Because I got so worked up over that post on Wednesday (quel bummer!), I had to take a break to play with my Barbies again. Here’s another Barbie photo shoot, this one featuring three different sleeve lengths on the same coctail dress model. (Susan: do you like any of these, or do you still prefer the black-and-silver number?) Barbie 1958 is in the red short sleeves, Barbie 1962 is in the blue 3/4 length sleeves, and Barbie ca. 1977 is in the seafoam sleeveless dress. Barbie ca. 1977 is having a bad hair day every day for the rest of her life. In my efforts to save the hair, it seems that I have destroyed the hair. Barbie hair is really difficult to cut in any flattering way, because of the weird design of the rooting. It’s just not designed for short hair or layering, I’m afraid! Here’s a horrifying closeup of the damage:
Historiann realizes that she’s been blogging a lot about lady parts recently–my apologies for those of you who don’t have lady parts, or who aren’t particularly interested in getting close to anyone else’s lady parts. Blame the wandering uterus, if you must, but if you’ve been following the ridiculous public conversation recently on Gardasil, the miracle anti-cancer vaccine that can benefit our students, younger sisters, daughters, granddaughters, goddaughters, and nieces, and all other people with lady parts, you’ll be interested to read our friend Pal MD’s brief review of the latest research at WhiteCoat Underground. Predictably, instead of rejoicing at the discovery of a cure for cancer, there are a lot of people who are worried that this vaccine is going to unleash the inner slut inside all of our girl children.
Smallpox inoculation in the eighteenth century provoked even more anxiety and fear than vaccination does today in some tiny but stubborn sub-cultures. In all fairness, inoculation (also known as variolation) was in fact a risky procedure, unlike modern vaccination, which involved infecting a healthy body with live virus to induce a mild course of the disease that would render the patient immune to future infection. People who were inoculated were infectious to others, and some died from the resulting illness. Many, many articles and books in the history of medicine that have addressed inoculation, but to my mind, the best of them are explorations of cultural history, and view disease and disease prevention as a window into past worlds. Elizabeth Fenn’s Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775-82 (2001) includes a nice overview of smallpox inoculation in colonial America, in addition to exploring the course of a disease and its effects on a continent.
Robert V. Wells’s essay, “A Tale of Two Cities: Epidemics and the Rituals of Death in Eighteenth-Century Boston and Philadelphia,” which appeared in a collection called Mortal Remains: Death in Early America (2003), edited by Nancy Isenberg and Andrew Burstein, actually managed to elicit some sympathy in me for Cotton Mather, who although a horrible warmongering racist, was also a pioneering advocate for inoculation. Mather’s life was tragically deformed by a measles epidemic in 1713, which took the life of his second wife, a daughter, newborn twins, and a servant girl in his household when he was forty. Eight years later when smallpox came to Boston, he inoculated two of his sons and was rewarded for his brave public advocacy by a “fired granado” thrown into one of the bedrooms of his house, with a note that read, “Cotton Mather, you dog, damn you: I’ll inoculate you with this, with a pox to you.” (Fortunately the bomb fizzled, and Mather continued to promote inoculation.) And there is an almost brand-new book by David E. Shuttleton called Smallpox and the Literary Imagination, 1660-1820 (2007), which includes a chapter about inoculation and the specifically racialized and gendered fears surrounding the procedure, which was first promoted in England by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (herself a possesor of lady parts) after she witnessed its successes on a trip to Turkey (scandalously exotic!) in the early 1720s.
So, please follow in Lady Montagu’s (and–uuggh–Cotton Mather’s) footsteps. Fight the woo–get your kids the Gardasil vaccine.
Drew Gilpin Faust, an important American women’s historian and now president of Harvard University, was Terry Gross’ guest on Fresh Air today to discuss her new book, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War. You can hear the interview at no charge–just click the link! From her description and Gross’s questions, it sounds like it is an important contribution to the new historiograpy of the body as well as a fascinating exploration of the nineteenth century culture of death–religious beliefs, material culture, and burial practices. Interestingly, Gross asked Faust if her own experiences with breast and thyroid cancer influenced her interest in death as a historical subject. (Her answer? Yes, undoubtedly.) Gross said at the end of the interview that Faust declined to discuss the controversy that led to the dismissal of her predecessor as Harvard president, Lawrence Summers.
I’ve tagged this as a post on bodily modification, in part because of the disfiguring injuries suffered by Civil War soldiers (which Faust discusses in passing during the interview), but also because it was Civil War surgeons who invented the surgical sub-specialty of plastic surgery. There was a small but excellent exhibition on this at the National Museum of Health and Medicine, on the campus of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington D.C. back in the early 1990s. Even now there are (perhaps the same?) permanent exhibitions there on medicine in the Civil War. I remember them as being very good, and very responsible and eighth-grade hygiene class-ish compared to the freakshow at Philadelphia’s Mutter Museum. Historiann used to live right around the corner from the Museum, which is housed at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, and have nightmares about the giant distended colon on display there.
It’s very interesting to hear the high dudgeon that has greeted George Mitchell’s report on steriod use in Major League Baseball. No one is shocked that superstars like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were juiced–we know it’s not an accident of improved nutrition that they suddenly bulked up in their mid-30s and achieved more at this relatively advanced age than they had as younger men. We just disapprove. Imagine–what will we tell the children?
Well, here’s what I’ll tell the children: women in the public eye whose bodies are their livelihood are highly modified, sometimes now even before they’re out of their 20s, and we not only expect it, we applaud and reward it. Actresses and models routinely subject themselves to breast implants, butt lifts, “mommy makeovers,” botox and silicone injections, and other surgical and medical interventions so as to “improve” themselves, fight ageing, and otherwise get an edge on their competition. Why do we regard the female body as open to modification, while we insist that men do it all with just personal trainers and clean living? What is Pamela Anderson’s grotesquely pornalized body if not the female equivalent of Barry Bonds’ comic-book heroized body? Everyone knows that Anderson’s breasts are not her own, and that she’s a mother of two children in her 40s, and yet the fact that she has sacrificed comfort and health in the service of male fantasy makes her more desirable. The funny thing is that the ball players’ bodily modification was done not in the name of making themselves more sexually desirable–although that may be a pleasant side-effect of being the Home Run Kings–but to serve male fantasies too, the fantasies of male fans who want to be served up home runs and no-hitters all day long without their sports heroes tiring. It’s this pornified male fantasy that has paved the way to steroids a-go-go in MLB.
And it’s also why your children might not want to hear too many bedtime stories from Historiann…