A few months back, a friend mentioned if I had ever thought about writing an article or blog about ancient forms of birth control. I jotted down the idea and then promptly forgot about it. As I was cleaning around my desk (which I should really do more often), I came across my note and decided it was time to follow up on it.
Poking around and doing some research, it would appear that trying to control conception goes back farther than you may have thought. A papyrus dating to 1850 BCE in Egypt says that a woman should insert a mixture of crocodile dung and honey. Honey seems to have been popular as another papyrus dating to 1550 BCE suggests that it be mixed with date and acacia juice. This lovely mixture would be used to saturate wool, which again would be inserted into the woman.
(Note: It’s the woman who gets to do all of these wonderful things.)
The Greek physician Saronus suggested that after intercourse, a woman hold her breath, sneeze and drink cold water. Then she should kick her butt with her heels until “the seed” falls out. We should all stop laughing now. In the Middle Ages, women would wear amulets, not in itself a bad thing, I do it myself, however, these were made from mule’s earwax, a weasel’s testicles (I’m assuming this is a real weasel and not the man she is having intercourse with) or a bone from the right side of a black cat. Casanova, that great lover, is credited with having invented the half-lemon, used as a diaphragm, I’m assuming.
From birth control, we move on to abortion. Looking at some of the ways women would try to induce an abortion for a child that she did not wish to have, for whatever her own PERSONAL reasons, we find that many of them were as dangerous to the woman. In ancient China, mercury was used, which is toxic; pennyroyal was used into the 1200’s, which can be dangerous and, many times, deadly; the same Egyptian papyrus mentioned above also had prescriptions for abortion, proving that it goes back hundreds of years.
Rome had a beautiful law in which abortion was illegal but fathers whom denied paternity, did not want a girl, or a disabled child, could put said child to death. Anyone else see the irony here?
Coming into more recent history, women would insert leeches, they would swallow lye, or gunpowder, they would attempt to injure themselves by punching themselves in the stomach or throwing themselves down a flight of stairs. We have all heard of the hangers or knitting needles that were used. These are not fairy tales; these are all true and were used by women in desperate situations.
Now we come to the crux of it. In 2013, laws regulating women’s bodies were put forth 624 times, I repeat, 624 times! In 2014, it was 468 times! I find that, in itself, to be mind-boggling. But what is more mind boggling is that in all of that time, in all of the time of law making ever, prior to that, there have been ZERO laws put forth regulating men’s bodies. The laws attempting to regulate women’s bodies are all being put forth by men, men who have no idea how a woman’s body works, how a woman thinks, feels, men who are politically conservative, men who are afraid of women’s power and need a way to keep control, to stay in power. They are trying to drag us backwards while going forward. This is not what back to the future means.
What the hell are women supposed to do? Going to do? Too many women hate the word feminist, saying it is a word filled with negative connotations. I say if that is what they think, then then have no idea at all what the word feminism means. While some women are fighting every step of the way to not lose what we have gained (and I am very proud to call some of them my friends), others won’t fight because they think everything is fine. It is NOT fine and if these women don’t wake up, they will find themselves back in the kitchen barefoot, pregnant, with a knitting needle in her hand, wondering how the hell she got there.
If you are asked to join the fight, then join it. Ask questions, do research, read, read and read some more.
WE WILL NOT GO BACK. WE WILL NOT BE SILENT. WE WILL FIGHT UNTIL WE ARE UNABLE TO FIGHT ANYMORE!