Empty Vessels

eucharius-roesslin-1545.jpgThis is something of a follow-up to my post on the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, which was cross-posted at The Edge of the American West.  One of the commentors was clearly irritated that I didn’t write about the precious little baybays.  (Of course, considering that it was a post about a Supreme Court decision, and that fetuses don’t have any standing before the law, I thought the content of my post would be self-evident.)

Well, people do get so up in arms when you tell them that yes, in fact the ladies are remembered in the U.S. Constitution.  (Not that I’m opposed to reviving the Equal Rights Amendment–far from it!  Best to make sure there are no more pesky misunderstandings.)  The forced pregnancy gang likes to pretend that fetuses don’t in fact exist inside uteruses, which are in fact intimate parts of someone else’s body.  And when you think about it, it’s downright un-American to write laws that tell other people what to do with their own bodies.  (That would seem to conflict with a little constitutional amendment I like to call number Thirteen.  Pregnancy is hard enough even if it’s entirely voluntary servitude.)

The conversation over at The Edge of the American West made me think about renaissance anatomy texts like the one shown here, in which fetuses are depicted as floating in upside-down vases, outside of actual women’s bodies.  The image above, from a 1545 edition of Eucharius Roesslin’s The Byrth of Mankynde, depicts the fondest fantasy of the forced pregnancy gang:  pretty little fetuses growing to maturity without any pesky, leaky, smelly, slutty, opinionated women’s bodies to deal with. 

UPDATE:  At the end of the day, my interlocutor paid me a compliment, so I’d like to return the favor.  Charlie, you’re a good egg, and a worthy adversary.  I thank you for a stimulating exchange today.

The He-Man Woman-Haters Club


Photo:  Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito issue a joint opinion. 

(This will also be cross-posted over at The Edge of the American West.  Many thanks to Ari and Eric for inviting me to post over there from the other edge of the American west!)

Legions of the holy will be marching today in Washington, D. C. to mourn the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortions in the first trimester of pregnancy, and restricted the rights of states to regulate later-term abortions.  One of the claims of the forced pregnancy gang that Historiann has never understood is the claim that “there’s no such thing as a right to privacy in the Constitution.”  This dubious suggestion always seems to rest on an overly literal reading of “Constitution” (curiously, some people don’t include amendments and case law, but of course the Constitution is the sum total of the Constitution of 1789, its 27 amendments, and Supreme Court case law over the past 228 years), and on an overly literal reading of “privacy,” which (like “God” and “unitary executive”) is a word not found in the text of the Constitution or its amendments.

You don’t have to take my word for it.  From the 1965 ruling in Griswold v. Connecticut until last April in Gonzales v. Carhart, the Supreme Court affirmed and elaborated on its theory of the right to privacy in the Fourteenth, Fourth, and Ninth Amendments in signal cases like Roe, and again in Casey v. Planned Parenthood (1992), and again in Stenberg v. Carhart (2000).  Tips for toads:  the Fourth Amendment guarantees “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects,” without probable cause and a warrant.  (Even a lay reader could infer that a uterus might be included in “persons” whose bodies are protected by said amendment.)  And let’s not forget the Ninth–which specifically states “the enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”  The Fourteenth Amendment, of course, has that little “equal protection of the laws” thingy. 

justice-kennedy.jpgBut in Gonzales in 2007, “Our Gang” on the Roberts court summarily overturned forty-two years of consensus on privacy and sexuality.  Justice Anthony Kennedy writing for the court majority decided that the certainty of women’s personhood and constitutional rights were nothing compared to the possibility that a woman who had a late-term abortion might regret it in the future.  Because apparently, late-term abortions are recreational fun for the ladies until Sex and the City:  The Movie comes out.  Does it sound to you like Kennedy doesn’t have any familiarity with women outside of bad nineteenth-century novels?  His ruling reads like the scene in The Forty Year Old Virgin when Steve Carell’s character says a women’s breast feels like a bag of sand.  At least the other men in the movie recognized that Steve Carell’s character had said something very weird.  In Kennedy’s opinion, four other male justices just nodded and “Our Gang” signed right on to an opinion as full of prejudice, bad history, and wishful thinking as Dred Scott v. Sandford.

I have every confidence that Kennedy’s Gonzales opinion will, within a generation, be a laughingstock.  But that won’t help the many girls and women whose health and lives will be threatened in the next several years by his capricious folly.  As Darla Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in her dissenting opinion, “this way of thinking reflects ancient notions of women’s place in the family and under the Constitution – ideas that have long since been discredited.”  Ahh, Darla–you just might have to start your own club.

UPDATE:  Ann Bartow and the other hardworking contributors over at Feminist Law Professors remind us that it’s Blog for Choice Day–there are still a few hours left, so blog while you still can!  And Johnny Law can’t do nothing about it.

Meme-o To Myself

Tenured Radical grabbed this meme, “Why I Teach History,”, from Free Exchange on Campus.  She came up with five very cheerful answers, asking, “what better time than the beginning of the semester, in the middle of what is for some of us the dead of winter, to spread such an optimistic meme?”  Then she tagged me and four other bloggers–Clio Bluestocking got her answer in first (what a total brownnoser).  Historiann is not particularly optomistic about teaching, and is feeling grouchily Hobbesish rather than delightfully Lockean these days, and anyway TR and Clio B. took all the good answers.  But, here goes.  I’ve modified the question to make it more specific to one of my major subject areas, which is at the center of several disinfomation campaigns.

god-bless-america.jpgWhy I Teach (Early American) History:

1.         Because I love my country, and know that it is strong enough to reckon honestly with the fact that it hasn’t always lived up to its own ideals, and that that reckoning will only make it better and stronger.  Contrary to right-wing propagandists, most professional American historians have devoted their lives to researching and teaching a subject they love.  Historiann has always thought that the accusation that the Professoriate were a substantial subset of the hate-America-first crowd was clearly a projection.  Only right-wingers appear to enjoy obsessing about people and ideas they hate.

2.         Because there is so much historical woo out there, especially about the U.S. Constitution and the “Founding Fathers.”  You know what I’m talking about-people who insist that the United States is a Christian nation, or that the U.S. Constitution should be amended to conform to God’s laws, or that the Establishment Clause really doesn’t say what it says.  It’s remarkable how few Americans have actually read even their Bill of Rights, let alone the U.S. Constitution.  (Historiann always carries a copy in her purse to settle classroom debates and bar bets.)

I’ve borrowed the term “woo” from WhiteCoat underground, an anonymous M.D. internist-operated blog devoted to exposing medical and scientific misinformation that’s ususally in the service of snake-oil “cures.”  “Pal MD,” as he calls himself, is a very funny and appropriately snarky guy.  “Historical woo” is the use of half-truths and dishonesty to promulgate a highly self-interested version of history.  It’s only a coincidence that John Yoo, which rhymes with woo, is one of the biggest historical woo peddlers in recent American history.  (You remember Yoo?  You know, torture memo Yoo, “unitary executive” Yoo, that guy?)  And yes, it’s an embarrassment to us all that Yoo was a History major.

3.         Because college students need to be exposed to at least one class that allows them to see the longue durée of American history.  The U.S. National period is only 231 years (so far), and contrary to all of that high-falutin’ rhetoric in the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution, the United States didn’t invent itself overnight.  All of us live with the consequences of our (multiple, different) colonial pasts.  For example:  the centrality of beef in the American diet, established by the first English colonists, has had enormous impact on our environment, economy, and health, and it continues to drive the misuse of Western lands and exploitative labor practices 400 years after the first cattle set hooves in what is now the United States.  The practice of African chattel slavery, as developed and refined in the colonial period, is at the root of the African American experience.  And the fact that women’s wages still lag significantly behind men’s wages is harder to naturalize or explain away by “choice” if you consider that it’s only been 160 years or so since free married women were themselves property, and could therefore actually own their labor and their own wages.    

Anyhoo, that’s my two cents.  Edge of the American West, Knitting Clio, and Squadratomagico:  tag, you’re it!

UPDATE:  Hey, Religion in American History, you’re tagged, too.

Senatorella's coach stops at Caesar's Palace tonight

cinderellas-coach.jpgWell, it looks like Senatorella has pulled it off again.  With 90% of all precincts reporting, Hillary Clinton has beaten Barack Obama decisively with 51% of the vote to 45%.  Never has a front-runner done so unexpectedly well!  (Please, Crayzee Chris, insanity means never having to say you’re sorry for your misogynist rants!  With enemies like you, who needs delegates?)  Complete results here, with age and sex breakdowns for both Republicans and Democrats.

It looks like as in New Hampshire, the Alice vote is what put her over the top–59% of Democrats who caucused today were women, and fully 68% of the Democrats were 45 and older, an excellent demographic for Clinton.  The OC vote, which showed up to caucus in Iowa in historic numbers and put Obama over the top, didn’t make it out to caucus in Nevada.  18-29 year-olds appeared at an anemic 13%, and Historiann’s own demographic of 30-44 mustered only a scandalously low turnout of 19%.  (Whazzup, peeps?  Stuck in your minivans shuttling kids from ballet to soccer to circus day-camp this morning?  Did you stay up too late fooling around with TurboTax 2007 and trying to program your TiVO to record Desperate HousewivesAlexis de Tocqueville would be appalled had he lived another 149 years to see this!)

Memo to my generation:  Kiss my grits!

Friday Captivity Blogging: Colonial Food Network edition

captivity-parents2.JPGWhen I wrote Abraham in Arms, one of the things I found most interesting was the use of food in captivity narratives as a means of criticizing one’s captors.  That is to say, after English people had returned home and sat down to write their captivity narratives, several of them decided to use the food that was shared with them in captivity as proof of the savagery of their Indian captors.  This happened in so many captivity narratives that it was clearly not an accident, but rather a feature of the genre.  English captives chose not to point out that foods eaten on the run in wartime were not in fact normal daily fare, but it’s so much more exciting to tell stories about lurid menus of raccoon grease, boiled horse legs, and deer fetuses instead of corn, beans, and squash.  Besides, it’s easier to reassure your Anglophone audience of their superiority if Indians aren’t portrayed as eating the same things that the English ate.

There are two interesting new books on food and culture in colonial America that Historiann wishes she had had the pleasure of reading before putting her manuscript to bed.  James E. McWilliams’s A Revolution in Eating:  How the Quest for Food Shaped America (Columbia University Press, 2005) is a regionally-structured tour through the kitchens and campfires of early American cookery from the beginning of English settlement through the American Revolution.  (Tips for grad students:  you’ll find here the culinary version of the Anglicization thesis.)  The details he offers about la vie quotidienne have been really useful to me as I’ve tried to reconstruct what might have been on offer for breakfast in a New England garrison town around the turn of the eighteenth century, but his vigorous argument moves the reader forward without wallowing in antiquarian detail.

Next, Trudy Eden’s Cooking in America, 1590-1840 (Greenwood Press, 2006) offers a look at both Native and English colonial cuisine through period recipes.  Seriously–it’s a recipe book, complete with a helpful glossary explaining ratafia, frumenty, saleratus, and other lost ingredients.  I am pleased to see the book, because I have read (and cited) her very fine essay, “Food, Assimilation, and the Malleability of the Human Body in Early Virginia,” in A Centre of Wonders:  The Body in Early America, edited by Janet Moore Lindman and Michelle Lise Tarter (Cornell University Press, 2001), and look forward to more interesting work from her.  Eden’s colonial and early national cookbook is a companion piece to Alice L. McLean’s Cooking in America, 1840-1945 (Greenwood Press, 2006). 

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m making dinner tonight chez Historiann, so I’d better go pound samp.

The Huckabeast with Two (or more) Backs

Over at Washington Monthly, and with the assistance of the L.A. Times, Kevin Drum looks behind the aggregate numbers of the drop in abortion rates reported recently by the Guttmacher institute.  He writes, “here are the basic numbers: excluding miscarriages, the pregnancy rate among women aged 15-44 has dropped by 13 per thousand since 1990. At the same time, the abortion rate has dropped by 8 per thousand. By itself this isn’t conclusive, but it strongly suggests that the reduced abortion rate is mostly due to fewer unwanted pregnancies in the first place. If increased regulation were the prime driver, you’d be more likely to see the pregancy rate staying about the same while abortions drop, and you’d be more likely to see bigger drops in states with more regulation. But that hasn’t been the case. So yes: better access to contraception, better education, and better access to the morning after pill seem to have made a difference over time. For anyone who’s pro-life but not anti-sex, that ought to be good news.” 

Well, good news for all of those pro-life, pro-sex, non-misogynists out there.  Yeah, that’s a big constituency.  (Wait–I think I know that guy.  Hello, Bill!)  And, like, duh, the feminist answer to unwanted pregnancies turns out to be the correct one.

Meanwhile, in pro-life, anti-sex news, Mike Huckabee says that homosexuality is the same as polygamy, child molestation, and bestiality (hat tip to Greg Sargent at the the Talking Points Memo Media Borg for that pickup.)  But he’s not judging–God is.   (Why does God have such a dirty mind?)

Faust-us too, or why you want a book agent

gloria-swanson.jpgBook agents can do more than just procure fat advances from trade presses.  Drew Faust’s appearance on Fresh Air last week was apparently just the kickoff to her major media blitz.  Her new book is reviewed this week in both The Nation and in The New Yorker.  (OK–maybe “major media blitz” is an exaggeration–after all, it’s not People magazine’s Picks and Pans–but “a great slice of media that people who buy and read books pay attention to.”) 

Memo to all of you book agents out there who read Historiann.com:  I’m ready for my closeup.  And no, I won’t mind addressing all correspondence to “My Dark Lord (or Lady) Satan.”