I just finished reading a chilling historical novel, "The Healing," which resoundingly answered an oft-debated question: "What was the Civil War really about?"
When the oddly apologist "it was about economics" crowd tries to downplay the fact that the war was fought to preserve (and spread) slavery, I trot out the Mississippi Articles of Secession, which explains the state's decision to leave the union and join the Confederacy clearly: "Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery--the greatest material interest of the world." It then explains that their products "are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun."
Therefore, it said, "a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization."
I'm well aware of the routine rape of women slaves by white masters, but "The Healing" helped put it into jarring perspective. It is obvious, yet mind-blowing: It was imperative for plantation masters to keep reproducing the slaves who would, in turn, help them keep building their wealth. It was, thus, vital for slave women to repeatedly breed, and as this research-based novel by Mississippi native Jonathan Odell shows, the master would go to any length to make that happen, including regularly raping slave women they owned.
No doubt, this rape was for the plantation masters' personal enjoyment--shudder--but they also institutionalized rape of black women to ensure a robust output of babies who would help work the fields or assist in the big house as soon as they were big enough. When a slave woman birthed a new child (whether the master's or not), it was often taken immediately from her, or it was sold later.
In Odell's book, slave woman Rubina was the master's choice (and likely his daughter). Starting when she was barely a teenager, he visited her at night after she worked in the fields all day, keeping her pregnant. He then sold each of her babies as they were born.
My epiphany, when finishing Odell's book with tears streaming down my face, was just how rooted in history the economic battles to control women's wombs really are.
Margaret Atwood's powerful "The Handmaid's Tale" is another book about controlling women's wombs. In that book--much better than the movie--we meet a previously independent, professional young white woman struggling for survival in a dystopian United States run by the radical right and its so-called "values." The theocrats spout religion while "handmaids" are enslaved to be baby machines and their prostitutes while miserable wives take care of the home front (a similar dynamic to plantation life, which the white matriarch in Odell's novel called living "in hell.")
I hadn't thought much about Atwood's book in years until all the recent posturing by white male conservatives across America not only against abortion rights--but against contraception. It's about as surreal and frightening as scenes in those two books to see these men stand up across America and in Mississippi and attack reproductive rights in nearly every form. Then, inevitably, many of the same ones start slamming "welfare mothers" and all the single women trying to raise children alone--while seldom calling for male responsibility. (I just Googled "teenage fathers" and got 182,000 results; "teenage mothers" brought 2,180,000.)
Then, of course, the nonsensical personhood campaign is back, complete with man after man spouting about "life" and what's right for women and family. (Leaving me to wonder just how many of them have ever paid for abortions themselves. My email address is [e-mail missing], by the way.)
My intense desire to out hypocrites aside, let's break this illogical mess down: These guys don't want the government to pay to help single mothers and needy children. They don't want to provide either preventive health care or pay for emergency medical needs. They don't want teenagers to learn to use a condom, or have access to other birth control methods (because we know all of these role models were disciplined virgins until they married and have only slept with one woman, ever).
They don't want to fund early children education, and Head Start is a source of ridicule for them (ahem, lobbyist Barbour) because it tends to help black kids. They don't want a woman to choose whether to have a child, even if she and her husband are unemployed and have five kids, or regardless of whether she can afford to feed the child without public assistance after he bolted. Oh, and they want to ensure that rape victims must give birth to babies that might result from the crime, and that women who are likely to die from childbirth must give birth anyway, even if she's the sole breadwinner of her family, and even if she already has three children to feed and clothe.
She just better not ask for public assistance because, if these guys have their way, that's going the way of the IUD.
The part I find the sickest is the bald greed that undergirds this war on half our population. Clearly, some Republican (or Tea Party) genius has decided that this kind of attack on women, our choices and our ability to keep loved ones fed, is a way to get votes. And what do they want votes for? In many cases, the corporations that are funding them want more lawsuit damage caps (so they can cut a certain number of people's arms off before they have to fund expensive safety measures). Or they want to drill off the shore of a coast already devastated by a hurricane and an oil spill. Or they want to frack for natural gas without telling us what's in the chemicals that might end up in our drinking water.
Many of these men believe that womb politics are a way to deliver the goods. I suspect many of them are praying that the U.S. Supreme Court upholds Roe v. Wade (you know, just in case their friends get in "trouble")--but they are going to play the sexual woman card until the "values" votes come rolling in on their (and their benefactors') behalf, thus bolstering what they consider "commerce and civilization" for them and theirs.
Fellas, you've chosen the wrong strategy. If you were shocked that 60 percent of Mississippians turned back the Personhood Initiative last fall, just wait to see what rains down on earth when women across America join together to fight your attempts to use our wombs to further the cause of naked greed.
We are not your political toys, and we are not going back to living in hell.