Wednesday, April 14, 2010

That Was Then, This Is Now

The painting to the left is by Richard Redgrave, famous during his era for pictures depicting the "sins" of women and their consequences. This was painted about 50 years before I was born. That was one of the most sexually-repressive eras in history, the Victorian Era.

This is the time during which a nervous bride was given the sterling sexual advice by her mother to "lie back and think of England." We were not so removed from that during the years of my childhood. I remember asking my grandmother (Mama was at work..she was *gasp, separated from her husband) what sex was. I'll never forget her answer as it formed my early self-image in connection with sexual urges. She told me that "sex is something a woman does to please her husband and to have children but no real LADY enjoys it." Grandma S. must have really wanted to please Grandpa S a lot. because they had 9 children.

The fact was that I had already, along with some of my playmates, done as children usually do and experimented with that thing that made you feel all fluttery and warm "down there." I therefore surmised that I was not a lady because I knew that pleasurable feeling was connected to sex. I also knew that anything overtly sexual made my family very uncomfortable. In the upstate of Bible Belt South Carolina, the Victorian values prevailed even into the mid-1960's. The infamous and over-described sexual revolution of the '60's really didn't reach into the backwaters until the last couple of years of the decade and into the early 70's. Girls were still responsible for keeping the lascivious  boyfriends at bay and minors still did what their parents and other authority figures told them to do. We were chattel to our fathers and, later, to our husbands.

I entered puberty having to read a little pamphlet called "Now You Are A Woman" put out by Procter and Gamble who made Kotex. I did not understand a thing about birth control, no informtion was offered about it, and I thought of myself as a deviant due to the sexually-charged dreams I would have. When those dreams turned into the reality of sexual activity with my first love (hereafter known as the Jerk), I was unable to enjoy it because I felt too much guilt...I felt dirty. When I accidentally had my first orgasm, I waited for Satan to come pick me up and take me to Hell.

My pregnancy came as a shock to me because I just couldn't relate the sweaty, messy thing that I did with The Jerk to what I felt must be some exalted, pure thing that married people did to have babies. To my family, it was the worst thing I could have possibly done. I found out, from the Jerk, that I was on my own with this one. Thank Heavens, his parents, good people, believed me and tried to offer some sympathy and understanding.

Most people that know me know how it went from there. The story's been told numerous times. I had no recourse but to do as my family and the authority figures they brought in to "help" instructed, ordered, coerced and forced me to do. It's really telling that the last bit of instruction I was given by the helpful ones was to lie for the rest of my life. Thank You, but NO. I tell the truth and I like it!

But that was then. There was change brewing. I remember being invited, in the mid '70's to a baby shower for the unmarried daughter of a co-worker. Part of me was livid with anger and envy. The rest of me was happy for this girl who was getting what I couldn't have, the support of her family and a future with her child. I watched as the world changed, delighting the left and frustrating the right. I cheered on Murphy Brown and began a tentative search for my lost children. I even supplied my raised children with birth-control information and answered all their questions about sex as honestly as I could. After some counseling, I learned to relax and enjoy my own sexuality.

There are quite a few differences between the EMS and the last 3 or so decades that stand out in my mind with total clarity. Birth control was hard for married women to get during the EMS and impossible for unmarried women. We had to rely, when our, boyfriends decided to use them, on the condom for protection. While it was not a bad way to go, we still had to rely on the guy to get and use them.  When my raised daughter was 15, she could go to our county Health Department and be examined and given a prescription for birth control pill. That was 1980. Easy enough, huh?

In my part of the country, the only people who provided abortions were either back-alley butchers or one local physician who did "D&C's" on single women for a huge price, after hours. Insurance did not cover it. We could not afford it and I was obviously important enough to my parents that they refused to consider the other type of provider. When my daughter went through a rebellious stage, did not show up for her bc pills and was found to be pregnant by a junior Jerk, it was a quick $230 (including anesthesia) and she was back in school in two days. The Jerk, Jr. stayed far, far away after I had a few choice words with him.

She attended school with a lot of girls who were, obviously, great with child. When it was learned that I was pregnant, I had a choice...withdraw from school or be expelled. Hell, her high school even had an extra course added for learning about child care. In Home Economics, in my high school, I learned how to make Welsh Rarebit and how to prepare a trousseau. Shhhhhh. We didn't talk about having babies, even of the legally married variety.

There was much made of a young teacher at one of the middle schools being fired for having a bun in the oven in 1963. One of my Mother's co-workers was fired when she began to show and the married woman, when she became pregnant, was expected to turn in her notice by her 5th month. There was no such thing as maternity leave and her job was not waiting for her when she was ready to return to work.  Landlords could refuse to rent to a single woman with children or expecting one. "The World According To Garp," was difficult to read and comprehend within the scope of my experience.

This is why I get so frustrated, now. The industry and the anti-abortion contingent are trying to roll back the clock to the bad old days. We've seen how well Abstinence Only works. Now there are states trying to make early termination of a pregnancy difficult and late-term impossible to obtain. They fight the idea of honest sex education in schools, want to restrict birth control and ya gotta wonder why? Why, if we can prevent pregnancy and/or prevent surrender, where WOULD these good folks get the Healthy Infants for the Right Kind Of People to raise "as if born to?"

I spent a lot of years trying to prevent separation of mother and infant. I was a one-woman family preservationist in my area and I caught Hell from a lot of people for it. I got too old, too tired and too emotionally sapped to keep it up. So I am leaving that up to those that didn't have to deal with the Bad Old Days or think there is no difference in then and now. I am using my remaining years and energy to talk about just how nasty those bad old days really were and how things have changed.

There are choices available now, that we didn't have back then. I'm sorry, but a fact is a fact. I don't doubt that there is naivete' and parental pressure still in effect, but not the way it was when I was isolated, shamed and stripped of my self-worth all in the name of providing someone with a womb-fresh baby.

So I leave the Now for the Then with these words of hopeful advice. You have freedoms, you have choices, you have information....USE THEM. You can avail yourself of birth control and prevent pregnancy. If you are of a mind to, you can terminate the pregnancy. And, wonder of wonders and joy of joys, you can keep your baby.

Adoption is a life sentence and, like suicide, a permanent 'solution' to a temporary problem. Beware of agencies, attorneys and social workers bearing relinquishment papers, don't fall for the "open adoption" fairy tale and count your blessings that this isn't then, this is NOW.


Sandy Young said...

A-freaking-MEN!!!! There are differences! They are obvious! Get used to it!

Von said...

Yep it was tough and we all suffered, still do.Good to see the young have choices and hope they treat their choices seriously and realise that in the end we are all responsible for ourselves and what we do with our bodies.Any young woman who trusts a man/boy with not getting her pregnant isn't looking after herself properly.

Robin said...

Unfortunately, we do have to look after ourselves. The old saying, "a stiff prick has no conscience" is still true.

I would like to think that, with the changes in how women are viewed, that self-respect would be more common among young women.

There are still plenty of Jerks III out there.