Department Of It’s Still Complicated
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” These words, penned by Thomas Jefferson more than 240 years ago, continue to inspire many Americans.
And yet these very same words — affirming the equality and dignity of all — were written by a man who owned hundreds of slaves, and fathered six children by an enslaved woman, Sally Hemings.
For historian Annette Gordon-Reed, the contradictions embedded in Jefferson’s life are ‘a window into us, into who we are as Americans.’
‘The fascinating thing about Jefferson is that he, in some ways, embodies the country,” she says. “A lot of Jefferson’s contradictions are alive in us.’ “
This is the intro to the Hidden Brain podcast A Founding Contradiction: Thomas Jefferson’s Stance On Slavery, wherein host Shankar Vidantam interviews Annette Gordon-Reed, a Harvard University historian and law professor. Gordon-Reed’s latest book is Most Blessed Of The Patriarchs: Thomas Jefferson And The Empire Of The Imagination. As moiself listened to the podcast, I was struck by how so much of what the historian was saying about enslaved people and their relationships with their enslavers also applied to “free” (white) women.
Historians have long speculated about the relationship between Jefferson and Sally Hemmings, citing letters and documents and writings from Jefferson’s friends and critics which indicate that he was fond of and most likely in love with Hemmings. Hemmings left  no such records; her true feelings remain a mystery…but then, how can you have a true relationship in a family, as we understand it today, with family members who are not free to enter (and exit) the relationship?
The experiences of women in the abolitionist movement were a large part of what inspired the first wave of feminism and led to the Seneca Falls convention, when women activists realized that, despite all their in-the-trenches work in abolitionist groups, when it came to legal and political power they, like the enslaved people they worked to liberate, were in similar circumstances: women, of any skin color, also lacked ultimate power over their own destiny .
“When abolitionists Sarah and Angelina Grimke faced efforts to silence them because they were women, they saw parallels between their own situation and that of the slaves.”
(from “Women’s Rights, Abolitionism, and Reform in Antebellum and Gilded Age America,”
Faye E. Dudden, American History )
“ (___women activists) began speaking publicly for anti-slavery organizations before mixed crowds of men and women, even though they were mocked and threatened for doing something considered so unladylike. Thousands more women wrote articles for abolitionist newspapers, signed anti-slavery petitions, and circulated anti-slavery literature. Still, women who joined the cause of abolition found that traditional assumptions and attitudes about women often limited the scope of their participation and leadership in the movement. When the American Anti-Slavery Society was founded by William Lloyd Garrison in 1833, women were not allowed to be delegates.
….female abolitionists faced discrimination not only from slavery supporters but also from within their own movement. This highlighted to them the injustice of women’s inferior legal and social standing. When women were not allowed to speak or be seated at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who had both travelled to attend the convention, began discussing what needed to be done for women’s rights.”
( “Abolition: The catalyst For The Women’s Rights Movement”
I listened to the podcast, wondering if Gordon-Reed would address that. She did.
“… But if you look at the kinds of male-female relationships they would have known at that time, a wife, a white wife, would have been under the control of her husband, too. She could not refuse consent to sex any more than an enslaved woman could. He could not sell his wife, but that would be about the only thing that he couldn’t do. So we look at this – and there’s this sharp difference between male-female relationships. And we see the difference between – obviously a white woman has more power than an enslaved woman. But those people – Sally Hemings would not have thought that as a woman she would have freedom to do whatever she wanted. So it’s complicated.”
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Department Of Getting Personal:
When Your Business Which Should Be Only Your Business Becomes The Business Of People You Don’t Even Know And Wouldn’t Care To Meet
Speaking of Jefferson, why is it that the legacy of the failings of dead-for-over-200-years men continue to harass women?
It is not always wise or fair to judge the people of the past by the standards of today; still, it’s not as if the abolition and women’s rights movements were non-existent when our government was being crafted. Our Founding Fathers ®, as visionary and radical as they were for their time re representational government vs monarchy, dropped the ball when they ignored the moral stench of slavery and preserved its institution, and snubbed women’s requests for equal rights. I always thought that’s why the so-called “Liberty” Bell was cracked.
“I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”
(excerpts, my emphases, from the letter Abgail Adams wrote to her husband,
Founding Father and second US President, John Adams )
But rational adults in the 21st century cannot hide behind history to justify why five people – five people out of 330 million  – have the power to drag their fellow citizens back to the dark ages of religious oppression and paternalism, by using the excuse that they adhere to a retro judicial philosophy of “originalism” via interpreting the U.S. Constitution.
Some longtime readers of this blog may have been somewhat surprised by my lack of constant commentary re the recent SCOTUS decision overturning Roe v. Wade. Some of that “lack” was due to moiself being out of the country and with a self-imposed news block for almost seven weeks, returning a few hours after the decision was as announced. Watching this debacle, moiself was at once enraged and stupefied-into-an-almost-zombie-like-disengagement by what was happening. 
What kind of nation had I returned to?
Moiself has previously written about having worked (a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away) in the field of women’s reproductive health care. I worked five years in a private OB-GYN practice, bookended by a total of ~ three years in Planned Parenthood clinics – one in So Cal and three in the Bay Area. My job for the latter clinics included working in their abortion clinics, stories from which I noted in more detail in this post.
I know those who are anti-abortion don’t want to hear or read this,  but I lost track of the amount of times moiself heard from one of the people those clinics served – from a sheepish teenager to a mortified, grown-ass woman to the only-mildly-apologetic-mother-who-used-to-protest-outside-the-clinic-and-who-now-is-in-our-waiting-room-requesting-our-services-for-her-teenaged-daughter –
“You know, before ____ (the particulars of their situation)
happened to me/my family,
I might have been one of those protestors outside your clinic.”
I continue to metaphorically watch The Ongoing Situation ® while holding my open-fingered hands over my eyes, confident – hopeful? – in the knowledge that, as bleak as it may seem, we can never fully return to the past.  Progressive states (I am so fortunate to be living in one of them – yay, Oregon!) – will keep women’s rights to health care enshrined in their state laws; there will be networks of women (and men) who will help others not so fortunate…
After the recent SCOTUS ruling, an older female friend told me how dumbfounded she was. She’d fought so hard in the 60s and 70s for women’s rights, after having been one of those desperate, frightened women who had an abortion in the kitchen of an apartment somewhere before abortions were legal. I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened to me, if abortion would have been illegal when I needed one. I know I would have found someone, somewhere, some way….
I have been pregnant four times. Three of those were intentional, and with MH: the pregnancy which produced our son K; a spontaneous abortion (the layperson’s term is miscarriage); the pregnancy which gave us our daughter Belle.
This – my reproductive status and history – is should be no one’s business but my own (and MH and my doctors, should I choose to share that information). And certainly, no one who lacks a uterus gets to weigh in on what happens in mine.
For women who are anti-abortion: I may not approve of your choices re when you get pregnant, who will father your children, and how many children you have, but I am glad you get to make your reproductive decisions sans my or our government’s interference (the interference you receive from your husband, family, church – I can’t help you there).
As for men who are anti-abortion: are you fucking kidding me?
Just. Shut. Up. Go. Away. And. Keep. It. In. Your. Pants. 
I’ll make it simple for y’all.
Robyn’s Righteous and Rational Rules Of Reproduction
* If you’re a woman who is opposed to abortion, don’t have one.
* If you’re a man who is opposed to abortion, don’t be the cause of one.
I suppose I’m outing myself, in a way, in this space. Yet, to repeat a point that apparently needs to be sledgehammered into some skulls, “outing” certain info about moiself has nothing to do with shame and everything to do with *privacy* – my own, primarily, and to a lesser degree, that of the man who caused my first, unintentional/unwanted pregnancy (remarkable person that I am, possessed with wondrous powers beyond mere mortal imagination, I nevertheless did not knock up moiself ).
Let us pause for a moment and consider a certain…inadequacy, when it comes to the issue of how we talk about abortion. When we ask about statistics or share stories, it’s always along the lines of How many women have had abortions/Do you know a woman who’s had an abortion?
These questions let a key participant in the equation wriggle out the backdoor, and ignore or skirt a basic Fact of Nature ®:
Ejaculations cause pregnancies.
Why is it never framed this way:
How many men have been the cause of an abortion?
Do you know any man who has caused an unintended/unwanted pregnancy?
Let’s all make a vow to change, or at least expand, the focus. The next time you hear or read the “how many women…” question, be sure to ask “how many men…”
For anyone reading this blog who is anti-abortion and  calls themself “pro-life,” and who might claim *not* to fully understand  the reasons why any woman might want to end her pregnancy…sigh. Google it. The cretins in the TexASS state legislature promise you a bounty for sticking your nose in someone else’s hoo-haw? That doesn’t change the humane fact that unless it’s your pregnancy it’s ultimately none of your business.
To borrow a variation of the only thing I’ve been seeing that makes sense and that does not strike a defensive posture: Do you call yourself pro-life, and interpret that label into wanting to criminalize abortion? Hear ye this: I, too, am pro-life.
I am pro-Indira, who had an abortion for reasons that are none of your business.
I am pro-Shelby, who had an abortion for reasons that are none of your business.
I am pro-Natasha, who had an abortion for reasons that are none of your business.
I am pro-Rosalia, who had an abortion for reasons that are none of your business.
I am pro-Li Chen, who had an abortion for reasons that are none of your business.
I am pro-Imani, who had an abortion for reasons that are none of your business.
I am pro-Sakura, who had an abortion for reasons that are none of your business.
I am pro-Zahra, who had an abortion for reasons that are none of your business.
I am pro-my Aunt Erva, who had an abortion 
for reasons that are none of your business.
I am pro-my own life: I had an abortion for reasons that are none of your business.
So. A dimwitted busybody curious person may wonder, If it’s personal/no one else’s business, why am I making it yours by writing about it here? Moiself does this for reasons that are not so original and yet are none the less pertinent.
“In 1972—when abortion was illegal throughout most of the country—53 well-known U.S. women courageously declared ‘We Have Had Abortions’ in the pages of the preview issue of Ms. magazine.
‘To many American women and men it seems absurd, that in this allegedly enlightened age, that we should still be arguing for a simple principle: that a woman has the right to sovereignty over her own body,’ they declared.
Gloria Steinem, Billie Jean King, Susan Sontag, Nora Ephron, Dorothy Pitman Hughes and Judy Collins were among the signers. The women spoke out ‘to save lives and to spare other women the pain of socially imposed guilt’ and ‘to repeal archaic and inhuman laws.’ They invited all women to sign in order to ‘help eliminate the stigma’ of abortion.
( “ ‘We Have Had Abortions’ Petition Relaunches 50 Years Later—With Support From Original Signatories.”
It can be easy to ignore or discount issues that are critical for other people, if you think the issue doesn’t affect you or anyone you know. If you (mistakenly) think that you don’t know anyone who’s gay/atheist/has had an abortion, then LGBTQ rights/religious discrimination/reproductive freedom may be an abstraction to you. You can allow yourself to be on the fence about the issue – or even on the compassionate side of the fence but not really involved – if you think it doesn’t affect you or anyone that you know.
I’m not sure about my mother’s stance on abortion, but I know she went to her grave not knowing about her older sister‘s harrowing experience. My parents were as loving and considerate as could be to all of my different friends, and they knew of (and even occasionally discussed with me) my political opinions. However and sadly, judging from the publications and mailers I espied on their coffee table during my infrequent visits to their house, it is likely that they could have fallen prey to fear-mongering politics of The Billy Graham Association and other conservative religious organizations.
During one of my visits, California had an “anti-homosexual” proposition on the ballot (I can’t remember which propostion, nor exactly when– there were several, over the years), and I saw a GAY TEACHERS ARE AFTER YOUR KIDS-type flyer on their kitchen table.
I asked them if they took such hyperbole seriously. One of them (can’t remember if it was Mom or Dad) said they realized it was over-the-top, then said, “Actually, we don’t know anyone who is gay.”
“No,” I said, “Actually, you *do* know gay people. You just don’t know that they are gay because you don’t know them well enough to be privy to their personal lives, or they have chosen not to reveal this to you…” – I indicated the flyer atop the mail pile – “…because of crap like that.” (My mother later reassured me that that the flyer had just come in the mail, and that they hadn’t “requested it“).
I proceeded to give them the names of friends and teachers of mine, whom they’d met and liked, who were gay. They seemed genuinely surprised. “Mr. Haffner is gay? He was one of your and your sister’s favorite teachers….” (Still is, Dad.) “That nice friend of yours from college – he’s so sweet and smart and funny, he was a premed student, I think – he’s gay?” (Yes, Mom. He’s still the nice young man – nice doctor, now – who impressed you. You simply know something about him that you didn’t know before).
Did it make a difference in how they thought, or voted? No idea.
Select family members and friends already know (at least the bare bones details) of my own abortion story. Moiself be mentioning it here in the hopes that it might help yet another woman to know she is not alone in her experience.  Am I pissing in the wind delusional to think it might, just possibly, cause a moment of reflection for someone who supports the SCOTUS decision? 
The so-called pro-lifers – please, let’s label them honestly: they are anti-abortion, anti-women’s bodily autonomy.
They. Just. Don’t. Care. About. Your. Life. Or mine.
* * *
May we understand – but not excuse – the wrongs of our Founding Fathers;
May we keep our noses out of other people’s hoo-haws;
May we support reproductive freedom for all (or STFU);
…and may the hijinks ensue.
Thanks for stopping by. Au Vendredi!
* * *
 Was not allowed to leave.
 The US population, which is probably closer to 333 million.
 Are we really, in 2022, still debating women’s bodily autonomy?
 Like there are any reading this blog.
 And wrapped in five plutonium condoms.
 And what are the chances of that?
 Or in all honesty just doesn’t want to know.
 Self-induced, way back when abortion was illegal, and the resulting complications left her unable to have children when she later married and wished to do so.
 There should be another footnote here, but I’d rather throw heavy furniture down the staircase, so excuse me for a moment.