Sarah Blaffer Hrdy Reassesses “Maternal Instincts”

There’s a new Shero of History posted this week.  Here it is.

Or if you prefer, read it here.

Before Sarah Blaffer Hrdy came along, maternal nature had been largely defined by highly romanticized Victorian notions, essentially, wishful thinking. Yet, through her research on other primates and cultures, Hrdy learned that polyandrous matings, abortion, infanticide, and abandoning of offspring occur across the natural world. Motherhood comes with a price and when females don’t have the resources or social support they need, they naturally put their own health and the health of the children they already have first. In a crunch they may retrench, or even bail out altogether.

 

Sarah Blaffer was born in Texas in 1946 to a wealthy family—one that wanted sons but got mostly daughters instead. As their third daughter, she found herself fortunate enough to be ignored and allowed to go to school and study what she found interesting. She graduated from Radcliffe in 1969 and got her PhD in anthropology from Harvard in 1975. At Harvard she met her husband, anthropologist Daniel Hrdy, a specialist in infectious diseases. They divided their time between Boston and India, where she studied langur monkeys and he rotaviruses. They were extraordinarily happy together. At 31 she became a mother, and twice took infant Katrinka with her to Rajasthan, but the rigors of fieldwork combined with a low point in Indo-American relations, led the Hrdys to abandon work there. “Inevitably motherhood entails compromises,” she said, “but you don’t have to give up everything.” She turned to writing and non-field research, and had two more children, who say that she was a fantastic mother. Her third book, The Woman Who Never Evolved came out in 1981. Mother Nature, was published in 1999. Other important works included Mothers and Others (2009). When asked to contribute an intellectual autobiography to the second volume on Leaders of Animal Behavior she titled it Myths, Monkeys, and Motherhood: A compromising life (2010). With each book, she found herself questioning and challenging traditional ideas of motherhood.

 

Her central message was how much social support mothers need. Costs of raising a human child to adulthood are tremendous, not only through calories—some 13 million—but children are also emotionally and financially demanding. Most women experience periods of ambivalence about motherhood. Unlike other apes where mothers exclusively rear offspring by themselves, Hrdy found ancestral humans, who reared even more costly infants after shorter intervals, ill-equipped to do so.

 

What Hrdy saw emerging from her studies was the importance of allomothers—fathers, grandmothers, aunts, other relatives, and trusted associates who help rear children. Because of this need to engage and ingratiate themselves with others, human children had to learn to integrate varied perspectives and in the process became more empathetic. In contrast to conventional narratives about the evolution of our species that feature cooperative hunting and inter-group warfare, Hrdy stressed the role of cooperative childcare.

 

An advocate of Attachment Theory, Hrdy also sought to revise and expand it to include the role of allomothers. Instead of debating mother-care versus other-care, she sought ways to improve daycare, as well as make it more affordable. Although, she never set out to be a revolutionary, her views challenged patriarchal family structures, and led social scientists and biologists alike to reexamine the way they think about both motherhood and the emotional needs of children.

 

Hrdy spent most of her career at the University of California Davis where she is currently an emeritus professor of anthropology who continues to publish research papers. Her most recent work concerns human cooperative breeding. She’s received the Staley Prize from the School of Advanced Research and has twice been awarded the Howell’s Prize for Outstanding Contribution to Biological Anthropology. For a complete list of her publications, go here.

 

These days she can be found on her 1,000 acre farm in California, growing walnuts and writing her next book, this one about the nurturing potentials of males.

Here is an interview with Hrdy:

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/primate-diaries/raising-darwins-consciousness-an-interview-with-sarah-blaffer-hrdy-on-mother-nature/

 

This is her web page:

http://www.citrona.com/hrdy/

SBHSophieBassouls24Sept2002 (1)
Her author photo for the French edition of Mother Nature by a wonderful photographer, Sophie Bassouls,
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Wrinkle creams–social panacea and or cover-up?

The other day I was in the grocery store and one of the employees went up to a grey haired woman and asked. “What can I help you with, young lady?” She gave him a surprised look and I had to hold myself back. What made him think that such a patronizing comment was welcome? It’s well known that older women are denigrated and rarely seen prime time. Once you can’t reproduce, you’re no good to men, only to children. Even young women dislike older women. Older and female? You might even be evil–with the exception of Hispanic culture. I suppose that’s why he thought he was doing her a favor, kind of like that boss I had who kissed all the women in a benevolent way.

My problem? I’ve sat on the sun far too long. I like to be warm. I want  my skin to make my vitamin D–it’s better that way.  But it’s like beer–no need for too much and I’m guilty of the “If a little is good, more is better” syndrome. Ultra-violet rays  break down collagen and the loss of collagen and elastin proteins forms folds of skin known as wrinkles. This is most pronounced for Caucasians. But UV light isn’t the only thing that breaks down collagen--sugar and stress can do the same. Wind and smoking will also add wrinkles. So will lack of sleep–ask any parent.

As child, I thought my grandmother’s wrinkles were fascinating and beautiful. Then, society told me different. So that’s why I say, until the partriarcy falls, there’s no shame in trying out wrinkle creams.

What do you want from a skin cream? Here are some substances to consider:

Retinoids increase collagen production but take several months to work and can be irritating. The new skin is sensitive and thin so it can burn more easily, too. That’s why this product is recommended primarily for night use.

Vitamin C is an antioxidant and protects skin from UV exposure and can reduce wrinkles. It works by removing compounds that break down collagen. The beter way to get Vitamin C is to eat it rather than apply it.

Alpha hydroxy acids such as glycolic acid exfoliate the skin and may remove wrinkles but how they work is yet unknown.

Niacin amide (B3) can also stimulate collagen production and there is some indication that riboflavin (B2) may do the same. A vitamin B analog known as DMAE could increase skin firmness but formulations that don’t harm the skin have proven tricky. These studies are preliminary.

Peptides–pentapeptides in particular–can work to stimulate collagen production.

Alpha hydroxyl acids used in skin peels have been shown to decrease blotchiness and skin roughness.

Hyaluronic acid can be applied or injected and does a good job of attracting moisture to the skin and plumping out minor wrinkles. The effects aren’t long lasting but there are few side effects.

Vitamin E. Tests about this one are inconclusive. It probably works to protect the skin but not as well as Vitamin C.

Collagen is not absorbed through the skin so its application isn’t known to reduce wrinkles. However, it might do so when paired with riboflavin.

Q-10 is produced by the skin as an antioxidant and decreases with age so it makes sense that putting it on your skin will renew it. However, no studies have shown any benefit from applying it to skin.

Most botanicals have produced inconclusive results in the lab when rubbed on human skin or rabbit ears. Aloe vera might increase collagen production. Soy might help remove fine wrinkles according to studies done with people and with hairless mice. But soy has its drawbacks. 

Moisturizers such as glycerin have shown mixed results. Some studies indicate that the skin becomes hydrated from them and others show that they act as a barrier to prevent dryness but do not increase skin hydration.

Here is a graphic highlighting the most effective substances.

One thing to remember is that looking young and feeling young are two different things. You can take a natural approach to protecting skin by eating plenty of  fruits and vegetables and getting enough sleep and exercise. It doesn’t help to produce collagen if you have weak bones for it to cling to. In fact, your wrinkles may be a sign that your bones need attention.

A toss away line in Guardians of the Galaxy 2 went like this.

“You remind me of an old lady”

“Oh, you mean wise.”

But were there any old lady characters in the movie? No.

Older women are wise, powerful, intuitive, and opinionated–this is why they are feared by the patriarchy. Nowhere is this fear more evident than the United States today. Until we put an end to this nonsense,  it never hurts to try out some skin products–because who wants to be wise and ignored or even worse, unjustly hated? However, keep in mind that your skin is an indicator of your overall well-being. Perhaps we dislike wrinkles because they are tattle-tales, telling the world of our sleepless nights and wild abandon or maybe that we had to work too hard. With that in mind, I wonder what the grocery store man should have said.

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Age before beauty? It should be the case.

 

Realistic view of motherhood part II

Humans are co-operative breeders. This is one thing that sets us apart from apes. Helpless human babies can’t be raised alone. This leaves a woman without a stable, reliable partner or complete set of available allomothers vulnerable.

Having a baby can cause depression and so can abortion. However, if a woman chooses abortion, she may be a victim of bullying that will cause that depression. There will be a rush to make her feel shame even though it is natural for a human to not want a baby if a suitable partner is not there. Making a woman feel guilty about her choice, blocking her access to choice, is misogyny. I experienced that misogyny even though I was having the baby. (see previous post). The protesters didn’t like my choice of clinics which I made for 100% economic reasons. I was, after all, a poor graduate student and tax reform had taken a bite from my research stipend. And I was having issues with my health insurance even though I had bought an extra plan in case I got pregnant. Some things never change.

Polyandry, abortion, infanticide, and abandoning of offspring commonly occur across the animal kingdom when mothers are denied the resources and safety they need. An unprepared mother will not nurture her young. Hamsters on a high corn diet, for example, will suffer from vitamin B deficiency and eat their babies.When females don’t have the proper support systems, they naturally put their own health and the health of the children they already have first. That’s well known.

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Will she or won’t she? It all depends on prenatal nutrition.

Legal abortions save lives. A woman dies from an illegal abortion once every 11 minutes. Countries with legal abortions do not see an increase in abortions. Where abortion is legal, about 34 out of 1000 women seek an abortion. In countries where it is illegal, 37 out of 1,000 women seek an abortion. (That information is from the Lancet by the way–a medical journal.)  There have been several studies that have come to the same conclusion. Unsafe illegal abortions are deadly and pointless. Consequently, 60% of all countries in the world have legalized abortion.

For better or for worse, many women find they must use sex to get what they want.  This can be anything from love to physical pleasure to social status, to a job, to emotional ties, to financial gain, or even help with the housework. Sometimes women are suffering from the old fashioned and false stereotype that you can make any man into a great partner. It’s unrealistic to think that chastity is an option. One of the stupidest phrases along these lines is that the only pill a woman needs is an aspirin between her knees.

Motherhood comes with a price beyond the $250 K price tag to raise a child For me, the price was taking a lower paying job with flexible hours. Fortunately, it was a job that I enjoyed although I will probably have to work until I drop to make up for the pay cut, especially now that my healthcare premiums are going up along with that deductible. It’s hard to imagine that health insurance has gotten even worse here in the US!

Despite the price tag, most people willingly pay the price. Ninety percent of parents are happy they had children. However, the US has a long way to go before I’ll believe its citizens care for life.

I’d like to thank my students for broaching this topic with me. It’s unfortunate that in this day of information, so few scientific voices are heard above the noise.

 

Controversial but Realistic View of Pregnancy & Motherhood

When I was a girl I loved reading the Des Moines Register and discussing current events with my parents. There was one thing I never asked them about. It was a steady drip of trouble that I didn’t understand. Women would be found dead, and they’d be pregnant, and although it appeared that a mass killer was on the loose, nobody ever went looking for him. Only later did I figure it out–these women had died from illegal or self-induced abortions or suicide. 

During my first pregnancy, abortion was legal. I went to a woman’s clinic for prenatal care for the first few months. I had to walk through a sea of pro-life protestors to get there. Imagine walking through a crowd of bossy men and women making you feel guilty and telling you lies such as abortion causing breast cancer or that it is more dangerous than childbirth. It isn’t. Abortion is safer. I, however, wanted to have the baby.

Why isn’t every woman all about being a mom no matter what the circumstances? Why have women for centuries risked or ended their lives to end a pregnancy? The answer, of course, is that across the animal kingdom, pregnancy and childbirth are risky endeavors. The placenta and growing embryo compete with the mother for resources. The placenta has been called a  parasitic organ that attacks the mother like cancer.  Gestation is a tug of war between the mother and the fetus. When the mother is malnourished, young, has recently given birth, or is emotionally at risk, pregnancy can be a threat to both the mother and the embryo.

There seems to be a loose connection between pregnancy problems and bad relationships. If the woman is a victim of rape, she is more likely to have a pregnancy related problem such as pre-eclampsia.Pre-eclampsia is more common if the woman does not know the father of the baby well. The reason for this is not well-understood. If the mother experiences abuse before and during pregnancy, the baby is at increased risk of health problems such as autism.

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Adolescent mothers face increased health risks as do their infants. Babies born to mothers under the age of 18 are most often low birth weight and the mothers face an increased chance of dying while giving birth. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs364/en/

Babies born to unhealthy mothers, either due to poor nutrition, exposure to toxins, or adolescence, face a lifetime of health problems. These include heart and blood pressure issues along with mental health struggles.  If a woman delivers a baby and has not had good health care and nutrition, she faces health complications. including a prolapsed uterus and fistulas. Worldwide, one million women suffer the later. It’s awful. Even well-cared-for women can develop PTSD.

A woman who has just given birth is at increased risk for pulmonary embolism. How many women die due to complications of childbirth and pregnancy? Here in the cost-cutting budget-whacking modern US, we don’t know. We don’t know! However, more women in the US die during labor than soldiers die in war–and it has always been this way.

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I thought I’d put up this diagram of pregnancy induced embolism just to prove a point. Studies of maternal death in the Unites States are woefully inadequate. http://www.thelancet.com/cms/attachment/2001001696/2003728686/gr1_lrg.jpg

Most women understand the seriousness of having a baby, the importance of pregnancy spacing, and understand the costs of raising a child.  Women spend thirty years trying to NOT get pregnant. Yet, over such a wide span of time, accidents can happen even despite the problems with modern sperm. In the United States, “mis-timed” pregnancies are fairly common–more common than in many other places, although the rate has been going down thanks to increased access to contraception. Unintended pregnancies are most prevalent for women in poverty and those who live in the Southern United States. Of unintended pregnancies, approximately 40% end in abortion and the rest in birth. Women who have been abused are more likely to seek an abortion. Minors–adolescents–are also likely. Given that these women are in most danger, it is realistic.

Unplanned/unwanted pregnancies bring depression no matter what the woman chooses to do. Most women do not regret having an abortion. Most mothers also accept and  bond with their unwanted babies after they are born. However, poverty and neglect may follow.

It’s estimated that public cost of the unplanned births is over 20 billion dollars per year. Family planning services have decreased the rate of unintended pregnancies by nearly 70% in the U.S.

(More to come. This post got so long I split it into two pieces.)

 

The Myths of the Man Hater & Farts

Not that long ago, some women on Facebook were agreeing with an essay written by a 20-year old in which she stated that she wasn’t a feminist because she liked men. Feminists hate men, she said, and some readers were quick to agree. In fact, the opposite appears to be true. It’s been studied. The study should have shocked the nation into its senses.Depositphotos_5832274_l-2015.jpg Feminist women are less likely to hate and have resentful attitudes towards men than are non-feministists.  

It makes sense though. If you see yourself as a whole, autonomous person with agency, you are more likely to see men as real people. You are less apt to stereotype them and more apt to like them and appreciate individual differences. You don’t see them as benevolent oppressors. You don’t see them all as boys who never grow up and can’t keep their evil urges under control. You expect that they are mature. You respect their intelligence and ability to be rational. You don’t see them as animals lurking to get women, animals that can’t even be left alone with a woman. You even know things such as only 6% of all men are rapists and that dressing provocatively doesn’t increase your chance of being raped. You know that men can and do control themselves. Just as women can be misogynists, men can speak and think ill of other men. Let’s not blame it on feminists. Even Shakespeare did it.

Traditionalists (the non-feminists)  have more benevolent attitudes towards the opposite sex. However, we need to ask ourselves if that’s good. The anti-feminist women on Facebook said that they wanted “real men.” But what does that even mean? They were seeking some sort of stereotype, maybe a Ken or GI Joe doll. Benevolence comes with hidden sense of superiority and stereotypes. It often overly inflates the value of a partner based on looks or physical attributes. These women are more likely to be judgmental towards other women and towards men. They expect other women to always look young and keep a tidy house. They see men as sloppy, smelly brutes that need cleaning up after as if they were naughty children. In fact, in the aforementioned Facebook post, the women were saying things like “I love men, I want them to open doors for me. But their farts smell so terrible.” The truth is, women’s farts smell worse than men’s. 

When you are young you might try on this benevolent sexism and the Mars vs Venus thing. However, it can be a terrible trap. If you like someone, they become more attractive to you. If you constantly see a battle of the sexes, you are missing an opportunity to know someone and see their attractiveness. All you need to do to realize it’s not an us vs them thing is to know some gay couples. They have the same problems! I will never forget a friend calling and complaining to me about his boyfriend and realizing that my husband and I were having an identical spat.  In fact, feminists have long spoken out against this type of sexism, the idea that men and women live in two different worlds.  How old is that plea to stop the gender wars? Over 100 years old.

Most people surveyed these days  do not want a traditional partner. However, when babies come along, it’s mom and her hormones that make her more in-tune to the cries.  Here’s where feminism lets moms down, right? They expect that all women will work outside the home. Well, not exactly. The National Organization for Women has long advocated for homemaker’s rights and respect.  There are plenty of stay-at-home feminists. Yes, that’s right, you can find them on that link from Ms.magazine. And it was feminists who elevated motherhood as being worthy of scientific study. You know what else they found? Human motherhood is damn hard. Being a female is damn hard. Being a feminist is damn hard, too. But if you can’t be one, consider backing off on the criticism. In fact, let’s cut each other some slack.

All feminism is saying is that people have the right to chase their dreams and to be equal in they eyes of society. No matter what your sex, dream chasing is hard, so why make it tougher with false notions about each other?

In a nutshell, there’s no reason not to be a feminist and certainly no reason to speak ill of it and certainly it’s irresponsible to pass along false information. Sorry Facebook “anti-feminists”, but your farts do smell.  Fortunately, wearing pants stops the germs.

Now if we could only cover up silly ideas about feminism and get people to stop seeing Facebook posts as news.

The Importance of Being Grandma (or any other caregiver)

Mom and kay
My Mom, who passed away 4 years ago next week, helps her granddaughter learn to tell time with an analog watch.

When a young woman is burdened with a suckling infant and cannot fend for her family, she turns for support, not to her mate, but to a senior female relative — her mother, an aunt, an elder cousin. It is Grandma, or Grandma-proxy, who keeps the woman’s other children in baobab and berries, Grandma who keeps them alive. She is not a sentiment, she is a requirement. Kristen Hawkes, grandmother expert

My maternal Granny was the ultimate fountain of love and homemaking. She taught me to knit and crochet and bake from scratch. She loved to treat me with my favorite foods such as radish roses (just a regular radish wasn’t special enough) and cheesecake. She adopted puppies and kittens, fed the birds, and snuggled babies. My dad’s mother was adventurous and traveled and loved to learn new things. She had a supply of brain enhancing puzzles and toys and took me to museums and historical sites. She was quick to buy me things to expand my horizons such as lovely rocks (accompanied by a sheet of scientifically accurate information). Both lived long happy lives after their child raising years had ended and had a profound affect on me.

Many scientists have asked the question “Why do humans have menopause?” The very long postmenopausal lifetime is something unique to human females. In the plant and animal kingdoms, success is measured by how many offspring you can create so why do humans have a built in “stop” mechanism? Perhaps it’s because there’s more to life or at least to human life than just numbers. To love and to care and inspire is just as important.

Less is more. Less children of your own means a greater ability to take care of grandchildren and other youngsters you might love. Grandmothers allow their adult children to function and be better, less frazzled parents. There appears to be an advantage to having no young children when your own children begin to have children.

Chimps do not undergo early menopause and they have a survival rate to age 40 of just 7% in the wild! Not only do chimp babies have a poor survival rate, once childbearing is over adult chimps go down hill rather quickly. Compare this with humans who have a 70- 90% chance of surviving infancy no matter how harsh the conditions followed by an up to 40% chance of living to 90 after that!

Motherhood expert Sarah Hrdy noted that human babies require many calories, much attention, and a variety of caregivers. Mothers can’t do it alone—they need alloparents, including friends, aunts, teachers, and grandparents. Grandparents take better care of their grandchildren than the parents do. Kids who are cared for by grandparents have fewer injuries than kids cared for by parents. Children who have many “parents” also develop better empathy and the ability to see the world from multiple vantage points.

Historians looking at birth and death records from 1720-1874 found that having a living maternal grandmother halved the risk of dying as a baby back in the days before modern medicine. Studies of other cultures show that grandmas have very important roles in society: watching babies, guarding crops from predators, and carrying baskets and bundles. In fact old women appear to keep up with young women in tasks requiring physical activity.

Pressures of modern life can increase postnatal depression and grandmothers can help keep this away. New mothers feel a sudden loss of freedom and miss connections with friends and co-workers. Yet figuring out what to do with baby if mom needs to go out causes anxiety too. Even in the laboratory, if a mother rat feels she cannot control what happens to her babies she will become depressed! In the human world we have Grandma to the rescue. Parents can go out and leave baby with a known commodity. In fact, if your own mother can’t be with you after your baby is born, health care professionals now suggest hiring a post partum doula to act as a stand in mother to keep those baby blues away.

When I had my first child, I surprised myself. I left a high paying job for one with half the salary and moved across the country to be near my mother. Many times I’ve questioned my sanity about this decision. Now I understand that my actions were perfectly normal.

Mom and Ro
Mom and a great-grandchild delight in each other’s company. Interactions with many caregivers can help boost empathy in children.

 

Liberation Cakes from 1972

As I was decluttering, I found a wonderful stash of cookbooks with recipes I doubt you’d see today. I thought I’d share two of them and a touch of history.

They are both based on using boxed cake mixes. These handy mixes were invented in 1948 by Charlotte Cramer Sachs. (She was a prolific inventor.) With the introduction of cake mixes, cakes went from celebratory to common place. Food companies touted the release of women from the drudgery of cooking–freeing them to think and question and be full human beings. Push back made women feel guilty about doing anything but housework.

There is some feminist theory about this that’s pretty interesting.  We could talk all day about the guilt that’s heaped upon women. I know that I spent much of my early life trying to be a scientist and keep up with the housework and all of the duties expected of me had I been a traditional woman. Once I had kids, that began to fall apart as it was impossible. But let’s move on to the recipes.

Root Beer Angel Cake:

Prepare 1 package of angel food cake mix as directed except substitute root beer for water.

Prepare a frosting from 1/3 cup butter or margarine, melted, 2 cups confectioners sugar, 1/4 cup crushed root beer candies. Add root beer a tablespoon at a time  and stir until the proper consistency.

Mock Pistachio Cake:

1/2 cup slivered or diced almonds

4 drops green food coloring

1 package of angel food cake mix

Shake almonds and food coloring together in a plastic bag

Prepare cake according to package directions. Fold in the green almonds before baking.

If desired, add a glaze of confectioners sugar and 1-2 tablespoons of water to cooled cake.

***

We may look at these today and be appalled at how lazy or unhealthy they seem. However, put them into perspective: they allowed women to be both free and creative. They let women appear busy, as society demands, and yet maybe have time to read a book or even take a class at a local college or work and get their own credit card. (Although women couldn’t have their own credit cards until 1974.) You might even call them a stab at the freedom that still eludes most homemakers. And yet, as some have pointed out, for many women they simply filled time with meaningless and even unhealthy female busywork. 

Women have more choices today. Let’s keep it that way. Make the cake or go to the bakery or give up sugar altogether. It all depends on what you want to do on the road to your freedom.

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Vintage 1972. Freedom without the guilt, maybe.

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Birth control, gold crosses, and women’s rights under Hitler

Historically there have been many times that birth control was banned by governments. Hitler banned all forms of birth control– although his soldiers could have condoms wrapped in plain brown wrappers to “keep them healthy.” After all, syphilis was called the “Jewish Disease.”

Adolf disliked confident women, finding them unfeminine. Working women and women who were childless were scorned under his regime. He saw children as being akin to warriors for his cause and saw motherhood as the only calling a woman should have. It was even illegal to talk about birth control. He put forth laws to encourage marriage and his government paid cash bonuses for children born between 1933 and 1936. In addition, a mother got a medal upon the birth of her fourth and sixth child. A woman was awarded a gold cross for bearing her eighth child. Medals were awarded yearly on his mother’s birthday. On Dec. 16 the crosses were handed out. They were worn around the neck on a ribbon.

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Would you have 8 kids for this? What every mother needs–an ugly cross to bear…I mean wear.

Abortions were considered crimes against “the body and the state” and were banned–the penalty was death!  But if the woman wasn’t white, doctors did not enforce this ban. Later, non-Aryans were encouraged to have abortions while they were strictly illegal for others. Although feminists put up resistance–and were jailed or sent to concentration camps– most German women agreed with Hitler and saw him as a savior. They were thrilled to be a part of something greater than themselves. However, his policies didn’t have much impact on the population.

Countries that fought against him benefited from the labor of their women and in England condoms were so common that they were used as waterproof covering on military microphones. As history proved, it doesn’t pay to oppress your women or ban your condoms.This could be why feminism stands strong in Germany today but as always, faces challenges from the ultra-right.

Birth control banned in the United States!

cool-must-see-black-white-historic-moments-children-saleThe idea that birth control is lewd and promotes bad behavior has a long history in the United States. Bans or partial bans were a part of our history from the 1870s to the 1960s and there is one figurehead presumed to be responsible for it all.

Morality crusader Anthony Comstock was at first assumed to be a buffoon or eccentric who was overly concerned with the morality of other people. He was from rural Connecticut but began his career in New York City because, of course, cities must be regulated and punished for they are filled with debauchery and filth. Unfortunately,while most city people laughed at this absurd notion and his antics which included chasing prostitutes with umbrellas, he was taken seriously by the country folk and by a few rich men including wealthy ultra-conservatives such as Samuel Colgate and J. Purport Morgan. Colgate was a prude and Morgan wanted to see banking deregulated. They decided that America needed a purity movement and politicians–who would also give them the legislation they wanted– to go with it. They hired Comstock to lead the purity movement which would help get their guys elected. It worked.

Backed by a corrupt Congress, Comstock was able to push through the Comstock Act which was the law of the land from 1873-1915. This legislation prevented the mailing, selling, teaching about, producing, or discussing any form of contraception. Comstock himself hated condoms and condom sellers in particular. He said that they had to be hunted down like rats. Fortunately, the underfunding of police and government forces allowed for home businesses creating condoms to pop up and condoms became black market items.

Noting their oppression, women took it upon themselves to give each other educational lectures about birth control and some of these educators were highly popular and experts at eluding arrest. As a nurse, Margaret Sanger became alarmed by the number of poor women dying from illegal abortions. She wrote pamphlets about birth control and became a hero to most married women of her day. It was well understood that too  many children inadequately spaced risks the health of both the mother and the child. Also, children of older, well-educated mothers have better survival rates and are healthier. Sanger became the first woman to openly run an illegal birth control clinic.

Sanger was from a large family and blamed lack of birth control for her mother’s death. She had greater fervor than Comstock did. Her work eventually overturned his laws and she helped develop and promote birth control pills. She even coined the term “birth control.” She lived to be 89–fifty years longer than her poor mother. Most of her success came in the last decades of her life. Never underestimate the power of a passionate little old lady! Sanger followed her own advice and had just two healthy sons who interestingly enough became football players and one had a career a coach. Comstock had no children–his detractors claimed he was a eunuch–but stood as an inspiration to ultra-conservatives for decades after this death. Here’s another interesting tidbit about Comstock, he praised women for trying their hardest to look good for men–their lords–but was against corsets because they might interfere with pregnancies and reduce milk supplies. Ladies, it’s all about the babies!

Today there is more data than ever that delaying and limiting childbirth produces children who are stronger, smarter, and even taller. If you are or plan to be happy with the number of children you have and look forward to an active and productive retirement, you can thank Sanger. And be on the look-out for modern day Comstocks!

A Quick and Questionable Post About Wearing Gloves

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No longer considered taboo, condoms even have their own day of celebration.

If you’ve read the back of Mixed In you know that the plot involves condoms. This is nothing new. Literature about condoms goes way back. In 1655 “seed catchers” made from linen cloth tied on with ribbons  were celebrated in L’Escole de Filles (The Philosophy of Girls) which was both a novel and a play. In this popular work, the suggested use of a condom was to spare the woman. This was a revolutionary idea because they were only used as a disease protection device for men. The hero in the condemned but popular tale wore a condom. Thus, the association of heroes wearing condoms and scoundrels not wearing them was forged.

As the popularity of condoms spread throughout the 17th century, so did euphemisms for them. During Shakespeare’s time naughty slang words began with “qu” which was pronounced “k.” For example, a male’s private part was a “quipped” and a woman’s a “quaint.” Shakespeare used the word “quondam” much as one might used “condom.” He later used the word “glove “in this way and “glove” became the English term for condom for many years after. Let it be noted that gentlemen wore gloves out of respect for ladies.

This wasn’t the end of quondams as a topic for literature and conversation. In 1709 the Second Duke of Argyll waved one about in Parliament and blamed them for allowing gentlewomen  and women of quality–this means women who were financially independent– to be “debauched.”He wanted them to be outlawed. Fortunately, he was an unpopular fellow so his rant simply helped spread the word about quondams. In this same year, a poem about them called “Almonds for Parrots” became popular followed by “Ode to a Condom” which praised them for preventing big bellies, bubos (syphilis), and squabbling brats.

During the 18th century, women were the primary condom sellers and producers. Mrs. Phillips was a popular condom merchant in London with a shop near the Strand in the early 1700s. She made her wares from sheep caecum and brimstone (sulfur) vapors.  After 1843, rubber condoms became the norm.

As you can see, condoms have long been used, admired, and written about fondly.

I’d like to credit this book for the information used in this post with additional support from this one.