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When that human being is a pregnant woman in a country with laws to protect the fetus.

I got so upset reading this (ht jaunte) I’m going to add very little and maybe take a hiatus from the internet for the rest of the day. It reminds me of one question I’ve always had for people who dislike abortions but make exceptions for rape. Who determines if it was rape and will that determination be made in a timely manner? Rape is notoriously difficult to prosecute. I do believe that a person should be considered innocent until proven guilty, and that means that occasional people who have committed crimes are let go. Generally, the society thinks acquitting the occasional criminal is far better than imprisoning the innocent. However, deciding if a woman should be permitted an abortion is not a criminal trial. What are the standards? The second time I got pregnant, it was technically a rape because I didn’t consent. I was asleep. However, it would have been impossible to prosecute. As it happens, I didn’t even call the police. It was in the context of a relationship that had gone sour and the situation was very complicated. Even in retrospect, I don’t believe that I should have gone to the police, nor do I think the man should have been prosecuted for rape. I don’t think he posed a threat to other women and a few years later he apologized, after the relationship was over, for some of the thing he had done to me. However, I was able to get an abortion and get out of an abusive relationship because we have laws that allow “abortion on demand” in the early stages of pregnancy. Had that not been the case, would I have had to go to the police and accuse my live-in boyfriend of rape, with consequences for his life that certainly would have been greater than I believe he deserved. He came to regret what he had done, he understood it was wrong, he lost a woman he wanted to marry and I have no reason to think he ever did it again. That is a just and reasonable outcome in my mind. Would exceptions for rape include situations like mine, ones that would be hard, if not impossible, to prosecute under criminal laws?

At the risk of getting other feminists mad, I have to say that I don’t believe all rapes are the same. In the case of the woman in Ireland who is being force-fed after going on a hunger strike because she was denied an abortion, the rape is described as “traumatic.”

Shame on the Irish Independent for the way it was reported there. No mention of the rape. No mention of the rape. No mention that “preventing her from starving herself” was force feeding. No mention that she was an immigrant with limited English. No mention that she couldn’t leave the country due to her immigration status. I’m so upset, I don’t even think I can continue to look for more information. Normally, I make an attempt to at least get my facts straight before writing.

Does anyone understand the pain this woman must have been in? Does anyone care? Is she just a piece of meat for men to do with what they want? A piece of meat who mistakenly thinks of herself as a human being? Does anyone understand that this woman is in a living nightmare?

Oh, yeah, are they going to starve the child to death and throw its body in a former septic tank?

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A few weeks ago, I wrote about my first unwanted pregnancy and the subsequent abortion. My original intent was to put it in its proper place as I was recounting my memories, but that project has been moving so much more slowly than I originally planned and a post on Robert Nielsen’s blog made me decide it was time to write about it. Robert’s post was about Ann Lovett, a fifteen year old who died from hemorrhage and exposure while giving birth in a grotto dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the human woman who, according to Christian legend, gave birth to a god. The child died from exposure as well. The realization that I had had a safe, legal abortion within a month of her death affected me strangely. For ages, I have said that women who have had abortions should come out of the closet about it and lately, as the right to choose to terminate a pregnancy is being whittled away, that sense has only grown stronger. Therefore, I decided to write about my own.

Another post I did a while back was inspired by the movie Philomena. Based on a true story, the main character of the movie had been sent to a Magdalen Laundry after she became pregnant out-of-wedlock. The laundries were run by the Catholic Church and the women were forced to engage in unpaid labor, usually against their will, with the complicity of the Irish government who would return any runaways. Any children born were put up for adoption, and the women often felt that they were forced into it.

Scandals regarding the Magdalen Laundries have been rocking Ireland for a few years now as survivors have sought redress and the Catholic Church has guarded its money. (The Magdalene Laundry – CBS News ; Magdalene survivors ‘being punished twice’ ; Excessive burden of proof on Magdalene survivors, Dáil told ; The slaves of Magdalene ; there are a great many other articles on the subject online ) The last of the laundries closed as recently as 1996. Sinead O’Connor, a singer who had a couple of hits back in the early nineties had been in one. This is far from ancient history.

So, it is not surprising to hear the latest news coming from Ireland. Some time ago, I went to hear a Celtic rock band, a young woman in the audience turned to me and said, “Don’t you wish you were Irish.” I just smiled and shrugged because, “What are you fucking crazy?” struck me as containing a sour note. In any case, it’s not likely. I was born out-of-wedlock and, in Ireland, twenty-five percent of children born out-of-wedlock never reached their first birthday. In the home portrayed in Philomena, the death rate was an astounding fifty percent. I was small, delicate, underweight, colicky and prone to skin rashes. I feel fairly certain I would have been one of the children tortured and killed. So, in all likelihood, would have my sister who was also born out-of-wedlock and who suffered very badly from asthma. The word torture seems inflammatory even as I type it, but what else are we to call it when one of the causes of death is malnutrition and some of the others are illnesses associated with malnutrition. With women imprisoned and forced to work for virtually no pay and children who are starved to death, it’s hard to see these places as being anything other than concentration camps.

The remains of approximately 800 infants and young children have been found in a septic tank in Tuam. The mass grave was first discovered by two boys playing in the nineteen seventies.

Mr Sweeney said: ‘It was a concrete slab and we used to play there but there was always something hollow underneath it so we decided to bust it open and it was full to the brim of skeletons.”

The men say they have nightmares even to this day.

It seems a sick irony that the infants were buried in unconsecrated ground. Supposedly, the justification of the harsh treatment of the young women, many of them the mothers of the murdered children, was that this life was less important than the afterlife and that the women were presumably paying penance for their sins. What terrible sins had these children committed? Children less than one year old? Did the murderous nuns think they were sending these children to an eternal torment? Do they even believe their own myths? What was the rationale of the treatment of the children?

A local historian, Catherine Corless, has been researching the Home in Tuam. A report from 1944

described the children as “emaciated,” “pot-bellied,” “fragile” with “flesh hanging loosely on limbs.” The report noted that 31 children in the “sun room and balcony” were “poor, emaciated and not thriving.” The effects of long term neglect and malnutrition were observed repeatedly.

The pot-belly, emaciation and loose flesh, these are the widely knows symptoms of starvation. It’s hard to see hunger on this scale and for this length of time as anything other than intentional. The writer of the article doesn’t say so in so many words, but it’s hard for me to come to any other conclusion.

Corless believes that nothing was said or done to expose the truth because people believed illegitimate children didn’t matter. “That’s what really hurts and moved me to do something,” she explains.

Later in the article, the writer elaborates:

Living and dying in a culture of shame and silence for decades, the Home Babies’ very existence was considered an affront to Ireland and God.

I am put in mind of the “honor killings”, which we are very quick to condemn in the Muslim world. I do not disagree that these killings should be condemned, however, I wonder if we can see the parallel when it takes place in a culture that is a little bit closer to our own. Some of the young women sent to the workhouses had been raped. Some were only suspected of sexual behavior. Some came from families unable to support them. Most chillingly, some never left, staying in the Homes until death, life imprisonment for minor infractions or even being a victim of rape.

Somehow, I find it deeply disturbing that the Catholic Church which has for so long opposed birth control and opposed abortion was complicit in starving to death hundreds of children because their births were inconvenient.

 

Two titmice perched in an azalea bush.

The birds…

Two bloggers over at Patheos Blogs, Libby Ann and Daniel Finke, have started a project that they call “Forward Thinking.”  In Libby Ann’s words:

It is our hope that this series will serve as an invitation to readers and fellow bloggers big and small to participate in forming values and grappling with thorny questions. 

Like many other bloggers, I spend most of my time criticizing the ideas of others – toxic religious beliefs, patriarchal gender roles, the elevation of virginity, and the agenda of the religious right – and comparatively less time building positive alternatives. While it’s critical to contest values and ideas we find harmful, it’s also important to build up positive alternatives, and it’s that understanding that birthed Forward Thinking.

They describe it as a “values development project.” I already went on at enough length about Alain de Botton for any regular readers to know that I’m not jumping for joy at a “values development project.” I’ve had, as it has turned out, quite a few reversals of fortune in my life, enough to have questioned all the received wisdom I’ve ever heard and to make me scoff at people like Alain de Botton. Yes, I’m one of those miserable people who did all the “right” things and everything still wound up wrong. Are the well-intentioned bloggers participating in their project any wiser than the people they hope to advise? And once the values are developed, what are they going to do with them?

The exterior of a topbar beehive.

the bees…

Besides having my doubts about the project in general, I also didn’t participate because I didn’t feel like I had anything relevant to say about the first subject: civic responsibility. Sure, I could have blathered on for at least five hundred words on the topic, but who am I to tell anyone about civic responsibility. I have no special insight on the subject – at all. I’d just be another person thrusting my ill-considered beliefs on other people.

This month’s subject, however, is one that I feel strongly about, “what would you tell teenagers about sex.” Sex is right up there in my tag line. It’s a subject I’ve spent a huge amount of time thinking about. I really got very little guidance one way or another about sex and a tremendous amount of things people told me were self-evidently incorrect. My mother felt that everything she had been told about sex was infected with the shaming beliefs of the Catholic Church and tried hard to not pass them on to her daughters. The moment I lost my virginity, I discovered that sex is my single greatest pleasure. Period. Nothing even comes close. When I was younger, I spent a very large amount of time trying to develop my own ideas about how to think and act on the subject of sex. One of the primary reasons I started this blog was to talk about sex because I am in such strong disagreement with much of what I read on it. When I was in my early twenties, I wished there was a career option such as sex guru, that’s how strongly I felt about the subject. Now that I’m going on fifty, I have some perspective, I believe, to see what has gone right and what has gone wrong.

A three legged squirrel in a tree eating a peanut.

and a squirrel called Tripod.

Although they’re often written with a tone of voice that implies an objective perspective, in reality there’s always a personal bias in these sorts of advisories. So I want to acknowledge up front that my own personal experiences have informed my ideas, as well as things I read or was told by people in authority when I was young, though more often than not those authorities were wrong, whether they were teachers, preachers, moralizing parents of friends (I got a lot of this!), or feminists. Being female, at first I thought my statements applied to girls, but after thinking about it a bit, I realized that they apply to boys equally as well. In either case, take it where it comes from.

First, know that you have a right to your own body and your own thoughts. Sexual feelings are normal, healthy and natural. Pleasure is a good thing. We should enjoy pleasure without guilt. Many people will try to tell you otherwise. Some will tell you that any sexual thoughts are bad. Others will try to tell you that some thoughts are bad and some are good. Know that we cannot influence reality merely with our thoughts alone. We do not enter the realm of ethics until we start to act on our thoughts and involve other people in our actions.

It is important to get in touch with your feelings and your thoughts, to not be alienated from them. We are especially inclined to be alienated from our sexual thoughts because we are told from so many sources that certain impulses are good or bad. However, it is really important to be in touch with your thoughts. Consciously acknowledge your thoughts. Work on accepting them without feelings of guilt. Know that you are in control of your own actions, and thought and action are not identical. You can act, or not act, on your thoughts. That is a separate question. Do not feel uncomfortable for simply having sexual thoughts.

Accept that we are animals. We have desires and needs like food and shelter. These desires and needs are, in and of themselves, morally neutral. Before we can make good decisions about how to behave sexually, we need to acknowledge those desires, frankly.

Don’t let anyone tell you what you should feel.

If you are a young person, congratulations, you have years of fun times ahead of you. There are ecstasies in store for you of which you have not yet dreamed. All portrayals of the pleasures of sex, whether written, drawn or filmed, pale in comparison to what you can experience in real life.

For most of us, our desires involve other people.

First, you need to find an appropriate partner or partners. Unfortunately, all sorts of received wisdom, from religious prudes to people who think they’re being politically correct to people who think they’re saving you from disease by grossing you out and scaring you, will bombard you. It can be hard to find a partner who has not had his or her mind polluted with this nonsense. Try to engage with partners who are comfortable with their own sexuality. If you find yourself drawn to someone who isn’t, encourage him or her to become more comfortable. If that person tries to burden you with their own brainwashing about sex, you need to move on. Anyone that makes you feel uncomfortable with the fact that you are a sexual being with sexual desires is a bad partner. They will make you miserable in the long run.

Find someone with whom you can engage in sexual exploration. You must find someone with whom you feel comfortable being naked, someone who you feel is not sitting in judgement on you. You should try to empty your minds of preconceived notions of what sex is supposed to be. Try to explore one another’s bodies so you can find what is physically pleasurable to you and what is physically pleasurable to your partner. It may or may not  be what you expect.

Sex with another person needs to be about mutual pleasure. I like to think it’s called intercourse for a reason. Try to be generous with your partner and insist, really insist, on a having a partner who is generous to you. If your partner doesn’t have a genuine interest in giving you sexual pleasure, find a new partner. If you are a generous lover who treats his or her partners well, there will be a lot of potential partners out there for you.

Now that I am older, I can look back and say that my main regrets regarding sex when I was a teenager are all the times I didn’t indulge when I coud have. If I could go back, I would have lots more sex. Lots. Actually, that goes for just about any period of my life except when I was married, because we had tons of sex when we were married.

So take advantage of your youth. It’s going to be fun. Savor the moment. Most of the reasons to say “no” to sex when you’d like to say “yes” are fatuous. At fifty, you won’t give a damn about your high school reputation, but you can feel good about not have wasted your youth trying to live out someone else’s notion of what your life should be. You’ll never get these years back. Have all the fun you can manage.