back to the opening I was supposed to come out of. Her doctor tried a version–turning–to get me positioned right, but I was determined to stay in and not come out yet, and within an hour had repositioned myself in an impossible position for birth. She hemorrhaged badly after I came out, and nearly died, but didn’t. Six weeks later she moved us out of her father’s house and into a rented house 10 miles away, in what became my home town. Her stepmother (her mother had died when she was 14) was her mother’s older sister, and now had cancer.
My father came down, admitted the other woman hadn’t been pregnant, and said he might agree to stay married, but he wanted her to understand he had needs and would have sex with other women any time he felt like it. My grandfather wanted to kill him (honor killings were still fairly common, more common in Mexico but common enough in Texas that he probably wouldn’t have been charged with a crime. Many men weren’t.) My mother talked him down off the ceiling, saying his granddaughter (me, again) shouldn’t have that stigma (not that it was) on her grandfather. Instead, since I was now officially and legally legitimate, she agreed to divorce him (he had no grounds; she did) and if she hadn’t eventually burned the divorce papers (which I’d found and read one summer) I could share the totally silly complaints he had about her, which made the judge angry (for one I remember: in wartime, with meat rationing, and before that in the Great Depression, he complained that she hadn’t fed him enough meat.)
You might think, from this, that I would be opposed to abortion because I’m alive due to my mother’s determination to *not* have an abortion. You would be wrong. My mother had trained as a nurse as well as an engineer (after discovering that nobody would hire her as a female engineer because that would be depriving a man of a job–until war made that finding and using every engineering talent in the country necessary.) As a nurse she became aware that abortions, though illegal, were done for medical causes and necessary to save women’s lives. She wasn’t in favor of abortions, but she also wasn’t in favor of women dying of the medical complications of pregnancy, or having to raise a rapist’s child. She thought women had worth as individual people whether or not they ever reproduced, whatever their race, religion, immigrant status. She had, though nominally white, with white surnames on both sides of the family, been scorned as probably mixed race, both in school and later, because she “looked like it..” She had straight black hair and tanned easily; I have a picture of her in her early 20s where she looked “exotic”. And one of her in childhood surrounded by blond cousins; she’s clearly the different one. And there was a carefully concealed trace, I learned only later when it mattered less, of “something” that strongly suggests there was “something” that could have sent one great-great-great grandmother back to slavery or exile for being mixed-race when the rule was “one drop of blood.” (Among my more distant relatives in that side of the family, there’s still disagreement about what Hester’s ancestry was, with some still frantically certain that she could not have had *any* African ancestor.) My own view is that any family who immigrated as white in the 1600s, 1700s, or pre-Civil War 1800s has to have branches and twigs with either African or Native American ancestry, and often both. Especially if any of them lived south of New York and or west of the eastern shore.) Three quarters of mine go way back, with origin regions including the Carolinas, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts that I know about (and probably more.) Hester had a Melungen surname out of Tennessee.
Half my father’s ancestry was late-arriving Dutch who became farmers in Iowa; his mother was the outlaw daughter who married outside whatever religion they were (dour, my mother said; they didn’t approve of her because she was “dark” and she wasn’t their religion). My father’s mother married a guy with Irish/English/whatever ancestry who supposedly had an ancestor related to the second group of boats arriving in Massachusetts. My father dug that up, but since he wasn’t a totally reliable witness (understatement) I’m not sure I believe it, or his claiming that I have a line to Daniel Boone or the Englishman who owned a castle in Ireland. I’m not into genealogy; I was taught at home and in school that what matters is who I, the present person was–how I acted, what I achieved for good or ill–was what mattered most. Everybody has ancestors, I was told, but what they did doesn’t change what YOU do, and that’s what you’re responsible for. So someone in your ancestry who owned, or didn’t own, a castle, someone in your background who was on the second arrival in Massachusetts Bay Colony, someone in your ancestry who had a gristmill in Pennsylvania (guesswork here) can’t make you honest or dishonest, hardworking or lazy, friendly or unfriendly, patriot or traitor, etc. You’re not a totally blank slate; you got eye color, hair color, skin color and sometimes height and a tendency to be stout or skinny through genes, but the other stuff…you make with your own choices. My ancestry doesn’t explain all my choices, all my opinions, all my actions…and I don’t know most of it anyway. So, back to the main topic here.
I believe there are three heinous crimes against women in relation to pregnancy and childbirth: 1) forcing a woman to have sex (rape, whether done by a family member, friend, or stranger), 2)forcing a woman to abort a pregnancy she wants to continue, and 3)forcing a woman to carry a pregnancy she does not want to continue. Making contraception illegal or very difficult is part of forcing a girl/woman to get pregnant and carry a pregnancy she does not want, and the proposed legislation now before some state legislatures, to make contraception illegal is another heinous crime against women, included in the others. Excusing forced continuation of pregnancy (as the leaked draft suggests) on the grounds that “it provides a domestic source of babies for adoption” is beyond disgusting, and I say that as an adoptive mother: I do not believe that women who cannot have a biological child have a right to demand that other women go through pregnancy for them. (Surrogate mothers who volunteer…maybe OK. But coerced pregnancy is equivalent to rape.)
I believe these things on the basis of my own life experience, and the life experience of not just my mother but other girls and women I’ve known, some raped from infancy, repeatedly, in their families, by fathers, brothers, grandfathers, uncles, and some by those outside the family. Girls and women denied education (either by family or by “deeply-rooted tradition” of institutions limited to men), employment, adequate pay in employment, shamed for wanting to be doctors, lawyers, veterinarians, accountants (not just “bookkeepers”), engineers, scientists, , shamed for being “too smart” and thus “embarrassing men,” for “taking men’s jobs” are examples of crimes against women not directly related to reproduction. I have experienced both sexual assaults and gender-based discrimination and shaming since early childhood despite my mother’s efforts to protect me as a child and teenager. I know the effects on body and mind of the constant pressure insisting that females are less capable, less smart, less worth listening to, less in every way. That divorced women are immoral, and children of divorce are doomed in one way or another. When a teacher in first grade told me I should not have won a race because girls shouldn’t outrun boys–it hurt the boys’ feelings…or made higher grades or better test scores than most boys, because that too hurt boys’ feelings…when another teacher treated any mistake I made as proof that my mother-the-divorcee was a bad, immoral parent…when I (who had nearly perfect grades) was told by a junior high counselor that I was an “at risk” student because my mother worked and was divorced…or when a high school counselor wanted me to refuse a science award so a boy could have it…or when a calculus prof told me “girls can’t learn calculus,” and girls I knew were being told that they shouldn’t go to grad school because boys needed those places to escape being sent to Vietnam…it tied in to my mother being told by a college prof he would flunk her in a required class for her degree because no woman should be an engineer, and to the man who attacked her in the factory with a rivet gun because a woman engineer must be a witch, and to the geologist lecher in an office where she worked who thought any divorced woman was an OK target for sexual assault (nor was he the only one. Whatever happened was the woman’s fault.) The shaming of women who are single all along or women who are divorced…is still going on; the shaming of mothers whose children have problems, mothers who work outside the home, mothers who don’t have “enough” children or “too many” children…is still going on. If a white father is fully employed and “providing a home” he won’t be blamed…it’s the mother’s fault, the woman’s fault…but if the children do well, he’ll be called a great father even if he’s done nothing to help.
I would call myself a feminist for my views, but I’m not considered a feminist by many who are acceptable in that regard because I don’t fit the picture *exactly*. I was told in college by the feminist clique that to be one I had to be a whole list of things I wasn’t (including correctly dressed in properly “distressed” jeans and the right brand of sandals and the right tops instead of the hand-me-downs I had.) My mother was far less a feminist then I was, but she was constantly criticized for one thing or another…I’m the one who got angry about that. About the lecherous geologist and the nasty office manager and pay scale all the women supporting families labored under (worse than now–under half what men were paid because “women don’t need it; they have husbands to support them”–the constant need for her to be aware of every single aspect of her life, which was scrutinized to the hilt, just to maintain a smidgen of social approval.
But–to bring this to some kind of close: men (mostly but not exclusively white men) have had forms of Affirmative Action keeping them on top in multiple cultures for centuries on centuries. They’ve been able to bar women from professions, guilds, unions, businesses, and enrich themselves at women’s expense. They’ve been able to shape legal systems to keep women subordinate, outside the power structure. They have arrogated to themselves all the power, all the privileges, while pretending (as malignant narcissists do) to be the victim of those they subordinated and insisting that women not only couldn’t do what they did, but shouldn’t even want to do any of it. And in this mess, some women colluded with the men, some for their own survival, and some for their own profit (beyond survival.) And many, many, many thousands of women died at the hands of men, and as the result of what men decided.
I’m done with that, with the shame, with the despair, with the “Let’s be little ladies” and the “You need to calm down” and the “You’re being hysterical.” This is what it is, and was what it was, and what it was and is WILL change…and now would be a good time. It would be a good time because I’ve already broken the rules, including the one that led to my screaming into the telephone yesterday when called by a Republican caller for one of their big PACs, “GO FUCK YOURSELF.” Another Dem friend of mine is also hassled regularly by GOP callers; she just talks back to them in rational ways, but yesterday I hit my breaking point forever. If I now can’t stop yelling that into the phone, then trying to maintain any kind of decorum here is useless.
I don’t give a damn about the GOP Justices on the Supreme Courts’ feelings. That kind of man gets hurt feelings, scared feelings, any time the women he’s abusing don’t instantly submit and beg pardon. I don’t give a damn about their lawns being stood on. (Their neighbors organized the protests…) They refused to protect those providing legal abortions, struck down a law that provided a narrow but crucial safe corridor for those seeking abortions to get inside the clinics. Why the HELL should they be protected from people chanting “We won’t go back” when they wouldn’t protect others from the kind of attackers who *killed* clinic staff?
I have no more fucks to give; they’re all used up. If you deserve an F-U, then you’ll have to find your own fuck to stick up your rear as you march into hell. It’s now almost noon the day after I started this. Comments will be *tightly* monitored and moderated with…mmm…extreme prejudice. Be good or be gone.