Sisterhood is Powerful

Kathie Sarachild -- credited with the the words Sisterhood is Powerful

Kathie Sarachild — the woman behind the title — google her name

My after college friends, the two women I hung out with in Boston from 1969 until 1975 when I finally moved out, having had it with doggie poo on the streets, a discouraging proportion of gay to straight men on Beacon Hill, and a neighbor across the alley who hosted orgies with the windows wide open, were okay attractive, intelligent, liberal thinking, book-reading, professionals with masters degrees making decent salaries.

MARRIAGE AND WORK

We weren’t girls who went to college only looking for a husband, but I am sure none of us would have turned the right one away had he come along.  I, for one, was engaged to a college sweetheart before coming to my senses.  Actually I was out of my senses when I dramatically, hysterical and in tears, in the presence of quite a few people, most of whom I didn’t know, at some gathering in a now-forgotten city in New Jersey, declared that our engagement was a huge mistake.  I had been building up to it.  Once said, I wondered why it took me so long to admit.

Marriage was important to us, and so were children.  And certainly, what was wrong with having someone it would be so nice to come home to.  

We were living the life of independent women, meeting for lunch at Grendel’s Den, and later for drinks and steamers at the bar in The Half Shell.  We devoured Anais Nin, Doris Lessing, and Simone de Beauvoir, but we weren’t exactly all on the same page.  They were getting fired up and fortifying their stance with Betty Friedan and Germaine Greer while I was fueling my angst and imagination with Violet Leduc and Caitlin Thomas.  

L. gave herself a birthday party with girlfriends every year.  We were all at her mother’s house celebrating.  I must have stepped out of the room, probably to attend to an uncomfortable contact lens, which was a constant source of squinchiness during my twenties.  I vividly remember returning to the kitchen where the talk was about discrimination against women in the work force:  less salary, no respect, limited prospects.  Women could be librarians, sales clerks, secretaries, and beauticians:  cooks but not chefs, teachers but not principals, nurses but not doctors.

They talked of how women need financial independence to be in control of their own destinies.  Not all women chose to marry, or were chosen to be married, and many who married found themselves trapped in uncomfortable if not intolerable situations.  If they married, they wanted the right to work even though they knew it still meant that hubby expected his working wife to be at home, relaxed and lovely, with drink in hand and dinner on the table, and children clean and done with homework every night when he returned from the job.  And so forth. 

Everyone stared at me when I walked into the room and said something like:  “It’s ugly in the work environment.  It’s stifling, stressful, competitive, demeaning, nasty.  How many men enjoy their work, or get to choose?  No man should have to wake each morning, rush off to the office or factory, squelching his spirit to make the boss happy.  Men are suffocating in mines and in bureaucracies acting out scenarios that make them cringe.  Women don’t have many choices, but if my only choices were entering the so-called man’s duplicitous work world or staying at home in the woman’s realm, well I’d rather be barefoot and pregnant.”  Or something like that. 

From then on I was Aunt Tom.

ABORTION AND BIRTH CONTROL    

In my senior year at high school I dated an older boy who adored me because of my innocence, and would have been very happy to take it away.  He thought fear of pregnancy kept me a virgin.  But my fears went deeper than that.  He gave me a book to read about abortion, illegal at the time.  It spoke to the different options available to women of different economic and social classes, and of the many reasons women chose to terminate a pregnancy, and of the disastrous outcomes of back alley botches.  It all made sense to me, but it did not have the desired effect – or perhaps he was just interested in my education?

A few years later, in a conversation about the pill and abortion, a college roommate told me her mother had had an abortion.  My ambivalence showed, and so did my roommate’s annoyance.  By the end of the conversation, however, I knew if an untimely or inappropriate pregnancy should occur, I would opt for abortion – even an illegal one.  I was still lily white at this time.

I did go on the pill almost immediately when I met that college sweetheart.  The local doctor in my college town refused to give me a prescription and shooed me out with a moral berating.  My beau’s sister lent me her wedding band and sent me to her own ob-gyn and all was well – for me, and for her family who really didn’t care very much for me. 

No one in my circle of friends, acquaintances, family, favorite authors, or historical heroes truly believed that the decision of whether a woman got pregnant or ended one had anything to do with the law.  The law was just something to work around – an outdated nuisance.  And this law was based on religion beliefs.  Everyone knew from seventh grade American history class that there was a separation between church and state.  We read The Scarlet Letter, a tale of adultery taking place in a Puritan colony in 1642, before our enlightened founding fathers wrote the Constitution setting the separation of church and state in stone!  

Curious about when the pill was first available to women in the United States I asked the computer.  The FDA approved it for contraceptive use in 1960.   I also learned that Eisenhower thought that birth control was not in the government’s purview.  At least that’s how I interpreted his words the first time I saw them out of context on The Pill.  He was quoted:

I cannot imagine anything more emphatically a subject that is not a
proper political or governmental activity or function or responsibility.

Miraculously discovered  in Mom & Dad's matchbook collection two days ago.

A timely discovery in Mom & Dad’s matchbook collection

Wow!  Eisenhower was once more on my side.  Birth control was not a government issue. 

When I went back online to do some research, I found more.  The sound bite was taken from Eisenhower’s response to a question at a press conference in 1959.  He was asked for his reaction to the recommendation that the United States provide information on birth control to countries asking for help to alleviate crippling overpopulation.  The rest of his answer:

This thing has for very great denominations a religious meaning, definite religious tenet in their own doctrine. I have no quarrel with them; as a matter of fact this being largely the Catholic Church, they are one of the groups that I admire and respect. But this has nothing to do with governmental contact  with other governments.  We do not intend to interfere with the internal affairs of any other government, and if they want to do something about what is admittedly a very difficult question, almost an explosive question that is their business.  If they want to go to someone for help, they will go unquestionably to professional groups not to governments. This Government has no, and will not  as long as I am here have a positive political doctrine in its program that has to do with this problem of birth control. That’s not our business.

Margaret Sanger, at the age of 80, challenged Eisenhower to a debate “to put him straight on the question of planned parenthood.” 

Googling on, I found that Eisenhower’s words have been used to back up both pro and anti-birth control constituencies throughout the years.   

What did he actually believe?  More than that, what did he actually say?  I see the words, but what is a “positive political doctrine?”  What about a “negative political doctrine?” Did he choose his words carefully or was this an Obama “You didn’t build that” moment. 

As a former archivist and one who loves finding the answer, I know this topic requires more in-depth original document research.  What I’m finding online are various bits and pieces of history strung together to promote opposing agendas.  It is hard enough to approximate the truth in news and history when it is written by journalists and scholars with high standards for their work.  It’s impossible when writers and news commentators and our politicians lie outright, and twist and contort words and make up facts to promote themselves or promote fear.  Eisenhower is merely an interesting aside here.  This is not a dissertation, just my silly blog post, and I can’t devote weeks to find the answers. I’m clearly pointing out that I know not of what I write.  And neither do a lot of  “experts.” 

Eisenhower Birth-CurbWhatever his personal opinion on birth control – his official answer to the US getting involved in population control overseas was “no.” 

A few years later however, Former President Eisenhower, along with Harry S. Truman, “agreed to serve as co-chairman of the honorary sponsors council of Planned Parenthood-World Population,”  co-chair of Planned Parenthood, or co-chair of a financial campaign for Planned Parenthood – take your pick.  It depends upon where you look.

He did say, however, in a message to Planned Parenthood in 1968:

“Millions of parents in our country — hundreds of millions abroad — are still denied the clear human right of choosing the number of children they will have. Government must act, and private citizens must cooperate urgently through voluntary means to secure this right for all peoples. Failure would limit the expectations of future generations to abject poverty and suffering, and bring down upon us history’s condemnation.”

Planned Parenthood’s Fact Sheet on Republicans on Choice, Family Planning, and Privacy, a teacher’s aid, interprets Eisenhower’s words as his seeing “reproductive rights for what they are — basic human rights.”

Yes!

But according to Donald T. Critchlow in The Politics of Abortion and Birth Control in Historical Perspective (1996) Eisenhower agreed “after some hesitation” which is interpreted in wiki.answers that he agreed “albeit reluctantly.”

It is outrageous that abortion and birth control are still controversial political issues.   The people who vote for political leaders who hold women in such contempt that they deny them safe and simple health care and control of their own bodies are living in a fantasy.  It may be a religious fantasy.  It may be some sick sexual fantasy.  Or it may be something as simple as the fact that their parents voted Republican, and so then do they.

However, the stupidity and the level of hate and fear shown by today’s outspoken anti-women’s leaders in the Republican Party and the church do not reflect the opinions of the majority of voting Republicans or churchgoers, and certainly not the opinions of most Americans.  The leaders of Republican Party in past decades were more realistic and compassionate (before George the 2nd changed the meaning of the word) in their approach to women’s health, family planning, unwanted pregnancy, and unwanted children.   Check Planned Parenthood’s Fact Sheet again.   Of course, PP also knows how to cut and paste to their benefit.

AND SO?

I was about thirty years old and sitting at my aunt and uncle’s kitchen table.  Two of their sons were my age and married.  They were curious why I wasn’t.  I said because I have everything I need – money, a job, a home, friends.  I’ll marry if and when I find the right someone or the right man with whom to have a child.  I wasn’t big on single motherhood. I’m not sure what they thought of my answer or of me.  It was spontaneous but it still seems right.

Who knows why I married?

Reading about the life of the late Shulamith Firestone I was struck by all that the feminists of my day accomplished and how doggedly our government is nibbling away at women’s rights — basic human rights.   I was also struck by how so many of those activist women’s lives turned tragic.

No, I was not a feminist.  But because of the feminists I am the woman I am now, and I am fed up.

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