Tuesday, January 3, 2017

rise up

For a book club, I read The Gilded Hour by Sara Donati. I began reading it after the results of the November 8th Presidential election.  This work of historical fiction was just what I needed. The themes of women's rights, immigration, equality, politics and race were just the tonic I needed.

The Gilded Hour takes place in 1883 New York City. The primary protagonist is Dr. Anna Savard, a female surgeon. Dr. Savard is dedicated to women's health and women's rights at a time when contraception and abortion are illegal. Anna's cousin, Sophie Savard, is also a female OB/GYN - but as a "free woman of color" is confined not only by her gender but also by her race.

This is a long book - over 700 pages - but I learned so much history. An interesting part of the book is the Author's Notes at the end. In the Notes, the author tells us:
To really understand Manhattan in 1883 you have to forget the Manhattan you think you know. In 1883 there was no Ellis Island, Statue of Liberty, Flatiron Building, Times Square, or New York Public Library, to name just a few landmarks. 
The Comstock Act is not fiction. All of the incidents mentioned in the story - including Anthony Comstock's antics in and out of the courtroom - are based on the historical record, in particular on newspaper accounts. 

But what struck me the most was: 
Young people today (finally, I'm old enough to use that cliché) seem to have no real concept of how bad things were for women and, more importantly, could be again.

As I was reading this book, I would stop to ask questions and read portions aloud to my teenage children. 

"Did you know that in 1883 you could be imprisoned for buying birth control?" 

Or, listen to this:
"I'm on the side of women," she said, her voice hoarse. "Those individuals who actually bear and raise children. The human beings whom Malthusians and priests see as no more than mindless breeding stock."

In him Anna saw a man who was controlled by the most basic and childish of impulses, a man who had convinced himself that dealing out pain and humiliation was a sacred mission granted to him by a loving and discriminating God. Because he had earned that right. Most of all, Comstock was a man who would not forget or forgive. He would vent his anger on Clara if he could, and if not, on someone like her.

If you can, read this book with your teenagers. Remind young people how bad things were and how bad they could become again if we don't stand up for our rights and the rights of others.

Think of Steinbeck's quote from 1941:

“All the goodness and the heroisms will rise up again, then be cut down again and rise up. It isn’t that the evil thing wins — it never will — but that it doesn’t die.” 

This book has me looking into becoming a Planned Parenthood escort. I keep thinking about what steps I can take to ensure that women in my community have access to affordable birth control and the ability to plan and control their lives.

To quote Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards: 
"If women lose our rights to our bodies and to make our own decisions about pregnancy, that's just the beginning. We will lose our rights to everything else in America."

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