Should’ve Known, Just Found (SKJF)

Dear Millicent,

I have been absorbing an array of books and movies lately, and while larger ideas have existed in all of them, I thought I would share a list of  facts that knocked my block off a bit over the past few weeks.

  • From Rebecca Traister’s fantastic Big Girls Don’t Cry (which is the first non-fiction book I have ever read that feels like it is part of my life. We were alive and part of the recent history it covers, I know of the people she’s talking about, her analysis is actually talking to people like me), Hillary Rodham Clinton was Hillary Rodham until 1982, two years after Chelsea’s birth, several after her marriage to Bill.  She added the Clinton after it had affected Bill’s second term as governor in Arkansas. Elizabeth Edwards was Elizabeth Anania until her son’s death in 1996, where she said “I took my son’s name; I didn’t take my husband’s name.”  Why this shocked me, I don’t know, but it proved how easy it is to assume that political spouses have always been slightly diminutive and always a supporting role, even if they are proven powerhouses in their own right.  The name thing illuminated how much gets tweaked for politics, and how these women have been fighting the game in more concrete ways than the media output of their public persona suggests, and how much adapting and explanation these careers demand.
  • FromRadiolab all the way back in 2008, did you know sperm actually goes all the way up into the fallopian tube, where the tube provides it a special cocktail to keep it happy while it waits for the egg to come to the party? I idiotically thought conception happened in the big living room of the uterus (this is probably due to the Look Who’s Talking opening credits).  My favorite part of the story is that the researcher who proved this did so by having intercourse, and then the next day having her doctor do a tubal ligation and take out the section of her tube. They counted 20 of her husband’s sperm hanging out in what Radiolab deemed “the sugar room.”  The entire episode on sperm is great, though harrowing. For some reason many of the segments end with a haunting sadness. But, the hosts also do a great job of explaining why we need men to reproduce…it turns out that without dudes, there wouldn’t be any evolution.
  • Sidebar: do feminists often refer to men as “dudes” because it disassociates them from the incorporated power and privilege of patriarchy and whatnot? When I refer to a dude, he is a much more approachable abstract fellow than a man or male, but also not talked down to like a boy or asshat.
  • More bio wonders, this time from Our Bodies Ourselves, that great tome that has always been respected, but which I have never read. Turns out I should have been. It is astoundingly well written, and gets political in a wonderfully direct and useful way. My great aha from the 2005 edition was simple, but one I had never known.  The opening of the cervix is called the os (a strange, primal word, no?) and women who have not had a vaginal birth have an os that feels like a rosebud. Women who have had a vaginal birth have an os that “feels like the shape of a smile.”  This made me understand the biology of birth more…which didn’t exactly comfort me, but now I get what all that dilation is about. As for the book, I more or less read it cover to cover, surprised that with all of the other good resources out there for sexuality and women’s health, this one sets the standard, and still does things nobody else is doing.
  • And for other things I never knew about, the Magdalen laundries. For centuries, these were homes for “fallen women” which became institutions that often imprisoned any disenfranchised women that had been labeled as an unwed mother, rape victim, or just too sexy for common good.  Run by nuns, the establishments weren’t funded by the church and had to support themselves with profit from the laundries. The women had extreme work hours, and were not allowed to talk.  Many spent their whole lives in these institutions.  The laundries started receiving attention in 1993 when a convent sold off some land in Dublin and a mass grave was found of 115 inmates. Netflix had recommended the movie The Magdalen Sisters, which I watched with dutiful feminist horror. It’s a chilling and well made movie, but my jaw and every other jaw in the room dropped when it said the last of these laundries closed in 1996. That means in our lifetime. In our generation! What fucking what?!  Wikipedia also notes that Sinead O’Connor spent time in one of the Magdalen asylums as a teenager.




One Response to Should’ve Known, Just Found (SKJF)

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